Let’s Have a Party

“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.”

In today’s Gospel we get two parables: the lost sheep and the lost coin. Luke actually puts them into a group of three, with the Prodigal Son coming right after these two.

So often, when we look at Jesus’ parables, we are quick to assume what they’re about. Of course, they’re about what we were taught they’re about since childhood! As Christians with 2,000 years of interpretive history behind us, we immediately approach the parables from a Christian perspective. We associate the “searcher” in each story with God or Christ, just like we were taught in Sunday School. That’s the safe interpretation. It makes us feel good. If we make it about God, we don’t have to DO anything. It puts the story at arm’s length.

But we need to look a little closer. You see, parables were not meant to make anyone feel good about themselves. From the parable of the trees in Book of Judges to the prophet Nathan going after King David for the murder of Uriah right through to Jesus, parables were meant to challenge, to unsettle, or even to accuse. So, if you interpret a parable and it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, chances are…you’re doing it wrong.

And we do have to be careful. If we’re going to consider the shepherd, the woman, or the father of the Prodigal Son to be God, we may end up with some some pretty weird ideas about God.

Take the Shepherd. He actually leaves the other ninety-nine sheep there in the wilderness to go out looking for just one! What shepherd in his right mind does that? The story never even mentions him taking the one sheep back to the flock, he goes home instead and calls his friends to celebrate. As far as we know, the other 99 are still out in the wilderness. So does God abandon the 99% percent to go after one?

The woman’s story makes a bit more sense. She, at least, takes responsibility for losing the coin.

I think maybe we look at these parables the wrong way. Luke gives them to us immediately after the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for hanging out with the wrong people. Jesus often told parables when provoked. And they tended to be aimed right back at the people who provoked him.

What if we’ve been looking at it wrong?  What if these parables aren’t primarily about God at all.  What if they’re about…us?  What if they’re about what we should be doing?

That might be a little uncomfortable.

The Pharisees and the scribes were complaining that Jesus was hanging out with people they didn’t like. Sinners were…well…sinners. Not good people. Tax collectors were people who collaborated with the Roman occupation. In the words of the British upper class of the early 20th century, they were “NOCD,” “Not Our Class, Dear.” And Jesus responded first with a parable that addresses them directly: “Which of YOU, having 100 sheep…” Now it’s doubtful that any of the scribes or Pharisees actually kept sheep, but they could get the point.

Jesus was telling them that these prostitutes and tax collectors, people who were not in their in-group, were exactly the people they should be concerned about. I think Jesus is telling them, “this is what you should be doing.”

In each case, when what is lost is found – sheep, coin, and later a son – a party ensues. And in each case, the party is an overreaction to the finding of what was lost! A party because you found one sheep out of a hundred? Ridiculous! This is Jesus saying, “not only should you be out looking for these people, including them, you should be throwing a party for them.”

Sometimes we lose people. They leave us for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t feel welcome. Sometimes they may feel we are actually hostile to them because there’s something about them we just don’t like. Something that we feel “doesn’t belong here.” They wander off (like the sheep), they just disappear (like the coin), or they leave because the grass seems greener elsewhere (like the Prodigal son).

Sometimes we go look for them. Sometimes we just wait for them to come back. Sometimes we just don’t bother. We SHOULD be looking.

Who do we lose? Who do we need to go out and look for? Is it that gay couple, or that trans woman who visited? Is it that guy who came one morning that looked like he’d slept in his clothes? Is it the woman with piercings, or tattoos all over? How did we treat them? Did we ignore them? Say something that wasn’t quite welcoming? Did we make a snide remark to a fellow parishioner that might have been overheard?

Jesus always found room for the poor and the marginalized, the people who just didn’t fit in to the “standard model” of society. That, you see, is how you build the kingdom of heaven.

We can’t build the kingdom of heaven by throwing people away. We must find them, bring them in. Whether we find them or they show up on their own, we must make sure they know they are valued, loved, accepted. That we were looking for them.

And then…let’s throw them a party.


Count the Cost: Then Go Anyway

Sermon delivered September 8, 2019 (Proper 18, Year c), at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Springfied, MO

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Brother Mike Malone from the Anglican Order of Preachers, also known as the Anglican Dominicans. I have been to St. James several times before, but never in this getup. I am the verger at my home church – the Church of the Holy Cross in Poplar Bluff — and Bob Lanning has been kind enough to invite me to be verger for the annual Kirkin’ of the Tartans ceremony that is held here. Since the ceremony is held on Saturday evening and it’s a 3- to 4-hour drive home, I usually stay overnight and attend Eucharist here on Sunday morning before going home. So, if you’ve seen me at all, you’ve only ever seen me in verger’s garb or in normal civilian clothes. I’ve never been here in habit before. The reason for that is that I just made my novice promises and officially entered the Order in August. I’ve been preaching in my own parish for a couple of years now, but this is my first “outside” sermon. One of the things about being a guest preacher is that you don’t have to worry too much about complaints. Still, it would be nice to be asked back. I hope you will be kind.


