“Hide and Seek”
Psalm 14 & Luke 15:1-11 ~ Northwood UC ~ September 11, 2022
Hello, my name is Scott and I am a sinner. That might seem odd to speak out loud, but…really….it shouldn’t. Perhaps, you will try saying that with me…’Hello my name is _____ and I am a sinner.’ My name is Scott and I am a sinner. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel bad? Do you feel ashamed? Or is there a comforting element in this opportunity to share the depth of our humanity with God and know that you are welcomed? All our life, we are taught to make a good first impression… put our best foot forward… put on a happy smile as we go on with our day. Yet, this morning’s text, encourages…in fact it charges us to come before God with our whole humanity: to come as the saint…the sinner…and all parts in between.
And this is why I love ‘Welcome Back Sunday’ so very much. For it is not JUST a chance to see familiar faces, which is wonderful. It is not JUST a chance to enjoy a BBQ Lunch after church, which is equally great. Welcome back Sunday is a chance to acknowledge that we are welcomed home by God. In fact, in those areas where we ARE lost, God is seeking us out. In those areas where we are going astray, God IS providing direction. In those areas where we ARE like the lost coin or the lost sheep. This morning, we are reminded that God is actively seeking us out in those places where we have become lost, and tirelessly welcoming us back home: the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost you or me. To stand up and say “I am Scott, I am a lost sinner” is a public declaration of God’s nature who seeks the lost and delights in our safe return back home.
And this is why assembling as church (whether we assemble as an in-person community or gather virtually) is so powerful, so dangerous, so life changing. I believe that if our faith does not transform us, then we are doing something terribly wrong. If we are not changed spiritually, as we work out our faith in community, then the church is doing a disservice to our people, and we are doing a disservice to our faith too. If we do not feel called, claimed and commissioned to be extensions of Jesus’ living body, then the church is missing its mark. ‘Church’ is a transformational expression of God’s love, of God’s call, of the living Way of Christ. ‘Church’ is that community that lives out the gospel where we can gather, in faith, and say “I am a sinner” knowing that God welcomes us home with healing and hope. And when we are all welcomed home, when God searches us out (even when we are lost) we can come together and be this living body of Jesus in the world.
And this is why this morning’s two parables are so truly powerful for us to hold in our faith as we allow them to guide and shape us. In a provoking sermon preached back in 1620, Lancelot Andrewes spoke about these two parables in this way: “He is found of them that seeke Him not, but of them that seeke Him never but found”. And this is wonderful good news. For it is not in seeking God, that God is found ~ “[God] is found that seeke [God] not”. We will never find God through our efforts; we will never find God through our faithful works; we will never find God through how good and wonderful and ‘saintly’ we might be. “He is found of them that seeke Him not”. Rather, this parable teaches us that the nature of God is in being the seeker who relentlessly searches after us. We just need to realize where we are lost and let God find us! We discover, in our faith journey, that God’s nature is to seek the lost – as the shepherd searches for his one lost sheep – as the widow tears her home apart searching for the one lost coin. God’s economics make no sense! The shepherd had 99 sheep safely in the pen; the widow had 9 of her coins. 99 out of 100…9 out of 10. That is good work by any human measure. 99% in the shepherd’s case and 90% in the widow’s…both an A+. It makes no ‘human sense’ to go after the last one, yet it makes sense to God. Because God seeks the last, the lost, God never gives up. This is why there is tremendous Good News found as we gather in spiritual community saying: “I am a sinner” knowing that God searches us out and yearns to bring us home.
These are timely words for our world, don’t you think? As we look through some of the events in the news this week, we are reminded of this profound need for God to seek us out in our ‘lostness’. As a country, we have been deeply touched by the tragedy that occurred at the James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Saskatchewan with 10 people senselessly murdered and 18 injured at the hands of two very lost perpetrators. How lost must these two have been to commit such unthinkable tragedy. We will, likely, never know what lay behind these murders. Yet, this parable, is a reminder of our social responsibility to care for the lost, lest a tragedy ever occurs again. To provide for those who are mentally ill, to ensure good homes for children to be raised, to support and teach young parents, to provide community networks (like a church and other places) that help families raise their children. It is a reminder that we are called to be, like the parable, the searcher of the lost (coin or sheep), so that all are welcomed home to safety. A parallel feeling of being lost, of course, is happening in England as they mourn the death of their beloved Queen. Already, the question of whether Charles will be up to the role of King. England is in a time when they will need a leader, a shepherd, someone who will guide and care for them in this time of loss. And that is what God does, in the way God seeks out the lost. And those places of our ‘lostness’ in our being. And that is what we do as followers of Jesus, as we care for those lost and provide a refuge, a healing home, a place to be found.
I am showing my age, but many might remember what continues to be one of the all-time popular TV shows called: “Cheers”. Running for 11 season, Cheers commenced in 1982 and occupied the top 10 spot during eight of those seasons. Cheers occurred in a simple setting…a bar in Boston called “Cheers”. It was a place you could go where (as the saying goes) ‘everyone knows your name’. One of the signatures for the show was the entrance of the lovable character, Norm, to the pub. As her entered, the entire pub would exuberantly shout: “Norm!”. The reason that show was so popular, I think, is because we are drawn to the image of a community where ‘everyone knows my name’, where we are welcomed by name, where we are accepted unconditionally – whether we are ‘saint’ or ‘sinner’, irregardless of our ethnicity, our gender, our sexuality. And, as I think about firing up the church for its next year ahead, isn’t that what the church (at its very foundation) is called to be? A place where all are welcomed home.
Getting back to the text, did you notice what occurs after the recovery of the lost coin and sheep? There was Rejoicing… joy…a party…celebration. The gospel truth is that God wants to throw a party of welcome and hospitality through the ministry we offer…through the grace we receive….through the church we are. What might it look like if you were to live this truth in your life? What if you searched your heart and shared with God where you are lost right now?...and let God find you? What if you were to be an agent of God helping guide others, bringing them hope, or comfort in their ‘lostness’. What if we were a church like that? May we move into this September celebrating a God who knows each of our names – ‘saint’ or ‘sinner’ – A God who knows our name, guides us through the wilderness, and calls us to rejoice in the party we call life.