9.11.22, Luke 15:1-10 The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
Celebrating the Season of Creation this year is such a gift I didn’t know my heart needed…how like God right? As is my way, I find the changing of seasons to be a holistic stirring of my being. I truly feel this time to be different in my body, soul, and mind. The air is starting to feel crisp in a way that reminds me of the freshness of harvest time and the comfort it brings by way of the colorful and robust dinners we make this time of the year. It is a time for me to think about what I need to change and let go of just as the trees do. And perhaps my favorite aspect of various seasons and noting their changing… It is time to set out on our favorite seasonal outdoor adventures.
This time of year as we feel that crisp fall air start to move in, Phil and I usually gather some friends, find a corn maze, and literally get lost. While this is not often true in the rest of my life, I find the comfort of getting lost in a corn maze exciting, not knowing what is around the corner, not sure of how it will go, how long it will take, how I will make it to the other side of this adventure. There is something about getting lost that, while unsettling, invites growth. To truly trust myself and others, to use the gifts God has given me: intellect, movement of my body, working well with others, finding joy in all things.
I am reminded of one fateful “getting lost adventure” in the mountains of Virginia where we not only spent hours trying to find our way out of a massive multi acre corn maze, but once we returned to the car after the sun had set, hungry, tired and cold… realized I had lost the keys at some point along the way. Good news there… much like the woman searching for the coin, I found them and we all rejoiced! We got lost, then for a bit seemed rather lost without a way back to our cabin, but right when we needed saving, we needed to find the very important thing that meant a lot to us… I bent down, shined my flashlight towards a thick hunk of mud in the parking lot… and there they were! The keys to the car that I must have dropped before we even made our way into the maze.
I will remind us again that for Luke salvation is not just spiritual it is also social. It is how we live our daily lives. For example, eating with “sinners and outcasts” would be a prime way to live out this social salvation. Salvation is a challenge of the status quo. And here Jesus makes his opposition to the status quo very clear to those who challenge him in the company he keeps. Now, It would serve us well to remember that one of the reasons the Pharisees would have been so scandalized is they are the ones responsible for helping to draw the lines and uphold the rules of the status quo (FOTW, 69). To eat with someone suggested approval of them (JANT, 132), and how dare Jesus eat with people that the religious insiders had been working very hard to keep to the fringes or margins of society.
Just before these parables Jesus has told folks of the cost of discipleship, and it will be costly. Jesus has told us to: be prepared to be hated, sever family and economic ties, be willing to die (I’m pointing to the “pick up your cross” story, and in this historical context would have been a clear and scary instruction for folks occupied by a Roman empire that had no trouble crucifying countless individuals), give up your possessions, etc. (JANT, 132). Yikes. I’m glad we have these parables today to soften these promises.
And here, Jesus is using these particular illustrations to draw people into this truth by way of things they would have deeply cared for and known about in their time and location. They would have known the value of that lost sheep and that when a sheep is lost, its nature is not to bleat out calling to the shepherd, it is to lie down in the brush and hide for fear of predators (FOTW, 70). Many would also hear this story and realize that going after the one lost sheep is also pointing back to Moses who went after a lost sheep and received the divine commission to shepherd God’s people (JANT, 132).
Similar feelings would have been evoked by this woman searching and finding the coin too. Here’s your fun fact of the day: this is the only parable in the New Testament that illustrates God as a woman (FOTW, 71). While I rejoice that we get to spend time with God as the searching woman today, this would have shocked the crowd Jesus is talking to and would have perhaps invited them to challenge their own status quo understanding of a life of faith. God as a woman?! Whoa, Jesus!
The big point Jesus is making is to, “Think about what is most precious in your life and what it would be like to lose it…. Part of the whole is missing” (FOTW, 70). And we are noting the joy of finding! They are not just joyful or happy… they are so happy they MUST tell others about it and invite them to rejoice too! This is indeed how I felt when I could the car keys after losing them at the corn maze. I told the farmer, the people at the concession stand, everyone that would listen! Let’s be clear, we are not always going to be the shepherd or the woman looking for the coin. Rather we are often the lost sheep, the lost coin (FOTW, 70).
God doesn’t just value each and every one of us, God treasures us! We are all so very precious to God. This is a reminder that THAT is where each of us gets our value and our worth. Not by any measurement of the world, not by success, or what we do, or what we have. God’s love has a long reach. God who draws you out of the hole you dug for yourself, who bends and crawls into the smallest of crevices to locate you (FOTW, 71). That is how valuable each person is to God.
Now, I want to pastorally remind us that it is OK to be lost. It is OK to not know the way forward. This is what faith is all about. In fact, holding on to this truth helps us to acknowledge a deeper invitation through these parables. This notion of God going through great links to search us out invites us to consider “saving” (the shepherd finding the sheep) and “welcoming” (Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners). One writer in the commentaries notes, “It is one thing to ‘save’ and another to ‘welcome’. … Saving is about power, whereas welcoming is about intimacy. Saving is primarily focused on the individual, whereas welcoming is focused on the community” (FOTW, 71).
The telling of these parables began because Jesus was modeling the call to tend to the margins; the intimacy of welcome. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners, those on the fringes or margins; “Jesus understands that those on the fringe of the community are integral to what the community in all its fullness should be” (FOTW,72). He is showing us what welcoming really means.
A seminary professor of mine would often teach us that we are called to those very places to tend to those very people. That when you take care of the fringes or the margins the center takes care of itself. Yes, we too are the lost ones who God seeks out. How might we live in the truth that we (those inside and especially outside) are so loved and valuable that we will be sought out no matter what and nothing in this world can change our worth?
And how might we be inspired to tend to the margins just as Jesus does? Who are the sinners and tax collectors Jesus is calling us to sit down and eat with; to extend a radical and audacious welcome to? How might we live out the call to the radical community that calls us to the fringes of society with the people that the world tells us we should not be with and welcome them? Not save them, but welcome to them.
Resources: Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament