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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Sees Us, God Needs Us - 09/11/2016

For many, many people, this is a lovely and comforting picture of God we have here in what is often called Luke's chapter of the lost.

These stories today invite us in quickly and maybe our minds immediately turn to our own lives and people we know or people we've heard of in the news and on the Internet … stories and experiences of lost-ness. We might think of our children or grandchildren who seem lost as they make their own journeys through this life. Maybe we think of marriages that have lost a certain ease or spark. We might think about our careers and vocations and wonder if we've lost the edge we used to feel. Some days I think about the ways I have sinned and how I began to lose sight of God as I turned away and hid from God in the shadows of that sin.

We see where trust has been lost between people on opposing sides of situations. Like those in the thick of the conversation over the Dakota Access Pipeline. On one hand you have the members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies who have lost trust in our nation's ability to take care of the land, to respect sacred places and to protect God's gift of clean and life-giving water.

On another side of the debate, we see many people who have lost their trust in our ability as a nation to provide jobs for all who want them. And while there are likely a powerful few in this situation who gain the most from running this pipeline for crude oil across this region, I think it's also safe to say that the majority of those who want the pipeline to be built see it as a way to make a living, to put food on the table, cover their medical expenses, send their kids to college, etc.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a ELCA response on the situation. She said: “We recognize the complexity and the deeply personal significance of what is at stake for those living in the area. We have been looking at the situation in light of the Churchwide Assembly action to repudiate (or reject) the Doctrine of Discovery, and our church's long-standing concern for respecting the sovereignty of tribal nations.”

The bishop continued: “We welcome the joint statement from the U.S. Departments of Justice, the Army and the Interior (issued on September 9, 2016). We … affirm its concern that it is now 'incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.'" (http://elca.org/News-and-Events/7857)

On this day also we mark historical events and we might think of some of what was lost in those.

We remember the lives of all those lost in the terrible events of 9/11 fifteen years ago. We may also grieve a loss of security or loss of confidence in our ability to understand this changing world in the wake of those attacks.

And, as we kick off this year of observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the events that led to Christian traditions such as our beloved Lutheran tradition, we will also take time this year to consider the loss of unity those events brought about in Christ's Church on Earth, where they have divided people in ways that are hurtful and fruitless.

In light of all the ways we can witness loss or be lost ourselves, these parables today are lovely pictures of God, indeed. The stories Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes, and now us too, are meant to create deeper understanding of God's activity in this world and God's motive in this activity.

Just dwell on what Jesus is telling us in these stories in which he shows us God in the person of a shepherd in search of a lost sheep, and a woman seeking a lost coin. The shepherd and the woman put all their energy and cleverness and creativeness into finding what is lost. They are unstoppable.

They go to unexpected lengths to do this. A shepherd is not expected to leave ninety-nine sheep alone and vulnerable in the wilderness while the search party is sent out for the single missing sheep. And ask anyone who has been in charge of a household if they would be expected to drop every single thing on that day's to-do list to look for a single lost coin.

And then on top of doing what is quite impossible and quite unexpected, the shepherd and the woman succeed … they find what is lost.

I am reminded a favorite Psalm of so many, Psalm 23. We often hear verse six translated “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...” But I think it is more accurately translated as “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” Perhaps it is that underlying promise of God's endless seeking us out that makes this psalm such a go-to text for so many people.

But we cannot stop there – at lost and found –  because the parables do not stop there. They are not done creating in us a deeper understanding of who God is revealed to be in this shepherd and this woman.

Consider how the shepherd and the woman respond to finding what was lost. When the shepherd gets home “he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” When the woman finally finds that little coin in absolutely the last place she could have looked,  “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”

They rejoice and they share in their joy. And this is the center of this particular teaching from Jesus. God relentlessly seeks us out from our lost-ness. God is cleverly seeking our loved ones and everyone else in their lost places. When we are found, God experiences complete and utter joy in finding us. And then, like the communities surrounding the shepherd and the woman, we are invited in to share in that rejoicing and share in the gift of what has been found. Maybe the shepherd hosts a thankful feast. Perhaps the woman footed the bill for a celebration.

Why, you may wonder, do I say these images of  rejoicing and sharing are the center of Jesus teaching? Because it is the direct response of the parables to the situation that set up Luke’s chapter of the lost. Remember how we began? “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” (15:1-2)

One of the big problems the Pharisees and scribes, and sometimes us too, have with Jesus' way of living into his teachings is that through it we see that God truly does seek all who are lost – us, those we care about and love, and those we don't know. Those whose ideas seem foreign to us, even those with whom we vehemently disagree. God relentlessly seeks to find all the lost-ness. And God rejoices with abandon for all that is found – even if it is just one repentant sinner among ninety-nine self-righteous souls who haven't yet figured out where they too are lost.

And then God takes all who have been found and offers them to the community so the community may rejoice with God, not grumble and complain because they would just as soon some of the lost remain lost, like tax collectors or sinners, like Republicans or Democrats, like traditionalists or agents of change, like gay or straight, like the poor and dirty or the rich and sparkling. God offers this all up to enrich the community further, and even to use us to find others who are lost.

That was not something many of the Pharisees and scribes – many people still – were ready or willing to wrap their minds and hearts around. But God continuus to pursue the self-righteous too, with love and kindness and persistence.

And that all begs a final question today: How many times will God seek us out when we are lost? Well, one way to think about how Jesus might answer that question is to consider how many times we may remember our baptisms and how we are washed clean in those waters. As many times as we need. Or how many times we come to the table of Communion and feast on the bread and wine of eternal life. As many times as we need.

God, through Jesus and through each of us and so many others will continue to seek out the lost-ness in all of us – as many times as we need, until the job is finally done and we are fully found in our eternal home, where God and the whole of creation will rejoice and share in what has been found.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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