Author Archives: standrews

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Advent 1 Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

We are now passed Thanksgiving, which means in the eyes of modern American culture, it is now socially acceptable to begin the deluge of Christmas decorating, 24 hour holiday music radio, novelty sweaters, lights, and even inflatable lawn decorations.  I’m not disparaging any of that, though I personally like to keep Advent a little more separate from Christmas.  I also think it’s important to recognize that while we are rushing into the holiday season, as we gather here this morning, our readings might be a little jarring, especially for folks who are coming back to church as we near the holidays.  One could be expecting baby Jesus in a manager and here we are talking about the end of the world.

But there is a reason we begin Advent with readings that echo those we heard just two weeks ago from the Gospel of Luke that have such apocalyptic imagery.  And no, it’s not because of Black Friday’s annual sale fights.  We start Advent at the darkest but most hopeful point in the narrative of God’s people.  It reflects to us both a time before Christ’s birth, when the world was praying for the messiah to come, and now, after Christ’s ascension when the world is watching and waiting for his return. 

In Advent tradition each of the four Sundays are ascribed a word that sums up the theme of the readings.  This first week is ‘Hope’.  Hope is part of the Christian narrative and underpins our living in this in-between time waiting the return of our King of Kings.  The Gospel reading today talks about living in a time where we do not and cannot know when that return is.  It could be today, tomorrow, or another two thousand years from now.  No matter how many people write books about their own secret formulas for calculating the end of the world, Jesus makes it very clear that we don’t get to be privy to that information.

So how then are we supposed to exist in this middle space?  Jesus says, ‘keep awake’ and be ready for that unexpected hour.  We are given this world, and told that just like in the time of Noah we could be swept away at any time.  But St. Paul also reminds us that this doesn’t mean we spend it all sitting on our hands and waiting for the end.  Being reminded of Noah is to tell the listener that people got on with their business, even though God’s judgment was out there, on the cusp of overflowing onto their reality.  It’s about getting on with life and living out the commands of Christ while awaiting his return.

That’s the point of hope.  Advent is for expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation and we use the nativity of Christ as a backdrop to teach and understand how that feels as we apply it to the Kingdom to come.  We are reminded that either ignoring the end to come or constantly worrying about it will lead us astray from Christ’s path.  David Bartlett writes, “Those Christians who are agnostic about the last things are tempted to fall into a state of perpetual apathy.  Those Christians who are focused on last things are tempted to fall into a state of perpetual anxiety.  Our passage encourages faith rather than apathy and hope rather than anxiety.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like being caught off guard, but I also know that it is an important part of life.  We don’t get to plan out every moment, and frankly if we did I’m pretty sure we’d mess it up over and over again.  Often the best moments, connections, joys come out of the places we are least expecting or not watching.  What if, instead of worrying about being caught off guard, or worse, simply not caring anymore that Christ’s return is imminent, we look at our lives and take stock of ourselves.  What is it that we fear most about an uncertain future?  What drives us to apathy instead?  Are we living out the life that our Saviour, the one who’s name we call ourselves by, commanded us to live? 

That isn’t just an Advent admonition either.  This is a part of living out our discipleship all year round.  We follow the path of the messiah who preached of forgiveness, of love, of reconciliation, and all of that takes a whole lot of heart.  We cannot be dulled to the compassion and love that are required of us because we spend all our time overwhelmed with the stresses of life.  On the other side of the coin, we also cannot spend all our time immersed in pleasure and escape.  Neither of these routes offers us a way that makes room for the heart to be present, aware, and ready to behold a vision of the Kingdom of God. 

The season of Advent is one of preparing for the arrival of Christ again.  It’s a time to take stock, to make ready our souls for God’s final judgment to arrive, and to keep the flame of hope kindled in our hearts.  We stand in the midst of the final stretch of God’s narrative.  A time between Christ’s incarnation and his return.  Author John Burgess says, “To live between the times is, above all, to trust and hope that God has begun, and will continue, to transform us more and more into the stature of Christ, in whom all of God’s mercy and loving-kindness becomes manifest.  Advent calls us into a continuing history of relationship with Christ who meets us whichever way we turn, whether toward the past, present, or the future.”

So, among all the hustle and bustle that will accompany the next 24 days, through the din of constant repeats of Christmas music, watching and rewatching all your favorite Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard, the shopping and wrapping and decorating and baking, remember also that this is supposed to be a time of waiting.  Advent is a time for us to build up the anticipation of Christ’s incarnation, to spend time in prayer, to seek patience with everyone who gets so wound up about the holidays.  We’ll have time to celebrate Christmas when it comes, I promise.  For now, let’s begin our journey to the manger with the word for the first Sunday of Advent: Hope.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Proper 29 Year C 2019 – Reign of Christ the King
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Today marks the last Sunday of the Church Year.  We observe our annual calendar through the narrative of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, and we hear today from the Gospel of Luke the end of Jesus’ earthly life, the violent and brutal end that he endures.  There are perhaps more triumphal passages from the Gospel that we might wish we were hearing, more powerful moments from Jesus’ narrative that make us feel like the king we follow is more like what the people of Israel also expected out of a messiah.  But today’s reading shows us quite purposefully the nature of Christ and the Kingdom to which we belong and owe sole allegiance.

As far as regular feasts of the worldwide Christian church go, this observance is the most recent addition.  It was originally added to the calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.  He did so to respond to a troubling increase of both secularism and nationalism in the world following the First World War.  It was meant to be a reminder to Christians that Jesus Christ is the King of all.  Pope Pius XI wrote to his bishops, “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our (limbs), which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”

As we listen to the Gospel reading, we hear a story of a man arrested by the government, beaten, tortured, and ultimately put to death.  It is part of the story of a teacher who spoke of a Kingdom of God greater than any earthly kingdom.  A teacher who refused to acknowledge the powers and principalities of the Earth, and ultimately who took the sword from Peter’s hand when they came to arrest him in the garden.  This King of ours, this God made human, is mocked by those suffering a similar fate, “Are you not the Messiah?  Safe yourself and us”.  Previously in Luke’s Gospel even Satan offers Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world, if Jesus worships him in return.  But Christ refuses.  He stands by his teaching and the salvation narrative he knows must play out.  For us we are left to reconcile a world that tells us ‘might makes right’ and a God who says nothing is greater than the command to love.  We must wade through nearly two thousand years of the Church finding and losing its ways over and over again in our world.

