Thursday, September 29, 2016

Adventures, October 2016 from the Quincy Quill

Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.  These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.  – John Wesley from his sermon, “A Catholic Spirit”

I must be very honest that I am coming to dislike election season more and more every four years.  It is hard to go a day without being bombarded by advertisements from candidates on both sides, mostly attacking one another and trying to undermine each other.  And social media is another story, as it seems like I cannot scroll down my Facebook or Twitter newsfeeds without seeing someone posting why we need to vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein.  But it is also seeing some of the comments from others that make me shake my head, hence why I do my best to refrain from posting political things.  As I mentioned in my sermon on September 11, a younger friend of mine makes a very prominent observation about the level of anger expressed in our conversations when it comes to politics, society, and anything where there seems to be more than one thought or opinion.  When did we as a society forget about respect for one another?  Did Jesus not say that we are to love one another, or more particularly, our neighbor as ourselves? 

While I do have my personal opinions and my own political leanings, I try my best not to let them dictate how I lead in ministry, unless it pertains to helping the poor, healing the sick, loving my neighbor, and trying to make our community, society, and world a better place.  More importantly, it’s more about loving my neighbor and trying to understand his/her perspective even if we may not agree.  It’s something I’ve worked on through the years, even though I still fail in that regard here and there.  But that’s also where grace comes into play.  Yet I still ask, how are we as a people of faith supposed to respond to all the ugliness that seems to happen more and more each election cycle?

The above article is from John Wesley’s sermon, “A Catholic Spirit,” which captures the essence of how ALL of us can work together regardless of where we stand politically or theologically.  Too often these days, it’s much easier just to tell someone they’re wrong and shout down someone who doesn’t agree, but this is not the essence of social holiness or loving our neighbor.  The fact is that we all need each other, whether we are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, Green, or non-partisan.  We need to find places where we agree and take that common ground to work together and find ways to make our neighborhood, community, and world a better place.  We need to find ways to show love, even in spite of places we may disagree.

As we come into this final month before election day, instead of trying to argue with someone who may have a different viewpoint, I would like to invite everyone to instead engage with Dr. Amy Oden’s “2 Question” method:

1. First, how did you come to your view on _____________ (the president, health care, immigration, fill in the blank)?

2. Second, how is this political issue important in your life right now?[i]

It’s what Dr. Oden calls “Welcoming the Political Stranger,” but it also captures what John Wesley is trying to say that we can still love each other despite differences we may have in our politics or our ideology.  This method encourages active listening, but also dialogue instead of debate.  Coming into the election and even after the election, I encourage us to pray for each other, pray for our world and nation, pray for our community, and trust God in the entire process.  But I also encourage us to lift each other up, listen to each other, and look for common ground so that we can show what the love of God and neighbor looks like when we serve as the hands and feet of Christ outside the walls of our church and our homes. 

Peace & Blessings,
Andrew



[i] Amy Oden, “Welcoming the Political Stranger” in Alive Now, http://alivenow.upperroom.org/2013/01/18/welcoming-the-stranger/

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"The Shoe's on the Other Foot" - Sermon September 25, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“The Shoe is on the Other Foot”
Pastor Andrew Davis
September 25, 2016
Luke 16: 19-31

