Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gnaw on This ... The Gospel for This Sunday

The Gospel isn't just to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on throughout the week so it really becomes a part of us. Here's the Gospel for this Sunday (and some notes and more "food for thought"). You can click here to find all the readings for this Sunday.
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Luke 15:1-10
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 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.

"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
What's the Backstory?
These parables are part of a set of three (the third being the Prodigal Son, Luke:15:11-32) about redemption -- being lost and found. The image of the people as lost sheep cared for by God the shepherd is in several places in the Gospel and would also be familiar from the Hebrew scripture (e.g., Ezekiel 34:1-15).
It's notable that the immediate context of these parables are teachings about our relationship with wealth and power (the stories we've read the past 2 weeks from Luke 14 and the stories of the dishonest manager and the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16), and the trigger for Jesus telling the stories is his association with people whose sin is associated with wealth (tax collectors). In addition, the central image of these three parables is of a lost coin. Jesus is drawing a clear connection between our relationship with wealth and power and our state of relationship with God (a connection that is dramatized even more in the parable of the prodigal son).
Something to chew on:
*Where am I lost? Where is God passionately searching for me? This is the first question these parables beg of us. We tend to think of our relationship with God as a hide-and-seek with us being the seeker (we even use that word ... seeker). Jesus tells us that we are the hidden, and God is the seeker. How does that feel? Is that hard to believe? Remembering that Jesus was telling this story in the context of our relationship with wealth and power, how does your wealth and power -- or desire for the same -- keep God from finding you? How do you use your wealth and power to help God find you?

*Who are the "other lost?" What is our attitude toward them? How are we part of God's seeking? This is the second question of these parables. The history of Christianity is littered with theological or political opponents of Christians being labeled as enemies and demons. But Jesus is saying something different. The lost are not supposed to be demonized or destroyed, but lovingly searched for ... and rejoiced in and with when they are found. Nelson Mandela says was able to help transform South Africa because he never saw people as enemies -- even when they were beating him and imprisoning him -- but instead saw them as future friends, beloved by God. Where are you living this in our lives? Where could you live it better?
Try this...
One of the things I find is missing in most of our lives is a deep sense that God rejoices in us before we DO anything or HAVE anything. We experience God as a judge or a parent figure we have to impress, instead of a passionate lover who pines for us. And yet, God as passionate lover pining for us, delighting in us, rejoicing in us is the epic image of God that echoes throughout the story of scripture. This week, take 5 minutes each morning when you get up and sit or take a walk in the fall morning air ... and just rest with the thought that God is searching for you, that God rejoices in you. Think of someone you love simply because your heart can't help it. What does it feel like to think of God loving you like that ... and more?

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