In Dostoevsky’s final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, a poem is recited by one of the characters, Ivan, to his brother Alexei, a novice monk.  The poem is entitled, “The Grand Inquisitor”.  It details the return of Christ, who returns to Earth in Seville, Spain during the Inquisition.  Jesus begins to perform miracles, and people recognize him and begin adoring him at the Cathedral in Seville.  He is quickly arrested by the Church inquisitors and scheduled to be burned at the stake the next day.  The Grand Inquisitor visits Jesus in his cell and tells him that the Church no longer needs Christ.  He argues that Christ was wrong to turn down the three temptations in the desert in exchange for freedom. 

The Grand Inquisitor explains that Jesus has misjudged humanity; that they do not want and cannot handle the freedom which God’s kingdom brings them.  Instead, the inquisitor says that the church has the wise and dread spirit of death and destruction to direct the people, and they are happier for it.  Finally the inquisitor tells Jesus that he should have turned stones into bread, as humanity will always follow those who will feed them. Casting himself down from the temple to be caught by angels would assure his godhood in the minds of people, who would follow him forever, and that ruling over all the kingdoms of the Earth at the cost of worshiping Satan would ensure their salvation.  Throughout all of this, Jesus has been silent.  Instead of answering the inquisitor, he kisses him.  With that the inquisitor releases Jesus and tells him to never return.

While this story was written more than one hundred thirty years ago, it rings no less true for us today.  Would we actually be able to welcome Christ back into this world and let go of all the things that are not of God’s Kingdom?  Thankfully I don’t believe our salvation hinges on that, nor do I believe that when Christ returns we will have much choice.  At the end of all things, we will be caught up into the Kingdom of God and the full glory and understanding of Christ’s message will be emblazoned on our hearts for eternity.

But we are clearly not there yet.  We have work to do in the mean time.  The faith that we proclaim, the title we use as Christians, the lives we live should reflect the Gospel of Christ and his example to the world.  Of course we are not greater today than back in 1925 or the 1880s, during the age of Christian Imperialism or the Crusades.  We certainly are not greater than the apostles themselves.  Those people learned at the feet of Christ.  They watched him live out his teaching of God’s love and forgiveness.  They watched their messiah die and resurrect.  And they also faced a lot of complicated and confusing times in the early Church after Jesus ascended.  Even they found it hard to hold to Christ’s commands.  While it’s true that humanity has struggled and continues to struggle to live up to the teachings that God brought to us through the incarnation, we must always continue to improve ourselves as much as we can in the pursuit of God’s kingdom alone.

Today we celebrate the Reign of Christ the King.  This king to whom we offer every bit of our devotion did not rule over the land in the way we think of kings.  Our king did not command armies to destroy his enemies.  Our king taught love, taught God’s grace, sought to show us what the only kingdom we belong to actually looks like through humility and service.  Next Sunday will herald the beginning of Advent, a time where we begin examining our hearts to prepare for that king to come again.  But just for now, I invite you to reflect on how your life shows forth your citizenship in God’s kingdom.  Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Bezner writes, “Sometimes I joke about what I’d do if I had one day left to live.  Eat junk, go crazy.  Today it hit me:  Jesus knew.  And he washed feet.”  Would we, if faced with Jesus among us today welcome the return of our king, or like the inquisitor, tell him there is no place for his foolishness in this earthly realm of ours.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Proper 28 Year C 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

All of the readings this week center around one big theme.  In Theological terms, we would call it eschatology.  As I have mentioned before, eschatology is the study of the end times, or the eschaton.  This is a place we both currently exist in and have not yet fully arrived at.  Before we look at our scripture for this morning, I want to say something that might make you think you’re sitting in a freewill baptist church.  We are experiencing the end times.  


Now, lest you think that I am referring to the heretical nonsense that is the Left Behind series, or to the blasphemy of a charlatan like Jim Bakker selling food supplies for the end times, let me assure you all of that is ridiculous and incorrect.  Unfortunately, the Christian faith has been so hijacked and diluted by common society, and used for gain by those that would worship themselves over God, that so many have lost sight of God’s true message.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the start of the end.  It was the opening number of the final act, but the frustrating thing for us is we don’t get to know how long that act is.

As we turn to Luke’s Gospel, we can see the themes that have come up the past couple of weeks continue to get more focused on the eschaton, the end.  Jesus talks even more about the Kingdom of God and about God’s vision for our lives.  We are now, in chapter twenty-one, at the very last moments before Luke takes us into Jesus’ last hours.  So of course this last discourse is Jesus preparing his disciples for what comes next.

Here is where the study of scripture becomes complicated.  This Gospel was written quite some time after Jesus’ ascension, and after the real destruction of Herod’s magnificent temple.  The Book of Acts picks up from the end of Luke and is meant as a continuation of the story following the events after Jesus’ departure and the disciples work in his absence.  When we look at the things Jesus tells the disciples about what comes next, it’s important for us to remember the words of that popular Carly Simon song from the 1970s, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”

Far too often people take what Jesus says and apply his words in anachronistic ways to the world around us.  It’s sort of like finding a face in the patterns of a textured ceiling.  If you stare hard enough, you’ll find something.  

Jesus sees how adoring the disciples are of Herod’s temple.  It’s not unreasonable.  The place was, by every historical account, the shining jewel of Herod’s work.  He had rebuilt the temple and done so with more opulence, more grandeur than anything previous.  He spared no expense.  You can still touch parts of one of the outer walls of the temple complex in Jerusalem today, proving how long lasting and grand the work was.  Jesus sees how idolized the temple can be.  It is not unlike the golden calf that Moses finds the Hebrew people worshipping over God when he comes down the mountain.  

Everything Jesus has been teaching the disciples points to the fact that these golden calves are of no consequence, and everything God has in store for humanity is far greater.  That is why Jesus tells them that the temple will be destroyed: so they understand that even the most beautiful things the people want to idolize over God will not survive the passage of time, or the evil and hunger for power that always lurks in the hearts of people.  To the earliest readers of this Gospel it would also be a sign of Jesus’ authority.  He said it would happen and it did!

