Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 – Because Of – A sermon on Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18:9-14
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

On certain Wednesdays around here, Pastor Pam and I teach what we call “CAT” classes to 4th and 5th graders. CAT as in catechism class. This month we’re talking about stewardship and how all that exists and all that we have belongs to God and has been entrusted into our good care.

I teach the 5th grade class and a couple of weeks ago we were doing activity called “The Giving and Getting Game” – where each person began with a cup of M&Ms and a spoon. The point of the activity was to show that much of our world teaches us to get for ourselves. The more you have, the better and more valued you are.

But the 5th graders didn’t know that point yet. The only instruction for the game was this – You can only give or get m&ms with your spoon. You have two minutes. Go.

 At first the group of 5th graders stood there a little confused – wait, what are we supposed to do? And so I simply repeated the instruction – You can only give or get m&ms with your spoon. You have two minutes. Go.

 And to this proud pastor’s surprise, a few of them began by sharing their M&M’s. They just started dolling out their share to others and had this wonderful effect on the group. Everyone began sharing their m&ms with each other.

Now for as beautiful as this was, this wasn’t exactly proving my point. So, I may have started going around taking everyone’s m&ms with my spoon, which interestingly enough created a chain-reaction of everyone else transitioning from their generous mode of giving to a more selfish mode of getting. My greediness started to infect the whole group. Everyone, except two 5th graders. They just gave away and gave away. It was beautiful.

And the end, we all held up our clear cup of M&M’s to see who had what. And while most of us had about the same amount, those two students had none. Completely empty cups. And we asked the question – who won the game? Because the world tells us that whoever has the most wins, right? Well, everyone agreed that it was the two who humbly gave everything away who won. Now to be fair, since we were going to eat our candy as a snack, I instructed all of us to give a spoonful of M&M’s back to the two with none.

And as soon as I said this, the face of the student with none suddenly shifted from this calm, humble look…. to a sly snear, as she reached out her arms and said, “Oh yes, give ‘em to me!”

And suddenly we all felt like we had been tricked. Trapped by her generosity. As if she out smarted us, knowing that being generous to others would really benefit her in the end. Or maybe she was even tricked and trapped by her own generosity. She sought to be generous and not greedy. But in the end, she became the very thing she sought to avoid.

The parables of Jesus have the tendency to do the exact same thing to us – to trick and trap us, until we aren’t sure which way to turn or which position to take. And sometimes we end up becoming the very thing the parable wants us to avoid. And our parable for this morning is no different.

Two men go up to the temple to pray –a Pharisee and a tax collector.

Most of us have an immediate reaction to this parable and it is a reaction of disdain and disgust for just how arrogant and selfish and holier-than-thou the Pharisee sounds. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

 And then we hear the prayer of the tax collector and they just sounds so honest and humble. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And then we make this parable to be about a seemingly Lutheran repentant tax collector who relies solely on God’s grace alone, and is worthy of our compassion, over against a self-righteous Pharisee who thinks their good works can save them.

And with a sly sneer, we walk away saying to ourselves, “Thank you God that I am not like that Pharisee. I’m way more humble than he is.”

And suddenly we are trapped by the parable, becoming the very thing we thought to avoid – arrogant and selfish and holier than thou.

And isn’t it interesting that at the end of the parable Jesus proclaims – for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Well, my question is – how can we heed Jesus’ words to be humble without the secret hope to then be exalted, which then makes us the ones who exalt themselves and thus the ones who will be humbled. It seems to be a trap us and it’s hard to figure out.

But as Pastor Pam shared last week, parables aren’t problems to solve once and for all, but rather they are a story to wander around and get lost in. Asking questions along the way.

So let’s do that.

We have a Pharisee and a tax collector. My first question is – what do you think of when you hear the word “Pharisee”? I think most Christians have been trained to hear that word with a negative connotation. But Jesus’ audience would likely have heard that word with great respect. A Pharisee was one who followed God’s law, which is to be commended. They were the respected teacher who walked the walk and talked the talk.

