The Church has lost its way in America, using the name of Jesus to fan political polarization and to ridicule LGBTQ people as well as followers of other faiths. In today’s message, Pastor Roger Barkley contracts this with the way of Jesus.

A bit of trivia: did you know that the Roman Catholic church used to condemn eating with a fork?  Roger explains.

 

Lost and Found
March 31, 2019
Luke 15:1-10

As you just heard Dale read, Jesus told these two famous parables in response to the religious leaders’ grumbling that he was welcoming people who were offending the religious values and sensibilities of the time.

Actually, our English translation “welcomes” falls short … it might better be translated as Jesus reached out and embraced these people.

The Pharisees and Scribes kept prodding Jesus to specifically draw the line defining who is righteous and who is not, but he never took the bait.

Apparently, God does not see the world divided between righteous and sinners quite the way we like to – and yet the church has a long history of doing just that.

Some old ways seem humorous to hear about today.

For example, some leaders of the Catholic church’s expressed bitter opposition to the fork as an eating instrument.

The folk (fork) first found its place on Western dinner tables in the 17th Century and wasn’t commonly used in America until the early 1800s.

Some the Roman Catholic writers were incensed, describing the fork as “excessive delicacy”.

Of course, it didn’t help that the new-fangled fork reminded them of Satan’s pitchfork. One railed, “God in His wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers. Therefore, it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating.”

But while religious folks are always finding new ways to label people as sinners, Jesus shares a vastly different message in these two parables.

Jesus’ parables have a bite to them – often lingering in our minds for days with a vaguely uncomfortable dissonance.

One of the striking things in these particular stories is the action of the shepherd and woman.

Which of you… does not, Jesus begins, implying that the behaviors of the shepherd and the housewife are perfectly normal.

But are they?

In the first case, a shepherd searches for a lost sheep.

Natural enough, we might think at first – isn’t that what a shepherd is supposed to do?

But eventually a nagging question grows in us: what kind of shepherd would leave ninety-nine unattended sheep with no shelter and no protection from predators and thieves?

His primary job was to protect the flock from the lions, wolves, and bears that lurked nearby.

What kind of shepherd is so reckless?

Beyond that, I know from the couple of sheep I raised that they were always prone to wandering away, so we also have to wonder what kind of shepherd would become so ecstatic over finding yet another strayed sheep that he would promptly hustle the whole flock home and call his friends to join in his celebration?

Normal, expected behavior? Hardly.

In his second parable, Jesus asks what woman… does not lose a coin and not wait for daylight to turn her house upside down, instead spending a sleepless night sweeping every square inch of her floors searching for the coin.

I can understand worrying about the lost money, but when she finds it, she can’t contain her joy and so gathers her neighbors to celebrate, which probably meant that she spent at least the value of that coin on food and drink.

Normal, expected behavior? Hardly.

Jesus’ parables stay with you, nagging you to dig more deeply into their messages.

So, in the end, these parables aren’t just about sinner versus righteous.

One thing they reveal is a reckless God so crazy in love with His or Her lost children that this God will do anything to find them … that includes finding us.

Luke often pairs seemingly contradictory images used by Jesus.

One subtle thing he does here in Chapter 15 is to portray what we take as the image of God as being male in the first parable, and female in the second.

In addition to the masculine, the Gospels also present God in feminine roles, such as a hen gathering her chicks, and this woman sweeping her home.

So, what does it mean to be found by this love-crazed God of ours?

For one thing, through God’s love, we are found as we really are.

Many of us live in fear of being found out because of what psychologists today call the imposter syndrome.

We’ve carefully constructed a persona and propped ourselves up with career, accomplishments and belongings because we secretly feel that if people really knew who we really are they wouldn’t accept us.

Social media intensifies this effect as we carefully curate what people see of our lives.

More than 80-million photographs are uploaded just to Instagram every single day and 20% of the world’s population publishes some version of their life on Facebook.

But how many of those posts talk about the struggles or setbacks that may preoccupy our lives?

And since nearly all we see on social media are smiling faces of our friends engaged in fun and fascinating activities, our haunting fear of not measuring up or our fear that we are missing out on a better life is amplified.

But God’s love isn’t dished out based on what we’ve done, but for who we are … for real.

Pastor Hugh Reed tells about a young man from his church he calls Allan.

Allan left home early to “find himself”.

Not surprisingly, just the opposite happened … he “lost himself”.

Hundreds of miles from home, he was left to wander the streets of Vancouver trapped in a world of drugs.

One night he managed to get a bed in one of the shelters.

Once inside, he crashed onto a bunk, stared up at the ceiling, and tried not to be overcome by the noises and odors of the strangers around him.

