Lectionary Reflection for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 11, 2016
Just 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. Luke 15:7
“Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” This rallying cry from the Great Depression of the 20th century is certainly applicable to this week’s gospel lesson and to the concept of stewardship in general. It’s a slogan that challenges our disposable society, one that in general puts precious little value on people, places, or possessions.
Jesus places a high value on human life and on relationships. Everyone has worth and matters, especially those most ignored and marginalized by the “in-crowd.” In this week’s reading, we find the religious elite grumbling that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Gentiles and sinners and women, oh my! It’s time for a pair of parables to challenge the mindset and assumptions of the grumblers.
The first parable concerns the one pesky sheep out of the hundred that is lost and soon found by the persistent shepherd. Jesus’ obvious teaching is that no life is beyond God’s grace and love, and that the Divine Shepherd will seek out even the most recalcitrant wanderer. The second parable tells the story of a woman who has ten silver coins, loses one, searches diligently, finds it, and gathers her friends and neighbors to rejoice in her good fortune. Again, no one is outside of God’s grace-full reach, Jesus says.
In our Old Testament lesson from Exodus, Moses makes a case before God to remember the promises made to Abraham’s descendants–even when they have tried God sorely by making their own calf-god. Don’t see them for their stiff-necked failures, Moses pleads. Remember. Remember your words sworn to Abraham, words of land, of people more numerous than the night-sky stars. God, remembering, changes the divine mind about raining down calamity and destruction upon the broken people.
Losing and finding and remembering are important words for modern day steward-disciples to ponder, too. What have we lost that needs to be valued and found? What do we need to remember so that we do not experience loss and a path to destruction?
Some answers seem quite simple. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love and grace. All are invited to the table and into Christ’s beloved body. No one is so lost that they cannot be found. God remembers and is faithful to divine promise–even when tested and tried. If this is such an evident truth, why do we have such a hard time remembering when it comes to our communities, our choices, and our resources?
It’s easy to say we love the poor and long to help them. We can write a check to a charity that will help provide clean water, micro-loans, and education to those in dire need. Yet do we then counteract that good will when we fail to consider the source of cheap clothing, of coffee, tea, and chocolate that is not fairly traded? What of our choice to invest in and profit from companies that exploit labor, land, and resources of the world’s most vulnerable? Are we willing to count people, land, and futures expendable to have what we want at a price
point that’s the lowest possible? How then are we valuing and loving our neighbors? To what lengths are we willing to go to “find” what has been lost and redeem it at great price and community celebration?
To God, we are not expendable. We are of great worth: Worth searching for, worth finding, and worth celebrating. How can we in turn live into these stories of losing, finding, and remembering that counter a disposable culture and honor an enduring God? No, the answers are not easy and quick. They are, however, worth contending with as we seek to follow the one who has chosen and found us. Blessings on your preaching and teaching!
Put special emphasis on this week’s psalm (51:1-10). Place the font in a central location if it’s not there already, and place some towels around it. During the reading of the psalm, fill the font with water. Invite congregants to wash their hands in the baptismal waters and remember their baptism and the grace that washed them clean. Do this either as people come to communion or during the peace.
Spend some time with this week’s epistle lesson (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Paul writes that he is grateful to Jesus for the mercy, grace, faith, and love he’s been given. Paul goes on to say that his gratitude helps equip him to be the presence of Christ for others. Invite youth to contemplate how that might play out in their lives. If you want to prep for the conversation, consider watching this video from the Greater Good Science Center. Cornell Professor Thomas Gilovich talks about two barriers to gratitude in a consumerist culture.
Finding the Lost Sheep
Cut out 100 paper sheep. Affix 99 of them to the altar railing or somewhere visible in worship. Hide the one remaining sheep somewhere that can easily be found. Gather the children and ask them if they’ve ever lost something that was important to them and then later found it? Listen to their stories. Share one of your stories if you have one. Invite conversation about how good it felt to finally find the thing that went missing. Did they tell others about their find and good fortune? Share with the children the parable of the Lost Sheep, pointing out the 99 sheep. Some of the children may want to count them. Jesus was trying to get the people to understand that everyone is precious and worth finding and saving. That’s good news because EVERYONE is precious in Jesus’ sight. But wait! What about that one lost sheep? Maybe it’s hidden in plain sight. Have the children look for it. Once it’s found, rejoice! Applaud! Then ask the children what precious child of God might be hidden in plain sight from us. Who is missing from our congregation? Finish with a short prayer asking God to open our eyes to find the “missing sheep” who need to be part of our community and to find ways to invite and welcome them.
(Photos: Jim Donnelly, Foto Guy 49057 Creative Commons, and Photo © michaeljung – Fotolia.com)