Jesus tells the disciples that many will come after him, claiming to be Jesus come again.  Jesus is not necessarily talking about the Jim Bakker’s and Pat Robertson’s who twist and defile God’s message.  The focus is more for the disciples right then and there that as soon as Jesus leaves there are going to be people trying to lead them astray.  This is far more for the disciples, as you can see in the Book of Acts, than it is directly to us.  That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of people trying to corrupt God’s message, but this is a far more important teaching to the disciples.  

The same is said for the last part of the Gospel today, where Jesus talks about persecution, arrest, and death.  I assure you he is not talking about false, ludicrous narratives like the modern and popular ‘war on Christmas’ or comical indignation about what color the Starbucks cups are.  Jesus is talking to the disciples about their arrest, their real persecution by the Roman government, and their ultimate deaths, some of which are incredibly painful and gruesome.  Jesus is not talking to us now, unless you consider the mass secularization of Christianity, the monumental denial of Christ’s message that one sees played out in the theater of modern American so called ‘Christianity’, or perhaps the justification of violence and oppression by Christians to others that has existed since Constantine co-opted the Christian faith for the Roman Empire.  The persecution Jesus speaks of can be read about in the Book of Acts, and is a call to the disciples to prepare themselves for the cost of proclaiming the Good News of God’s Messiah.

Jesus also tells them not to worry, not to be afraid when they hear of the wars that will inevitably come.  The nations killing each other, warring over and over again.  The violent acts of nature that will destroy villages, ruin crops, the things that happened then and happen now.  We know that earthquakes happen, they have happened, they will happen.  The biggest ones could hit again any day.  And much like Paul has to remind the Church in Thessalonica as we see in the Epistle reading, just because the end can come at any moment does not mean we get to sit on our hands and wait.  We don’t get to use up the world’s resources, pollute and destroy the planet, and not worry because Jesus might be back any day.  We don’t get to sit idly by and watch our Christian faith become a club that has less to do with the deep mysteries of God and more to do with the in crowd and the out crowd.  There is always work to be done, and as Jesus tells the disciples, you keep stepping up to the plate to do it even in the face of the darkest of days.

German Theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”  This was true in Christ’s time with things like Herod’s temple, and it is still true today as we continue to fail at living out the kind of life of love that Christ’s teaching turns us toward.  It is a reminder that those seemingly valued things that we cling to have to be let go of if they no longer reflect the glory of God and the Good News of the Kingdom at hand.  If our faith is to mean anything to us, to hold any value for the world, then how can we honestly as Christians worship at the feet of false idols pretending it doesn’t cheapen our faith. 

Living in the end times is hard.  God’s incarnation no longer physically walks among us.  We have to rely on scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We often feel like there is no solid ground beneath us if we cling solely to how our faith actually tells us to live.  Sometimes it isn’t easy.  Sometimes holding to Christ’s Gospel with integrity may not feel very fun.  But clearly Jesus knows that what he is asking of the disciples will carry a weighty price.  How less complicated it is for us, having nearly two thousand years of foundation to our faith, having comfortable lives where the greatest threat to our faith is our own apathy, to step out and follow in the way Christ commands.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Proper 27 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Mortality is a difficult subject.  Most of recorded human history brings us names that we can recite from memory, names of ancient Greco-Roman heroes, names of the prophets of Israel, names from stories that are told and retold.  For some people that is what they seek in life, to be remembered through story.  In the not too distant past, and still for many today, there was a big focus on ensuring you had children, so that someone would remember you.

In more recent years people have turned to technology to try and beat their mortality.  Cosmetic surgery, continued research into cryogenic preservation, and science fiction about downloading your consciousness into computers all occupy our thoughts.  But for now at least, we know that the end comes for us all at some point; the end of this particular earthly existence anyway.  As Christians though, there is something more to that, something that requires our faith, but offers us a far better outlook than even being remembered in stories or being thawed out in the 25th century.  We have the promise of a life to come, a resurrection at the end of all things.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus finds himself once again confronted with an intellectual duel of words.  These types of encounters we see many times, and it’s basically how a person obtained social standing and credibility in this particular society.  At this point in Luke, Jesus has finally arrived at Jerusalem for the last days of his ministry.  He is teaching in the temple, he is constantly being tested by the authorities, and they are trying to catch him in a blasphemy so that they have a reason to bring him up on charges. 

A group of Sadducees comes to Jesus trying to discredit him, perhaps even make him look foolish.  The Sadducees saw themselves as the religious intellectuals of the time.  They had the Law, the institution, power, and wealth.  But they didn’t worry themselves as much with the overly religious ideologies.  They believed that what mattered most was the written law and strictly following traditions.  Their entire focus relied on the here and now.  The Sadducees and the Pharisees often debated and fought over their theologies.  The Sadducees think that asking Jesus about reality in the resurrection will make him look silly and superstitious.  They already don’t even believe in the resurrection so they ask this question to make it sound even more absurd.

The question is put to Jesus: If a woman marries a man, and has no children, and her husband dies, then she marries all six of his brothers in succession, each one dying childless, whose wife is she in the resurrection?  This is probably one of those scenes where you can see all the Sadducees standing around with smug, congratulatory looks on their faces, while Jesus listens to their absurd question.  I’d like to hope that those looks were replaced with shock and defeat as Jesus skillfully answers in a way that basically says the question doesn’t matter at all.  If you need a comparison, perhaps think of it as if someone asked you how you’re going to pay your taxes in the resurrection.

There are a couple important points to make about Jesus response.  The first has to do with the way the Kingdom of God looks so different from what the people were used to then and still what we are used to.   The second has more to do with our faith and an important aspect of our Christian doctrine.

First, Jesus addresses a very basic social understanding of marriage at that time.  If I were to crudely rephrase the question the Sadducees ask Jesus, instead of saying “who’s wife will she be?” they are effectively asking, “who is she going to belong to or which husband will own her” in the resurrection.  Jesus offers an answer that tells the Sadducees that their understanding of the world does not work the same way in the Kingdom of God.  This woman is no longer defined by who her husband is.  She is a child of God, claimed by God, and resurrected by God.  It does not matter who her husband is or that she had no children because she does not need any of those things to be of worth in the resurrection.

