Sermon for Year C, Pentecost Proper 19
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
September 15, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
What sort of wandering numbskull goes after one lost sheep --
In the process risking abandonment of the other ninety-nine --
And then has a party for that one little sheep after he’s found it?
What kind of nearsighted nincompoop spends an entire night
Hunting through every nook and cranny of her house
For one silly little coin when she already had nine other perfectly good coins, ...
And then, when she finds it, gets so excited
That she invites her friends and neighbors over for a big party
That cost her many coins to throw?
The numbers don’t add up; the proportions are all wrong; it’s great claims for small finds!
Economists and pragmatic people everywhere are spitting nails.
Can’t live like this for long or you’ll go broke!
What do you think?
Who behaves like this?
Who in their right mind suspends all common sense
And lets the millions go astray
While running to find the one?
Who wastes all their energy just to find one tiny coin?
We know the answer, though, don’t we? It is the God of All Grace --
The One who Finds and Retrieves and Restores the Beloved Community to wholeness
By bringing in every lost little dreg.
The one who defies perfect logic with big, crazy love.
The one who tips everything over and sets the world on its ear.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the one who spreads the feast in the Gospels,
And when all have eaten their fill, he is the one who directs his disciples
To “gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.”
Bring it all in, he says. Improbably, and against all good sense and rules of taste and decorum.
Bring it all in, gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost.
Ever feel like a lost sheep, quaking in fear in the open as a storm gathered out on the horizon?
Or a lost coin of no value, inadvertently shuffled into a dusty corner?
Or a forgotten little fragment of bread nobody would have thought to gather up,
Even to throw out into the garbage?
Ever feel disconnected, isolated, lonely, cut off from everything else,
No communication, no plan, just hunkered down and passed over?
Ever been way out on the edge by yourself?
It is the human condition and predicament that we roam out there on our own and get lost!
If people were sheep, or coins, or bread crumbs, and they could talk,
What do you imagine they might say?
“Look, I found my way out here, and I’ll find a way back myself;
Don’t worry about me; just leave me alone.”
“Hey, I meant to get lost.” (Sure you did.)
“I like it out here. Nice and open.”
(I’ll bet you do. Gettin’ cold, though. Let’s go on back together, okay?)
“I don’t need the other sheep or the other coins or the other bread; I’m doing fine.”
It is the myth of the autonomous, rational-minded, single-acting individual:
The coin, the bread, the sheep who says, I think, therefore I am;
My existence is tied to no one and no thing but me.
Because I am, and nothing else matters, I am all that matters.
I’m okay where I am, because I don’t belong to anything bigger than me;
I’m not fragmented off of anything; I have no tribe or home or bread.
And that is one powerful delusion.
To put it more bluntly, the sheep is just gullible enough to believe that he is the Shepherd;
The coin thinks it’s the mint;
The little crust of bread imagines there was never any Baker.
It is the belief that we don’t need each other
And that we certainly can’t afford to believe in things that we can’t see
Coming to rescue us and ushering us off to places we can’t fathom ourselves going.
We don’t know how fragmented and isolated we are;
We don’t know it, because it’s hard to say what condition you’re in when you’re in it.
We don’t know how much we need each other --
To be rescued! found! restored!
The sheep is uncompromising in its intransigence;
It’s not going anywhere, much less to some imaginary rescue.
The coin knows precisely how much it is worth;
It knows its worth cannot be any further compounded;
Its value is as high as it has ever had to count,
And therefore its value must be the highest possible value;
It cannot conceive of being joined together with any other coins
Such that its worth may be tenfold; because That’s Just Crazy.
And the bread? The bread is only a little crumb; it believes that it is worthless,
Even if it is alone in all the world.
Whether we are unable to see beyond the ends of our noses;
Or if we think too little of ourselves to be considered worthy of being found;
Or if we’re just so stubborn that we have grown to like being lost;
It matters not; we still need rescuing; we still need a Rescuer.
Thank God someone other than us knows this!
If it were up to us we’d wander off, get lost, go hungry, die of thirst, drown,
Get eaten by wolves, freeze out in the wild, run out of grass to eat,
Or carried away like a fragment of bread by a picnic ant,
Or, like the coin, become a shiny thing in a possum’s nest.
We’d flounder and falter and waste ourselves.
It is precisely God’s nature to lavishly expend every resource to find us and restore us --
To use any means possible to get our attention and get us home,
Well beyond the limit of what common-sense should dictate.
But where is home? To what are we being restored?
The answer comes in three parts.
We are restored, first, to God.
For now, for ever.
We’re told, in no uncertain terms, that we are loved by God our Creator --
Jesus the Good Shepherd, God the Good Baker, God the Good Coin-Maker.
That Jesus loves me, this I know -- or at least this we had ought to know by now.
“When even one sinner repents,” Jesus says, the whole thing cracks open and we head home.
We find our true citizenship to be with the Kingdom of God --
An all-encompassing reality of Heaven come on Earth,
Just exactly as we pray for it to happen every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
And notice, please: not deferred until after death, yet certainly enjoyed for all time.
We are restored to the laughter and the rejoicing and the big party being thrown by God
Over this one small coin, sheep, crust of bread.
We are restored into the reality that because of God, acting in Jesus, “nothing may be lost”
And everything may be gathered up and brought in.
We are restored also to each other. We’re brought back to each other.
We’re warmed up and fed in a safe place
And from that place of sanity and calm,
We get to see the truth -- that we’re all being made in the image of God, the Crucified Son --
From that place of sanity and calm and truth, we get to spread truth and calm and sanity.
This all happens with a gracious word from Jesus,
Being fed at his table, around his table so we can see each other,
Being led to understand, as we can only understand in part, that our sins are forgiven.
Our sight is restored so that we can see Christ in each other and rejoice over that,
And serve Christ when we see him walking the world in need,
And name the Spirit as it moves through our community
And carves a new and exciting way for us to walk together.
We’re restored to that knowledge and that feeling we get
When we know we’ve found a home for our spirits to come and rest and find refreshment.
We’re brought in from the dangerous wild and taught to be kind
In the presence of one another;
We learn graciousness towards each other.
And then, because the cross is in the world, we head back out to love and serve,
Remembering that we carry within us the seed of community.
Finally: we are restored, perhaps at the last, to ourselves.
God intervenes into our situation by fitting our sight with a highly polished mirror.
We “come to ourselves,” as it is said of the young man whom we come to call the Prodigal Son.
We “come to ourselves,” as he “came to himself” when he was reduced to nothing --
Feeding pigs in a strange land, hungry, having squandered all his money,
Having found himself lost and alone,
Finally seeing the situation for what it was --
Desperate, afraid, lonely, he “came to himself.”
When we return home,
All those words of comfort and forgiveness that are spoken urgently by God
Become like a salve,
And maybe we can start to get it -- that being out on the edge all alone,
Unless it is to seek and serve Christ in others, is dangerous.
It’s where hope is extinguished and solitude brings us to the edge of our resources.
Yet God is not above using even those situations and times of recklnessness to bring us closer,
To offer us rescue.
I don’t mean a magical Hollywood ending, either, where everything gets tied up neat.
I don’t mean perfection is available to the one who is restored.
I certainly don’t mean that by throwing our own switches we can accelerate God’s grace.
I mean simply this:
How good it is to close one’s eyes at night and to know, at the very bottom,
That the grace of the Rescuer, Finder, Restorer --
That that grace does not fail and will never exhaust.
How good it is to know that one has been found,
Is being found,
Will evermore be found.