|15th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 21||September 25, 2011||Proper 21, Year A||Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-8; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32|
|13th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 19||September 11, 2011||Sermon, Proper 19, Year A||Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12|
|12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 18||September 4, 2011||Sermon, Proper 18, Year A||Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20|
|10th Sunday After Pentecost – “But who do you say that I am?”||August 21, 2011||Proper 16, Year A||Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20|
|9th Sunday after Pentecost Year A – Canaanite Woman||August 14, 2011||Sermon, Proper 15, Year A||Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28|
|8th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A – Peter Gets Out of the Boat||August 7, 2011||Proper 14, Year A||Matthew 14:22-33|
|Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – Feeding of the 5000||July 31, 2011||Proper 13, Year A||Matthew 14:13-21|
|Third Sunday after Pentecost||July 3, 2011||Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year A||Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30|
|Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 8||June 26, 2011||Second Sunday after Pentecost||Romans 6:12-23; Psalm 89: 1-4, 15-18|
|First Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday||June 19, 2011||First Sunday after Pentecost, Year A||Genesis 1:1-2:4a, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20|
|The Day of Pentecost||June 12, 2011||Day of Pentecost||Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23|
|7th Sunday of Easter -Ascension||June 5, 2011||Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A||Acts 1:6-14; I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11|
|Sixth Sunday After Easter||May 29, 2011||Sixth Sunday after Easter, Year A||Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14: 15-21|
|Fifth Week in Easter||May 22, 2011||5th Sunday in Easter||Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; I Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14|
|Fourth Sunday in Easter||May 15, 2011||Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year A||John 10:1-10|
God Longs for Wholeness
Sermon Date:September 12, 2010
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 19—Year C
Last week, we heard that Jesus talks to his followers about the need to pick up their crosses and to carry those crosses if they wish to be his disciples.
In the reading from Luke today that we’ve just heard, Jesus continues teaching the crowd about discipleship.
We can imagine ourselves in this scene. We are the people in this crowd listening to Jesus –and this is a divided crowd—divided because some of us in the crowd are scribes and Pharisees, and some of us are sinners and tax collectors,
Divided because we’re pointing our fingers at one another.
That’s the big issue in this passage—division. How are we, as disciples of Jesus, supposed to handle divisions?
This is a question of utmost importance, because part of being human beings is finding ourselves constantly divided from one another, whether we like it or not, in both big and little ways.
And right now we are living in times in which divisions among us have the potential to destroy the human race, and certainly have the potential to irrevocably divide our country. The horrors of 9-11 are still fresh in our minds. Some of us have children and grandchildren and friends who have fought or who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. We listen to the news, the endless acrimonious debates over the burning of the Koran, and the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, the divisions that have brought our religious and political differences to center stage.
On a smaller scale, our communities, our churches, our families and even our own lives can be fractured by divisions and disagreements.
So Jesus weighs in on this issue of how we are, as his disciples, to deal with divisions in our lives. Jesus tells three stories, two of which we’ve just heard in the gospel reading today.
The first story is of the shepherd who has one hundred sheep and one gets lost.
The second story is about the woman who has ten silver coins, and she loses one.
And the third story, which we didn’t hear today, but you have probably heard it, is the familiar story of the prodigal son. A son demands his inheritance from his father, and then leaves his family and travels to a distant country. This family is now divided because a member of the family has left and taken part of the family inheritance with him.
All of these stories are about God’s response to division, separation and loss—God longs for wholeness in the face of division, separation and loss.
And all of these stories are about how God wants and expects us, as disciples, to handle divisions.
So today I want to talk about these two things: first, God’s response to division;
and second, how we human beings are to handle divisions.
First, how God longs for wholeness! Let’s go back for a minute to the beginning of the gospel according to Luke. Many of us know the story of Jesus’ birth by heart—
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL people.
For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.”
These glad tidings of great joy are to be to ALL people.
God is sending a Savior, not just to one group of people but to ALL people.
So right away, we know from Luke that the God who sends this savior to all people longs for the wholeness of humanity.
God sends Jesus into this world to end division, and God also sent Jesus to help us move toward wholeness with one another.
And not only does God long for wholeness, but God will work for wholeness in varied ways.
Like the shepherd, God goes searching for the one sheep who gets lost from the rest of the flock, in spite of the fact that ninety-nine in the flock are safe.
And when God finds the lost one, God picks that lost one up and lays it on his shoulders and rejoices!
So we know that when we get lost, and it is so easy to get lost in our lives—lost to addictions, lost to depression, grief, lost from one another because of what we have or don’t have, or do or don’t do—
that God will come searching for us,
God will search for us just as carefully as the woman searches for her missing coin, because
like coins and other objects, human beings are also easily misplaced.
For instance, my father-in-law was estranged from his sister for most of his life. As he got closer to dying, I asked him one day, “Would you like to talk to your sister?” “No!” he said, “She knows where I am if she wants to talk to me.”
