Message based on Luke 15:1-10 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17; “C” – P16

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(Original image can be found at http://www.agnusday.org/comics/213/luke-15-01-10-2004)

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A couple of weeks ago I received a call. A man on the other side of the line informed me that he needed assistance with utilities. When I told him that our church works through the Ray of Hope mission and offered their phone number, the man quoted quite a few verses about generosity and even told me that as Christian I am called to be generous and to cheerfully help ALL who ask… He put forth a very compelling argument as to why this church and I should help him. I was impressed. I complimented him on his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and asked him what church he attends. That is when I discovered that this man is passionate in his distrust of organized religion; he believes in a PERSONAL relationship with God. He is also very articulate in communicating his beliefs. He told me about the proverbial “them” who are “only interested in his money”; that is the reason why he chose to dis-associate himself from the church.

 

In that man’s universe, it is okay to ask a church for financial assistance, but it is not okay to be a part of such a community. As a pastor, I get many similar calls. This particular call stayed with me because the caller was so articulate in explaining his position.

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Jesus’ tendency to hang around “sinners” and people of doubtful reputation baffled and challenged Christians for centuries. (Renaissance master depiction of Jesus spending time with Pharisees and sinners and a photograph titled, “Jesus spends time with tax collectors and sinners.” It is my belief that all images are available for use under creative common license)

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Luke 15:1-3 “By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation [or sinners – NIV] were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” (The Message)

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I wonder where we would be in today’s Gospel reading?

1. Would we be among people of “doubtful reputation” with whom Jesus chose to hang around? Would we feel bitter and angry listening to the Pharisees and religious scholars grumble against Jesus? Would we feel disenfranchised because of our social status and the choices we made in the past? Would we feel elated because finally somebody noticed us?

2. Would we be among the Pharisees and religious scholars who were upset with Jesus? After all, we have certain ideas of what is right and what is wrong and we expect certain actions and a certain accountability from each other.

3. Would we sit next to Jesus as he told these parables and observe the different reactions from the others there when they really understood the metaphor and the meaning behind the illustrations that Jesus used?

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Strictly speaking, the Pharisees had a valid concern. Their position was neither hypocritical nor corrupt. Just like you and I, they were God-loving people who shared a particular understanding of God’s presence in the word and that understanding shaped their mission and involvement in God’s world. Jesus’ decision to spend time with “sinners” who disrespected God’s law was offensive to every fiber of their being.

 

The men and women of doubtful reputation had a valid concern as well. They were shunned because of their past, because of their social and economic status, or because they were forced to earn their living doing certain things (like collecting taxes and interacting with pagans).

 

When we are confronted with real-life, modern “sinners,” our attitudes and practices are similar to the “Pharisees and religious scholars” in today’s reading. I found the man who called me offensive and hypocritical because he had no qualms about calling a church to ask for money, but he himself made a conscious decision that being a part of a church community is not for him.

 

I also find it disturbing that if Jesus were to have a banquet on Vinegar Hill, he would probably invite me to his banquet RIGHT AFTER inviting the man who called asking for money; I know that I would find it challenging to be at the same table with that man.

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Our human condition is such that we ask for mercy for ourselves and justice for others. Today’s readings are about the inconsistency of what we believe about God and how we live our lives. It is about our “LOST”-ness and about God’s willingness to meet us in our “LOST”-ness and discomfort. It is about God’s desire to be adaptable, flexible and patient as the Holy Spirit shapes and molds us on our journey through life.

 

The Good News, the hope in today’s readings is that there is a room in God’s banquet whether we find ourselves with “men and women of doubtful reputation” or with the “Pharisees and religious scholars.” Both groups are lost; although they are lost in different parts of God’s Creation.

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That is how Paul explained it, “I’m so grateful to Jesus for making me adequate to do this work. He went out on a limb … in trusting me with this ministry. The only credentials I brought to it were invective [tirade, attack, abuse] and witch hunts and arrogance. But I was treated mercifully because I didn’t know what I was doing – didn’t know Who I was doing it against! Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14,The Message).

 

Today’s readings are about grace; not cheap grace that requires nothing of us, but the grace that challenges us to examine who we really are. I am talking about God’s grace that makes us aware of the realities of our social, political, and economic lives. I am talking about God’s grace that challenges us to heal families, to care for the good earth, imagine and work toward peace and justice.

 

{Illustration: Rev. Terry Jones and his controversial decision to burn multiple copies of the Quran…
Where is love?
It is justice? 
(a) “An eye for an eye makes whole world go blind” Mahathma Ghandi.
(b) Holocaust was preceded  by book burnings.
/Illustration}

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Just like Paul, we are invited to acknowledge that we are not perfect, and to recognize that being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus, is NOT about where we see ourselves in today’s readings. Being a Christian is not about our shortcomings, failings, flaws, and faults (Dick, Dan). Being a follower of Jesus is about our fervent and purposeful striving to find the strength and the stamina to be disciples of Jesus of Nazareth in spite of our imperfections.

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Being a Christian is about being a part of a community of men and women who are doing their best to serve God.

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Being a Christian is about being a community of men and women who know that the grace of God mixed with faith and love poured over us and into us (1 Timothy 1:12-14 MSG) when we invited Jesus into our lives.

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Being a Christian is about being a community of sisters and brothers who are excited about the presence of God in their community and in their lives, who are not afraid to share the Good News with their neighbors and to invite their neighbors, who we may think are of “doubtful reputation,” to join Jesus and to join us in fellowship. (UMH 38: pledge to support our community with our presence, prayers, tithes and service)

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Being a Christian is about recognizing that we are all invited to the banquet. Jesus invites to his banquet all who are willing, and he needs you and I to issue that invitation to our neighbors, friends and families. When was the last time you invited someone to come to church? Some folks will say yes, some folks will say that they are spiritual and cannot stand religion, some will say yes and will do their best to avoid you from that point on, and some will come.

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Luke 15: 4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” (The Message).

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Will you make sure that you are “found” by opening your doors, your hearts and your minds to the presence of God? Will you allow God to find you? Will you also go looking for God’s lost sheep?

 

Works Cited

Dick, Dan (dorotheo2). United Methodeviations. 26 August 2010. 26 August 2010 <http://doroteos2.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/holy-warps/&gt;.

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