        Contrary to the fact that many big-box stores are already decorated for it, Christmas is still three months away from today. But given the context of our Gospel lesson this morning, I really can’t help but think about Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, A Christmas Carol.  Now I know I’m probably asking a very redundant question here, but how many of you have read A Christmas Carol at one time or another in your life?  While my earliest experience with A Christmas Carol came thanks to the adaptations via Disney or the Muppets, I remember actually reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol in my 7th grade English class and in one of my high school English classes.  Nevertheless, we encounter Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, bitter, greedy, stingy rich man who has nothing good to say as a result of his unhappiness with his present life.  But on Christmas Eve after he and his clerk, Bob Cratchit leave for the night, Mr. Scrooge has three visions, one of Christmas past, one of Christmas present, and one of Christmas future.  It is in the Christmas future vision that is probably the darkest scene, but also where the shoe is on the other foot for Mr. Scrooge.  See, the third vision is where Mr. Scrooge has died and quite frankly, nobody is really mourning his death, as it’s more like “ding-dong, the witch is dead.”  However, seeing his own mortality and people’s reactions in this vision is a serious wakeup call for Mr. Scrooge, as the voices that Scrooge hears are much like the voice that he has shown towards others.  For Mr. Scrooge, he has showed very little hospitality, was highly selfish, and just didn’t really give a care about anyone but himself. And Mr. Scrooge especially did not care about the poor whom he encountered on his walk to the office through his London neighborhood.  However, at least for Mr. Scrooge, there was a redemption for him in the end. 
Like Mr. Scrooge in his three visions, we come across a rich man who gets to experience the shoe on the other foot after he dies in this morning’s Gospel lesson.  Continuing from last weeks’ passage of the dishonest manager, Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees who loved their money and loved the law.  As he does best, Jesus makes another comeback with yet another parable, this time sharing the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Like last week, this week’s Gospel does not exactly give us a warm and fuzzy feeling either, especially when it comes to wealth and riches.  In fact, it actually can make us very uncomfortable because we tend to get comfortable and used to our comforts.  Yet as I was watching the livestream of her installation service in the Rocky Mountain Conference yesterday, Bishop Karen Oliveto in her message commented that there are times where we need to learn to become "comfortable being uncomfortable," which some of these parables can do, because they challenge us to see things from a different angle. Just from reading all of chapter 16 in Luke, Jesus seems to be speaking out against riches and wealth here on earth when we read it on the surface.  Yet, as Brian K. Blount puts it in his New Testament commentary, True to Our Native Land, “Jesus goes from addressing the earthly construct of a systematic economic exploitation to addressing the eternal consequences of misused financial gain.”[i]
Before we start simmering like a pressure cooker or blow our tops when he hear something like this, we need to take into account that Jesus is actually pointing out that it’s how we use our wealth and riches in this life, how we show our generosity, how we show hospitality that is at the heart of our Gospel lesson this morning, not an overall criticism of wealth and riches.  It’s when we misuse what we have or fail to use what we have responsibly or generously is when the shoe can very easily be put on the other foot for us.  According to Ben Witherington III, author of Jesus and Money, the author of Luke “understands God’s divine intervention to mean trouble for the high and mighty, while it is good news for the poor,” which is one of the over-arching themes in the Gospel of Luke.[ii]
Now when we really get into the nitty-gritty of this morning’s passage, it is obvious that the rich man has a very high status in society from the fact he is wearing “purple and fine linen,” as purple was a color that royalty commonly wore in the Roman world (Lk. 16: 19).  But on the other side of this story, we encounter Lazarus, dressed in tattered clothes, malnourished, and sitting outside the house with the sting of open sores that the dogs would come and lick, adding insult to injury.  A total contrast from the rich man who basks in his creature comforts and extravagant abundance.  In some way, the way that Lazarus would even take the crumbs or scraps reminds me of the scene in the novel Don Quixote where Don Quixote is fed moldy bread and bad fish at a tavern, but sees it as the food of royalty.  For Lazarus, the fact he would take even the mere crumbs or the greasy bread oftentimes thrown under the table shows how desperate he was.  While Don Quixote at least got something, as horrible as it was, Lazarus didn’t even get that! 
Consequently, when Lazarus and the rich man die, the shoe gets put on the other foot, as it’s Lazarus who sits next to faith-hero Abraham in Heaven while the rich man winds up in Hades and is constantly tormented, almost like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.  In this reversal of fortunes, the rich man gets to experience what Lazarus was experiencing and perhaps gets a little taste of his own medicine in how he treated Lazarus with the shoe on the other foot.  Definitely not very kind for the rich man in Hades, yet it’s one of those ‘what goes around, comes around’ scenarios.  Nevertheless, “the rich man, even in Hades, thinks he can still treat the poor man like a servant, or someone beneath him on the social ladder,” even though “wealth and poverty are not reliable guides to how God evaluates a person.”[iii] It’s how we treat others and how we use what we have that matters to God that Jesus is trying to show us. 
However, if we take a little closer look at Jesus’s attitude here, it’s not so much about being rich in itself, but once again how the rich man uses his wealth and how he fails to even see Lazarus, much less does not show hospitality to Lazarus in any way, shape, or form.  It also gets me thinking as to how we use what we have and how we use our own riches and wealth, whether it is monetary wealth, or even our wealth of faith.  Because given this world and its sometimes complicated economics or the constant message of spend, spend, spend, buy, buy, buy, it doesn’t take a whole lot for the shoe to go on the other foot.  It does not take much to go from having money to having none when money is spent irresponsibly.  Now it doesn’t mean we can’t use money for fun here and there, but we do need it for basic needs too, which in this complicated economy of ours can also feel out of reach at times.  In the rich man’s case, he used all of the money for him and for him alone, but more so in extravagant living with his fine linens, fancy food, and lavish adornments in his house, just like Mr. Scrooge.  Brian Blount explains that in this case, “the rich man’s refusal to provide food for Lazarus, to give him medical attention, or to offer him shelter put Lazarus in a precarious state, a state that contributed to Lazarus’s demise and subsequent death.”[iv]
