Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where Do We Fit In The Story? Luke 15:1-10

Where do you fit into the story of the lost sheep?
        Can you imagine being the owner of 100 sheep?
               We’d be Fairly rich for those days, to own 100 sheep.
                    How much would we be willing to risk the whole flock for just one?
 Are you the seeker who goes after that lost sheep? -OR-
         Are you the sheep?
                Can you feel the joy of finding it? And bringing it home on your shoulders?
                     Are you the neighbors who share the joy and comes to the party?           

We assumed in part of our prayer that we are the lost sheep and feel comforted that God seeks US, when we have strayed. We can be excited that there is GREAT rejoicing when we are found. THIS is true, no doubt. Yet there is much more to the story. Jesus’ parables are always ‘more than meets the eye’ or ear.
He begins with a question we can’t even hear. “Which of you having 100 sheep would leave 99 to go after the lost one?” Let me phrase it differently.  “Which of you having 100 dollars would leave the $99, unguarded, to go off in search of a dollar?”

            The most likely answer is, “none of us”. We’d cut our losses and keep the $99, forgetting the dollar as too insignificant to chase after. (Certainly when the object is a penny, we are unlikely to even exert the effort to search in a pew for a single penny.)

So the first surprise in the story, is the owner or shepherd (we are not sure which) considers the SINGLE LOST SHEEP of such importance that he goes after it. Jesus tells us that in God’s Divine Economy a SINGLE ONE is valuable, every single one.

The parallel story of the woman with 10 coins is also surprising. While we might understand searching for 1 dollar out of 10, we don’t usually picture GOD as a WOMAN tearing the house apart with a broom and sweeping until she finds the lost coin.
In fact, this is the ONLY New Testament story that pictures God, presumably the seeker, as a woman.
For those of you reading The Shack in Sunday School, you might be able to see God this way easier than the rest of us.

There is even another surprise within the context of a woman’s household. If this was an area where many women were in and out of each other’s homes, there is a potential threat that someone might have taken the coin.
We all know the experience of doubting and wondering if we’ve been victimized when we aren’t sure if something is ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’. This dimension could add some real rejoicing AND repentance (for our doubt) to the party when the coin is FOUND and the assurance comes that it was actually lost so there is no thief in the community.

Context is always important for Biblical understanding. Jesus is hanging out (AND EATING WITH) ‘tax collectors and sinners’; ALL of them, according to Luke’s telling, which is threatening to the elite in the audience.
Jesus tells the parables to the Pharisees, the religious literalists, and to the scribes, the most educated of his day who are also the attorneys. And they have been ‘grumbling’ because they don’t like this mixing of classes. After all, The LAW commands separation of those who are religiously clean from the unclean. In fact, the interpretation of the LAW says, that inviting a tax collector into your house makes the whole house unclean.

Jesus (somewhat surprisingly) is both defending his table partners AND interpreting God’s priorities. It’s a message we hear in the gospels in many ways. “The community is not whole, when any one part is missing.”[i]
In HIS interpretation of Divine Economy, purity doesn’t come from separation by type, but by inclusion of everyone for whom God seeks.
We need reminding of this Divine Economy regularly. Those called “sinners” in our text are people living outside of the law. We can guess that the people around Jesus have ‘repented’ and turned to a new way of living.
Jesus redefines categories that set context OVER content; who you are (male/female, Pharisee/taxcollector) Jesus says, is not as important as being found and restored to God.

We might be surprised that we have another place in the story.
We can join God in seeking the lost. This fits into traditional categories of seeking and saving that we are used to hearing. What we must also hear is Jesus’ emphasis because it is a bit different than what we hear in traditional Christian talk of salvation.
Saving is primarily focused on the individual. It’s about power residing in the one doing the saving. While WELCOMING is about the intimacy of eating at the same table. WELCOMING is focused on the community being whole and complete.[ii] Viewing some as in need of saving creates an imbalance of power that puts us into the same shoes as the Pharisees and Scribes. Inviting someone to our table equalizes or balances the community and brings everyone into God’s fold.

