Sunday, September 11, 2016

Runaway Faith

Runaway Faith from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

I Timothy 1:12-17
12I am grateful to Christ Jesus out Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the foremost.

16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who could come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 15:1-10
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3So 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? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’ 7Just 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? 9When 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.’

10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Everybody loves a good parable. Our blessed Savior leans back in his seat and begins a story that will show us more of the kingdom of God. All the faithful believers lean in close so that we can hear the Word of the LORD, and come away changed by the encounter. Everybody loves a good parable. 

One of my favorite ways to grab onto a good parable is to imagine we're going to make it into a play. Jesus gives us the script and most of the stage directions, and we can see the action beginning to take shape in our minds as each character is introduced. We've got to cast the parts! So, my fellow directors, whom would you ask to play each part in our little parable play?

Oh I know that Jesus is going play the shepherd, that's an obvious choice. But for us church folk... I know! We'll be the sheep that wanders off! After all, we know that the LORD is our shepherd, and that he leadeth me beside still waters and maketh us to lie down in green pastures. We know that we are, as the hymn sings, prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. We're surely the lost sheep in this story! Great casting choice, fellow directors!

Ask almost any Christian where they see themselves in this parable, and they'll tell you they are the lost sheep. They'll say it quickly and confidently. In my experience, though, when you start asking church folk how they wander off, the confidence fades, the answers come more slowly. More often than not, you ask people how they wander away from Jesus and they start listing other people's sins instead of their own.

Oh I'm definitely the lost sheep.
Great! What ways do you wander away from God?
...I mean...I think we all do it. When know...don't do what we should do. When we don't go to church or give to the poor. Stuff like that...

So here we are, a whole flock full of lost sheep, gathered together for worship. And this Sunday our Christian education programming is going to start back up again! We'll celebrate with a Rally Day cookout this evening. Come find out how we can learn to maybe not wander off quite so much...

Gathered together, religiously educated, expecting Jesus will be here too... Sounds like, as much as we want to be the lost sheep, perhaps we are also the scribes and Pharisees?

It’s easy to paint the Pharisees and scribes as the “bad guys,” in the gospel. But reality is more complicated than good guys and bad guys. The scribes and Pharisees were the ones who knew what they ought to be doing, and they were trying to do it. They were trying to live right to the best of their knowledge. The gospel of Luke even implies that some of Jesus’s followers were Pharisees. Perhaps they approved of his cause, but disagreed with his methods.

Jesus, if you want your message about God’s kingdom to be heard, you need to be talking to those who are respected in the community. Have meals with community leaders, with the movers and shakers. Don’t eat with those sinners, if folks see you with them, they’ll assume you’re one too. We just want to give you the best possible platform so you’ll be heard…

But we know the scribes and Pharisees are sinners too. No better or worse than anybody else. We know that they’re lost sheep in need of a shepherd also.

So maybe it’s okay to be both. Maybe we can be the lost sheep and the Pharisees and the scribes.

15 years ago today, four planes were hijacked and used as weapons against this country. These days, much of what they destroyed has been rebuilt, though the scars certainly remain, both on the landscape and on our national psyche.

There’s a monument in New York City, where the World Trade Center used to be, and folks can’t agree on the story it should tell. Should it be a monument to the ways we have rebuilt and overcome that attack? Should we celebrate the strength that allows us to move forward? Or, should it be a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the attacks and their aftermath? Should we remember the grief and vulnerability in which we found ourselves in the wake of that attack?

Should the monument tell a story of vulnerability or of strength?

Probably both, each without the other is only half the story. That’s admittedly difficult to put into a single statue though. That’s why I’m a preacher, not a sculptor.

Because there are plenty of stories of the mix of vulnerability and strength in scripture. We see it in our I Timothy passage. Immediately after proclaiming that Christ Jesus our Lord has strengthened him, the writer is vulnerable enough to admit his ignorance and unbelief, and to confess his sins. But this isn’t a story of “I once was weak and now Jesus made me strong.” The writer of I Timothy asserts that he is still the foremost of sinners. Strengthened, but still vulnerable.

The parables we read today, and everybody loves a good parable, show the same thing. We cast ourselves as both the lost sheep and as the Pharisees and Scribes who make up the flock that is left behind. We identify with the runaway and with the faithful. In these parables we certainly cast Jesus as the adventurous shepherd, but also as the woman doing housework, vulnerable in the wilderness and strong enough to find a small silver coin somewhere in a dirty house.

The scribes and Pharisees were troubled by Jesus’s willing to sit down for a meal with those who were sinners, and excluded from the community. Perhaps they wanted Jesus’s message to come from the strongest place possible so that it might reach a larger audience. I wonder if instead of looking for strength, they had accepted vulnerability and joined Jesus at the table, instead of asking him to choose a different table. Perhaps they’d have seen the strength of a God who doesn’t have to constantly prove it. Perhaps they’d see the greatness of a God who is vulnerable enough to care about a single lost sheep.

Perhaps the dying and rising of Christ Jesus would make more sense. Nowhere is Jesus’s vulnerability more visible than as he suffered and died on the cross. God’s might comes through in the fact that the cross is empty. Jesus came off the cross and then came out of the grave. And he did both, both, so that we would see both aspects of who God is, not so that we would seek to be stronger, but so that we could admit to our vulnerability, and be strengthened by the LORD. “The grace of our Lord overflowed for [us] with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom [we are] the foremost.”

We’re a flock full of Pharisees and scribes, and each of us is a lost sheep. We’re a dirty house full of lost coins, but those coins have value, and so the house is going to end up clean so that we might be found again.

And then the rejoicing begins as we invite all our neighbors to come join us, not just the ones we think are worthy, but everyone, but our fellow sinners and tax collectors, our fellow scribes and pharisees.

And then, we may find that instead of running away from what our faith tells us we should do, we find that our faith runs away with us, and takes us to the still waters and the green pastures to which we know our LORD is leading us.

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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