And the tax collector? In the church we’ve often put tax collectors into the category of the marginalized deserving our compassion and care. But for Jesus’ audience, the tax collector would be the despised Jewish traitor who works for Rome and not for God. He is likely dishonest and corrupt, overcharging the population for his own gain. The very fact that a tax collector would be in the temple, let alone praying, would be unsettling and laughable.

So a respected Pharisee and a despised tax collector walk into the temple to pray.

Now, the Pharisee is standing by himself and begins to pray. And it is easy for us to see this prayer as selfishly self-promoting and braggadocious. But it is worth noting that he does not simply see himself as a self-made person. He does give thanks to God for his lot in life, showing that he does see himself dependent upon God. Now, we could spend an entire sermon talking about whether that’s how God actually functions in the world, giving people their lot in life. But for today, let’s just note that perhaps the Pharisee isn’t as selfishly arrogant as we might assume.

And his prayer about all that he has done, which can sound to us as cocky, can be found as a command in Deuteronomy – to pray to God about all the things you have done, following the law. This Pharisee is just simply following the law.

Now, what is startling about his prayer is that what he has done – fast twice a week and give a tenth of all he owns – goes above and beyond what was expected of him as a Pharisee. There was no requirement to fast twice a week and there was no requirement to tithe from everything you owned.

He did more than was expected of him. In fact, the Pharisee’s fasting and tithing would’ve been seen as commendable acts that benefit the entire community, even as atoning payment for the sins of others in the community. As one preacher has said, this Pharisee could’ve run for office without any fear of skeletons in the closet.[1]

And so it is because he is such an up-standing citizen, that it comes as a great surprise that he would judge this tax collector, a member of his community. What is surprising about this Pharisee is not that he’s self-centered and arrogant. He should feel good about the good he’s done. But rather what is surprising is that while speaking of his abundant good works that benefit the community, he judges a member of his community for their sins- the tax collector.

Which is where we turn next. Now, the tax collector is standing far off and begins to pray. But did you notice that the tax collector confesses his sin, but makes no resolve to stop sinning? It is quite possible that he will leave the temple and return to his occupation as a traitor tax collector on behalf of the Roman Empire. Can we trust this tax collector? It is sort of like when just about any politician suddenly starts showing up at church during an election season. We all are just a little suspicious of it. Can we trust him? Is this tax collector genuine in his need for mercy or is he simply using and abusing the temple as an ATM of forgiveness so that he can sleep at night? Who knows?

So who do we want to be in this parable? The judge-y Pharisee who does amazing good works? Or the honest tax collector who feels bad but might not actually stop what he’s doing?

And then we get that line from Jesus – I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.

 And this is where we get into trouble.

Because now we think we’ve got the answer. Aha! Better to be the honest tax collector desperately in need of the grace of God. And that’s when we can say, “Whew, thank God I’m not like that Pharisee.”

But Jesus’ words here aren’t as clear as they seem. That phrase “rather than”. It can mean that. Or it can mean “because of.” What if the phrase is – And Jesus said, I tell you this man went home justified because of this one.[2]

Remember this Pharisee did more good than was expected of him? He had more good works than he needed. You see, the Jewish community emphasized the need for community. They would pray in the plural – our Father, Give us our daily bread, and forgive us of our sins. It was a community in which each member was responsible for the other. The sin of one can negatively impact the other. AND the good deeds of one can positively impact the other.

In the beginning, we had a Pharisee who stood by himself, thinking his praise-worthy good works belonged to him and him alone. And we had a tax collector who stood far off, thinking his destructive sin isolated him from the community. But in the end, perhaps, both men walk away justified, one because of the other. And erasing the distinction between them – they both are recipients of the justifying grace of God.

And as a result we are reminded not of who we are in the parable or who we should be – that’s the trap of the parable. But rather we are remind of who God is. A God whose grace cannot be limited to one over the other. A kind of grace that is not privatized and individualized, but a grace that is communal and shared, stretched over both those who don’t deserve it and those who think they do.