This doesn’t mean Jesus is against marriage or children.  Remember he has a lot to say about how children are treated, about how widows and orphans are treated, and about the practices of divorce.  All of this centers around a person’s worth in society at the time, and how that is totally different in the view of God.  It’s not to say that marriage is meaningless, or that children aren’t worth the effort.  Amy Richter on her commentary says, “Marriage is for this age. It can be life-giving in this age. It can be holy for this age. But it can’t get you into heaven, and neither can having children or not having them, being remembered by name or not. And maybe that means that Christians are to think seriously about what marriage is for, and how and why and whether we parent children, whether we try to live through them, or raise them to know their first and most important identity is as children of God; whether we regard them as the future, or see them as the present, because here they are, gifts and children of God – right now.”

What Jesus is teaching is a Theological point, and it has everything to do with the last verse in today’s reading, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”  We don’t need to be remembered in ballads or cryogenically frozen because our faith teaches us a truth greater than any promise this world can make: God has brought grace and resurrection to the world, through Jesus Christ, and now we too will follow that same path.  We know that Jesus is resurrected, right now, ascended to God, but is alive in bodily form.  We get to follow him at the end of all things, in the eschaton when everyone is raised up and we are all reconciled as one Kingdom.

When Jesus mentions the burning bush and Moses, and the statement that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this clues us in that God already dwells within the reality of the resurrection.  God is the God of the living because we are all to be raised up.  Those that have gone before us, those that are with us now, and those that are yet to come.  We all are the living through the resurrection that God brings us.  Whether your name is remembered or not, whether you are immortalized in tale or not, God remembers them and God will remember us.  God keeps us all and sees all of us as the living, as we will be in the resurrection of the age to come.

Sunday, November 04, 2019

Proper 26 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

How many of you know the children’s Sunday school song about Zacchaeus?  I admit that growing up in an Evangelical tradition which focused heavily on praise music and youth songs, I don’t actually know if this is something in the Episcopal world.  If you don’t know it, the first verse states, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.”  Before we talk at all about what theology we hear in today’s story or what those possible take aways are, I really think we need to stop and acknowledge something.  There aren’t a lot of folks listed by name in the Gospels.  Sure, there’s a few, but out of all the people that Jesus encounters, not all of them are named.  But Zacchaeus is.  We know his name.  And two thousand years later, one of the most well known things about him, the thing that immediately comes to mind is that he’s really really really short.  Imagine getting your name in the greatest story ever told, and then people’s take away is ‘oh right, the super short guy.’  Well, a little biblical study fun for you.  In the original Greek, because of the way Greek was written, it’s actually impossible to know if the author meant that Zacchaeus was too short to see over the crowd or if Jesus was too short to be seen from where Zacchaeus was in the crowd. 

What else do we know about Zacchaeus?  He is referred to as the chief tax collector.  So he’s at the top of the tax collector food chain, which means he is even more despised by everyone else than your average low level tax collector.  We also know that he’s ridiculously wealthy because he is the chief tax collector.  You might recall we touched on it a little last week that tax collectors were despised in the community because they collected taxes from their neighbors for the Romans who occupied their country.  Tax collectors were also notorious for overcharging and keeping the extra for themselves. So they serve these hostile, foreign occupiers against their own people, and they use this position of authority often dishonestly to their benefit. I think that regardless of the truth of the situation, there is an assumption that Zacchaeus had become rich by his ruthlessness, taking extra from his community.  Some biblical commentators wonder if Zacchaeus really was short physically or if it was his standing with the community that was so little, and the crowds kept him from getting close enough to see Jesus.  That in itself is worth pondering.  Are there those in our lives we look down on who might be seeking Jesus, and are we standing in their way?

So here is this very wealthy, very powerful (even if he isn’t well liked) guy who finds it so important to see Jesus that he does something I would imagine was very unexpected.  Zacchaeus humbles himself by doing something so childlike and undignified as climbing a tree, just so he can see Jesus.  It means so much to him to catch a glimpse of this Jesus of Nazareth he’s heard of that he’s willing to scramble up a tree.  This action in itself is already an indicator to us that there’s something different about this Zacchaeus. 

Then Jesus stops, he calls out to this man he presumably had never met before, someone that the rest of the crowd really doesn’t like.  Jesus singles out Zacchaeus and basically invites himself to stay at this guy’s house.  Zacchaeus is overjoyed and of course the crowd is not happy.  The crowds grumble, they point out what Zacchaeus is, they point to how dishonorable it is to be friendly with such a person, let alone break bread with them.  Sitting down to eat a meal with someone basically communicates your approval of who they are.  That’s exactly why Jesus is going to Zacchaeus’ house.  Not because he is approving of the way in which he does business, but rather to show that Zacchaeus is as welcome to salvation and invited into the Kingdom of God as anyone else is. 

What’s more, Zacchaeus himself makes a statement regarding how people perceive him.  Now again, it’s one of those funny translation issues.  Either Zacchaeus is stating that he already deals honestly with people and repays anyone he finds to have overcharged, OR he’s saying that he’s going to be turning his life around, giving back way more than even Jewish law would require of him, and practically destituting himself for the sake of others’ well being.  Either way, Zacchaeus stands outside the normal expected practice for tax collectors, especially high ranking ones. 

Maybe that’s Jesus’ point here.  You can’t judge people based on what their title tells you.  You can’t assume the worst without actually knowing the facts.  When you do know the facts, even if they are terrible people, God still loves them no matter who they are.  Forgiveness and repentance is still offered to everyone, regardless of what they’ve done.  Zacchaeus is offered Christ’s presence and blessing, whether he was a more honest dealer than people expected, or whether he was turning his life around right then and there, that night Jesus broke bread with him.  That doesn’t mean you have to keep giving grace to bad people who keep doing bad things.  God can take care of that portion.  But I challenge you to think about the people you encounter on a daily basis.  Who have you assumed is less desirable because of their job or their social status or their financial well being?  Who have you tried to keep at the back of the crowd, away from Jesus because they are less desirable?  Or are you the one who has been pushed to the back and given dirty looks when offered grace?

