God Loves Sinners

God Loves Sinners

I am a person who does not get lost. Never in my life can I remember a time when I didn’t know where I was or how I was going to get where I needed to go next. I have always been a very spatial person, and so if you give me a map, I can not only find my way somewhere – but on the route, I can tell you alternative directions. I am an EXCELLENT navigator… at least when I can remember my rights from my lefts.

In high school, I was a part of speech and drama and music – which meant we went to many contests at other schools throughout the year. The group was always trying to find their way around the new building and in the first half hour that we had been in the building, I had it all figured out. I knew where to be when, I helped out others who were lost. I never got lost.

The same goes with driving. I like to figure out new ways to get places and sometimes I run into obstacles or dead ends, but that just presents new opportunites to learn about what way not to go next time. When my friend, Stasia, was learning how to drive – her mom would often suggest that I accompany her in the car… and we never got lost as long as we were together. I do not get lost.

I do, however, lose things. Oh boy, do I lose things. This past week, I had to buy a new pair of earbuds – little headphones that fit into your ear canal very comfortable, because I lost the pair I had. And in nearly every single move that I have made in my life – I have lost my car keys. When I moved out of the house I lived in at Simpson College – I literally packed my keys up with my other belongings and sent them home in the truck… two hours later, I realized my keys were back in Cedar Rapids and me and my car were still in Indianola.

And of course… I lost one of my monkeys this morning =)   [Reference to the children’s moment… sent the kids out in the sanctuary to find my lost monkey]

Today, in Luke’s gospel we get to spend some time in the parables of the lost… the lost sheep, the lost coin, and if we kept reading – the lost son… the child who takes his inheritance and runs off, squanders it all and returns home. Now that word, parable, is simply a short brief story that tells us a moral lesson… kind of like the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. It doesn’t matter if its true or not – the point is what it teaches us about who we are and how we live.

Luke groups all of these lost parables together, because Jesus has a message for us about who we are and how we are to live.

You see, at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus has sat down for some supper with some quite unsavory characters. He was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Ooooo….

What? Does that not trouble you? The idea that Jesus would sit down with a tax collector? That’s probably because tax collectors today – our friendly and unhelpful IRS agents are not typically people we think of as unsavory. But who would be? Who would be scandalous to eat with here in Marengo?

Perhaps a gathering of area gays and lesbians invited Jesus over for dinner? Or the Muslim community in Cedar Rapids? Or prostitutes from Waterloo? What if Jesus was sitting down to eat with a bunch of liars and adulterers? Or murderers and meth makers?

Would we be upset? Would our feathers be ruffled just a little bit? Would we stop in our tracks and stare?

The Pharisees sure did. They walked by the house where Jesus was having this grand old feast with a bunch of sinners and they started to whisper. They started to grumble. They started to complain… that fellow welcomes sinners! And not only that – he eats with them!!!
Photo by Martin Baldwin
And so loud enough so that they could hear – Jesus begins to tell these stories about the lost. About the shepherd that leaves behind the entire rest of the flock to seek out the one lost sheep. About the woman who burns the oil a single coin was worth in order to seek out the coin that was lost.
And when they find those lost things – Jesus said – there will be great rejoicing… and in the same way God seeks the lost people of this world… and God rejoices when he finds them.
I may not know what it is like to be lost and not know my way home… but I do know what it is like to have lost something. I know the desperation of seeking out that thing that I need – the thing that I love. I know how important it is.
And so in some small way, I can understand what it might be like for God when he seeks out the lost of this world.
What is harder to understand is that I am someone who has been and who probably still is lost. What is harder to accept and acknowledge is that we are sinners, that there are parts of our lives we still hold back from God. We are really good at being oblivious little sheep, wandering away from the flock and not realizing it.
Whether it is a habit of telling lies, or the anger you harbor in your heart. Whether it is simply the fact that you like spending more time playing football than thinking about your faith journey. Whether it is the way that you use and abuse the gifts of God’s creation, or the prideful idea you have stuck in your head that you can do it yourself and you don’t need God’s help… We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God.
That is an ugly fact about each and every single one of us. As much as we might try to white wash it and pretend its not so – at the very least, let us take comfort in the fact that we are all sinners. We are in this together. We have all fallen short of the glory of God.
That is what Paul reminds his young friend Timothy in our first reading from today. Paul – that great pioneer of the faith – proclaims out loud for all to hear that he was a blasphemer, a persecuter, and a man of violence – a man who loved to do violence for violence sake… a torturer. I am the foremost of sinners, Paul says. Note, he doesn’t say – I was the foremost of sinners… but I am the foremost of sinners. It is like how addicts are taught to think of their addictions not in the past tense, but in the present tense… I am an alcoholic. I am a chocoholic.  I am a sinner. I will always live my life with the temptation to sin at my doorstep. I am a sinner.
And not only that, Paul says, but I am the foremost of sinners. I’m the worst one out there, because I killed people who followed Jesus and I liked it. I took pride in it. I was the best at what I did. And yet… And yet… God chose ME to serve his church.

God sought me, the foremost of sinners out, because God seeks the lost. Jesus came to save sinners. God came to save me, and God came to save you.

Can I hear an Amen!
There is one last piece of this story that I think we need to remember… a man named Rodger Nishioka tells the story of a time he was a part of an ecumenical team in Alaska: Presbyterians working alongside Russian Orthodox. In the course of their work, he had referred to this so familiar “Parable of the Lost Sheep” with some of the RO folks when someone interrupted him and asked him which parable he meant.
For a moment there, I can imagine Mr. Nishioka thought these Russian Orthodox folks didn’t know their bibles very well. And so he summarized the story about the shepherd looking for the one sheep that had gone missing from the flock of 100. The Russian Orthodox priest looked at him and said, “Oh! You mean the Parable of the incomplete flock.”
In the eyes of that tradition, God was concerned about the one sheep that went missing, because without that one sheep – the 100 would not be complete. God desires all of his children to come home… and the family is only complete when each and every single one of us is sought out.
Many of you know that my family is incomplete right now – that there is division on my dad’s side of the family that I have no idea how to reconcile. And it hurts. I know that many of you have experienced this kind of separation and pain in your lives, too. To be incomplete as a family is an ugly and bitter thing…
But if we remember from last week, God desires us to move beyond our immediate families and to follow him. To follow him in seeking out our brothers and sisters in this world who are lost. To follow him in his diligent search to find them and tell them how much they are loved.
Our family is incomplete without the rest of our brothers and sisters. The family of God is incomplete without the folks from the county jail, and without those prostitutes in Waterloo, and without our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and without our Jewish and Muslim and Buddhist brothers and sisters.

Our family is incomplete as long as we hold those people at a distance who we believe are unworthy, or unfaithful, or uninterested. Our family is incomplete if we act in hatred and anger towards our brothers and sisters. Our family is incomplete if we are unwilling to sit down and have a meal with one another.

As much hatred and anger and division is in the world… we know that God seeks out his children. And I know we are called to seek out our brothers and sisters in love and in respect. Let us be found by the Lord our shepherd… and let us go with him to all the world.

Amen.

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