Rev. Barbara Ewton

Sermon, November 24: It’s Enough

What are we celebrating when we celebrate thanksgiving? We know gratitude when we feel it, but it’s difficult to put it into words. The closest I can come is by focusing on that feeling of heightened well-being that seems to accompany a sense of thanksgiving. It seems to involve a sense of the goodness of the giver as well as the goodness of life.
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Sermon, November 10: Gathering Darkness

The time change made a difference, didn’t it? Suddenly it’s darker, sooner. Suddenly it’s colder. And our reading of the gospel of Luke is coming to an end. Over the next few weeks, the Old Testament readings will begin to long for the coming of the Messiah and the New Testament will turn to understandings of Jesus as the Christ.

With All Saints’ Day just behind us, I found myself wondering about the hints and whispers that the Bible has actually left us about the Sadducee’s question. Are the ones we loved pursuing a life in some alternate dimension just past time and space that somehow follows the pattern of life as we live it? Or is there some other way of confronting the mystery that stays faithful to both our hopes and to our understandings?

That’s the question the Sadducees really asked, isn’t it? What’s it all about, they wanted to know. It’s one thing to sit around contemplating abstractions, they say, but look at what this belief does to the everyday practical reality of marriage. If you follow their logic, they reasoned, one barren woman might spend eternity with seven husbands!

Well. The situation the Sadducees cooked up about all of those husbands was a little far-fetched, cold to be sure, but not quite as unexpected as it might sound at first. In the book of Deuteronomy, marriage was a way to resolve practical issues, the way by which a man could ensure he had legitimate offspring to inherit his name and his property. It went like this: if a man died before he had children, his brother was obliged to marry his widow and produce a son in his dead brother’s name.[1] This would ensure that property was kept in the family and women were not left destitute in this world.

So the Sadducees’ argument was based on their assumption that life after time is a continuation of life as we know it now. Jesus’ understanding is that there is a radical disconnect in the continuum of being that starts in this life and goes on to the next. In other words, no institution here implies anything about any institution there – but here and there exist.

If you follow his reasoning a little further, Jesus made an amazing assumption for a man of his time a and that is that nothing outside ourselves is able to define us in God’s eyes. It was an extraordinary statement back then and it still is. Think about it. It is still true that when women marry, most still change their family names. Couples planning their wedding speak of their wedding day as “the most important in our lives.” Even today, marriage plays a huge role in defining who is blessed. But not so for Jesus. When the Sadducees posed their question about the barren widow’s afterlife, he responded by naming two different worlds: “this age” and “that age.” His point wasn’t a doctrine of marriage, but a reminder, as  Isaiah once said, that “our ways are not God’s ways.”

Our world has its rules – money talks, wealth deserves to rule, some killing is necessary, my home is my castle, small questions merit large battles. God’s world deals with the same factors, but God’s world has different assumptions and different conclusions. In God’s world, people aren’t defined by institutions of any kind – they are simply marked as God’s forever.

Jesus was a country preacher who responded to a question from the crowd. Years later, Paul would echo his thoughts in soaring words that we cherish and remember, words about the new life in heaven:

Lo, I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised, and we will be changed…[2]

All of this happens, Jesus suggested – not because human relationships don’t matter and certainly not because death isn’t real –  but because hope is the nature of who God is. And so it is that the great sweep of biblical stories have the same pattern. They say that, as tough as it might be to grasp in the sad times, God’s one promise – from the flight into Egypt to the journey to Jerusalem; even from Calvary to resurrection morning – God’s one promise is that devastation and death are not the end.    Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

[2] 1 Cor. 15: 51-2.

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Rahab’s Rope Party: Fundraising Sale, November 21

Shop to Stop This Outrage – a girl is trafficked every 4 minutes

Help us help as you buy crafts from India and sample Indian tea and snacks  

 

Rahab’s Rope is a place of hope and transformed lives – an organization that provides food, shelter, and protection for women and girls in India. Our Rahab’s Rope Party will donate all proceeds.

Reservations can be made by leaving a message at the church office at 973-239-3212

 

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Sermon, October 27: Interspecies Communication

One thing I know about animals – big or small, wild or tame – they don’t take well to long sermons. Lots of us are like that. Just ask the animals, Job says, and they will tell you about the joy of living in this moment and accepting its gifts. Ask the animals we will, and so their gift to us this moment is that – instead of a sermon – we’re going to try a simple guided meditation. 

If you’re sitting where you can see the picture well, notice what happens when you look right into this animal’s eyes. If you’re sitting where you can’t see too well, now might be a good time to move. Or, if you’re holding an animal, try to make eye contact. Or – if neither works – you might want to close your eyes and think of any animal you’ve ever loved. Then relax and picture those eyes. Do you remember their color? Can you feel them staring back at you? Breathe in. Breathe out. In out. In out. In out.

Be aware of the centuries of living you sense in those eyes. Be aware of what you can’t see: the selfhood, the “I-ness” of this other being. What does the world look like through non-human eyes? Do you sense this is a being who has had experiences and hurts and joys you can never know? Who has moments of wildness and innocence you can never share?