Stories like the one of Zacchaeus offer us mirrors to see where we can fit and where we need to reflect on our own values.  Jesus turns the expectations and assumption of society on its head over and over again.  Jesus shows us the path to forgiveness and grace, demonstrating what God is bringing to a world that needs that love.  Remember that no one falls outside of God’s grace and forgiveness.  That is the good news that Jesus proclaimed and it is the good news that is now our task to shout from the rooftops.  We should always keep before us those final words of Jesus from today’s reading: ‘For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Proper 25 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

How many of you are familiar with the phrase, “Mea culpa”?  It’s Latin in origin and has worked itself into common language.  One uses it to acknowledge their own fault in something.  Perhaps sometimes honestly and perhaps sometimes more sarcastically.  For example, “I completely forgot to get bread when I was at the store.  Mea culpa.”  Or “Oh you don’t like the streamers I used in decorating for your surprise birthday party. Mea culpa.”  Literally translated, it means, “through my fault” and it comes to us especially through the Latin Mass of the Roman Church.  In the confession, the penitent says, ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” in referring to their own sin.  They say, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”  There is also a physical action that often accompanies this.  The penitent strikes their breast three times while saying this.  This same action can be done during our Eucharistic prayer one in Rite I, when the priest says the words, “And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice”.  Maybe you can guess where the church draws inspiration to use this action?  Today’s Gospel reading. 

Today we have Jesus again trying to explain to the disciples the confusing, upside down Kingdom of God.  In this parable we have two people, a Pharisee and a tax collector.  Perhaps in modern day understanding we could think of them as a bishop and a mobster.  But even that lacks the subtle connotations that are put into the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisees are the religious elite, the wealthy and most holy of men who run the temple.  The tax collectors are horridly despised.  They are locals who have sold out and collect the steep, impoverishing taxes for the Romans.  They are traitors to their own people, and worse, they profit from it.  Jesus is offering two examples that starkly contrast with each other in the assumptions of society at the time.

And yet.  What Jesus says about them tears away the preconceived understandings of the listeners.  First is the Pharisee, self-assured and we would perhaps label, ‘self-righteous’.  Certainly feeling comfortable about his own justification from God because he is so much better than the people who are doing evil deeds, or who don’t pray as often as they should, or don’t give their full tithe.  He is steeped in his own pride and arrogance.  In comparison we have the tax collector, head down, praying penitently, beating his breast and asking for God’s forgiveness.  Twentieth Century theologian Karl Barth offers that both of these men are equally shamed before God.  The difference is that the Pharisee is ignorant of his standing, while the tax collector is not.

That is what truly divides the two.  The Pharisee does not, as Jesus says ‘go down to his home justified’, because he is unwilling to confess his sins and to acknowledge his place before God.  The tax collector however does what is needed.  He humbles himself and asks for God’s forgiveness.  He sets the example for how Jesus is teaching his disciples to come before God.  The Pharisee has sins, at least the obvious ones to do with pride, but instead of seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, he speaks to God about his own greatness in comparison with others. 

It is also important to note that Jesus says nothing about the lives of these two after this moment of prayer.  It should not be assumed that the tax collector changes his life.  Jesus doesn’t say, “and the tax collector went home justified and took up a more honorable profession”.  Likewise Jesus never says that being a Pharisee is itself inherently bad.  This has everything to do with the attitudes that the two men bring to their approach to God and their understanding of salvation.  What is most important here is that first, we are unable to save ourselves because sin is a real and present part of our existence, and will be until the end.  The second is that we are totally dependent on God’s grace for our salvation, and ultimately even that doesn’t keep us from sinning in the mean time. 

Now, I want to throw a second Latin phrase at you.  It’s one you may have heard, but a little less common than Mea Culpa.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.  This is a Christian motto from at least the 5th Century.  Very loosely translated it means, “What we pray is what we believe.”  It is often used in the Anglican world to point to our use of liturgy as a means of theology.  It ties in with our Gospel lesson today because it points us to the way in which these two people in the parable pray, and what it says about their beliefs.  The words and actions that are used in worship speak clearer than any theologian when it pertains to our beliefs.

That is why our common prayer is so important, and why the words that we choose matter.  Our actions in the mass teach ourselves and those that come after us what we want to say about God and our relationship with God.  We often find tension in whether we use Rite 1 or Rite 2, or some of the experimental language rites that the Diocese offers.  But the real questions in our liturgy and in our faith practice need to be about what we are reflecting in terms of our salvation and relationship with God.  I am less concerned with our use of pseudo Elizabethan pronouns and more concerned with whether or not we acknowledge our failure to be saved outside of God’s mercy and grace.

I have on many occasions heard people offer that they dislike the prayer of humble access, including my seminary liturgics professor, because of the language it uses.  Often it has to do with phrases about being unworthy and unable to approach the table with only our own self-righteousness.  But that is precisely what we need to know about our relationship with God.  That is the other piece of the puzzle when we talk about God’s grace.  There is no point in worshiping God who has remained faithful to us and offered us grace and salvation if we couldn’t get those things ourselves.

So instead, let me offer you this: remember that how you pray and what you pray can be to you a very detailed understanding of what you believe in relation to what the Christian faith teaches.  If we are willing to own that as a human we fall far short of God’s goodness, than can we not also take such joy in seeing how amazing God’s grace to us becomes?  Take the parable that Jesus offers us and ask yourself:  Am I the Pharisee or the tax collector?  Do I thank God I am not worse or do I ask God’s forgiveness for what I am.  That is how we grow into our humility before Christ.  That applies to you and it applies to me.  Just because I am standing up here with a generous portion of satin draped over me doesn’t mean I am off the hook.  If anything, a priest needs to be even more aware of the danger of becoming like the Pharisee. 

Remember that though you may have salvation guaranteed by God, that does not exempt us from doing the work of the Kingdom here and now.  But also know that as humans, I fully believe that God expects at the end of every day we will find a reason to kneel before God, to strike our breast, to recite yet again, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  And we, like the tax collector, will return justified.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Proper 24 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The 1994 movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, based on a short story by Stephen King, features a banker named Andy Dufresne who is convicted of murders he didn’t commit.  While in prison, he begins to work in the library, though it is woefully empty.  So Andy asks the warden for money to purchase books.  The warden tells him that there is no funding available and there never will be.  In response to that, Andy asks the warden for permission to write the state senate for funds.  The warden agrees and even offers to mail the letters himself.  Andy writes those letters every week, and six years go by.  One day crates of books and check arrives from the state.  They thank Andy for his persistence and communicate that they believe the matter closed.  Andy says, “It only took six years.  From now on I think I’ll write two letters a week.” 

Andy’s story is one of hope and persistence, as is our Gospel lesson today.  Jesus has been teaching the disciples about what to expect after he is gone.  It will be a hard, difficult time full of confusion and persecution.  False prophets will prowl around and then when Christ returns the eschaton will be fully realized.  It makes perfect sense that Jesus would find it necessary to then talk about hope.    Our reading starts by explaining what this parable will be about, so I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus sees the disciples struggling to maintain hope in the face of what is to come.

