Sermon; 14 Pentecost/Proper 19C; Luke 15:1-10
Today we get two very familiar parables: that of the one lost sheep and that of the one lost coin. We have heard these parables so many times we probably are already mentally jumping to the end . . . “Yeah, yeah . . . lost sheep, lost coin, let us rejoice and celebrate, yada, yada, yada.” And there probably isn't anything I can say about these stories to put a different spin on them or present them in a way you've never heard.
Which is why I'm not going to address the parables. Instead, I want to focus on the first two verses of today's passage: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and Scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them'.”
The first thing I want to address is the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. In all times and in all places, there are people who have come to believe in their own self-righteousness to such an extent that they spend more time condemning others rather than examining and correcting themselves or trying to see the good in others. They find the obvious sins, or work to invent sins, committed by others in order to whitewash their own sins. In a couple of other places Jesus talks about logs and motes, and white-washed sepulchers.
We've all done this at one time or another, and we often do it to make us feel better about ourselves or to justify our own actions. But the truth is that, in one way or another, we are all sinners. Some sins may be big – mistreating our fellow human beings, racism, abuse, theft, etc. Some sins may be small – a lie here or there, talking behind someone's back, neglecting to point out that the cashier gave you too much change, etc.
We are all sinners. I wrote about this in a Wednesday Word. No matter how often we clean, dirt and grime still have a way of building up. No matter how righteous we seem to be, sin still creeps in.
This was the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, and it is the hypocrisy of the Church today, that they (we) think we are better than everyone else and spend our time condemning others rather than cleansing ourselves.
Aside from recognizing that we are all sinners, there's another point I want to look at. That is this theme of drawing in and welcoming.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.
Last Monday we resumed the adult bible study class and began an in-depth look at Hebrews. We managed to get all the way to Verse 4 of Chapter 1. That opening paragraph has a lot in it, and it is particularly relevant to our gospel today. In short, it talks about God speaking to our ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets, and now to us by a Son who is the reflection and exact imprint of God's very being.
God has spoken to us in many ways (clouds, dreams, burning bushes) and through prophets in an attempt to bring us back into relationship with him, back into full communion. But now he speaks to us by his Son, Jesus, the exact imprint of God. Jesus is the right word, and not only the right word, but THE Word that people need to hear. Today the gospel tells us of a time when sinners and tax collectors recognized this and came to hear that word.
We are part of the body of Christ. Do we live in such a way, do we speak in such a way, that people around us come to listen to the word of God as spoken through us? If not, then we need to ask ourselves how we can better speak the word of God so people will want to hear it.
So that's the first part, that people were coming to listen to Jesus.
The second part is that Jesus welcomed and ate with those outcasts. This obviously upset the Scribes and Pharisees, but it didn't bother Jesus. If people come to listen to the word spoken, we must then work on welcoming them. I don't know what that welcome looked like for Jesus, but I have an idea of what it looks like for us.
Welcoming means more than handing them a bulletin and saying, “Good morning.” If we see an unfamiliar face, it means introducing yourself with your name and, “I don't believe we've met.” If it turns out they are visiting, it means asking if they are familiar with the Episcopal church and/or service. If they are unfamiliar with our liturgy, it means asking if they would like to be seated next to a parishioner. It means that if a visitor is seated next to you, you make sure they're on the right page in the right book – maybe even handing them yours first. It means inviting them to coffee hour, and then not abandoning them. It means recognizing that crying babies in church are signs of growth and should be celebrated. It means wearing your name tag.
These are all things we do fairly well. After all, it's part of living into our mission to Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage. But just because we do it well most of the time doesn't mean we do it well all of the time. Which is why we need to be constantly reminded to be hospitable and welcoming – so that that part of our mission doesn't get neglected.
And when we truly welcome those who come into our midst, we just might find we fall on the wrong side of the religious judges wondering why we eat and welcome sinners and others of their ilk. The only truly acceptable answer to that question is, “Because Jesus did it.”
Today the gospel passage is focused on finding and rejoicing over the one that was lost and then found. But before we get there, we must pay attention to how this passage starts. It starts by recognizing we are all sinners, so we shouldn't be quick to condemn others. It starts by understanding that, like Jesus was the reflection of God's glory, we are the reflection of Jesus Christ, and we should live lives that reflect Jesus in such a way that others will want to draw near to hear the word of God. It starts with us being willing to welcome those other people into our midst.
And if we do those things well, then I believe the lost will be found and there will be much rejoicing.