Talk about conviction right there!!  Yet sometimes, we need to look at the shoe on the other foot and look at what is happening from another person’s perspective.  What might be a good life for one of us, may be the complete opposite for someone else.  There does come a time when we need to see things from the other side and some of this happened during my first year of seminary when we had the opportunity to do six weeks of service learning.  While the rich man did not see Lazarus at all, we were able to see the struggle happening in others; hunger, poverty and homelessness firsthand.  For six weeks, a group of my classmates and I would head to Capitol Hill UMC in Washington, DC’s Eastern Market neighborhood where we joined other volunteers from the church and community on Monday mornings.  Capitol Hill UMC has a group of volunteers from inside and outside the church who provide a free breakfast called “Our Daily Bread” five days a week and invites anyone, but particularly the homeless and those who may not have enough to join them each morning for breakfast, followed by a couple readings from a daily devotional and conversation.  But the most important part is that we saw each other, we mingled with each other, and we developed relationships with each other. It was as one of our professors and deacon at CHUMC, Rev. Dr. Sam Marullo calls, a small foretaste of the kingdom of God.  
All of the volunteers at “Our Daily Bread” are giving of their time and resources in helping to provide a hot meal, but it also gives the volunteers a sense of the shoe being on the other foot and a better understanding of life and that life is more difficult for some.  And if someone like Lazarus showed up, they would be very well taken care of, fed, and given much needed medical attention, a far cry from the story in our Gospel lesson.  I also think of my two weeks in Pine Ridge, SD with another group of classmates for an intercultural immersion two years ago while spending time with the Lakota tribe while we stayed at the Pine Ridge Retreat Center.  Our leader, a Lutheran pastor was serving as spiritual leader at the Lutheran-Presbyterian retreat center on the reservation and during our time there, not a minute went by that there was not a knock at the door, asking for a cup of coffee in the morning, a sandwich in the afternoon, or a coat, mittens, or blanket at night.  However, we saw the struggle and saw the level of extreme poverty while in Pine Ridge, but also saw how we can be generous with just a little and generous with our faith and resources, unlike the way the rich man acted towards Lazarus.
 While the rich man did not even bother to see Lazarus laying outside the gate, my classmates and I were able to see firsthand what the shoe looks like on the other foot, which is a big part of why Wesley does the immersion in the first place.  It’s easy to take for granted what we have and our creature comforts and having plenty, but at the same time, putting the shoe on the other foot also makes us think about how we who have plenty use what we have for the good in this life and how to share those resources with others where we realistically can.  Even when we do have plenty, we live in a reality that things are still tight at times and while we may not always have the financial resources to share with others, we can certainly give our time and our presence.  In fact when we take the vow to become a professing member of The UMC, we vow to use our prayers and our presence generously.  More importantly, we need to be able to see and acknowledge those who may struggle around us, as well as be honest if we aren’t able to help. 
These last couple weeks, I have met a few various people around town requesting assistance and in conversations with colleagues am seeing where there is struggle in our neighborhood and community.  While it is easier to be comfortable knowing we have a roof over our head, food on our table, a car that runs, it’s not the case for many and even in our community here.  I also want to empathize with each person when they need our help, hoping and praying that whatever I do share with them will be used responsibly and faithfully.  But I also know that there are times we realistically cannot help, except other than being a listening ear and prayer partner, which is also okay.  But even in these instances, hospitality and acknowledgment are still necessary, not just ignoring or failing to see like way the rich man does with Lazarus.
It’s what Jesus is telling the Pharisees and the disciples, and even us as 21st century disciples, as we simply need to be able to see everyone outside our doors, not turn a blind eye, or sweep things under the rug for convenience. We as 21st century disciples need to actually see what the shoe looks like on the other foot at one time or another.  Jesus shows the most empathy with the poor and less fortunate, but also expects us who have plenty to be generous, to be hospitable, and to be responsible with what we do have.  It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a good challenge to take on and that I too am working more on my willingness to go outside of my comfort zone as well when it comes to being able to see struggle and to help with those who are struggling. 
As we go into this new week, how are we going to see those around us who might be struggling?  And what are we willing to do to help others in our midst who may be struggling?  Coming back to Mr. Scrooge, after seeing the shoe on the other foot, he had a change of heart, became more generous, and lived a much happier life knowing that he himself could make a difference when he was able to see and help those less fortunate around him, as he still had time to see and ended up not winding up like the rich man.  As we reflect on what Jesus is challenging us to do, I leave you with the first verse of the Gospel song, “If I can Help Somebody” which was also a favorite of Martin Luther King Jr.:
If I can help somebody
As I travel along
If I can help somebody
With a word or song
If I can help somebody
From doing wrong
My living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain
My living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody
While I'm singing this song
My living shall not be in vain.[v]