From today’s gospel: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?”

Life is hard. We’re always saying it. When I was a young man, a popular saying whenever something untoward happened was “Life is hard, and then you die.”

Our popular music reflects the view that life is hard.

The kids in the musical Annie say, “It’s the hard knock life.”

Country singer Lynn Anderson told us, “I never promised you a rose garden.”

The rock group Queen said “It’s a hard life.”

And from the great prophet Ringo Starr, “Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues, and you know it don’t come easy.”

Life don’t come easy.

Following Christ don’t come easy either.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus lays that out for us. Following him won’t be easy. He even says we actually have to hate our family! That’s harsh. But before you get upset by that, let’s realize that in the Bible, hate is often used in a comparative way, and Jesus often used figurative language to get his point across. You may not have to actually hate your family (and I hope you don’t), but you are to love God so much that your love for anything else – even family, even life –pales in comparison.

Loving God and living for Him brings…issues. When you love God that much, people are likely to get upset, because dedication to a life centered around God and Christ just don’t fit into Western culture very well. And following Christ often means taking positions that the people around us don’t agree with.  We need to be aware of that cost and go in open-eyed.

Quite honestly, well into this past week I was wondering exactly where to go with this sermon. I couldn’t seem to get a handle on what I needed to say. Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber once said that she preaches the sermon she needs to hear, but…what did I need to hear? Then, as chance would have it, someone posted something on Facebook.

I would like to tell you about someone I just learned about this week.

The Anglican Order of Preachers has brothers and sisters in the US, in Canada, in Puerto Rico, in the UK, in Australia.  We have a new Postulant who lives in India. On Facebook this week she told us the story of Sundar Singh. Sundar Singh was born in northern India, to a family of the Sikh faith. He was partially educated at a Christian high school. At fourteen, his mother died, and Sundar blamed God, going so far as to burn a page of a Bible.

Not long after this, and feeling his life no longer had any meaning, he decided to commit suicide. But he first prayed that the “True God” would appear to him and prevent it. According to his biography, he had a vision of Jesus that night. He announced to his family that he was converting to Christianity.

It didn’t go well.

His father rejected him.

His brother tried to poison him.

People threw snakes at his house.

But he was not swayed. At the age of 16 he was baptized and went on to become a famous missionary in India.

Perhaps our first instinct is to get all high and mighty about how awful his family was and how that sort of thing would never happen here but let me share a story from my own family history.

Abraham Floyd, my great-great-great-great (I think that’s enough “greats”) grandfather, was a staunch Episcopalian and Revolutionary War veteran. He had a son, Matthew, who one night went to a Methodist meeting and, horror of horrors, got baptized – by immersion, of all things. He came home still wet from the baptism, and his father would not let him back into the house.  He was disowned. Matthew Floyd went on to become a famous traveling Baptist preacher in Kentucky. I don’t think there was any snake-throwing involved, but still…

So, while most of the time it doesn’t lead to something as extreme as attempted murder, following where you believe Christ is leading can get you into hot water.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War II, wrote that grace – God’s grace – while free for the taking, was still costly. “It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live.” Prophetic words. Because he vigorously opposed the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned, and later executed.

If we are following Christ, if we are really basing our life on him, we may alienate people, including friends and family and those in power. Have we counted that cost? Have we looked at everything we might lose by following Christ?

I would suggest that we (at least most of us) really haven’t. We can’t imagine what Christ might ask of us or how it will affect our lives, but the cost could be…everything, and it’s hard to imagine that. But we have to be prepared to accept whatever that cost may be.

I became a Dominican because God called me to a particular work. It meant changing the way I live my life. I will happily talk to you about those changes after church. I didn’t know what else it would cost me. I still don’t know where it will lead, or what the cost might be in the future. I only know that Christ was calling me, and I had to respond. To me, it seems a small cost. I’m one of the lucky ones: my friends and family, my rector, and my bishop all support me.

But for someone like Sundar Singh or Matthew Floyd it meant being ostracized by family and friends. For Dietrich Bonhoeffer it meant execution by the Nazis.

Christ does call each and every one of us to…something. I don’t know what your call is. I only know my own. And the call was irresistible.

If you don’t think you’ve heard God calling you, you may have to be quiet and listen. It’s hard to hear God when we’re making our own noise.  And if you listen – REALLY listen – you may find that Christ’s call to you is irresistible too.  There will be a cost. But following Christ is worth the cost, because through God’s grace we begin to really live.

May we all have the courage to say “It doesn’t matter what the cost is. I’ll pay it.”

“Here I am, Lord. I’m ready.”