Yet this is a being who is alive like you. Who walks the same ground and breathes the same air. Who feels pain and enjoys the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the taste of pure water –just as you do. Who knows how to love and be loved.  In this, we are all kin. In this kinship, is all life. From this kinship, we can learn wisdom, maybe even wisdom enough for the preservation of our shared home.

Come back now. Back to our own separate need to do what only humans do – read and project based on what we read. Back to our Book of Genesis where it says God made a covenant with all of flesh – not just with us, but with all living creatures. A covenant, as we know, is a promise. More than a simple promise, a covenant is a promise that assures us that something of the nature of God exists in all of us who share that promise. 

On our side of the covenant, being human – with all the complications and insecurities that entails – is reason enough to turn to a God who is known as mercy, compassion, and steadfastness. Being complicated is why we depend on a God whose love for us is surprisingly simple and whose desire for us is aligned with our own deepest yearnings. 

Animals – well, it’s true they can’t talk about the nature of an eternal covenant with the holy. But, sometimes when the moment is right, animals instinctively live out the sharing of  God’s love that begins with loving others – just in that moment, just as they are. Amen.

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Sermon, October 20: Love

No one, as John’s letter points out, has ever seen God, but most of us, now and then, catch a glimpse of God’s presence. 

Biblical images are the best our human words can do to share presence. They’re symbols pointing us toward a reality we can only touch by sensing.

So let’s go back to what today’s Genesis story tells us about who God is. The Creator, surely –  the holy One who breathed over the waters of chaos and first spoke creation into being and then began an ordered poetic procession of beginnings and boundaries.

But. What about the “big bang?” What about black holes and exploding stars, quasars and quarks and angry tribal politics? The ordered beauty of the Genesis story doesn’t seem to speak to life as we live it.

Still, before we toss the biblical account aside as irrelevant, we need to take a second look from our twenty-first-century perspective and we might come to notice that it’s not only a poem about origins. It’s a story about the Originator. 

It is a story that says that without God’s presence in the world there would be nothing but darkness and chaos. It is a story that says that God affirms that creation is good. Good, no matter what today’s headlines may say. 

The Genesis story also says you can find traces of God in creation. Which is precisely what John’s letter is saying in its own way. “Beloved,” it says, “let us love one another, because love is of God… Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 

Our most holy writings tell us over and over again that God IS love. That love is not just something God does. Love is who God is and – in order for love to be – it needs to be given to another. Love needs to be experienced in community. 

The Christian community trusts that God comes among us as Christ – as living breathing Love that is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude. God comes as Love who bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things – as Love who never fails. 

But this mystery is forever tied to the reality that we – imperfect as we so obviously are – we are the ones who bear that love to each other. We can only hope to be patient and not jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude. We so often fail. 

But. The Genesis story will go on the tell of God breathing God’s own life into our first parents. And in the doing, blessed us to be God’s hands and God’s love in our generation. Thanks be to God.   Amen.

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Sermon, October 13: Faith

Jesus was headed toward death in Jerusalem; but along the way, and against most expectations, he gave life to people. It is a source of deep and holy mystery for Luke – this growing and evolving awareness of how Jesus’ life and death gave life to others.
In today’s reading, the ones he gave life to are the ten lepers, the ones who stopped him as he traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Actually, there is no land between Galilee and Samaria to travel along – Galilee stops and Samaria begins and so we read this story as fiction within Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Calling them lepers tells us they were outcasts, abandoned by their families, their communities and their religions. They were, in short, enduring a kind of living death. No one would eat or walk or even talk with them “Keeping their distance,” Luke says, “they called out, saying “Jesus, Master have mercy on us.”
Go away, Jesus told then. Go talk to someone else. Could you do that? After finally meeting someone who might restore your life, could you simply walk away, trusting that the transformation you’ve prayed for will just happen as you wander off? It takes amazing faith. And it tells us something equally amazing about the nature of faith.
Go, and in the going, Jesus was saying, you will find that healing is within you. Faith can’t begin ‘til you begin the journey. Faith means doing; it means acting to take hold of that which is promised but is not yet evident. And in the very act of acting, faith fulfills its promise.
And so ten lepers continued on their way to the Temple. It’s what the Hebrew Scripture told them to do, and it’s what Jesus told them to do –  to show themselves to the priests. It was the prescribed legal step so they might be welcomed back into the arms of their families and the center of their villages and the courts of the temple. They could, in short, go back to being insiders.
But, welcome as the prospect of healing must have been to the tenth leper, nothing could change the fact that the one Samaritan would remain unwelcome in Jerusalem’s Temple. He would stay an outcast, a hated foreigner. There was nothing he could do and nothing Jesus could say that would transform him into an insider in Judean society.
And so, he chose to return to offer his thanks to Jesus. And in the doing, he was changed once and forever. “Rise and go,” Jesus said, “your faith has made you whole.” Well, that a wonderful ending to his story. But what, we might ask, does his action mean to us in this day when skin disease is of little consequence and temple sacrifice even less? We don’t live out there on some border.
Or do we? There are many kinds of boundaries in life and the only thing they have in common is that they keep some people in and other people out. Perhaps we live within the boundary called middle-class or homeowner or Christian.  Perhaps inclusion in our group is based on education or income or what stage of life we’re in – child, parent, empty nester, widow.
Some people say that we live at a crossroad in history, a time when a boundary has been drawn between a warm lovingly organized past and a future that’s radically different. Some of us are running towards that future with open arms. Some of us are clinging fiercely to the old traditions.
Jesus’ life has always called us away from the comfortable centers and back to the margins. It’s where we find him, after all – in the least of our brothers, wherever the need is greatest, where something we can’t even imagine becomes our reality and God’s unthinkable bursts into our merely possible. Amen.