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


[i] Brian K. Blount, True to Our Native Land (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 176.
[ii] Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010, 92. 
[iii] Ibid., 100-101
[iv] Blount, 176.
[v] Lyrics. ‘Mahalia Jackson - If I Can Help Somebody Lyrics’. 2016. Accessed September 23, 2016. http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/m/mahalia_jackson/if_i_can_help_somebody.html.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Faithful with Little, Faithful with Much" - Sermon from 9/18/2016


Community UMC, Quincy

September 18, 2016

“Faithful with Little, Faithful with Much”

Luke 16: 1-13

Pastor Andrew Davis

 

While I'm not very comfortable the title or implications of this movie per se, I remember when the movie “Dumb and Dumber” with Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels came out in 1994. Being the typical thirteen-year old who found Jim Carey’s sick antics rather funny at the time, I was quite drawn to this movie.  Now if you haven’t seen it, or it’s been awhile, “Dumb and Dumber” is about two men in their late 30’s, maybe early 40’s named Lloyd (played by Jim Carey), and Harry (played by Jeff Daniels) who engage in wild and silly antics and can’t seem to hold a job either.  Before being fired as a limo driver, Lloyd’s passenger, Mary Swanson (played by Lauren Holly) catches Lloyd’s interest as he drives her to the airport, but leaves behind a briefcase which Lloyd then makes his mission to return to her even though it’s part of a complicated ransom for her husband who is being held hostage.  However after a few misadventures, Lloyd and Harry accidentally break open the briefcase in one scene to find that there is an extravagant amount of cash in it.  Predictably, the two recklessly spend all of the cash on extravagant luxuries until the plot thickens and the captors find the cash replaced with IOU slips.  A classic case of dishonest wealth at play, much less squandering that wealth or showing a lack of faithfulness with much or with little. 

        As we get into our Gospel lesson this morning, we come across a manager, who like Lloyd and Harry, recklessly spend belongings that aren't his.  Now morning’s passage from Luke, and a very difficult passage to say the least, comes right on the heels of a very well-known passage, “The Prodigal Son” in which a son wants his inheritance NOW, gets it, recklessly spends it, hits rock bottom, returns home, and is shown grace and forgiveness by his father, but not his brother (Lk. 15: 11-32).  In some ways, the “Parable of the Dishonest Manager” (or Shrewd Manager in some translations) is a follow-up and continuation of “The Prodigal Son.” See, the dishonest manager is placed in charge of the estate of this rich man until the rich man/estate' owner gets word that this manager has been “wasting away his employer’s money” and the manager is basically called out on it by his boss (Lk. 16: 1, NLT).  But instead of coming clean, knowing his fate at the hands of his boss, the dishonest manager decides to go to each person who owes his boss and reduce their debts which were comprised of olive oil and wheat, not cash in this case. 