In just a few moments, we all will make promises to McKenzie Marie through baptism. To raise McKenzie Marie in the faith and to support this family. But we don’t to this simply because we think we have something to teach McKenzie about God. But it is because McKenzie has something to teach us about God. We share in God’s blessing together, because of each other.

And in this season of stewardship, as we ask you to support this place of St. John’s ministry, we don’t ask so that you can support our ministry, as if we are separate. It is to support the ministry we all share, because of each other, through this place, as a community. This stewardship season our goals are to support our continued ministry, but also to grow our feeding ministry and our welcoming ministry. This week, you’ll find an insert on your bulletin on our feeding ministry. When you give to support the feeding ministry, it not only benefits you because you can feel good about following God’s call to love your neighbor – which you can! But it is also that because of you your neighbor and the whole community benefits.

My dear friends, there is no limit on God’s grace. If one person receives it, it is not because another had it taken away. It is something we all share. So let us not exalt ourselves over others because we will be humbled. And let us not humble ourselves in hopes of being exalted. But rather maybe we can just sit together in peace under the canopy of God’s grace, trusting that there is plenty of room and that we all are there both for and because of one another. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Fred Craddock, The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock, p. 175.

[2] Amy Jill-Levine, Short Stories by Jesus. This is sermon was significantly influenced by her chapter on this parable.

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Sunday, October 9th, 2016 – An Incomplete Healing, a sermon on Luke 17:11-19

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 17:11-19
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

I wonder what it was like. To become a leper.[1] Surely it did not happen over night. It began with a mark on the skin and a sinking of the stomach. Followed by prayers and prayers that it goes away.

But then it gets bigger and it boils up. You chose long sleeves each day, hoping no one will see what you see. And then it spreads to the other arm. And then to the leg.

Soon, people start whispering and pointing at you in the marketplace. Until one night, around dinner time, the priest shows up at your door and you realize it’s time.

Because you know what the bible says. The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” 46He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

So the priest shows up. And at this point, maybe your family has already disowned you, or maybe they are still weeping for you. But whichever it is, you can’t even hug goodbye. You just look at each other, knowingly, before you head out the door.

I doubt there is much of a welcoming committee for new lepers exiled outside the community. After all, you are to live alone. To not be part of anything or anyone. And all the while, an even greater disease is slowly going septic throughout your entire being. A disease that says you are unwanted, unlovable, you are bad.

I wonder how these 10 lepers found each other. I wonder what gave them the courage to break the law and approach each other, so as to not have to live alone. Marginalized outcast people seem to have always known that they need to come together in order to survive. I bet they would sit around the fire at night and tell each other about their families. I bet they would help each other change their bandages, like the hard to reach ones on the back. And maybe they would take turns letting each other have the last olive each night.

And get this, we know there was a Samaritan leper among them. Now, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They disagreed about how to worship God and where to worship God. And therefore, they did not mix, they did not socialize. But this Samaritan – this Samaritan leper has been in this group of 10 all along. And they would’ve know it too.

I can’t help but wonder if the 9 Jewish lepers saw the Samaritan leper and if, at first, there was a resistance – this impulse to do what they would have normally done, which is to exclude him. Until finally, one of them just said, “Oh, who cares. What’s the difference? Come on.” In a strange way, it was their brokenness, their leprosy, that could erase the religious and cultural borders between them.

Now the text says Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, and he was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. Which means he was right on the border of home and enemy territory. He’s walking on the train tracks the run right through the neighborhood your parents let you go through and the neighborhood your parents don’t let you go through. We know what that’s like, right? To be divided by train tracks?

And if you look at a map, for Jesus to get to Jerusalem, the region between Galilee and Samaria isn’t exactly on the way. In fact, it’s sort of like going from here to Decorah, IA, by way of South Dakota. It’s possible, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So Jesus goes near enemy territory that is out of the way. Which teaches us that sometimes following Jesus with your life will be both risky and inconvenient.

