Sunday, September 11, 2016 (Proper 16 ,RCL Yr C Track 2)
Luke 15:1-10 (click to read passage)
Welcome! And welcome back!
It is “welcome back” to each of you, even if you’ve been in church every Sunday all summer, because we are finally back here in the church itself after six weeks of being “away,” worshiping in the parish hall during the renovation. We were on a wandering journey of sorts. Not lost, but not at home, either. But now, thanks to the hard work of our friends at Houyston’s Remodeling and our Junior Warden, Dennis Tripodi, we are back in the church.
But each of us has had times when we have felt lost.
Perhaps we have lost a job.
Or we have lost out to someone in a competition of some sort—at work, or in school, or on the athletic field, or in our romantic life—we found ourselves coming in second, or fifth–
Or we have found ourselves losing out in popularity—whether in office politics or in the middle school lunchroom–
Or we have lost someone we love—to illness, or conflict within the family, or death–
Or we have lost hope, due to current events, or due to our brain chemicals miring us in depression–
Or we have lost touch with someone, due to a move, or a disagreement—
Or we have lost touch with ourselves. Perhaps we have lost control over a situation we thought we had in hand, lost our balance, our equilibrium–
Or we have lost our way at some point on the journey of becoming who we imagined we could be.
And when we feel lost, we begin to feel invisible, unseen.
When we feel that—lost, and invisible, and rejected— the very human instinct is to separate ourselves, to believe that we really are lost and not worth seeing, not worth belonging. And so we turn in on ourselves, and often cut ourselves off from those to whom we do actually belong.
In the story from the Gospel of Luke that Deacon Mary Ann just read, Jesus tells two parables to describe God.
In the image of the shepherd who searches for his sheep and the woman who searches for her coin, Jesus depicts a God who searches relentlessly for the lost.
The shepherd has 100 sheep, and yet amidst the noise and bustle of that big flock being all sheep-y on the hillside, notices that one, just one, sheep is lost. He leaves the 99 up to their own devices while he goes and searches for the one.
The fairly wealthy woman in the second parable has 10 silver coins. But she notices that one is missing, and sets aside all of her household duties and searches for it until she finds it.
And when the shepherd finds his one sheep, and the woman her one coin, they rejoice.
It’s like when you’ve lost a child in a large crowd—or if your pet has gone on an unscheduled walkabout around the neighborhood—when you find them, the first emotion you feel is an overwhelming joy just bubbling up. You may feel other things later—anger, relief—but the first feeling is just that flood of joy.
These stories remind us, that when we felt lost, we were not truly lost—not in God’s eyes. God was always seeking us, looking for us, trying to get our attention and reestablish contact.
And that is one of the reasons we come here each Sunday—to give thanks that we are not ever truly lost, truly alone, that we are always held in God’s sight and in God’s love—and to rejoice.
And we are also meant to do the same as the shepherd and the woman.
We are supposed to notice when one person is missing—whether it is a long-time member or someone in the neighborhood we’ve never met who feels lost and unseen by God and by others.
We are to search for them, to make sure they know they are not lost and invisible, but seen and loved.
Think of the military commitment to leave no soldier behind, and the dedication to POWs and MIAs to continue searching and bring them home.
Think of the civilians and first responders on 9/11 who went back into the towers again and again to bring people down to safety, and lost their own lives as a result. Think of the flyers posted by family members of the missing—showing a picture, “Missing since 9/11, Floor 105, South Tower.” Hoping that they would be found. And think of the searchers or who combed through the pile of rubble for days, months, to recover as many remains as possible, so that no one would be totally lost.
We are to be just as diligent in searching, making sure no one is lost.
Because, just like the shepherd knew that his flock was incomplete when just one sheep was missing, and the woman couldn’t rest while one coin was misplaced, the Body of Christ is incomplete if everyone is not here.
We are to notice the lost, search for them, find them, welcome them into community—this community which is love with flesh on– so they no longer feel lost or unseen.
That’s what’s behind some of the changes we’ve made this summer. The wall repairs, and the new floor, they just had to be done. But the air-conditioning?
We didn’t put that in out of a desire for luxury. After all, all of us grew up without air conditioning. Some of us have lived in places further south, where it’s hotter. But we’ve learned that because, of health and or age, in the really hot months, there are some people who cannot be here because of the heat, even though they want to be. So that is why we’ve finally put in air-conditioning. Not out of a desire for luxury, but because without it, some are excluded. Without it, the body of Christ in this place cannot be complete.
That’s also why we’re rebooting our Sunday School, with some new energy and enthusiasm. Because we want the children of this congregation to know that they are seen, and a beloved part of the body. That there is a place for them here—in worship, if they want to be in the entire worship service—but also in Sunday School, if they want a place where they can encounter the Word in a way particularly accessible to them.
Both these changes are so that everyone feels known, seen, sought out, a part of the Body of Christ.
So, welcome back!
Let us rejoice!
The Rev. Gillian R. Barr
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket RI