Jesus tells them a parable of a judge.  This judge has no regard for people or for God.  This judge seems to care only for himself.  He’s probably corrupt, using his position to gain extra wealth through bribes, which wasn’t necessarily uncommon.  He’s only going to do what is in his best interest.  This guy is no Judge Judy.  Then we have a widow.  It’s important to remember that in Jesus’ time, widows have absolutely nothing.  If there is no male heir to inherit the estate or no one to take care of her she is on her own with no financial support.  She occupies one of the lowest places in society.

The widow continues to bother the judge to rule in her favor.  She has persistence and maybe even a little hope that this will work.  Or perhaps she has nothing left to lose so this is the route she takes.  Through her persistence, the judge finally decides to rule in her favor just so that she will leave him alone.   The unjust judge knows that the widow will not relent unless she wins, so he gives her the outcome she desires to save his own piece of mind.

So how do we take this parable and apply it to our lives?  This is the sort of parable where the imagery is so applicable that we can interpret this a few different ways.  The first is to see ourselves as the widow, compared to God, the judge.  Now that isn’t to say that God is unjust, but rather that we are cosmically like the widow in our standing.  We have no right to ask God for anything.  We have no standing; we are in the lowest caste compared to God.  Which is to Jesus’ point that if an unjust judge, the worst power abusing judge you can think of, would be willing to grant a request, how much more is God willing to offer us, regardless of how deserving we are?

I’d say that I also see God in the widow’s persistence.  Just as much as the widow does not relent, so God does not grow weary of pursuing us.   God continues to be faithful to us, to sometimes even chase after us even though humanity again and again turns it’s back on God.  So this persistence in seeking out justice, regardless of how little regard the other party has for it, is not unlike God’s relationship to us.

It seems important to also clarify something about persistence.  I do not want you to hear from this story that God is like a genie that can be worn down to granting any wish you request.  Jesus is not saying that.  I think we are all too aware that isn’t the reality with God, and sometimes that realization can be hard.  What we are to hear in this is that we must not lose hope in God’s promise.  We should ask for those things we need.  Prayer is an important part of our spiritual life.  But it is not to wear God down.

In fact, our persistence, our faith, instead is shown throughout our prayers.  We hope for God’s reign to be fully realized and we pray, “thy kingdom come.”  We keep hoping that there is good in a hopeless world.  We keep striving to live out the values of that Kingdom in the face of an existence that values self idolization over obedience to God.  We persist and hold faith that God’s justice will prevail.

Finally, Jesus wraps up this parable, after making it clear that God’s justice will be granted, by asking a question.  ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’  Jesus is referring to his return, his second coming, and he asks this knowing how hard it is to hold that faith and persistence.  It is a question worth asking ourselves exactly how faithful we are.  Jesus is not asking us about works.  Having faith is not the same as doing good things.  We are not justified by our works.  Having faith isn’t living by a moral code.  Having faith is about belief in God. 

Don’t misunderstand.  Growing up as a Baptist, I have some strong negative reactions about saying having faith is about belief in God.  What I am not meaning by this is that there is some perfect, full belief in God.  I am not saying that the only way you hold to faith is by mindlessly forcing yourself to state a creed in order to show off your belief.  What I do mean is that having faith allows us to hold to our hope in God’s promise.  That is belief in God.  Having faith allows us to walk out of here, assured of God’s love for us and everyone else and to live a life that exemplifies that.  Having faith means that we live without fear in the face of a dark, evil world because we believe that God’s reign awaits us no matter what.

So ask yourselves.  When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  Will we hold with persistence the hope that drives the widow to keep asking for justice?  Are we able to see that God’s justice and promise are there for us, and we must hold fast to that kingdom to come?  Our work as followers of Christ is often marked in many ways by the values and actions that Jesus teaches us and calls us to.  But at the cornerstone of all the life we live must be a persistent faith in God.  That is what is most asked of us.  God remains steadfast in grace for us, and we in turn must doggedly pursue faith in return.  Let us then be about our task.  We will hold to the hope of God’s kingdom to come, of justice flowing like a river, and most of all have faith in the grace that God pours out on us always.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Proper 22 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St Andrew’s Mountain Home

How many of you enjoy starting a movie half way through it?  I can’t say that’s something I ever do, even if I’ve seen the movie many times before.  There is usually a point to the first part of a story that adds depth and certainly explains the rest of it.  I ask this because it appears that the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary are doing just that this week with the Gospel lesson.  We start with an odd needle drop right into the midst of a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples.  The disciples don’t just walk up to Jesus randomly and command him to increase their faith.  There is a reason they exclaim it. 

We start today in the fifth verse of the seventeenth chapter of the Luke.  If you look back at verses one through five, you’ll find Jesus teaching a few hard lessons to the disciples.  The first is a dire warning not to cause others to stumble, especially those who are new to their faith.  We get that very well known statement, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  After that Jesus tells the disciples, “if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” 

That is what spurs the disciples to exclaim to Jesus, “Increase our faith”.  They see that as an insurmountable task.  It sounds as if they are hoping that these things Jesus says they must do will be easier if they have a stronger faith.  So Jesus then says something that I suspect we should understand as somewhat rhetorical.  We have many phrases ourselves that we often say but don’t mean literally.  Today for example, we could say, if it is raining hard that it is, “raining cats and dogs” and we don’t literally mean that we are going to be doing something dangerous with those animals at the pet blessing this afternoon.  So when Jesus says that you can do these crazy impossible things with faith just the size of a mustard seed, he is being largely rhetorical.  The point here is that these things he is commanding his disciples to do are not outside of their ability just as they are.

Passages like this are often taken wildly out of context and used for proof-texting.  You might find someone feeling like they don’t have enough faith because they can’t seem to get anything to go right.  These types of verses are also used to bolster the heresy of Prosperity Gospel, proclaiming that if things are going good for you, it’s because your faith must be strong.  Jesus is not setting up a system of faith measurement.  He is making the point that working to forgive someone isn’t a miracle that requires sainthood.  It’s work that we can and should be doing right now.

