A sermon for September 11, 2016
Welcoming tax collectors, sinners, to break bread with him, to be in communion with one another, understanding community, understanding the feeling of being lost and rejoicing in being found once again, Jesus Christ assures us that we are always welcome at his table, no matter where we find ourselves in this life. Often, when we hear this scripture, it is easy to think of ourselves as the shepherd or the woman, diligently seeking for that which is lost and rejoicing when we find it. And that is because we like to think of ourselves as the righteous one. We want to think of ourselves as living into the life of righteousness. We don’t want to think of ourselves as sinners, as someone who is broken, lost, in need of being found. Instead, we assure ourselves that we are one of the righteous. We tell ourselves we come to church because that is what the righteous do. We gather here to worship, to serve the Lord, because it is the mark of the righteous, and being righteous is what we must strive for.
And yet, Christ today clearly states that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine who need no repentance. There will be more joy in finding the lost, in healing the broken, than in welcoming those we expect to be at the table. But, why do we expect to be that person who is already at the table? Do we actually come to church because we are righteous or because we think that’s what the righteous do, and we want to emulate that? Do we actually come to church because we are lost, we are broken, and it is here that we hope we can be found, we can be healed?
We live in a broken world. It is pretty clear to see that if you turn on the news, read your facebook newsfeed, simply have a conversation with your neighbor, there is hurt, there is loss in this world. We face challenges in this world and in this life. Challenges that cause us to stray from the path of the righteous. Challenges that cause us to stray from the herd, wandering into the hills, lost, unaware, scared, for we are isolated and removed from our community. These challenges, this feeling of being lost, can crop up at unexpected times, can be made manifest even when we are amongst all of our friends, family, the community that we turn to, to find our joy in this world.
Feeling isolated and alone is especially impactful when we experience this feeling when we are constantly surrounded by the other ninety-nine who are happy and content in the flock. This is why our faith is not a constant. This isn’t to say we ever truly lose our faith when we lose our way, but it can feel like our faith slips through our fingers. We desperately try to clutch it to our chests, but the challenges of this life see it slipping away like sand through our fingers. Faith is constantly there, constantly in us, but our expression of faith, our acceptance of our faith, fluctuates with challenges that this life throws at us. Sometimes these challenges drive us toward a deeper experience of our faith. And, sometimes these challenges cause us to wander. To give into that inclination that we all feel, a push to wander away, a doubt that makes you wonder if you can even be righteous if the opportunity is ever presented to you.
But, when we wander, Christ is always there. Christ is always ready to drop everything else and shepherd us back to the flock. It is in our own experiences of wandering and eventual return to the flock that we must find our path to righteousness. For righteousness is a state of being, it too is not a constant, but it is something that we can strive to emulate. And, righteousness is something that we must adjust, that we must define based on our own experiences of wandering, of being lost and broken, yet still being welcomed to the table by Christ. That experience of knowing that even though we are sinners, Christ welcomes us in with a seat at the table, to break bread with him, to engage in the intimate act of sharing a meal with him, even though we are the furthest thing from being counted among the righteous.
This is why we come to church every Sunday, to be reminded that no matter where we are at in our journey, if we are among the righteous or if we are the lost sheep or coin, Christ will always welcome us at his table. Because, the joy is not in the finding of that which is lost. The reward is not simply in saying here is the lost one! The reward comes in the community being made whole. The reward comes from being one with those who have wandered, with those who are lost and broken. We know what it is like to experience the pull to wander. We know what it is like to be lost, to be broken, and in our being found, we have begun to know what it is like to be found, what it feels like to be healed in and through Christ and through the community that makes Christ’s presence known here at this table each and every week.
But, what about those among us who do not know what it is like to be found, to be healed by Christ’s radical welcome to the table? How do we share this radical welcome of Christ to those we are lost? How do we seek out the one, so that the community can be made whole? How do we express our joy in their return?
Jesus sits at his table and welcomes tax collectors and sinners intentionally to join him. Jesus is gathering the lost around him. Jesus has sought them out and brought them together again in community with Christ, with each other, with God. When we experience this reality as those who have known brokenness, being alone, it is our call as followers of Christ to share this reality back out to the world, modeling our radical welcome on what Christ shares with us today. We must seek out those who have strayed away with intention. We must seek out those who have strayed with an understanding of the radical hospitality that will see them joining us at the table no matter where they are at, no matter if they are homeless, addicted, dirty, hurting, ashamed, unwanted. This is our understanding because above all else, we seek out those who have strayed with love. We must express the love of Christ to those who are lost and broken. We must express that the love of Christ, the radical hospitality that can only exist through that love, exists in this place, that we are intentionally welcoming them to be a part of this community, because they too are sacred members of the body of Christ.
And when they come to our community’s table, when they hunger for Christ and seek out this love and radical hospitality that we can’t help but proclaim to all whom we encounter, we need to rejoice, we need to share the ecstatic joy we have in their return to the flock. We need to share the ecstatic joy we have in being one with them. Of knowing what it is like to be lost and then found. Of knowing that this cycle can repeat itself throughout our lives. Of knowing that, even though we like to think of ourselves as the righteous, already comfortable and secure in our understanding of the faith, most of us are much closer to being the lost sheep or coin then the other way around.
It is through Christ that we find ourselves. It is through the teachings of Christ that we are continually reminded of all of the work that we think we have done, and the reality of all of the work that we still have before us in our journeys of faith. Wandering during this journey is to be expected. Wandering until we are lost can happen. When we are lost, we must remember that the shepherd will come find us. When we know someone who is lost, we must be the shepherd who goes and finds them. We must use our own experiences of loss, of brokenness, to reach out to those who are currently lost and broken. To reach out to those who are not taking their seat at the table. To sit down with them and share the radical welcome that is found in Christ. To experience the intimacy that comes from being real with another person, from sharing our own experiences in this life, from breaking bread in communion with another person and knowing that together we can help each other find our way back to the community of Christ.
When we do this, we must rejoice. When we find the lost sheep, we must rejoice. When we find the lost coin, we must rejoice. For it is in rejoicing that we express the true value of that which has been lost. It is in rejoicing that we affirm that intention, hospitality, welcome, we affirm that love of Christ that drives each and every one of us to be better, to be a part of this flock, to seek those who are lost, to heal those who are broken. Rejoice in the one sinner who repents. Rejoice in being the one sinner who repents. Rejoice that it is here at this table we can all be found and made whole once more.