Archives: Proper 19

God, The Lost Sheep

The parable of the Lost Sheep is one of the great parables in the Bible because it is simple, understandable, and we recognize God and ourselves so vividly in it.

It is tremendously comforting to be reminded in such clear terms of God’s unending love for us.

When we are lost, God will stop at nothing to find us.

When we go astray, God will search to the ends of the earth to bring us back.

We cannot be reminded of that too often, because sometimes in our heart of hearts we find it difficult to believe that the Almighty and Everliving God would care that much about us.

As beautiful and important as I find that traditional interpretation, I’d like to try a different one today.

One thing you’ll find out about me is that I can’t stand the obvious sermon. I do not feel like I’ve really lived into studying a Bible text, and certainly haven’t preached on it well, unless the Holy Spirit helps me see a new and unique angle I’d never seen before.

And as my clergy friends will tell you, I sometimes play a little fast and loose with exegesis when I do that.

But I don’t care—if it helps us see God in ourselves and each other more clearly, than I’ve done my job.

So all that wind up is to say that I know I’m going way out on a limb with the interpretation I’m bring you today, and I’m asking you to join me just for the next few minutes.

If it leaves you cold, you can forget it during the Nicene Creed. But if it awakens something new in you, then thanks be to God.

So here is me bending this parable as far as I think it can possibly go.

All of Jesus’ parables function as analogies.

We read about the mustard seed and realize that it symbolizes our faith.

We read about the treasure hidden in the field and realize is symbolizes union with God.

And in this story, we traditionally picture ourselves as the sheep and God or Jesus as the shepherd.

But what if we flip that on its head?

What if God is the sheep and we are the shepherd?

Continue reading

Who Is Jesus Preaching To?

For words that are in fact so familiar to us, words like “Messiah” and “followers” and “cross,” they are hard to wrap our heads around, hard to implant in our lives, hard to make real.

This gospel contains some of Jesus’ hardest teaching, but even in our knee-jerk despair that we’ll ever be able to live up to this lofty calling and high destiny of which he speaks, we sense how important it is.

We can feel how grand the story is that Jesus is telling. We understand that he is inviting us to be part of events that change the world.

And the spark of the Holy Spirit within us leaps with excitement and possibility and hunger for living out the justice and love of the Christ-follower and the cross-bearer and the life-giver.

But a much louder part of our minds reminds us that we are also the person who routinely leaves the gas cap undone and is jealous of that one person at work and snaps at the kids when we’re tired.

How can there be room for someone like that in the group that recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and bravely follows him to the cross even at the cost of their own lives?

I noticed something about what was happening to Jesus in this moment.

Jesus’ words are strong and his manner is powerful. We are left in no doubt as to who he is, what he is determined to accomplish, the price he is prepared to pay for it, and the expectations he has of us as his followers.

But I think that his very intensity can reveal to us something very tender and real about Jesus in his humanity in this moment, something that might actually give us the courage to live and give as boldly and fully as we are being called.

But before we get to that moment, we begin in an interesting place. We begin with questions, questions that Jesus asks.

“Who do people say that I am?” he asks.

And then the follow up: “But who do you say that I am?”

The gospel story does not begin by saying, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he told his disciples, ‘I am the Messiah.’”

It says, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’”

Jesus wants to know what we think. Continue reading

Forgiveness at the Red Sea

I do love Peter. I always have.

He has rare moments of radiant faith, naming Jesus as the Christ, walking to Jesus on the water, and so forth.

But most of the time, he’s putting his foot in it.

He’s revealing, God love him, how very much he is not picking up what Jesus is putting down. And I 100% identify with him in that.

I’m always so grateful for Peter’s dumb moments, because they make me feel less alone in my own dumb moments.

So what is Peter’s mistake in our gospel lesson today?

He is trying to quantify grace.

He wants to know exactly how many times he is required to forgive fellow church-members.

Is seven times sufficient? I mean, forgiving someone seven times does seem adequate, even generous.

If we’re patient and compassionate with someone who has hurt us seven times, that would surely be more than enough to fulfill any requirements.

But that is exactly what is wrong with Peter’s approach.

Life in the church is not about fulfilling requirements.

It’s not about checking off boxes for how many times we forgive someone, how many times we care for someone in need, how many times we practice a virtue like gentleness or self-control.

And Jesus tells Peter that he’s in entirely the wrong frame of reference.

He says we must forgive seventy times seven times, which is really saying we must forgive an infinite number of times.

Because as we said, it’s not about keeping count.

If we’re still keeping count in our relationships, we’re sowing the seeds of their destruction.

Anyone who has been through a bad breakup knows this.

When you’re first in love, you forgive little faults and forgettings easily and joyfully.

But as the bloom wears off, you start to keep count in your mind—how many times they forget to take out the garbage, how many times they turn up the radio too loud, how many times you put away the dishes by yourself without help, how many times you pick their laundry up off the floor.

This kind of keeping count leads to keeping score.

You store up ammunition against your partner.

You fight dirty in arguments, bringing up old mistakes and transgressions in new conflicts.

When that happens, you know the break-up or divorce is not far away.

And it all started with keeping count. Continue reading

Changed by a Promise I Cannot Keep

Today Jesus invites us from the economy of the world into his economy of grace.

The word “economy” comes from a Greek root meaning “household” and the management of a household.  And Peter, in our gospel story today, is asking Jesus about the management of our Christian household.

“Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’”

Of course, Jesus does not mean that we should forgive each other literally seventy-seven times and then stop.

He means that we should quit keeping count all together. Continue reading

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