To underscore this point Jesus then moves into what could be seen as a fairly harsh retort of his disciples.  He asks them, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”?  The answer is none of them would.  It’s sort of like going to Whispering Woods and inviting your server to have a seat and share your dinner with you.  In like manner Jesus is telling these disciples that they are not justified because they have done good deeds.  They are supposed to do good deeds, to do the things Jesus is teaching them to do. 

The point Jesus is making here to the disciples is that you are not justified by your works.  Your salvation is not earned through doing the things God asks of us.  We are already saved.  But he is also saying that doing the things that God calls us to should not lead us to expect accolades.  We are already forgiven.  We don’t need awards to follow Christ.  If we look at being faithful as a way to gain entrance to heaven or some blessing in life, than these actions no longer suffice as morals but rather become us trying to force a cosmic transaction with God. 

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”  We must be on guard against using a lack of faith or a lack of some other resource as an excuse for not following God’s call and commandments.  Whether it is forgiveness, standing for justice, or many of the other examples Christ sets for us, we are not allowed to simply cry out that we have not enough faith to even attempt these things.  If we must fail in endeavoring towards them, then we should fail, over and over again.

We must also not seek awards for simply doing the work that God has called us to.  We cannot stockpile our good deeds and lived faith for blessings in this life or the next.  No matter how many times I might chime in with a ‘stars in your crown’ remark when someone is willing to do a task that is less than desirable, it is not true that we are in an economy with God to trade our faithful tasks.  We should instead be living God’s call through the blessings we have already received in life, not betting on the futures we might achieve. 

God knows that we aren’t perfect.  We don’t have perfect faith, we don’t regularly pull off the types of miracles that Jesus did during his ministry.  But that does not give us an out for not living out what faith we do have.  It does not excuse us from working in the fields of God’s harvest, and working with as much faith as we can muster.  We must go into the world and live out the call of Christ, with faith and love, because it is our joy as God’s children.  Chesterton also wrote, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”  That is good advice.  You don’t need perfect faith to forgive.  You don’t need perfect faith to love.  You don’t need perfect faith to follow Christ.  All that you require God has already given you, and now it is up to you to do the work.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Proper 21, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St Andrew’s Mountain Home

This last week an interesting discussion ensued on a forum board for the Society of Catholic Priests, an Anglican order to which I belong whose members are of an Anglo-Catholic bend.  Now that I say that sentence out loud I can see how you would be suspicious that it truly was that interesting.  But let’s just say it was interesting to me.  The conversation was started by a priest who was seeking advice on burial customs for another priest.  What followed was an explanation of many rites and customs for burying priests, some more modern than others I’m sure.  For example, it was explained that the tradition is before burial to clothe a priest in the vestments they were ordained in.  Another is that a priest should be buried just slightly higher than members of the congregation if they are buried at the church they served.  And all this got me thinking about burial customs. 

Humans have, according to archeological evidence, been practicing burial rituals for at least one hundred thirty thousand years.  Now we also know that social animals such as ravens and elephants also seem to have common practices around death.  But humans have certainly been the most elaborate of social creatures.  We can think of Norse Vikings being buried with ships full of armor and treasures, or perhaps the pharaohs buried with riches, food, and anything else they might need in the afterlife.  There is the terra cotta army, buried with the first emperor of China to protect him in the afterlife.  Even today there are all sorts of customs around what one is buried with or how one is buried.  But today’s Gospel reading brings one of many truths to the foreground.  One of the obvious points Jesus makes is that whether you are a Viking, or a pharaoh, a priest, or an emperor, you don’t get to take it with you when you die.

Jesus of course is teaching far more than just that, but is drawing a clear line between how the rich man and Lazarus live and how they spend their afterlife.  From the beginning, the divide is broad and clear.  One man wears purple and feasts every day.  The other feeds off scraps and is clearly in poor health.  When they die, the roles are reversed.  The rich man languishes in Hades, tormented, and seeking consolation from Abraham, who is with the angels and the poor man Lazarus somewhere far better.  The rich man apparently though hasn’t really learned a lesson because he is still concerned with the immediate need rather than the big picture.  He begs Abraham for water, for reprieve, but it isn’t going to come.  So then he begs Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers that if they don’t amend their lives they will end up like this one did.  Abraham’s response is interesting, and I’ll get to it in a minute.  But first let’s look at this first part a little more.

If we put this into a modern context, perhaps we could say once there was a rich man, or a well off man, or even just someone who has a roof over their head, clothes on their back, and a full stomach.  And that person would walk down the street from home to work every day with their earbuds in and do their best to ignore all the homeless people sitting along the sidewalk, begging for even just a moment of human compassion.  Or perhaps the person who does their best to pretend they don’t see someone standing near the exit of a store parking lot, holding a sign, asking for any small blessing.  It’s worth considering how we respond to these people.  It’s worth contemplating how Jesus would ask us to respond to these people. 

In general, the author of the Gospel of Luke is quite concerned about the social structure.  Early on, in the recitation of the Magnificat, or the song of Mary, we hear Mary proclaim,

“He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

The entire Gospel is bent towards an understanding of the justice of God’s Kingdom and our duty as followers of Christ to uphold that. 

Jesus isn’t saying that wealth alone is bad.  There is nothing here to insinuate that the rich man ends up in Hades because he likes to wear purple.  It has everything to do with how he lived his life in relation to Lazarus.  Jesus is also speaking to something we hear less about, and that is what is called by Professor Fred Craddock as a Deuteronomic approach that the Pharisees had.  They relied on a few verses in Deuteronomy that they could help support an idea that if you were rich is was because God was blessing you and you were worthy.  If you were poor, well, the opposite.  It is not unlike the modern prosperity Gospel we hear from televangelists and those who seek only monetary gain in their golden tongued service as so called pastors.  Jesus is making clear that this is not the case.  What you do with your good luck, with your skill, with your wealth matters to how God wants us to live.

I want to be clear here too, because this is a difficult subject, that I am no paragon of perfection.  I struggle with knowing when to help someone and when maybe they aren’t offering a picture of the truth.  I struggle with just being able to spend time talking with folks who are panhandling or begging on the street.  Just having a conversation with them can, sometimes, be the greatest riches you can offer them.  Studies have shown that just acknowledging a person’s existence goes a long way in their mental well being.  Imagine how different life would be for Lazarus if the rich man stopped to speak with him, to share some of his opulence with him.   Think about ways you can challenge yourself to work better towards living the way Christ calls us.

