Pentecost 17

September 11, 2016  

Pentecost 17
September 11, 2016
Our Savior’s Lutheran, La Crosse
Luke 15:1-10
While studying in preparation for my sermon, I found a story that illustrates the point of our gospel reading:God appeared to a hardworking farmer and granted him three wishes.
There was a condition—the condition being that, whatever God did for  the farmer would be given double to the farmer’s neighbor. (So, if the  farmer asked for a new barn, the neighbor would get two…)
Well, the farmer wished for 100 head of cattle. Immediately, he received  the cattle and he was overjoyed. Then he saw that his neighbor received  200 cattle…
The hardworking farmer wished for a hundred acres of land. He was filled  with joy when he received 100 acres of land, until he saw that his neighbor  received 200 acres…
The hardworking farmer was jealous. He felt a little bit slighted. He didn’t  like what was happening. Rather than celebrating his own good fortune and  his neighbor’s, he was upset.
The hardworking farmer told God his third wish: he wished God would  strike him blind in one eye.
And God wept.  (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 9, p. 298).
The parables we heard today speak of God’s joy when what has been lost is found. The lost sheep was found. The lost coin was found. Like the shepherd who joyfully carried the found sheep on his shoulders, and like the searching woman who invited her friends in to celebrate because she found the coin she lost—God celebrates when any one of us who has been lost to sin, repents—turning toward God rather than away.
As wonderful as God’s joy is in these parables—
There is more to the story.
The parables are about us, and how we respond to God’s joy. The stories remind us of those times when we, like the Pharisees, have felt jealous, when we have resented the blessings others have received.
The way scripture readings get chopped up for Sunday readings, only reading a set of verses each week, allows us to forget the context of the stories we hear.
In chapter 14 of Luke, the chapter before today’s reading, Jesus was eating with a leader of the Pharisees. He was eating at the table of someone who had power, who had privilege in the world of the Jewish people.
One chapter later we find Jesus at table with outcasts—with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was with the powerless. Jesus was with those lacking privilege. Jesus was with tax collectors—men most people despised because many of them were cheats. Jesus was with “sinners.” In those days, “sinners” would have been anyone breaking moral laws—living the wrong way, and anyone whose lives did not meet Jewish purity standards. Perhaps a leper, perhaps someone who touched a leper, perhaps a woman menstruating, perhaps a Samaritan who didn’t keep Jewish law…
In our day and age, who do we despise? In our day and age, who lacks privilege? A person recently released from prison? Someone who practices the Muslim faith? A single mother living in poverty who is pregnant? Someone on welfare who smokes?
In our day and age, who do we resent? Is it the LGBTQ community that rallies around a many-colored flag? Is it an African American person who believes Black Lives Matter? Is it a Native American protesting the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota?
Someone might think:
How dare Jesus gather with one of these—or should I say, one of “those?” How dare they be the recipients of God’s blessings?
I’m not trying to push any buttons this morning—I’m trying to be true to the gospel story we have at hand, a story that clearly calls us to celebrate with those most unlike us—to celebrate the blessings they receive from God, even when it appears to us like they are getting more attention, more blessing, more joy.
Like the Pharisees, anyone of us might think anyone of them deserves a little less attention, a little less praise, a little less joy. We would be wrong. We would be wrong, according to Jesus, because they are the ones Jesus chose to gather with, to celebrate with, because they—the lost in society—are always sought out by Jesus and found, and celebrated.
A scholar wrote that these parables “expose the roots of bitterness that dig their way into us whenever we feel that God is too good to others and not good enough to us” (IDB, vol. 9, p. 298).
God’s love is good enough for us all. God weeps when God sees us guided by bitterness and not by love. God weeps when God sees us guided by resentment and not by love. God weeps when God sees walls dividing us that we built— not God, because God loves us all.
When we are lost God searches each one of us out, even if what we are lost to is the sin of our own jealousies or dislikes.
God loves us all. God frees us all. And God calls us to love one another.