However, in an ironic twist, the rich man is actually impressed with how the manager goes about this, even though it is out of dishonesty and with not necessarily the best of intentions, whereas in Lloyd and Harry’s case, they just don’t make good decisions.  It’s ironic enough that the estate owner praises the dishonest manager, but what’s even more shocking is that Jesus essentially tells the disciples to do the same when he says in verse 9 to “make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Lk. 16: 9, NRSV).  Very perplexing that Jesus would even say this, but we have no choice but to take this statement for what it is.  However, in  The Message's translation of verses 8 and 9, Jesus tells the disciples the following:

Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior (Lk. 16: 8-9, MSG). 

 

        That sounds a little bit better, as Jesus is saying to do what is right, but do it wisely.  In trying unpack a parable like this, Jesus is actually looking at real-life examples from the time he was ministering in the Greco-Roman world and this dishonest manager fits the bill of a real-life example.[i] However, when we hear riches, in Aramaic it is translated as mammon, as Jesus in this case is referring to unrighteous mammon which shows how Jesus “does not have a very high view of money.  Or, better said, he does not have a very high view of the effect money has on most fallen human beings.”[ii]

      That's where the heart of this parable is this morning, as it's more about the effect that wealth and money can have on us, and how faithful we are with little, or with much. It's almost like stewardship 101 as we approach the season of stewardship. The effect that money has on people is very timely to today's context, especially in a secular culture that places such a high value on the almighty dollar.  And I believe that we can see it everywhere in our current culture that “there is an alluring quality to money that prompts humans, especially greedy ones, to act in unrighteous ways” much in the same way that Lloyd and Harry act in the movie when they discover the cash in the briefcase.[iii] So when it comes to Jesus telling the disciples to be like the manager, New Testament scholar Craig Evans explains that “Jesus is not recommending compromise and he is certainly not recommending dishonesty, but he is urging his followers not to overlook opportunities and resources that will sustain his people and advance…the mission.”[iv] Instead, Jesus is talking about how we can be faithful with much just as we can be faithful with little, particularly in the long-run of things, but it takes responsibility on our part. 

        How many of us when given a sum of money find it tempting just to spend it freely, not really giving a care?  It’s easy to do, especially when we are bombarded with the message of buy this, buy that, just buy or you need this, you need that!!  Even more so when the holidays roll around, which feels like they're already starting.  Two years ago, I took a half-semester stewardship class with Dr. Ann Michel of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary and one of our books for the class was Ben Witherington III’s Jesus and Money.  In Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III explains in three main points that “most of us are living beyond, and in some cases well beyond, our means,” that “we have been conditioned to think, even by some preachers in the church, that we are entitled to success, entitled to wealth, and entitled to a lifestyle of the rich and famous” and that “we have learned to spend freely without thinking about our obligations to those less fortunate than ourselves,” something we see in Lloyd and Harry and the dishonest manager who show poor stewardship.[v]

Unlike the dishonest manager, responsible stewardship is something to strive for as Jesus points out when he says “whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Lk. 16: 10, NRSV).  It’s basically putting our money where our mouth is, in that we need to be honest, responsible, and faithful with what we have, whether it is much, or little. As we will hear many times throughout the Bible, everything belongs to God and in some ways the ideas in our Gospel lesson this morning may “reflect Jesus’s general view that all material creation belongs to God, so even what we might count as our own is in fact given to us by God.  We are merely stewards of what properly belongs to God.”[vi]

More importantly, we are called to be responsible in using what we have, whether it is a little or a lot.  My colleague Taylor Burton-Edwards explains that

Disciples of Jesus are called to be just as brilliant in the ways we use money and our possessions and handle debts as this dishonest manager. It’s not just about morality. It’s about finding ways to use money to reduce debt in every form and increase joy and love. It means developing great savvy with both finances and cultural norms. Do this, Jesus says, and you’ll be welcomed into the eternal homes of all you release from debt into joy.

