Seventeenth Sunday of Pentecost
September 15, 2013
First Christian Church
It started with a sense of not feeling right. I was sitting in my studio apartment in Minneapolis watching the Simpsons in November of 1996. I had moved to Minnesota 10 months earlier and was able to secure a job at a Caribou Coffee in Edina. The next day I felt terrible. I still got ready for work, but I ended up leaving early as what was now clearly the flu took hold. I took a few days to let the flu pass and came back to work a few days later.
Then it came back. Much harder.
I started to not be able to keep anything down and then I started to have trouble breathing. It turns out my flu had progressed to pneumonia. I was so weak,I rarely got out of bed. I remember calling my mother back in Michigan and she asked if they should come and take care of me. Now, I was 27 years old and had been living on my own for a few years. I was a grown man and should be able to take care of this. So, I said not now. After all, it seemed like things were getting a tad bit better for me. I could kick this, I thought.
I remember having a hard time sleeping and my brief respite of stomach problems was just that: brief. I finally admited to myself that I needed help. I could not take care of myself. I dialed the number of my parents in Michigan and told them to come and see me. Which they did.
Long story short, my pneumonia had become a really bad infection which caused me to lose 30 pounds, fluid surrounding my lungs and a two week hospital stay.
It goes without saying that I have taken a flu shot every year since then.
I didn’t think my parents needed to make the 700 mile trip to take care of me. I was an adult and had been sick before. I would be able to handle this. But this virus was far stronger than me. It had challenged me to a fight that I was losing. At some point, you realize that you are lost, not in the sense of direction, but in the sense that things are not well. You realize that you aren’t in control and you need help.
Our text today includes two short parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin. The text starts with Jesus sharing a meal with the tax collectors and other assorted sinners. Now, in Jesus’ day, the people you at with said a lot about you. The fact that he was associating himself with people of ill repute meant that the he was as unfaithful as them. Jesus wasn’t about to let a good time to teach people pass him by, so he starts telling the religious leaders a few stories about things that are lost. The first one is about a shepherd that goes out to find a lost sheep. What’s interesting is that the shepherd just left the other sheep behind to find this one little lamb. Then there is the second story about a woman that hunts high and low for an expensive coin. When she finds it, she decides to throw a big party, an event that probably cost more than the coin that was lost.
On the surface, neither of these stories make sense. No shepherd is going to find one lost sheep. After all, he still has 99 other sheep. And yet the shepherd not only goes to seek the lost lamb, but leaves the rest of the flock behind.
As for the woman and the coin; I don’t ever remember having a party because I found some lost money.
So why did Jesus tell two stories that made no sense?
Because he was telling people what God is like. Because we, all of us, are the lost sheep and lost coin. Some of us, like the tax collectors and sinners knew this. For whatever reason, they lived on the margins of society, cut off from others because of their lostness.
But the Pharisees were also lost. Yes, they had followed the law. The were at the center of society. Their lives had a veneer of control. But the thing is, it was a lie. They weren’t in anymore control than the average tax collector. But because they thought they had it all together.
But this story isn’t about who was lost as much as it was about the finder. God is the shepherd that will go and find that one sheep. God is a woman who will hunt high and low to find a missing coin. God is the one seeking to save the lost, which is all of us.
That can be a comforting thing, to know that God is looking and searching for us. But it can also be disconcerting. We don’t want to think that we are lost. We want to believe we are in control.
Every so often I read a blog by Chad Holtz, a Methodist pastor. He made headlines a few years ago after claiming on his blog that he didn’t believe in hell. He was subsequentially fired from his job. It was then that his life fell apart. He shared months later that he had long battled a sexual addiction, something that cause not only Chad, but his wife heartache. He went to a treatment program. When he started blogging again a few months later, he was a changed man. One thing that changed is that he started using more “Jesus talk.” Now, some folk tend to be cynical about that and tend to look down on such a person. But his talk and outlook reflected someone who had hit bottom and was in recovery only because of the grace of God.
The Pharisees and by extension, all of us, tend to think that we need to find God. We think that this is all up to us. It’s a nice way to think we are in control.
But like my parents, it is God that seeks us out and loves us. And maybe if we stop trying to be so perfect and own up to who we are, just maybe we will see the loving God who will stop at nothing to seek what was lost. Thanks be to God. Amen.