The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellevue
September 15 2019, Proper 19C
Human beings hunger for connection. We need other people to survive and thrive. So, it should come as no surprise that Jesus spends so much time talking about belonging, community, and relationship.
What does seem to surprise (and confound) we human beings (repeatedly) is just how Jesus approaches connection and belonging, and today is no different, though it might not be obvious at first.
Today Jesus is at another party. No one calls it one, but this is Jesus after all. There’s food involved, and a mottley mix of the disreputable and the upstanding. But some of the folks there just can’t help whispering to their neighbors about who else is there and why Jesus would allow those people into his community.
And Jesus, who understands human beings very well, tells two stories.
He uses things all his hearers will understand, things of value. For the shepherd their livestock were their livelihood. A shepherd was intimately familiar with every member of their herd and invested in their well being. And the value of silver coins, well even we still understand money and precious metal.
Neither the sheep, nor the coin saves themselves. Neither of them go seeking God (the shepherd or matriarch). God, in the guise of a shepherd or a careful woman goes seeking what has been lost. It is God who is active.
Like our Psalm last week, we are pursued by God even into the times and places we think are most remote, furthest from God. Even when we think we are lost forever. Even when our fellow sheep might be saying: good riddance, let’s move on before she finds her way back! God goes on turning over every pot and pan and sweeping the corners of the room and the cracks between the stones until at last she finds us.
And this is the best part. Because when the lost one is found it isn’t back to business as usual.
When the last one is found God calls the heavens, creation, everyone, to celebrate.
If the shepherd and the woman stands in for God, then this party takes on a cosmic scale. The heavens and the Earth themselves are called to rejoice, the cosmos dances with God in her joy that we are back where we belong.
As my ethics professor (Dr. Scott Bader-Saye) mused: salvation in these stories “isn’t primarily in rescue, but in being drawn into the eternal celebration.”
Jesus has been hanging out with all of the folks in this story for a long while now. He has been debating the religious geeks, and bringing wholeness to the marginalized, and teaching his disciples (and anyone else who cares to listen) often over a meal. He has told stories about how our meals need to change. Stories about taking the lowest place, and who you should invite to your parties.
And yet here we are, right back to the same questions all over again. And so Jesus tells yet more stories and this time he gets really, really explicit over God’s priorities and joy.
The question for every critic and nay-sayer becomes “Who are you ready to party with?” If the answer is “we don’t party,” or “We don’t party with them,” then those righteous ones will have ceded to the pub the role of parable of the kingdom. Dr. Scott Bader-Saye
The pub Dr. Bader-Saye is talking about was described in the New York Times, in an article about pubs in Oxford (England that is, of course). The author said: “a good pub is a ready made party, a home away from home, a club anyone can join.”
I think Jesus would have agreed with my ethics professor about the pub. The Kingdom of God is a ready made party, that’s always been home, a club anyone can join. It is I think the hardest thing for we human beings to understand about God. We split and divide and splinter constantly. Sometimes we have good reasons but God it seems prioritizes wholeness of community over anything else: over purity, over correctness, over what we think of as righteousness.
Human beings can make the Kingdom seem a pretty grim thing, and God a pretty grim God from whom we need to be saved. Jesus, at table with ne’er do wells and disreputable folk tells us the Kingdom is a party, thrown by a woman who lost a single silver coin and rejoiced with everyone she knew when she found it again.
The implication at that table, with righteous and shameful alike is that everyone is welcome: the more unlikely and shocking the person who joins this club; the bigger the party.
Jesus picked fisherman, tax collectors, and women for this community.
God worked through screwups like David, and Peter. Jesus sat down at table with people who didn’t pass muster, and those who did.
Which I hope should put all of us at ease when we wonder if we’re “in” or not.
The question, Jesus’ parables tell us is not “are we in” but rather “are we ready to join God’s ‘all are welcome’ party?”