Luke 15: 1-10 September 11, 2016
Our Gospel story today begins where many stories begin –
with the scribes and Pharisees – the good religious folks of Jesus’ time – grumbling.
They know there is something special about Jesus –
something important going on here.
But they just can’t figure him out!
One minute he is clearly using the power of God to heal,
and his teaching is spiritual and pure –
but then he goes and does something like break the Sabbath laws,
or eats with tax collectors – enemies of the Jews! –
and people who are morally unpure.
Jesus hears their grumbling –
why does he keep inviting Those People? –
and in response, he tells three stories.
Two are the stories we heard in today’s Gospel,
and the third is the story of the Prodigal Son.
He tells of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness,
to go after one who is lost.
And of a woman who has lost one coin,
and spends hours searching and sweeping out her house to find it.
And both stories end in the same place – with celebration.
Both the shepherd and the woman, upon finding what was lost,
say to their friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me!”
And if you remember, the Prodigal Son story also ends with a party –
the father’s celebration at the return of his son.
The Pharisees and scribes are grumbling – but Jesus is celebrating!
Each time he sits down with those who are outcast, those who have been lost –
it’s a party!
And what’s more, the hosts of heaven are celebrating with him.
Most of us feel lost sometimes, and when we are in those times,
these stories offer comfort and hope.
These stories tell us that God will never give up on us –
that no matter how far we wander, God will seek us out and welcome us home.
Even when we feel most alone and forsaken,
those times we are most aware of being lost –
it is precisely at those moments that the Good Shepherd
is most diligently coming after us.
How many of us here today can look back at times of darkness,
when we felt we’d lost our way entirely,
and recognize that Jesus was there with us all along –
holding our hand, whispering in our ear, urging us to come home?
But do you remember the place in Hebrews that says,
“Scripture is a two-edged sword”?
Parables tend to have sharp edges, and I hear an edge at work in these stories.
So who is lost now?
The last story, of the son who is welcomed home with open arms, gives a clue.
Do you remember the older brother, who complains and cannot accept his father’s generosity to the younger son?
The father assures him that it is his party, too.
“You have always been with me,” the father says. “All I have is yours.”
But the story ends without telling us what becomes of that brother.
Does he join the party - welcome his brother home and live in harmony?
Or does he stay at the sidelines, pouting and nursing his own self-righteousness?
Because most of us in this room could easily be cast as the Pharisees and scribes,
rather than as outcasts and sinners.
We are the church insiders.
We love our traditional worship, our liturgy and hymns,
our vestments and art and flowers.
All those things are good and beautiful,
because they assist us in coming into God’s presence
and worshiping God with our senses.
But Jesus speaks clearly to us in this –
do not ever let attachment to traditions keep you from the real party.
The real party is the one going one at the margins, when outcasts and sinners –
the homeless, the sex workers, the prisoners and ex-cons, the beggars, the addicts, the mentally ill –
are found and welcomed home.
What we do here is gather for a feast –
a feast that feeds us and prepares us for our true work,
which is to go out and live God’s message of love –
even among people who don’t act like us,
who make us uncomfortable,
who don’t know or care about our rituals and our prayers.
Today is September 11.
It has been fifteen years since the attack that forever changed the world we live in.
The other day I heard a radio interview with Valarie Kaur,
director of the documentary film “Divided We Fall: America in the Aftermath.”
Valarie was a 20-yr-old college student, an American of Indian descent and the Sikh faith, on September 11, 2001.
She talked about her sense of disorientation on that day, as the screens were filled with pictures of a turbaned, bearded man who had become the #1 enemy of the United States.
He looked like members of her family.
A few weeks later, one of Valarie’s uncles was shot and killed in front of his store, where he was preparing to plant flowers.
He was killed because he had dark skin and wore a turban.
Valarie knew she had to do something, so she and her cousin traveled across the country with a video camera, documenting such instances of violence against people of Muslim and Sikh faith.
What she saw was chilling – she spoke of sometimes arriving at a scene of violence even before police, when the blood had not yet dried.
But even more chilling were Valarie’s next words.
She said she expected her film would cover just a brief moment in time –
an aberrant escalation in hate and violence that would soon die down.
Instead, here we are 15 years later, and the hate and violence continue.
We are still at war.
People of middle-eastern descent, people identifiable as Muslim or Sikh, still face discrimination and violence –
as do black people, Latino people, immigrants –
anyone the white majority doesn’t consider “one of us.”
Valarie Kaur has become an activist for peace and justice,
founding an interfaith movement called Groundswell.
You can find out more about Valarie and her Revolutionary Love Project on her website: valariekaur.org.
So how do we, as followers of Jesus, hear Valarie’s story?
How do we remember September 11, and all that has come after, and re-commit ourselves to peace and justice, to revolutionary love as taught us by Jesus?
We begin in prayer – but we must also do more than pray.
I remember a prayer I first heard as a young woman in church,
“Lord, grant us the will to do that for which we pray.”
As we pray this morning for peace and justice and inclusion,
we must also live our lives in such a way that we create peace and justice and inclusion.
To help in this, we can remember the other stories of September 11 –
the aftermath that includes ordinary heroes and kindness, compassion,
On September 11, 2001, Welles Crowther went to work like every other day to his job as an equities trader in the World Trade Center. After the second tower was hit, the one he was in, Welles led everyone he could find down the steps to safety, and then he went back for more. And after leading more people to safety, he went back again, and again, and again, until the tower collapsed. On that day, this talented, athletic, good natured, but in so many ways ordinary person did an extraordinary thing, giving his life to make sure others could live.
This morning, storyteller Regina Ress, who was in New York City at the time of the attacks, will share other such stories of courage and compassion in the wake of September 11.
Perhaps these stories and others like them can encourage us,
in our ordinary lives as followers of Christ, so show extraordinary love.
When Jesus tells parables, he is usually – if not always – talking about the Kingdom of God -
that time and place, when God’s will for humanity will be fully realized.
What today’s parables tells us is that the Kingdom of God is a celebration.
It’s a party, but it’s not our party – it’s God’s.
And the Kingdom of God does not recognize insiders and outsiders.
We don’t get to make the invitations to this party.
Everyone is invited.
We just get to join the celebration – feasting and singing and dancing with all the wrong people.
And that will be the best part of all.
Thanks be to God.