 

In other words, don’t serve mammon. Serve God and master mammon, putting it to use to reduce debts and increase joy and love.[vii]

 

So perhaps the good news in all of this is that when we are called to be responsible stewards, we are increasing our joy even with a little or a lot.  I admit, I’m not wealthy by any means and I have student loan debt, but I don’t need great wealth to be happy.  I have God and I am happy to serve God and not money or wealth.  It’s like in the movie when Lloyd and Harry spend all the money, it eventually catches up to them and because they spent the ransom money that wasn't theirs, they lost all the items they purchased, but were still happy in the end because they still had each other and their goofy antics.  So perhaps when it comes to money, wealth, and riches, Jesus is trying to show us that we still have a responsibility whether we have much or little, yet we need to be faithful and honest with what we do have and not act like the dishonest manager, even with the stuff that we possess.  We need to do what is right.  We can definitely still have great joy, especially when we serve God because money does not necessarily buy happiness.  And perhaps, Jesus may even be pointing us to something greater…we have great wealth through our faith because we will have it in our “eternal home” (Lk. 16: 9).

As we really get into this Fall season, I hope that we can reflect this week and in the coming weeks on what’s really important in our own lives and in the life of our congregation as we think about how we are stewards of what we are entrusted with, and how we are faithful with little or much.  What are values you place on wealth, both monetary, but also on your wealth of faith?  And what are ways that we can be faithful with little, or faithful with much, or how are we already faithful with little or much?  And how can we too “be smart” like the manager, but do what is right?

 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen! 



[i] “Study Notes” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Pres, 2003), 1885.    
[ii] Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010), 63.
[iii] Ibid., 69
[iv] Qtd. In Wittherington III, 69. 
[v] Ibid., 8. 
[vi] Ibid., 69. 
[vii] Taylor Burton-Edwards, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/eighteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Finding the Lost Among Us" - Sermon, September 11, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Finding the Lost Among Us”
September 11, 2011
Pastor Andrew Davis
Luke 15: 1-10

