11 Sep Full Acceptance
Gospel Luke 15:1-10
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
When something is lost – some people can deal with it, put it out of their minds, go on and do other things. I’m not one of those people. I’m not an obsessive compulsive person, but when I cannot locate something, I turn into Howard Hughes – I fixate, I fuss, I rifle through drawers, look under beds, double check my steps…I need it back.
Lost sheep. Lost coin. Lost child.
All are valuable. All are irreplaceable. None are disposable. And so the search begins…and what relief when it is returned.
On this 15th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, I am reminded of where I was when it happened. I think we all remember that day. I knew where I was, but like many others, I felt completely lost and at a loss for words. Our world had changed.
I avoid most video from that morning – the destruction and the death. The one exception is the stories of the first responders. Those who went into the fray while others were running away…searching through the rubble, looking for survivors. It didn’t matter how many were found – “One more, let’s get one more.” They didn’t think of themselves – it was all about saving others.
The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling – look at this guy. Who does he think he is? Does he know who they are?
Second Reading 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Welcome – welcomes and eats with…
Welcome – celebrating.
Welcome – rejoices.
“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”
– St. Augustine of Hippo
Augustine should know…his mother was a Christian, but he rejected her instruction and embarked on a life of hedonism.
Remember not our former iniquities, for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up these sorrowful words: How long, how long, “to-morrow, and tomorrow?” Why not now? why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?
So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read. “ Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.
Romans13let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.)
No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.
Then putting my finger between, or some other mark, I shut the volume, and with a calmed countenance made it known to Alypius. And what was wrought in him, which I knew not, he thus showed me. He asked to see what I had read: I showed him; and he looked even further than I had read, and I knew not what followed. This followed, him that is weak in the faith, receive; which he applied to himself, and disclosed to me. And by this admonition was he strengthened; and by a good resolution and purpose, and most corresponding to his character, wherein he did always very far differ from me, for the better, without any turbulent delay he joined me. Thence we go in to my mother; we tell her; she rejoiceth: we relate in order how it took place; she leaps for joy, and triumpheth, and blesseth Thee, Who are able to do above that which we ask or think; for she perceived that Thou hadst given her more for me, than she was wont to beg by her pitiful and most sorrowful groanings. For thou convertedst me unto Thyself, so that I sought neither wife, nor any hope of this world, standing in that rule of faith, where Thou hadst showed me unto her in a vision, so many years before. And Thou didst convert her mourning into joy, much more plentiful than she had desired, and in a much more precious and purer way than she erst required, by having grandchildren of my body.
Saul was the great persecutor of the church – (blasphemer, violence) even a party to the murder of Stephen – headed to persecute…struck blind…heard the voice…went to Damascus…became the great apostle of the church.
Rally Day is our welcome mat. This is our opportunity to celebrate together AND serve our neighborhood. It’s a kick off to the church school year, and our opportunity to put our best foot forward.
I meet people every week who ask me what I do for a living, and when I tell them I pastor at First Presbyterian Church, they ask me, “Where is that?” Do you ever get that question?
I tell them the building is at 6th and Pearl – big steeple and small sign. The better question is not where is the church, but who is the church?
We are a collection of sinners. A band of misfit toys. A group that was lost, but is now found…blind but now can see. Are we perfect, absolutely not! Are we prone to wander – no question.
This gets us to the most important question and answer. It’s not where is the church…or even, who is the church. Our faith springs forward out of the question, “Whose is the church?” To whom does the church belong – and that is Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus is the shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep.
Jesus is the woman who tears her home apart looking for the one lost valuable coin.
Jesus is the father who waits up nights hoping the prodigal will return…and when he does, races from the porch to take up what was lost into his arms.
Jesus is the first responder covered in sweat and dust saying, “Just one more. Just one more.”
Shouldn’t we do the same? Shouldn’t we be the same? We have received grace upon grace.
I used to think the pastor was one inch closer to God than the rest of the congregation. He had the deep voice, the black robe, the elevated pulpit. We’re not. We’re broken. We’re anxious. We’re fearful. We’re just like everyone in these pews and everyone outside these walls.
Should I call you, Reverend, Pastor, Father, Doctor…I respond – “Chief among Sinners.” It doesn’t fit on a business card, so I say, just call me Dave. I have received grace upon grace and mercy upon mercy. We all have – our one calling is to respond to this good news by welcoming others.
May we never seek to be so holy that we are wholly oblivious to the way we treat others.
Not everyone will accept these words…at least, not yet. The shepherd doesn’t give up on the sheep. The woman doesn’t give up on her treasure. The Father doesn’t give up on his child.
“This Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Go, and do likewise.