Let’s get back to Abraham’s response.  When Jesus wraps up this parable he’s telling to the Pharisees, I want to think that he’s being quite cheeky.  The rich man begs for Abraham to send someone back from the dead to tell his brothers about how to live.  Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  If Jesus is God incarnate, he’s got to know what comes after death for him.  He knows he has to go to the cross; he’s on his way there.  So I really want to think that Jesus adds this to the end knowing that he will in fact do just that.  He will rise from the dead, to herald the beginning of God’s reconciliation with creation and to proclaim the Kingdom at hand.  The question remains for us if we will listen, if we will be convinced. 

The question is will we live the way Christ calls us to, or will we live the way the rich man does, concerned only with earthly things?  Will we ignore those who suffer because it’s not convenient for our lives, or our allegiances, or our politics?  We will take the easy route and turn a blind eye to those that suffer even in our own community, or will we reach a hand out, will we bridge that chasm between our world and theirs to offer a momentary glimpse of the Kingdom that is ruled by the God whom we worship and adore?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Proper 19 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Mountain Home

I wonder if we take enough time in our busy lives to stop and consider the lens with which we see the world around us.  Especially when it has to do with how we think of church, or of our faith, or of the writings of that faith.  All too often there is a danger that those things we experience on a regular basis become too ordinary.  They lose their vibrancy and fade into the background of life.  We don’t have to think about it as much, so we don’t.  But in doing that, we often miss the most beautiful details.  I think perhaps this week’s gospel lesson highlights a good example of that for us.

I don’t know that I’ve ever preached on this particular passage, but I know I’ve certainly heard many sermons on it.  Even without hearing that many sermons, we know already that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, right?  We already know what a good shepherd does.  We’ve heard this punchline a few times.  We already know the right answer.  So when 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 the one that is lost until he finds it?”  We already know we’re supposed to eagerly raise our hand and say, ‘Yes Jesus, I would!  This is what the good shepherd does!’

While studying this week’s Gospel, I came across a commentary on the passage that really struck me.  It stripped away all of my preconceived notions and assumptions and allowed me the space to see more beauty in this than I had recently.  Now of course, the image of the good shepherd, with the lost sheep slung across his back, is beautiful.  It is a reminder to us that God cares for us.  It gives us a notion of safety and security.  But the part that is easy to miss is that it is absolutely ridiculous.

Imagine for a moment that Jesus is in a room full of shepherds.  He asks this question, “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?”  Then all the shepherds look around at each other as if to say, “is this guy serious?”  Then they all slowly shake their heads to say, ‘no, no one does that.’  When Jesus likens God to a shepherd that leaves ninety-nine of their one hundred sheep in the wilderness, to go off and find the one lost sheep, Jesus is making the point that God’s love for us far exceeds any common sense.  No shepherd would leave their nearly entire flock, without safety, in the wilderness, at peril of wild animals, to wander around, at their own peril as well, to find one sheep.  They would be annoyed at the financial loss and stay with the flock.

Fred Craddock writes, “If the ninety-nine are safe in a fold, then the search for one lost sheep is but an act of frugality, an exercise of common sense.  It is foolish not to act when there is a possible gain with no possibility of loss.  But how is one to assess the search by a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine in the wilderness?  Either the shepherd is foolish or the shepherd loves the lost sheep and will risk everything, including his own life, until he finds it.”

The same can be said for the second parable Jesus tells, of the woman who has lost a coin.  This coin is one tenth of her money according to Jesus.  Generally speaking there weren’t banks accessible to the general public, so she probably keeps these coins on a necklace.  It is assumed by many scholars to be roughly a month’s wages.  The woman goes to every extent to find this coin.  She loses time, burns fuel in her lamp, does not rest until she has recovered it.  There are wonderful paintings done of this parable, showing a woman, stooped, in the darkness with just a lamp to light her sightline, checking every crack in the walls.  I wonder even if it’s very important you might eventually shrug your shoulders and resolve that it will turn up.  I don’t know that most people would go to the extent she does to find it.  She does not rest until the coin is recovered.

Once these lost things have been found, there is so much joy that it cannot be celebrated alone.  The shepherd calls his friends and neighbors together, likewise the woman.  I am left to wonder if there wasn’t a celebration that cost more than the lost coin.

All of this is to illustrate the Good News.  The words that Jesus brings to a people sorely in need of salvation.  God Loves them.  God will go to any length to find them and bring them home.  And when everyone is brought back together, there is always much rejoicing.  This reading today is the opening to the parable of the prodigal son, which also illustrates the same values.  God knows that we wander off like distracted sheep.  The good news is that we don’t have to be afraid.  God will find us wherever we are.  No matter what we’ve done.  No matter how lost we’ve become. 

Unless I completely misunderstand what was used for currency in Jesus’ time, it’s also important to note that this coin does not get lost of its own volition.  The coin does not have legs or the desire to wander like the lost sheep.  It isn’t the case that everyone who ends up lost does so because they chose to be.  Sometimes we end up in places we never intended to be.  But the good news is that God will keep looking for us.

Jesus invites us in to a life that exemplifies these values.  Can we not also rejoice at the finding of lost sheep?  Can we not also live in such a way that we act as a beacon to draw people to the loving embrace of God?  We are a bit of both.  We are the lost, but we also have a responsibility to remind the lost we run into that there is something better. 

Bishop George Craig Stewart is quoted as saying, “The Church after all is not a club of saints; it is a hospital for sinners.”  When we get so used to seeing something and letting it become routine, we often miss the beautiful details.  We forget that everything we do here is not to congratulate ourselves for being good.  If God is like the shepherd Jesus tells us about, he leaves those ninety-nine good sheep to spend time and energy on that one lost sheep.  Let us remember that when that one lost sheep is found, the joy and celebration is so great that everyone is invited to take part.  This is God’s Grace.  A relentless, overflowing love that pursues us into the most dangerous of wilderness and brings us back with great rejoicing.

That my friends is the Good News.  Sometimes these stories we hear lose some of their punch because we’ve heard them over and over again.  Don’t forget how ridiculous Jesus can sound to his contemporaries.  He was proclaiming a Kingdom unlike any other, and a Grace and forgiveness that had not yet been seen.  Jesus was heralding the Kingdom of God, and a grace the will find you wherever you end up.