Sermon for Sunday, September 11, 2022 Luke 15:1-10 1 Since I was away, there are some things I’ve been looking for. I know I put some of the things I normally keep in my wallet, because I knew I wouldn’t use them on my trip: membership cards to VMFA and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, frequent user cards at a coffee shop near me, that sort of thing. And although none of them are critical – I can get a replacement for them pretty easily – it’s gotten me thinking. I’ve been talking a lot about stripping away what is unnecessary; the baggage that separates us from God’s will for us. But the corollary to that stripping away is locating and putting front and center what IS necessary. Jesus talks about this today in a poignant way. He knows some of his followers have gone astray. Perhaps they’ve gotten tired of the cost of discipleship, when their neighbors would tease them and say “are you becoming some kind of crazy person, following that weird rabbi?” Or perhaps they’ve been distracted by something more fun than repairing their relationship with God, like playing golf on Sabbath morning. They might even be ashamed of something they did and have tried to hide from God – imagine those whom Jeremiah writes about! But they’ve gone somewhere, and Jesus says it’s important to go looking for them. We understand that need – if you lose one person who’s part of your faith community, it’s bad enough. But if more and more leave, that sense of loving community is damaged. And everyone suffers because of that loss. Some folks might not have understood what Jesus was driving at, so he gives them a very concrete example of “lost and found.” Since most of the folks he talks to are not the rich, but those for whom a lost coin might be critically important, he tells the story of the woman who loses a coin. Perhaps that’s the coin she uses to buy food. Perhaps it’s the coin she was planning on giving at the Temple. Perhaps it’s the coin she’s saved to buy cloth to make her children’s clothes. She loses the coin, and it throws her plans into disarray. She searches every corner of the house looking for it – as I’ve been looking for those membership cards! – and when she finds it, she dances a happy dance and invites her friends to dance with her. Why does Jesus teach about searching for the lost? Because he is getting criticized yet again by the religious leaders for dining with “those other people” with whom he should not eat. You know the kind: sinners, tax collectors, non-Pharisees. But didn’t we learn over the past couple of Sundays that Jesus has dinner with anyone and everyone, even Pharisees? As we heard the gospel about Jesus dining with the Pharisees, it may have struck us that he shouldn’t be eating with those who have a beef with him. We’re surprised, because we always think of Pharisees as a bunch of stuck-up so-and-sos who are bad. And now they’re getting all judge-y about Jesus eating with those whom they deem unworthy. Now, Jesus could have said, “You’re a bunch of judgmental so-and-sos and I can eat with them if I want to.” But he does something different. He doesn’t deny that the tax collectors and the sinners are people who have fallen short of what God expects of them. He also doesn’t say “you Pharisees and scribes are equally guilty,” although that’s certainly true. He doesn’t have any need to arm-wrestle them about the relative merits of each group of people. He simply 2 wants to make the point that he’s there to help those who fall short, so that they might return to being in a right relationship with God. Anyone who thinks that it’s a bad thing to go and help those who need to get back on the right path is someone who is missing the point of what Jesus and his heavenly Father are telling us. We sometimes have an approach to our fellow human beings that is all about defining who is on the right side of an issue and who is on the wrong side of an issue. We see that in the media all the time, no matter which side of the ledger they fall on. But judging is not our job. Read Scripture: judgment comes not from us, but from God, and justice and mercy are always combined. And if we were each judged as harshly as we sometimes judge others, we’d be in a pretty tough position. Instead of focusing on judgment, though, Jesus focuses on teaching and loving and restoring relationships. He doesn’t argue his case, he loves people into positive change. As in our world, sometimes that works better than other times, but it’s better than simply writing them off. That’s why he keeps looking for those who need his help to become what they were created to be. That’s why we should be ever thankful for that gift of grace and perseverance. And that’s why we should offer the same sort of grace and love to those we know who seem to be off the right path. Not judging: no one was ever convinced by an argument that started off “you’re a miserable sinner and I’m going to tell you everything you need to do to straighten yourself out.” Even Jesus, who was in a position to say such things, didn’t do so. But welcoming, loving, teaching, praying. Finding the spark in them that is lit by God, and fanning that flame of love. And to do that, we need to strip away the baggage of judgment and find that lost coin of humility and a heart to help others. It’s around somewhere. Now that we’ve cleaned house, discarding the useless stuff, it might be easier to find it. May it be so! Amen.

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