Friday, 1 November 2013

Trinity 16 sermon

There are stories in our readings today of things and or people being lost in one way or another and then being found, brought to their senses. 
I am sure that there are many of us who feel lost or perhaps who struggle to find the way we feel we ought to be going.  I thought that we could look at the tree passages selected for our readings today and see what they might be saying to us.  Wise teachers, from Saint Ignatius Loyola to Jerome Berryman (creator of ‘Godly Play’) advise us to always ask a question about sacred stories: “Where do you find yourself in the story?”  I thought that we could try that this morning too.

Our first reading this morning came from the book of Exodus.  We find Moses in conversation with God on the top of Mount Sinai.  We read that God is telling Moses to go down the mountain and stop the people who he had led out of Egypt from doing what they were doing.  God tells Moses that the people have been quick to turn aside from his teaching and are acting in a perverse manner.  God goes on to say that he is angry with the people and asks Moses to go away so that he may “consume” the people.  Moses pleads with God to turn away from his anger and spare the people.  He argues that God has brought the people away from their place and time of slavery in Egypt and says that if God now destroyed them the Egyptians would or could claim that “this was the purpose for which God had had Moses lead the people away from Egypt.”  This would suggest that God did not love His people.  We read “The Lord changed His mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”

A crisis is passed.  The lost people are found again!

This story is set at a time when Moses had gone up the mountain to commune with God and to receive the commandments from him.  He was away from the people he had led from Egypt of quite a long time.  The Hebrews got restless and sought for diversions.  They persuaded Aaron to make tor them a golden calf that they might worship.  Gold in the form of jewellery earrings and so on was collected from the people and melted and made into the image of a calf.  We see here an example of people turning away from worship of God and turning to the worship of gold (and all that gold represents).  Today many are in the same situation.  Where do you stand?  What is important in your life?  Is it gold (and all that gold represents) or is it God our creator, redeemer and friend?

How many people today do not know the story of God’s intervention to redeem his people?  How many think that the only thing of importance in this life is self satisfaction?  Or having a large bank balance?  How many have turned away from the journey to the Promised Land?  Where are you in this story?

The next character I’d like us to think about is Saint Paul.  Today we heard a passage from his letter to his young friend Timothy.  In this passage Paul describes what his life was like before and after his experience on the road to Damascus.  From the point of view of his position as a Christian believer and leader of the church, Paul’s life before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus qualified him well for the title “foremost of sinners.”  Luke in his writing in the Acts of the Apostles graphically describes Paul’s record as being a persecutor and man of violence against the early believers in Jesus.  Paul’s claim to have been a blasphemer would certainly be seen as being true from a Christian point of view.  He spoke violently against the Christian belief, but while he was doing this he wouldn’t have regarded it as blasphemy.

Paul genuinely believed that Jesus was an imposter, and that as a pious Jew it would have been his duty to speak out and persecute the followers of this man.  God showed his mercy and forgiveness to Paul, not by condoning his ignorance but by shattering his unbelief.  Paul writes of receiving forgiveness through Jesus Christ who came into the world to save sinners.

We may not spend our time persecuting Christians but I ask if our life style is such that it attracts others to wonder what it is that we have and celebrate in our Christian faith?  Or do we show the world someone who talks about faith, love of God, belief in a Saviour but does not reflect these claims in the way we lead our lives?  Where are we in this story?  Have we, like Paul, turned to Christ?  Have we been found?

That leads us on to the teaching from Luke’s Gospel.

We hear again about the way the Pharisees were persecuting Jesus and his disciples for the way in which they were flaunting their interpretation of the law.  The Pharisees were good religious people; they lived by rules, said their prayers and worshipped regularly.  They knew that God had given them and people like them special privileges.  The trouble was that they thought they deserved them.  They looked down their noses at people who obviously didn’t deserve their status.  It was these Pharisees, good religious people who gave Jesus the most trouble.  It was no use arguing with them, they were so sure that they were right.  So Jesus told them stories.

Luke records three stories of lost items – we heard two of these this morning, the lost sheep and the lost coin.  The third in the series is the story of the Prodigal son which I’m sure many of us know; (if you don’t, or would like to refresh your memory it can be found in Luke chapter 15, continuing today’s Gospel from verse 11).

Luke recounts the stories Jesus told of three things that were lost and were then found again.  Obviously (thought the Pharisees) symbols of the lost souls who collaborated with the Romans, even raising taxed to pay the occupying army.  The only hope for these “tax collectors and other sinners” would be if they gave up their wicked ways and rejoined the club of observant religious Jews.  Yet in none of the tales Jesus told did the lost items find themselves!  The shepherd had to search for the sheep; the prodigal son hoped for no more than a menial paid job, feeling that he would never be readmitted as a family member.  No lost coin has ever been known to get up and start looking for its owner!

In each case it is the owner who hunts for his lost property, or who presses his son to become an honoured member of the family.  None of them deserves to be found.  Similarly, Jesus implies, none of the lost souls – tax collectors and other sinners, deserve to be found by God, but our heavenly Father comes looking for us.  The shepherd in the story is a symbol for God.  The father in the Prodigal son shows God as Father to the nation – both familiar to those with knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The seeker of the lost coin is a woman – this probably offended the Pharisees from their male chauvinistic point of view.  Today we are quite accustomed to the idea that God, having no body has no gender, but those attributes we give to the female of our species: tenderness to the weak, toughness and loyalty, persistence in searching for the lost.  In these ways God represents the woman in this parable.  He is looking for the lost.  Not because they lost deserve to be found – but because He loves us.  Where are we in this story?

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