And notice that Jesus first came near to the lepers – to their village – before the lepers came near to him. Jesus makes the first move. Jesus draws near to you before you can even realize it. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus doesn’t wait for you to choose him in order for him to be part of your life.

I wonder what it was like for the 10 lepers to see Jesus drawing near to them. I imagine it would feel like it was too good to be true, that someone who walks in the name of the Lord would come to them. Which is why they approach Jesus but they don’t get too close. Don’t get your hopes up.

And then they cry out to Jesus. “Master, have mercy on us.” They don’t ask for healing. They don’t ask for food. They just ask for mercy. And to ask for mercy is to ask for a chance to start over. Jesus, can we just start over?[2]

And then it says, Jesus saw them. Do you hear that? He saw them. In his first sermon, Jesus says, “I’ve come to bring release to the captives and sight to the blind.” Jesus has come to give us sight. But first he must model that seeing.

And what does he see? Not their sickness, not their condition, but their humanity. Their brokenness. Their made-in-the-image-of-God-ness, which is to say their goodness.

And after seeing them, Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.”

Go and show yourself to the priest. Get them, the ones who condemn you to a life of isolation and shame, get them to see in you what I see in you.

Which to them must’ve seemed utterly ridiculous.

I mean, nothing’s happened yet. They haven’t been healed. The sores on their arms haven’t dried up and gone away. Why would they go to the priest? So that he can say to them, “Yep, still a leper. Now get out.”

But here’s the thing: they go. That’s one of the miracles of this story – that these lepers would go to the priest to show their cleanness with no evidence whatsoever that they actually will be clean, healed, when they get there. They simply trust that what Jesus sees in them is true. And is of value. Trusting that Jesus sees more in them than what they can see in themselves.

So, on their way, the lepers are made clean. They are healed.

And now this is the part that stopped me in my tracks this week. One of them – and we know which one, the Samaritan – notices that he’s been healed. And he turns back and draws close to Jesus, close enough to be at his feet to say thank you, and Jesus says, “Where are the other nine?”

And there’s heartache in that question. Because it means the Samaritan came back alone.

Alone.

Remember what the law said about lepers? That they shall live alone? Now this one, who had a community when he was a leper, now when he’s healed of his leprosy is alone.

Now, I know this is supposed to be a sermon about thankfulness. About how we’re never really healed or whole until we can be thankful for our life. And how it’s good to say thank you to God.

But I just couldn’t get over the punch-in-the-gut punchline of this story – that he was a Samaritan and he’s alone.

Now, hear me out. Remember they were a group of 10. And clearly the lepers didn’t care that one of them was a Samaritan. They were a group. A family. A unit. But could it be, that when they all were healed, suddenly the Samaritan’s Samaritan-ness mattered again?

Because suddenly this family of 10 is now a group of 9 and 1. What was a community is now fractured.

And so, I’m not convinced that this is a healing story. Or at least that the healing in this story is complete.

Because I think what Jesus is intentional. Jesus is trying to give sight to the blind to something that is very important – that there is a deeper sickness, a deeper disease that still needs healing. And it is a disease worse than leprosy.

It is the disease of separateness and exclusion. The belief that some are good and some are bad. That some should be in and some should out.

And Jesus even highlights this when he says what sound like harsh words – Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?

 And we cringe at those words – this foreigner – but Jesus says them with a little wink to the Samaritan. Because Jesus is a foreigner too. He’s got those great Old Testament foreigners’ blood in his lineage and in his veins – from Ruth, the Moabite and Rahab, the Canaanite.

And Jesus is saying here, “You can follow me, but can you accept him? Because we’re both foreigners.” That’s the real disease at work here, the disease that we can lived separate and isolated from each other. The disease that we can say hurtful things about other people as if they don’t actually hurt us in the end.

And that is what we need to be healed from. This idea that we are not one human race, this idea that we are not all family. When God says – you are.