Divine Economy is a balanced economy of equality before God.

Perhaps it is time to ask again, “Where do we fit into the story?”
Are we still in need of being found? Or are we the inviters, setting the table for those coming to repentance?
Unfortunately, the widely-publicized Christian community is often as exclusive as the Pharisees and Scribes. I read a story by Penny Nixon this week where --
a Christian church refused to give communion to people wearing rainbow sashes, “Indicating their solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.
A person who WAS offered Communion took his wafer and began to break it into pieces to share it with those who had been denied and deemed unworthy. The church officials, (the religious insiders,) called the police.[iii]

Where do WE fit into the story?

This week’s news blasts have challenged many Christians to answer that question. Some have cringed to hear Christianity identified with one pastor in FLA who threatened to burn a Qur’an yesterday on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Maybe your co-workers or neighbors had something to say about it. . .
Maybe you commented on it too.
            I wonder if our neighbors know we are Christians so instead of Rev. Jones as the IMAGE of what a Christian is, they have US as an IMAGE OF A CHRISTIAN. ?

I keep asking where does Pastor Jones and his ideas of exclusion fit into this story about lost and found? (b/c I’m convinced it does)
If Divine Economy includes a party for the lost, who are the invited guests today?

In each of Jesus’ 2 stories, the lost ‘object’ is dependent on the Seeker’s DILIGENCE in order to be found.[iv]
The lost sheep is immobilized by fear and unable to make a sound or move from the extensive weeds it has wandered into. It is stuck and can only WAIT to be found.
The coin just lies there, without voice or movement, whether in a corner or under a hymnal, a coin can’t contribute to its own ‘salvation’.
God seeks the lost, without condition of their wanting to be found - - -yet we know  there is a role in the story for repentance.

Once found, some sheep will wander away again, others will TURN and follow the shepherd. We get caught in Jesus’ puzzling images wondering how all the pieces fit into these stories. -?-

There IS a Divine Economy that puts the highest value on repentance. Thedefinition of repent is ‘to turn around’. “The TRUE NATURE of repentance is not to FEEL bad but to change one’s mind.”[v]

Perhaps today’s Divine Party (then) includes rejoicing over one pastor who ‘changed his mind’.
(and) Is our biggest challenge to invite even Rev. Jones to our table?
Even this one who made us cringe and want keep our distance as Christians.-?-

If God’s RADICAL HOSPITALITY is represented in these stories by inviting ALL to rejoice that the lost are found;
 all our family, friends, and neighbors, including the LOST ones, shouldn’t our table include, even those with whom we disagree when they have ‘turned around’?

Now that we are all turned around in these stories, what might also ask, “If we define the ‘lost’ as those whom God seeks, how do we define the found?”

I think that Jesus purposefully makes it difficult for us to answer that question. It may be that it is not our question to answer.
Whether we stay with these 2 stories about sheep and coins, or read on to the son  (we know as the prodigal) who gets ‘lost’ and then returns
‘when he FINDS himself and is FOUND by his father’,
we encounter challenging definitions of God’s ECONOMY;
            Value is placed on one penny out of 100.
            Value is placed on the people who are known to cheat others.
            Value is placed on the helpless who can’t find their way to repentance on their own.
            Value is placed on a son’s return even after he’s done the MOST despicable things in our eyes and received coverage by all the world’s press corp.
People, of all kinds are VALUED so highly in God’s Divine Economy that a party is thrown for the whole neighborhood when even ONE of these is ‘found’.

Where do we fit in the story?
            as lost?
            As found?
            As seeker?
            As rejoicer?
It’s your question and its mine, where do we fit in God’s Divine Economy?

[i] Scott Bader-Saye Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. Theological (Louisville, WJK, 2010) p. 70
[ii] G. Penny Nixon  Feasting on the Word, Bartlett & Taylor eds, Homiletical (Louisville, WJK, 2010) p. 71
[iii] ibid p. 71
[iv] Scott Bader-Saye ibid, p. 70
[v] G. Penny Nixon ibid p. 73

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