        There is no doubt that many of us still remember where we were and what we were doing fifteen years ago this morning when we first heard the news of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, followed by the crash of United Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania.  It was a surreal morning; one of those mornings that felt like a bad dream, but no, this was really happening.  When my TV came on at 6:30am as it was timed to do, I was still semi-asleep, but knew something was not right from the urgent and serious tone that the anchor team on Good Day Sacramento was using instead of their typical morning zoo antics.  However, I was fully awake when I watched in horror and helplessness as the twin towers fell to the ground.
 Today is a day where the raw emotions still come to the surface as we remember the tragedy that happened fifteen years ago this morning in a coordinated attack by Al Queda, a network composed of those who were filled with pure evil in the name of religion.  In the days to follow, many of us asked why?  Why did this happen?  We tried to make sense of it, but could not right away.  In the end, we saw a massive loss of lives, but the beginning of a new culture of fear and mistrust that is still prevalent today. 
        Today is one of those difficult days to preach.  Even though it has been fifteen years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it still feels like it happened yesterday.  On the other hand, one of my former teachers from high school who I stay in touch pointed out that for many of this year’s high school freshman, the attacks are now an historical event that happened before many of them were born.  I definitely think about that as one of my cousins is a month into his freshman year of high school and wasn’t born yet when the attacks happened.  Yet amidst that fact, there are still strong emotions of grief for those who were lost, admiration for the first responders who didn't stay away, but went right for the towers. And, there are still also feelings of anger, and the fear that it could happen again.  Yet as I have been reflecting these last few weeks leading up to today, I think of those who were lost, and even those who are still lost because they have not been accounted for and their loved ones still here on earth.  A recent report from NBC News mentions how there are still many families whose loved ones were lost in the attacks, yet never had their bodies recovered, which has not given their surviving families the sense of closure, as they still try and struggle to move on from fifteen years ago today and find hope.[i]  It is a deep sense of loss, but also speaks to how it is still possible to have the feeling of being lost fifteen years later.
In the days, weeks, and even years following these attacks, many of us also felt a spiritual sense of loss.  I admit that I felt like I lost faith in God and humanity that day and in my jaded view of God’s will at the time, became very angry with God for allowing a tragedy on this scale to even happen, which took time to reconcile and realize that it was not part of God’s will.  God was still present in the ones who came to bring aid and in the first responders, and God was never lost, even though it was very difficult to see in the moment. 
Nobody was unaffected by this tragedy.  It was and still is a time of wrestling and asking questions, even as we remember and continue moving forward in hope, love, and justice.  But, in the midst of remembering such tragedy and other tragedies that have happened in the last fifteen years, what are we as people of faith to do in such instances when tragedy strikes?  How do we respond?  Is it our call to try to point blame on others, or even try and to find answers to people’s questions of why?  Or, is it possible to reach out across the divides, not pretending to have the answers, but simply reach out and be a presence, especially for the lost among us?  Do we stay away, or engage? Our Gospel lesson this morning may hold a key on how we can respond, but also in how we can find the lost among us.  Let us hear these words from Luke 15: 1-10.
This morning's lesson is quite fitting given the context of this morning in some ways.  And quite honestly, our Gospel lesson can open up a can of worms too because of what the Pharisees are saying right off the bat about Jesus: “this man receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15: 2, NKJV).  Now, sin is corrupt and evil in the Pharisees’ eyes and the people who Jesus is hanging out with defy the ritual and purity codes of that time (see Leviticus and Deuteronomy for an idea of what those codes entail).[ii]  However, Jesus didn’t stay away from those who the Pharisees avoided, but instead engaged with everyone who was in his midst, even when it raised controversy.  As we may find ourselves grappling with who to stay away from and who to engage with as 21st century disciples in this culture of fear that we have lived in these last fifteen years, it feels like we are being told a message to stay away from the other, particularly through some of the ‘talking heads’ that we see host various news shows, which comes from both sides of the political spectrum too.  We hear the message to stay away from those who we don’t agree with or aren’t like-minded with us.  Stay away from those who aren’t patriotic.  Stay away from those who aren't Christian.  Just stay away if people are not just like us.  It feels like we hear those voices constantly in our heads and they are certainly loud and clear. 
This past week in a conversation on Facebook with one of my younger friends who I’ve known since he was only a few years old, my friend pointed out that it is almost impossible today to have a conversation in this country without getting angry with each other.  And there’s definitely some truth to that, as there is certainly a lot of anger out there.  My response was that it is because we have been conditioned to stay away from those who think differently from us and only to hang out with like-minded people, much like what the Pharisees did in that timeHowever, in our Gospel lesson, Jesus does not stay away or react in anger towards the Pharisees and instead, shows us a whole different way of doing things, and that is to find and engage with the lost who are among us, or with people the rest of society would typically avoid.  Just from a show of hands, how many of you have intentionally stayed away because you saw something in people that you didn’t quite like, agree with, or because you didn’t know how to respond?  It’s happened to all of us. 
Instead of responding to the Pharisees by shouting them down and telling them that they’re wrong, which seems to happen more and more these days when we encounter differing viewpoints, Jesus does what he does best and goes into his parables with the same message in both short parables: GO, find the lost among you, with one parable being a shepherd leaving his flock of 99 other sheep vulnerable in order to find that one, lost sheep out of 100 and a parable of the woman who thoroughly sweeps around her house just so she could find that one, lost coin, which was one part of ten-days worth of wages.[iii]  The end result is that both the shepherd and poor woman are excited to find their lost sheep and lost coin and celebrate with their friends and neighbors.  It seems small, but is still quite significant to them. 
On the other hand, Jesus is telling us that when we too are lost at different times in our lives, God is willing to go find us like the shepherd does for the lost sheep and the poor woman and her lost  coinIt's much like how our first responders will seek the lost whenever I think of this passage. Jesus is talking about people here instead of sheep or coins, though. We can walk away from God if we choose to, but God is willing to go out and find us when we become lost.  However, like finding the lost sheep and the lost coin, the result of finding the lost among us is the same result: “there will be more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk. 15: 7). 
        Kind of an OUCH when it speaks to those who feel righteous, but that’s why the Pharisees were grumbling and also why Jesus did not stay away from sinners and tax collectors, but engaged and ate with them instead.  He was seeking out the lost among him and as a result, it was seen as a scandal because “the God who showed mercy [to the Israelites who wandered away from God] in the wilderness rejoices over the salvation of every lost person like a shepherd who rejoices over the recovery of a lost sheep or a woman who rejoices over the recovery of a lost coin.”[iv]
Just as our world has become more polarized and we have seen more people become lost for one reason or another, it feels like instead of going out to seek the lost, we are more inclined to hang around those who are just like us because it’s safer to do so.  It feels like it’s safer to just to stay back than to find the lost.  In his book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Scott Bader-Saye mentions how
Spencer Burke, a pastor who speaks and blogs about church and culture explains: “Believing that the world is an evil place to raise our children, we take a variety of steps to insulate ourselves from that reality.  We watch Christian videos, read Christian books, and listen to Christian music.  Why?  Because we deem these items to be ‘safe.’” Some Christians would rather retreat to the safety of a Christ-saturated subculture than live in a complex, gray-shaded world.”[v]