The Samaritan gets it. The Samaritan is healed and whole. Why? Because in the end he walked straight up to Jesus. He, a Samaritan, walked right up to Jesus, a Jew. Close enough to kiss his feet. As if there was no religious or cultural boundary dividing them anymore. Because there wasn’t. There is no longer Jew nor Samaritan. No longer clean or unclean. For we are one in Christ.

The Samaritan gets it. It the other 9 who don’t. They aren’t fully healed yet of their disease. And neither are we.

So, whose your Samaritan? Whose the unclean one to you? Whose the foreign one in your eyes? Is it a co-worker? Or your family member? Or your neighbor and their political signs out front? Who is it for you? And can you approach them with new prescription lenses from Jesus?

So that you may see them as Jesus does. As made in the image of God. As clean. As whole.

May our faith in Jesus make us well. Amen.

[1] I’m grateful to Alan Storey for this insightful approach to the text.

[2] Ibid.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016 -When God is Lost and Found, a sermon on Exodus 32 and Luke 15

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 15:1-10
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Exodus 32:7-14
7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Sermon

My dear friends, I don’t know if you noticed. It was subtle. But in a few of our readings this morning, something very, very precious was lost. Something so important, so crucial to our everyday life that without it, none of us would be here. Something that without it, I’m not sure life would be worth living.

What was lost this morning wasn’t a sheep who wandered away. It wasn’t a coin that rolled off the table and in between the floorboards.

No, what gets lost today…is God.

Twice.

The first time God gets lost this morning is in our Old Testament reading from Exodus.

As the story goes, the people of God have just been set free from Egypt and have gathered at Mount Sinai. They’ve been claimed by God and have just received the covenant of the 10 Commandments from God. Moses and God are having a chat up on the mountain, meanwhile all the people are at the bottom of the mountain waiting to hear from Moses. But then they get afraid. Moses, their spiritual leader and the visible image of God for them, hasn’t shown up in awhile. And so, desperate for some image of God to worship, they melt down so gold, turn it into a golden calf and worship it as the image of God.

And God gets angry. And understandably so. I mean, God had literally just given them the 10 Commandments, and the first commandment says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other gods and not make an idol of God.” So here they received these freshly chiseled 10 commandments on stone tablets, but the people of God couldn’t get past lunch without breaking the first commandment. So, yeah, God gets angry.

But then God gets so angry that God is ready to cut them to loose. Did you hear what God said to Moses? Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;

God’s totally disowning God’s people and pushing them off on Moses. Which is just a classic parenting move, right? Anytime Elliot does something really reckless or destructive, I have this bad habit of saying to Lauren, “Do you know what YOUR son did today?”

And then to make it worse, God tells Moses to leave God alone so that God’s anger can burn hot. God even says that God wants to destroy the people and start all over again with Moses.

And it’s in that moment, when God wants to break the covenant and give, when God first gets lost today. Or, I should say, when God loses God’s self. It is then that God forgets who God is. And the covenant that God made with God’s people – to be their God.

The next time God gets lost today is in our gospel reading. It’s right at the beginning, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees and scribes want nothing to with the tax collectors and sinners, and want to give up on them. And the Pharisees and scribes are so tied into the life of God for the community that therefore they think God wants nothing to do with the tax collectors and sinners. That God wants to give up on them.

And it’s in that moment that God gets lost for a second time today. The Pharisees and the Scribes have lost sight of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who makes promises – promises to be our God and us as God’s people. The God of Moses who rescues the people from slavery, the God who gives laws for the sake of life, not the sake of obedience. The Pharisees and the scribes are so caught up in God’s law that they’ve forgotten who God is. A God of relationship and life; not a God of judgment and death. But that God…that God is lost to them.

But my dear friends, the story doesn’t end there. I don’t know if you noticed. It was subtle. But this morning, something very, very precious was found. Something so important, so crucial to our everyday life that without it, none of us would be here. Something that without it, I’m not sure life would be worth living.

What was found this morning wasn’t a sheep who wandered away. It wasn’t a coin that rolled off the table and in between the floorboards.

No, what was found today…is God.

