Inspired by Luke 15:1-10
So, for those of you who have not picked up on this yet, I’m an introvert. I know, I know, this seems like a strange occupation for an introvert right!? However, I think there are just as many introverts as there are extroverts among us clergy. In fact, I suspect, there are may be more introverts among us clergy but I’m not aware of any research on this. There is a lot of misinformation about introverts though. Many assume we always want to be alone. Or that we are anti-social. Or that we are always quiet and reserved.
Those who know me and my fellow introverts best know that this is not the case. I love spending time with people, quality time. But I also enjoy socializing with people I don’t know well…yet, I just need different parameters around that kind of socializing. And those closest to me, know that I am anything but quiet and reserved. If that were true my family would not be telling me to shut up all the time!
However, to be fair, I don’t like any more attention on myself than is required. If I don’t have to be in the spotlight, I’ll let others be there. If I don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, I’ll let others be that. I think that’s why Pastor Casey and I make such a great team. Take for instance, the different way we both enter a room. When Pastor Casey walks in, he announces himself! When I see that I think, wow, I wish I could do that! That thought usually occurs while my eyes are rolling but that’s beside the point! Or as another example, the different way we announced our upcoming birthday’s. I think he started telling people at least two months in advance. I first mentioned it publically, well right now, three days after my birthday!
Ok, so why all this talk about seeking attention? Since the beginning of summer we have been reading through the Gospel of Luke, and we’ll continue to do so, chapter by chapter, right through the fall. And when we started this I urged you to keep one thing in mind, that Luke is taking us on a deliberate path, to Jerusalem, to the cross. And that every story he shares with us, should be read in the shadow of Jesus death. So the question behind every single story that Luke shares with is, what does it look like to follow a crucified God? Please continue to keep that in mind. So, today we have this story that includes a parable about a lost sheep and a lost coin. But what I really want to address is what caused Jesus to tell this parable in the first place.
Luke begins this story by saying, “All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” [gasp] Gasp! Let’s try that again together this time! This man welcomes sinners and eats with them! [gasp] Remember, that would have been your reaction if you were reading this two thousand years ago. But I don’t want to focus as much on why Jesus continually welcomed and ate with “sinners.” I want to focus on the salty Pharisees and legal experts. Why are they so bent out of shape over this? Well, for a few reasons. On the surface they think Jesus is just plain wrong. They believe that Jesus is on the wrong track , that he is leading people astray.
But deeper than that, they saw Jesus taking not only their people away from them but attention away from them. And they say a movement happening, right before their eyes, and for the first time, they were the ones being left out. They were the ones feeling like they were on the sidelines. And though they would never say this, they were the ones feeling alone, and abandoned. And that got me thinking about our own faith journeys, our own personal lives, and even as a nation.
Those times when we feel left out, abandoned, lost, alone. Maybe it’s when our family is so busy that we don’t even notice when someone is feeling left out, because as we all know we can feel very lonely in a crowded room. Or maybe there’s a new family member and they’re getting all the attention. Or maybe at the death of a loved one, when we feel that no one can do or say anything to make it better.
Those are examples from our personal lives but I also think we can experience this as a nation as well. Today we remember the 15th anniversary of the horrific events of 9/11—one of the loneliest days in our nation’s history, in spite of all the attention we got that day, expressed in questions like, where was our security? Who is safe? Where can we turn to now? Where was God? How do I raise my children now, in this fast changing world? And these questions seem to rear their ugly head with each and every tragedy that our nation faces: in each mass shooting, gang violence, police violence, domestic violence, natural disaster, hate crime, every time we as a nation feel abandoned by…fill-in-the-blank.
And even in our own faith communities, in the place you’d least expect it, we can often times feel abandoned. When we see new programs and events that are starting that don’t really include us. When we see the church go in a direction that we are having a hard time getting on board with. When we see certain groups getting a lot of attention and others are not. When the pastor hasn’t asked me yet to go for coffee or lunch.
In our own welcoming, loving community there are still moments when we feel abandoned or lost or out of place. How do we respond to those moments? How do we react? Will we be like a King Kong sized baby leaving a wake of destruction behind our temper tantrum? Will we be like the Pharisees and legal experts from our story who end up taking a dark turn, assisting Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross?
Or will we listen to this parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin and let it sink into our hearts? I think we assume too quickly that this parable was for the benefit of the sinners with whom Jesus was welcoming and dining with. I wonder, I wonder if Jesus told this story for those Pharisees and legal experts who were feeling left out, who were watching their fellow believers go in a direction they could not follow? I wonder, if the lost sheep and the lost coin is them, is all of us.
And this was Jesus’ way of saying, I see you. I have not forgotten you. I have not abandoned you. And even when you cannot follow, even when you walk away from me, even when my people abandon you, I will never stop searching for you. God will look in every ravine, behind every bush, in every dark cave, under each and every rug and table, behind the refrigerator and wherever the dust bunnies of life collect. And I will not be distracted says the Lord. You will always have my undivided attention. And the best news? God is a fairly good multitasker. Thanks be to God. Amen.