Saturday, December 21, 2019

Gathering the "Lost"--Pentecost + 14, Sept. 15, 2019

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Proper 19, Pentecost + 14, Sept. 15, 2019
Luke 15:1-10
          Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 
          8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

          A couple weeks back, they had College Colors Day at Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  It’s Florida.  They like their college football.
          A student in Laura Snyder’s class told her when the Colors Day was announced that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn’t have one.  She encouraged him to wear an orange shirt.  On the day appointed, he had gone one better.  He made himself a logo on a piece of paper and attached it to his shirt. 
          After lunch, the student was the first one back to the classroom.  He put his head on his desk and cried.  When Ms. Snyder asked what was wrong, he said some girls in the cafeteria had made ridiculed him for his homemade shirt.
          Now, a few things could have happened next.  She could have said some kind words to him and let the whole thing go.  He’ll get over it, right?
          She could have told him to “suck it up,” since kids are cruel.
          Or she could have decided to get him his own Tennessee shirt, and then reached out to her social media network to see if anyone had connections at UT.  And then that post could have gone viral, with over ten thousand shares.  And then the school could get a whole box of UT swag for the whole class to share, thus turning that little boy into a hero.
          You may have seen the story, so you know what actually happened.  [slide] Lots of swag—bracelets, shirts, hats, water bottles.  And the University of Tennessee went one further, creating a shirt patterned after the boy’s homemade design.  Part of the proceeds from the shirt go to the organization Stomp Out Bullying.  Demand for the shirts is so high that on the first day they were being sold, the website for Stomp Out Bullying crashed.
          So many people have resonated with this story.  Chances are you have too.  Because we’ve been that kid, haven’t we?  Nobody gets through childhood without being harassed, singled out, having other kids call you names, poke fun at your name, your intellect, your clothes.
          Clothes are a big one.  In the sixth grade, I was called “Highwater King,” because I didn’t have new pants.  The ones I had were a few inches from the floor, so it looked like I was expecting a flood.  I do like that kids were already being expansive with their gender markers back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school.
          We love to categorize.  We love to divide, alas.  Good people.  Bad people.  That language is often code for other markers like the color of skin.  “Very bad people” come from places like Central America, or the Bahamas.
          Good people, bad people.  Good clothes, highwater pants.  Good shirt, bad shirt.
          Odds are, we’ve all been on the wrong side of some random division.  It might just be one of the reasons we are drawn to church.  At church, it’s different.  Everybody is loved at church.
          Religious people never divide.  Right?
          Yeah, not right, but we’re trying, at least.  The people of Jesus Christ should do better.  We should be working to create a community in which no one is lost.  In which, in fact, we are out gathering in the lost.  Finding those kids who are being ridiculed for their shirts or their pants or the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their pronouns.  And when we gather in all of those lost or potentially lost folks we should be saying to one another “Rejoice with me!  For these ones who were lost are now found.”
          There will be joy in heaven…and on earth…if we can create such a community.  If we can model it.  Show what it looks like to create a community in which all are loved for being just exactly who they are.  That’s a true Jesus community. 
          Jesus never left anyone behind.  Kids, sick people, sinners, tax collectors.  Jesus hung out with the worst of the “bad people.”  The “very bad people.” 
          He hung out with the kids in the homemade shirts.  The kids whose parents didn’t have enough money to buy Levis, so their kids wore Toughskins.  At the high water mark. 
          He got a lot of grief about it, too, didn’t he?  It’s important to remember that this lesson—this pair of parables—starts with Jesus taking grief once again from the “good people.”  The good, religious people.  If we don’t make note of that introduction, we will miss the point.
          These parables are a little subversive.  The simple stories often are.
          A sheep wanders away and to whom is it returned?  [the other sheep]
          A coin is lost—one of ten—and when it is found, where does it go?  [back with the other coins]
          A sinner turns back, repents, and where does she go? 
          Back with all the other sinners. 
          There are two ways to read verse seven in this lesson.  As irony.  Or as sarcasm.
          7Just so, I tell you,” Jesus says, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
          Hear it?  Yeah, I think it’s sarcasm.
          Where exactly does one find “righteous persons who need no repentance”?  In the minds of Scribes and Pharisees.  And kids in the lunch room.
          But they don’t actually exist. 
          The lost ones aren’t lost because they’re sinners…or tax collectors.  They’re just lost because they haven’t been found yet.
          That’s why the story of the kid in Florida hit the otherwise depressing news cycle so hard.  Because the folks in Tennessee recognized that that kid is just as great as all the other kids.  So is his shirt.  “We can make a shirt with a crudely sketched ‘UT’.  Why not?”
          We can make a church with broken people and sinners who know they need repentance.  Why not?  That’s the best kind of body to be.
          This is the place, my friends, where we are one body.  Where we share one bread.  Where we look into each other’s eyes and recognize ourselves.  And Jesus Christ, who is dwelling richly in us when we gather in the lost and the broken and the whole and even the bullies.  All the people who need repentance. 
          All the people.
          We’ve even got a shirt we can wear.

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