Updated: Sep 19, 2022
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Good morning. I am absolutely delighted and very grateful to be here this morning.
So: by profession and vocation, I’m a teacher. Over the years, I’ve taught everybody from 4 year olds to 70 year olds and this August, I started my 17th year at WT as an English professor.
That means I spend my work days with 18-30 year olds, undergraduates and graduate students, trying to help them, yes, understand the complexities of studying English literature and language, but also, maybe more importantly, trying to help them navigate the many decisions they face. My students are in a “launch phase” of life: they are trying to get their adult lives going in so many ways: academically, professionally, romantically, socially. So many moving parts, so much pressure. They want and they need guidance. And yes, sometimes they go to their assigned grownup people, and sometimes to their professors and other advisors, and sometimes they take advantage of resources that many of us did not have at that age: I’m thinking particularly here of the internet and social media.
And I know—it’s easy to give a little sideye to the interwebs as a reliable source of information. But before we start tsk-tsking too much:
Let’s think about that time we had that weird pain in our elbow, and we went not to our primary care physician, but to WebMD? To Google “weird pain in elbow <ENTER>”
Uh-huh. I think lots of us live in glass houses on this subject so, we won’t be throwing any stones today.
So yes, my students go to the internet seeking counsel, and often, they will tell me what they find. And I go look at what they have found, because I want to see what they see, as much as I can.
One particularly powerful trend on social media right now is one that extols the virtues of the so-called “high value man” and “high value woman,” these individuals we should all not only be looking to attract, but also we should look to become. Much discussion of what the “high value person” will and will not accept, what this so-called “high value person” brings to the table.
I find this trend deeply distressing, for I don’t know that I can express adequately just how repellent I find this language of the “high value person.”
For you see, the paradigm of the “high value person” holds up only if we accept that on the other side of the spectrum from the “high value person,” we have the “low value person.”
A paradigm that I reject. This idea that some people have more “value” than others has caused more suffering over the course of human history than just about anything else. For this idea, that some people are “worth” more than others, and that human beings are qualified to judge human worth, is an idea that people across centuries and across cultures have found it very difficult to resist.
Evidence? Chapter 15 of Luke, which begins with a heaping helping of humans judging humans. The scribes and Pharisees sniff and “grumble” the NRSV translates it over the fact that Jesus welcomes and
eats with “tax collectors and sinners,” those whom the scribes and Pharisees have judged as less worthy than others, those who are worth(less).
And Jesus’s response? The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
Structurally, these two parables are identical. They follow exactly the same pattern.
In the first, a sheep has gone missing, and Jesus asks, “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 one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.”
A sheep is lost, so it is sought. When it is found, there is rejoicing.
Same with the parable of the lost coin:
A coin is lost, so it is sought. When it is found, there is rejoicing.
And in each one, Jesus reveals for us two beautiful things about the nature of God’s love for us:
1. When we are lost, we will be sought: God’s response to us in times of trouble is immediate, unwavering, and loving
2. God’s abundant joy in reunion with us: “Just as 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”
What’s here in these parables is pretty direct, pretty unambiguous. Because God’s love for us is pretty direct, and pretty unambiguous.
Yep. If we are lost, God seeks us. When we are found, God rejoices.
Yep, yep yep, direct, straightforward, easy, right? Except . . .
If God’s love, forgiveness, redemption, is so all-fire straightforward, so automatically ours, why do we sometimes find this so hard to believe? To trust in? Why does believing wholeheartedly in God’s love for us sometimes feel so difficult?
We find it difficult because of all the things that we do that God does not. We find it difficult because of all the ways we don’t love that God does. We find it complicated because of all the things Jesus doesn’t talk about in these parables.
Notice that Jesus spends absolutely ZERO time assessing the value of the lost thing, and using that value, that worth, to determine how much—and if—we should care that it is lost.
Soooooooo tell me: is the lost sheep a “high value” sheep? Is it an important sheep? Is it special in some way that would warrant going to the trouble of trying to find it? What does this sheep bring to the table that the other sheep don’t that makes this search reasonable and worth our time and energy?
Notice that Jesus spends exactly ZERO time on blame assessment.
What’s the problem here, sheep? You had one job here: stay with the flock. And you did not do that job. Everybody else did: the other 99 stayed exactly where they were supposed to. We were supposed to be on the other side of this field by the end of the day, and thanks to you, that didn’t happen, and that is on you. THAT is YOUR FAULT.
Notice that Jesus never mentions the sinner’s sin, whatever it may or may not have been, something that becomes even more apparent when we juxtapose the Gospel with the other readings for today, all of which are deeply concerned with the sinner’s sin.
The passage from Exodus, the Psalm, the Epistle: much discussion of the sinner’s sin
And when we get to the Gospel, the Pharisees and the scribes would like to make this moment about the sinner’s sin—“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
But Jesus’s response stops that line of discussion dead in its tracks. Because that kind of thinking is ours, not God’s. God does not seek that which is lost because of some kind of notion of “value.” God does not seek that which is lost so that we can feel shamed or blamed. God does not seek that which is lost so that we can be punished.
God seeks that which is lost because it is lost. Period, full stop.
There is no threshold of “worth” we have to meet before God will find us.
Humans might think that there is, but that’s us, not God.
God does not try to shame us, or scold us, or belittle us, gaslight us, or frighten us into returning to the fold.
Human beings, on the other hand, may try to do all of those things.
But not God. God seeks that which is lost because it is lost. God seeks that which is lost because reconciliation, forgiveness, and reunion are fundamental to the nature of God as Jesus Christ reveals that nature to us.
With every step we take toward God, toward goodness, toward wholeness, toward integrity, toward living to the best our ability in God’s will for us, God rejoices. And nothing we can ever do, will ever change that. God never gets tired, or frustrated, or has compassion fatigue.
God’s love is ever constant
ever seeking us
ever with us.