Eventually he died, and he never did talk to his sister. His relationship with her had gotten misplaced over the years, and finally so lost that my father-in-law couldn’t even imagine searching for wholeness in that relationship.
But God’s response is to search—like the woman in the parable, God lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches until that lost person is found. God is persistent.
And in the story of the prodigal son, God has great patience.
Sometimes we intentionally run away from God and lose ourselves on purpose, go down a path that is sure to lead to trouble, we
demand and get what we can’t handle, and God, who is very patient, keeps on loving us while we go off and make our mistakes.
And when we realize that we are lost and go back home, we find that God has been waiting for us with patience—not only waiting for us, but watching for us, seeing us while we are far off, and runs toward us, filled with compassion.
So from these three stories that Jesus told to his would-be disciples, we know that God will search for us when we get lost, we know that God will be persistent in that search, and we also know that if we just keep running away, God will wait for us with infinite patience and compassion to return.
Now what can we learn from these stories about how God expects us, as disciples of Jesus, to handle division?
Jesus wants us to long for wholeness and to work for wholeness.
And this wholeness that Jesus is talking about is true wholeness, not just an uneasy peace that masks the divisions among us.
Sometimes the easiest thing is just to let divisions alone—maybe some sort of uneasy peace has been established and to work toward wholeness would create dissension and what would seem like more division.
A great example of this in American history is the whole separate but equal policy, the law of the land, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1896 in its ruling in the court case, Plessy vs. Ferguson. This ruling upheld an uneasy peace that furthered the deep divisions between racial groups in our country.
The people who longed for wholeness among the races in our country picked up their crosses and sought that wholeness, in spite of the dissension that resulted.
The court’s ruling in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 reversed the separate but equal policy, and this ruling led to even more dissension and unhappiness all over the country, but the possibility of wholeness came to pass.
As disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that he told us that he came, not to bring peace, but a sword.
Jesus will search for those who are lost, will search for wholeness for the whole human race, even when dissension and fighting are one of the results of that search.
Sometimes the cross that we disciples carry as we search for wholeness is to practice patience and compassion, like the father of the prodigal son.
St Francis de Sales was a good Catholic monk who was a contemporary of John Calvin at the beginning of the 17th century. The Catholic Church had irrevocably split apart and Geneva, Switzerland, had become a Calvinistic stronghold.
Francis de Sales never stopped hoping for what he understood as wholeness—a return of the people of Geneva to the Catholic Church. He did not take up arms against the Protestants in Geneva, but instead, he prayed throughout his life, with patience, and with compassion, that the people of Geneva would return to the Catholic Church, and of course this prayer was not answered in the way he expected it to be.
But I have to wonder—did all of those prayers of Francis de Sales contribute to the fact one of the things that bind the diverse people of Switzerland together today and have made it one of the most peaceful and richest countries in the world is their longstanding policy of neutrality in wars?
Sometimes our patience and compassion and waiting in prayer bear results greater than those we could ever imagine from our limited perspectives.
Finally, God wants us to be persistent in our search for wholeness, especially our inner wholeness. Even within ourselves, Jesus hopes that we will work for wholeness. All of us have lost pieces of ourselves over time.
Maybe someone has destroyed a part of us through physical or emotional abuse and we feel as if we will never be complete human beings again.
We think about what we’ve lost, and how damaged we have become.
But as disciples, our task, the cross which we may need to pick up, is to apply that same diligence that God has as we make the decision to go search for that lost part of ourselves, shine light on the things we’ve buried away that have kept us from wholeness and joy, to find ourselves again and bring those broken things about ourselves to God for healing.
Last of all, how do we know when our discipleship and our seeking after wholeness is not out of our own will and desires, but that our discipleship is carrying out God’s will and desires?
All three of these wonderful parables end up the same way.
They end in joy and in celebration—not the kind of joy we feel and the celebrations we have when our side wins and the other side loses, but joy and celebration because what was once divided has once again been made whole—and this celebration is one that includes not just our friends, who are like us, but also our neighbors.
Discipleship that restores wholeness within ourselves, within our community, and throughout our world brings with it joy, feasting and celebration!
And not only do we human beings rejoice, but Jesus tells us that there will be joy in heaven, joy in the very presence of the angels of God, those same angels who came to those shepherds abiding in the fields
—the same angels who cried out these words with such joy, “For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace!”
Not an uneasy peace, that masks division and hatred, but the peace of God, which passes all understanding, the very wholeness that God wants for each one of us in the great human community.
So Jesus taught the tax collectors and sinners, the scribes and the Pharisees, sinners one and all.
And so Jesus teaches us.
If you want to be my disciples, take up your crosses and go, seek wholeness.
Take up your crosses and rejoice on your way!
Rejoice, because we have a Savior who will go with us,
Who will redeem us,
And who will make us whole!