        In Burke’s observation between mainstream culture and Christian culture, there is definitely a strong inclination to stay away from those except our own kind instead of going out out to find the lost among us.  But, is that what Jesus wants from us today?  Does Jesus want us to ‘circle the wagons’ and ignore and stay away from those who are not like us by hiding within the safety of Christian subculture?  I don’t think so.  Outside the doors of our sanctuary, there are people out there who are lost, and might be lost for many different reasons, some within their control and some not within their control.  Some are lost because of addictions.  Some may be lost because their marriages or their very lives have fallen apart.  Some may be lost because of their grief.  Some may be feeling lost because of events that still happen in our world today that shake us to the core. 
However, as followers of Christ and people of faith, if we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in our world today, we need to roll up our sleeves and get out there to engage, not stay away because people are not like us or think like us.  Something I need to work towards as well, as we in this together.  Besides, if we were all exactly alike, the world would be a boring, boring place.  Jesus’s actions were scandalous to the religious authorities at the time, but sometimes we need to stick our necks out some and take part in that great scandal by loving and finding the lost among us, which does present its own set of challengesAnd you know, if we hold an attitude of righteousness, “‘Righteousness’ [does not] make God rejoice” at finding the lost among us, but instead Jesus shows  us that “the celebration of the coming of the kingdom was taking place in [his] table fellowship with the outcasts, but because [the Pharisees’] righteousness had become a barrier separating them from the outcasts, they were missing it.[vi] So what are some barriers that might prevent you from finding the lost among us? 
Amidst the events fifteen years ago and those who were lost both physically and spiritually, we do have a lot to be hopeful about when we can reach out and find the lost among us.  Despite the pain, grief, suffering, loss of life, injury, and emotional trauma the Al Queda terrorist attacks caused, we did see a lot of good in the helpers and first responders and even amidst the fear that is still prevalent at times, we as followers of Christ can be that light and that hope when we work as peacemakers when we actively seek out the lost among us, regardless of why they may be lost.  After all, “those who find God’s mercy offensive cannot celebrate with the angels when a sinner repents [and] thus exclude themselves from God’s grace,” so it is up to us to continue seeking the lost among us, lifting them up, and inviting them into an active relationship with God through Jesus Christ.[vii] But it’s also up to us to show our willingness to be in relationship with everyone around us, regardless of situations in life, which goes for me as well.  Let’s go out and be like the shepherd willing to find the lost sheep or the poor woman who cleans her house inside and out just to find that lost coin (and have a clean house too).  So even though the events of September 11, 2001 are long past and while we still grieve when we remember those who died, we still have our job cut out for us as followers of Christ to continue spreading hope, finding the lost, even if the world around us is like being sheep among the wolves in a world of fear.  Because “there will be much celebration in heaven” and “joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents” when we as Christ's followers engage with those who may be feeling lost around us. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Schuppe, Jon. Unidentified 9/11 Remains Complicate Families’ Grief. (NBC News), September 5, 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/still-missing-unidentified-remains-leave-lingering-void-9-11-families-n642076.
[ii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 295. 
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press: 2007), 20. 
[vi] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. IX, 296.
[vii] Ibid.

"Sky - Dominion & Exploitation" from "Season of Creation," Sermon, September 16, 2018

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