He was shaken out of this depressing spiral of thoughts when someone called across the room a name from another world.

“Is Allan Roberts here?”

He hadn’t heard his proper named for so long that he hardly knew Allan Roberts anymore.

“I’m Allan Roberts.”

“Your mother’s on the phone.”

“My mother? How could my mother know where I am?”

“If you’re Allan Roberts, your mother’s on the phone.”

Unsure what to expect, he went to the desk in the hall and took the receiver.

“Allan,” it was his mother, “It’s time for you to come home.”

“Mom, you don’t know what I’m like anymore. I have no money, I can’t go home.”

“It’s time for you to come home.  There’s a Salvation Army officer who’s coming to you with a plane ticket.  He’s going to take you to the airport to get you home.”

The thing is, she hadn’t known where he was, but she’d spent every evening for months calling every shelter in the region until she found him.

It was entirely the relentless love of his mother that drove her to never give up on her lost son.

No matter who you are – really are – no matter where you are on your life’s journey – really are – God seeks you and welcomes you home.

The lost sheep and lost coin did not repent … they were just found.

Later on in Luke’s gospel Jesus says, Luke 16:10 … the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

He pointedly does not just say, to save the repentant.

Where’s the fairness in this … God rushing past those who are trying so hard to be righteous to celebrate one lost person who, like the sheep, may be oblivious to how far they’d wandered into the wilderness?

Our behavior does not sway God … God’s love never gives up on us.

How do you hear these parables?

I guess if you see yourself as a “lost cause” then they must sound like Good News for sure, especially when Jesus says there was even more joy over one of those being found than in the static piety of people who thought they had the exclusive, inside track to God.

It turns out that there is no such thing as lost causes  — just lost and wandering people waiting to be found by God’s grace.

Jesus seldom called people “sinners,” just lost.

As this is true for you and for me, it is also true for Jesus’ church, which so often has lost its way – sometimes in ways as whimsical as condemning forks, but also in ways that have caused deep and lasting damage.

One of the first things we noticed while visiting Kerstynn down in Georgia is that there are churches everywhere … and I mean everywhere.

Big, small – some denominations I’ve never even heard of.

The first day of our visit, Kerstynn drove to work before dawn, and then around 10 AM I walked what was supposed to be the 2.5-miles to the jail so I could use her car for the day.

When it was taking longer for me to arrive than she’d expected, she called to ask where I was.

I said, well, I just passed a big church with a cross on its front lawn.

Of course, that was a joke because I could have been about anywhere and still be passing a big church with a cross on its front lawn.

Unfortunately, I walked over 3-miles to the old jail, which is on the opposite side of Hinesville
from the new jail where she works … but that is another story.

But what have all those churches really produced?

I hate to be so cynical, but many have produced a renewed fervor of prejudice, finger pointing, tribalism and Islamophobia.

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, who won her office on a platform of faith and patriotism, gave the congressional opening prayer as she stood before Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a Democrat Muslim, who was about to be sworn in after winning a special election.

In her prayer, Borowicz repeatedly invoked the name of Jesus calling Pennsylvanians to “turn from their wicked ways”.

She asked for Jesus’ forgiveness implicitly for electing a Muslim.

Somehow this kind of antagonizing polarization done in the name of Jesus has become the norm for many Christians – or at least how we are perceived.

Studies show that about 90% of people under thirty describe the Christians as judgmental, and each year about 3-million former churchgoers join the ranks of “religiously unaffiliated”.

There are a bunch of reasons for this, but one is that we’ve lost our way.

It’s like the human tendency is the Pharisaic impulse to exclude, ridicule and condemn anyone outside of our tribe.

Meanwhile, Jesus confronted this human inclination with God’s love and his call for that love to take root within us.

So, as we will soon begin our Annual Congregational meeting, I invite us to remember who we are – how we’ve worked to be a healthy, strong, caring and accepting congregation following Jesus.

Yes, we’re caught in the same social trends that are leading to the national decline of church membership, but we also need to remember the healing, nurturing and encouraging community we have to offer our neighbors, especially those who’ve left churches because of church burn.

Countless former churchgoers have heard enough rants about gay people, enough rationalizations for the sexist, cruel attitudes of some politicians,  enough ridiculing of people of different faiths.

More than one sociologist has observed that people are still searching for spiritual solace or growth, but the church may be the last place they think of turning to.

We can be – we are – deeply committed to our faith in Jesus, and yet we can – we do – embrace every person who walks in our doors.

Gay, straight;  sober, recovering; Democrat, Republican; single, divorced; able bodied or in a wheelchair … Jesus celebrates each one of us.