Twice.

Back in our Exodus reading, when God is so lost God’s own anger that God has lost God’s self. When God is ready to throw in the towel and scrap this group of people and start over with Moses, forgetting that God promised at the end of the Noah story never to do that again.

It is then that Moses, like a shepherd who has lost his sheep, finds God and brings God back to God’s self. Moses says, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

Do you see what he’s doing there. YOUR people. The ones YOU brought out of the land of Egypt. He’s reminding God of the relationship. Of the promise.

Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”

And in the very last line of our reading it says, “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”

And in that moment, God was found. God was lost, but now God has been found. Thanks to Moses. In the end, God finds God’s self – a God who chooses not to destroy, but to be faithful to the people.

And then in our Gospel reading, when the Pharisees want the God of revenge. The God who brings punishment down on sinners. When they want to build a wall around who Jesus can spend time with and they want Jesus give up on the lost causes of this world. When they have lost God…

It is then that Jesus, like Moses, helps us find God again by telling parables about God. A God who will risk everything for God’s people to be whole again. A parable about a shepherd (perhaps reminding them of Psalm 23 – the Lord is my shepherd) who doesn’t discard the lost. Who doesn’t punish the lost by leaving them out on their own. But a shepherd who goes to find the lost sheep. A shepherd who leaves the rest of his flock unprotected in the dangerous wilderness (and therefore risking his whole life) just to find that one sheep who is lost.

Then a parable about God as a woman who will search and search and search, doing nothing else but looking for that one coin that was lost. And then when she finds it, will invite everyone around to celebrate.

In telling these parables, Jesus reminds them of who this God really is.

And did you notice that the parable is in the form of a question? Which of you would leave your 99 sheep to go find the lost one? Which of you having lost one of your ten coins would search and search and search, and then throw a party after finding it? And the truthful answer is – none of us would do that. It’s crazy. Risking 99 of your sheep just to find one sheep? Searching for one coin and then throwing a party that probably costs twice as much when you find it? None of us would do that! It’s bad economics. It isn’t worth the risk.

And in that, the Pharisees and the scribes learn that they are not like God. That the Pharisees’ ways and the scribes’ ways are not God’s way. Jesus reminds them of the God who will risk everything, even God’s own life, for God’s people. It is foolish and crazy, but in God’s eyes, it’s worth it.

In the eyes of God, without that sheep, there is no flock. Without that coin, there is no treasure.

And in that moment the God who was lost was found again. A God of mercy and grace. A God of relationship and promise.

So what do we make of all of this?

What I learn from all of this is that it is easy to lose sight of the God who will not lose sight of us.

It is easy to lose sight of the God who will not lose sight of us.

And in the midst of the harsh realities of this world, can we hold onto the God of who offers such amazing grace? A God of wild, crazy, endless love for all people.

When the harsh realties of the world come knocking, can we hold on to our faith in that God. Because to be honest, when we remember the atrocious attacks on our country 15 years ago, and the unjust wars that followed…when we grieve the loss of Jacob Wetterling and shutter at the truth of his final days…when our politics seems just filled to the brim with venom for each other, it feels like we all are at such high risk of losing sight of this God. When our grief and our fear comes out as demonizing hatred and a thirst for revenge. And not only do we lose God, but we lose ourselves too. And I’m left wondering what does our faith in a God who stands on mercy and grace and forgiveness have to say about this? I’m not always so sure, but I long to live out of that faith in moments such as this. Not for the sake of our salvation or of being good Christians, but for the sake of the world. Because there is nothing healing in hatred and there is nothing redemptive about revenge. There is no life to be found there. Everyone loses. And the greatest loss is faith in a merciful and gracious God.

You know, we call these parables “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” But those titles miss the point. These parables aren’t about the sheep or the coin. They’re about the shepherd and the woman and the truth about God. This God works under an entirely different economy than we do. God sees value where we do not. God offers grace and mercy where we cannot.

This is our God. A God we too often lose sight of, but who never loses sight of us.

Amen.