Monday, September 16, 2013

Sermon for 9/15/2013 Solving the Church's problems.

Sermon for 9/15/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Luke 15:1-10
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
             3So he told them this parable:  4Which 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?  5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  6And 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.'  7Just 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.
             8Or 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?  9When 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.'  10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
If you look around at the state of the church world today, there’s a great deal of concern about thing. We’re worried, people aren’t coming to church like they used to, giving is down, and many more problems give great fuel to this tale of woe.

Ok, so maybe this thought process isn’t new, and you’ve been hearing this type of thing for years, but the reality of the situation is that now, the fear has started to manifest itself in some congregations, Lutheran and otherwise, across the nation. Congregations that used to worry about less kids in Sunday School are now having serious discussions about keeping the doors open another week. In this light, we give thanks for this congregation, it’s solid foundation, and may resources to build upon that foundation, and the great opportunity to use these gifts to serve Christ.

Yet, as we look at Christianity today, knowing we are all in this together, the question many ask is, “How did we get here?”

And, though they may not have been asking me, I have some answers; stories, anecdotes, etcetera, things I’ve heard, read, and seen that span decades and geography. We got here, for example, by opposing racial integration. We got here by telling parents not to bring a developmentally challenged child to Sunday School. We got here by keeping leadership positions closed to women. We got here by telling young men that long hair and faith weren’t compatible. We got here by making people pay the price of shame for every act of charity they receive. We got here, to this point, for a lot of reasons, and I think it is a true testament to God’s grace and the abiding presence in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that there are still communities of faith, such as ours, gathering today.

So, here we are this morning, as we hear Luke’s Gospel. Here we are as we hear Jesus respond to the Pharisees, and the scribes as they groan about the tax collectors and sinners who have been hanging out with Jesus lately. And, as the Pharisees and scribes grumble, Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep, and the Shepherd who leaves the 99 other sheep, to go and bring the lost one back to the safety of the fold.

As we hear this parable, I tend to think we often hear it focusing on the one sheep that was lost, and how great it is that God’s love goes out and finds the lost, even by leaving the other 99 behind. But this parable isn’t just about that one sheep, that one person, and God’s redeeming love. This parable is also about restoring the flock, and making it whole. You see, this parable isn’t just Good News for the lost sheep, but for the flock as well.

Today, as we hear grumblings about the state of the Church in the world. I hear Jesus tell us this parable again, and I hear it thinking that maybe our problem, is that we Christians, consider the 99 to be good enough. We look around at our flocks and think we’re doing ok, as we are, not really wanting anyone else to join us. And on a tragic level, we as a religion have even actively excluded people, thinking they would bring us down, instead of bringing more joy through their presence in our community. On a more passive level, we may long for people to come back to our flock, especially the so many young people out there who now identify as having no religion, the so-called “nones”, but we don’t dare risk the effort to go find them, put them on our shoulders, and bring them into the fold. We, as Christians throughout all time and places, just like the Pharisees and the scribes, don’t see, don’t hear, and don’t embrace the logic, the love, the calling of the Shepherd in making our communities a place for all people.

Earlier, I mentioned that it is a testament to the grace of God, that we even have faith communities today, and I really believe that. Somehow, despite ourselves, despite our human penchant for being tragically exclusive and then wondering where all the people have went, our God has continued to shepherd us, continued to seek us out and carry us back to our communities of faith to feed us with the Bread of Life which does not run out. Despite our human penchant to create schism after schism in the Church over some really stupid stuff, our God continues to pour water over us and baptize us with new life, generation after generation. Despite how much we really brood and get annoyed over someone who might be in the pew behind us, our God continues to rejoice over each and every one of us in each moment of our lives.

You see, no matter how lost we think we might be, God knows where we are, and God comes to us, picks us up, and carries us on the shoulders of love, and mercy to gather as one flock, made whole not by our numbers, but by Christ.

And then, a funny thing happens. As we are brought back together, as the flock is made whole in our Shepherd, we are transformed. We become the Shepherd, the living God, Jesus Christ, for each other and for the world. And, as we are transformed, the work of God becomes our work, and we go out as shepherds to all of creation. We seek out those who are cold and hungry, and carry them to shelter and food. We seek out those who are hurt and frightened, and carry them to healing and safety. We go out, of our way, to make our gatherings, our community of faith, inviting and welcoming not to 99, but to ALL people.

This morning, as we prepare to dine on his meal, may Christ continue to transform us into his one Body, making us shepherds, tending, caring, and loving, for all of creation, and making it whole in his abundant life.

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

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