Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling picture
September 11, 2022

14th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 15:1-10

This fall tradition of gathering to kick off the program year hasn’t exactly been the same for the last three years.  Today feels like a gift and a shot in the arm.  There is some rejoicing in heaven, I think.

There is one tradition, however, that won’t return for a while.  The fall presentation of the lost and found table.  Several times a year, our office coordinator, Karen, goes through the lost and found box out and arranges everything on a table in the hallway.  First, we offer everything to its rightful owner.  Then, a week later the message is, is “take what you want.”  And, then finally, all is given away.

Since so many of us have been gone for so long, and the building has been slow to return to its full mission potential, we don’t have a trove of “lost things” to set out.  Perhaps, as the program year kicks off, our store of travel mugs, single mittens, and umbrellas will begin to develop.  Here are a few of the things that are in the bin now:

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Some of the common items.  And then there’s this:

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A blue dress.  Seems like there’s a story with that one.  Then there are often strange things.

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This is a collection of bags from Ramsey County elections.  I’m not even going to comment.

Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that I had lost.

Rejoice with me, for I have the coin that I lost.

Both the shepherd and the woman can’t help but throw a party when the lost is found.  Come, have a pulled pork sandwich, have some salad, some sides, a dessert.  Sit down with someone you haven’t met before.  Pet the sheep or the goats.  Greet an old friend.  All the sinners are invited to the front lawn after church today.

This week someone told me that the word “sinner” is so difficult to hear in church, primarily because of the way the word had been almost weaponized to marginalize and wound her.  She, labeled a “sinner” by others who apparently considered themselves “non-sinners.”  Or, at least, deciding that her sin was somehow categorically worse than theirs.  I have to agree that if the language of “sinner” creates a kind of in group and out group, we may be missing the point, just as turning these parables into a way of categorizing people as either lost and found misses the point. Blaming the sheep or the coin for getting lost hardly makes sense, either.

For me, sin is the way we talk about a kind of inherent wound–call it alienation, separation, brokenness–that exists in all of us. That pain gets expressed in many life-shattering patterns, sometimes truly of our own making; and sometimes because of forces much bigger than ourselves; like generational trauma or structured racism, or huge global patterns, over which we have some personal control but not much.  When I think of my own “sins,” they are usually some kind of misbegotten way to feel alive or connected or valuable or loved because inside there’s just an inherent lostness that we carry.

If we acknowledge it, our shared lostness, maybe it would connect us. Perhaps there’s wisdom in being honest about those parts of ourselves that feel outside the pen or hidden in the corners. If we could all find the ways to stand together in that great loneliness, at the edge of it, we would also experience the God who is standing with us, the Christ who is seeking us out, not waiting for us to figure it out, or be good, or know all the right things.  Jesus whole ministry is summarized in the image of that women sweeping the whole house for the one lost coin. Being found is baked into the universe.  No thing is lost to God.

Most years at the Easter Vigil, we read a sermon by John Chrysostom that was been repeated since around the year 400.  It’s really a long invitation to the Easter banquet.

Join, then, all of you, join in our God’s rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after…

Rich and poor, sing and dance together.
You that are too hard on yourselves, you that are too easy,
celebrate this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go away hungry.
There’s hospitality for all, and to spare.

No more apologizing for your poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
No more bewailing your failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
No more fears of your dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.

And then we begin to say over and over again.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen, indeed.  Alleluia.

Relentlessly in the sermon, John announces that it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or how anyone has judged you or labeled you or tried to sideline you; how long you’ve waited, how worthy you think you might be, you are invited to the party.  God is seeking you out, loving you, sweeping off the gunk that has buried you, carrying you on the divine shoulders.  The party is not complete unless every single ONE is there.

Maybe it’s naïve to announce that death has been defeated, because in so many ways it doesn’t seem like it has been.  Death still lurks in the world, touching us with surprising regularity. This is September 11th, a date which carries a story of the world’s hatred, violence, and intolerance.

We may need these parables that teach us what we always forget:  God is at work.  Searching.  Sweeping.  Gathering.  Even when it looks pretty bleak–especially when it looks bleak–when someone or something needed is lost, God is unrelenting in the search to bring everything home, to ensure that there will be a party for entire universe.

Today is the foretaste–an act of faith on our part–to act out the world that will come, that must come, that has already come.  A collection of lost things, realizing that they are really a collection of found things.

The party begins momentarily, right after we set the table with bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sin, a reconnection to the shepherd and the woman, the party on the lawn an outgrowth of that communion, a public witness of church: to welcome, food and love and a place for all.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.

Christ is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!