The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Parish Life Sunday
16 Pentecost Luke 15:1-10
Recently I attended a funeral for the daughter of a colleague, a young woman who had committed suicide. She was, like all who take their own life, utterly lost inside her own private suffering. She couldn’t see any light at the end of her tunnel. She made a mockery of the common piety that “God never gives you more than you can handle,” which, by the way, is not in the Bible.
Her parents chose the gospel we just heard for the service. They were comforted by the message that God diligently searches for the lone sheep, however isolated and lost they may be. God would continue to seek out their daughter, even after her death, until she was found. And then there would be rejoicing in heaven.
While we may not be as isolated and lost as this young woman who took her life, we too are comforted by the message that God diligently searches for us, for our loved ones, when we wander. And we do wander.
Sometimes, before we even realize that we’ve strayed, we find ourselves caught in the thickets of anger, stress, worry, or self-destruction. We thrash around in the bushes of our dark little imaginary world, believing our thoughts and fears, thinking that our temporary difficulties will be permanent, blind to the light of God that surrounds us above. And we can’t see our way out.
It is comforting to know that even if we can’t see God, God sees us. No one is ever forgotten. No matter how much suffering we endure, no matter how off-center we allow ourselves to become, we are never lost to God. We may be stuck in the brambles, but God is all around, seeking us out, inviting us to return.
In a way, we actually seek ourselves. For the Holy Spirit is intertwined with our heart, mind, and soul. Within our humanity is the divine. So the part of us that is lost is sought out by the part of us that is never lost. The part of us that is confused is sought out by the part of us that has always known.
In an old song, Eric Clapton sings Everybody knows the secret; everybody knows the score. I believe that is true. On some level, perhaps below consciousness and our ability to even acknowledge it, everybody knows what’s what, namely:
Love is more important than anything, and we are happiest when we are kind. No matter what happens to us, we are held in God’s hands, and there is nothing to worry about. The world is a wondrous place, and the only appropriate response to that is gratitude and generosity. War and oppression are not the answer, and we are all better off when we are just and merciful. Everybody knows the secret; everybody knows the score.
Recently while on vacation I was reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and The Dharma Bums, where Kerouac wrote about this inner knowing. He said that it is “a great mysterious roar, which is the silence of wisdom, a great Shhhh reminding you of something you’ve forgotten in the stress of your days since birth.”
It is certainly possible to be deaf to the roaring silence of God’s wisdom within. But is never absent. It continually searches us out, calling us to return to our true, pure soul. Like the shepherd who diligently seeks the one lost sheep, the Spirit within never leaves us alone.
That’s why selfish people are unhappy, and malevolent people are tormented – they are hounded by the truth. Somewhere inside them, they know the score, and they also know they’re out of synch with it. But when we do return from being lost, we find life again, and there is rejoicing in heaven.
Now because it is so easy to ignore, twist, or drown out the divine wisdom within, we need external voices and reminders, too. We can’t do it alone. We need loved ones, friends, and companions who also know the score, whom we might hear more readily than we can hear our own heart.
This is the purpose of Christian community. We are here for one another so that the voice of God cannot get drowned out. Even if we are out of touch with our true, pure soul, in community there are, like billboards surrounding us, the Word of God, classes on prayer, liturgies that broadcast the truth, and other people who are finding their way home.
That’s why we do everything we do – to openly broadcast the secret that everyone already knows, but perhaps have forgotten in the stress of our days since birth. All of our worship, our education programs, spiritual direction and pastoral care, our written communication, our conversations over coffee – all of this is just a way of calling one another to remember, to return and live in the ways of God.
Today is Parish Life Sunday. Dozens of ministries will be on display. Programs of spiritual formation begin for adults, youth, and children. Fr. Daniel will be instituted, now that he has joined the paid staff part-time. The building of our Ministry Complex is done, and we will move in on Saturday. Soon after that, we will bless it with our bishop-elect Michael Vono, whose ministry ushers in a new day in our diocese. We start up another New Member Class tonight. And in a couple of weeks we will meet to discuss my sabbatical and your sabbatical time as well.
Why do we do all this? Why do we have classes, buildings, potlucks, worship, bishops and clergy, or sabbatical reflection time? And why do we ask you to support all this with your financial pledge? Just so that we can keep the machine running? No. We do it so that we can remember, and return to that which we already know. This is no small thing that we’re doing here! We’re helping one another return, again and again, to God’s ways. We’re healing and changing human lives!
I give thanks with a grateful heart for these billboards of truth that surround us. I give thanks for you, for this community, for our prayer together, for the meeting rooms in which we talk of God, for the kids and the old folks and the in-between folks, for the clergy and lay staff I work with, for our new bishop and his infectious enthusiasm, for the beautiful music we sing, for baptisms and anointings and confirmations, for the food that we give to the hungry and the recovering alcoholics who meet here, for the look in your eyes as you receive the Body of Christ at this altar, and for the money that we pledge - all so that the voice of God can continue to speak loud and clear in this place, calling each of us to return to our pure, true souls.
I need all these reminders, all these billboards, because I tend to forget. I stray away from the path of wisdom. I don’t always hear the divine voice within me calling me to return. I get lost, and I need community to point me homewards.
Today, as we celebrate our parish life and as we begin making our financial pledges for the year ahead, as we look forward to a season of new beginnings, we give thanks with a grateful heart, and together, we manage to remember what we already know. The lost are found, and there is rejoicing in heaven.