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Sermon, October 4: Joyful

Today is World Communion Sunday, the day we come together to celebrate two things. The first is our diversity. The second is our oneness. My favorite way to think about this is by reading the story of the journey to Emmaus.

But before we think about what the story might mean, it matters that it is a story. And it is by story that we understand who we are, how we came to be, and what we are about. So let’s take a closer look at this old story, keeping in mind that its essence is eternal but the language is only ancient.

Let’s start with the simplest part – eating and drinking are essential to life. Even more, eating and drinking together are the way we mark big moments in our lives.

How, then, are we to celebrate with bread and cup, our very simple symbolic meal? What can it really say to us? The key biblical passages that pass on the church’s understanding of this meal are the words Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. They are the essence of it all, no matter the words we use, because their meaning is deeper than words. “For I received from the Lord,” Paul told the Corinthians, “what I passed on to you:”

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord until he comes.”

Four things: take, thank, break and share. It’s about doing, and – in the doing – memories and hope are joined together. Why do we “do this”? We do it to remember Jesus. And the heart of this remembering has to do with what it is that we remember about Jesus.

It was common for a time in the church’s history to do this to remember only the Last Supper and so, to understand the sacrament only in terms of the crucifixion. But central to remembering the crucifixion is the vital awareness that the cross would be long forgotten if it weren’t visible always and only in the light of Easter morning. This is crucial: if Jesus is Christ, then crucifixion and resurrection can never be separated.

Without that light of resurrection morning, Jesus himself would be long forgotten. The two sad travelers on the road to Emmaus would have gotten it right. Once it had looked to them like Jesus was the one who had been spoken of by the prophets. Once Peter has even said he was the Christ. But that walk to Emmaus happened three long evenings after he was crucified. He had died and, as far as these two could see, it was over.

So Cleopas and his friend got out of town. While they were walking, Luke says “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them but they were kept from recognizing him.” When it began to get dark, they asked him to stay and share their supper.

“When he was at the table with them, “[Luke says] “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” He did those four things – did you hear them – he took, thanked, broke and shared. It was about doing, and, in the doing, history and hope were joined together.

You know, of course, that this is not just a story about two people on a back road a couple of thousand years ago. It’s a story that repeats itself over and over down through time. What could we see, do you think, if we were at the table and our eyes were opened? Well, one thing would be that we would sense that God is involved in our lives – using the simple requirements of our lives to love us, change us, re-create us.

Trust the story, Jesus said. Break the bread. Drink the cup. Do this. Do it so we also might recognize the stranger as the One whose presence creates a space where all can come together and join in a moment when sharing the gifts of the earth becomes the way toward sharing the love of God.   Amen.

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Sermon, September 29: Jeremiah’s Field

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar…

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative, it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ “I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen silver shekels. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase – the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy – and I gave this deed to [my scribe] Baruch in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

“In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

Jeremiah bought a field at a time when it seemed there was no reason to hope for any good thing. Is that pointless or a sign of profound trust in God’s promises? What can you do when your present comes to a dead end and your future looks bleak?

In ancient Israel, it was Jeremiah’s question. The time was around 600B.C.E and the enemy’s name was Babylon. Jeremiah’s life was at risk. His nation was at war. His city was besieged by an invading army, complete with devastation and horrors not unlike those we still see on the evening news.

Jeremiah had warned King Zedekiah over and over that this was coming. But when the catastrophe began to unfold, the King did not say: “so, it looks like Jeremiah was right.” Oh no – he had Jeremiah thrown into jail. When supplies to the city were cut off and food grew scarcer and scarcer, when fear and terror grew stronger and stronger, Jeremiah lived in prison and waited for the end. And then his story took that amazing twist.

His cousin came to him with this really great deal. It’s not that difficult to imagine why Hanamel might be interested in selling this land –  Anathoth was about three miles from downtown Jerusalem. Maybe he wanted Jeremiah to have a home after he got out of prison. Maybe he needed the money to get his children as far away as possible. But, in any event, the law required him to offer it to the family first, lest the family lose their right to the land forever.

Not that the land had any value at that point. There was no way to till it, to plant it, or to harvest anything from it. And – even if there were – there was no market to sell it in and soon there would be no people to sell it to. In short, there was simply no rational reason for Jeremiah to spend a dime to buy that land.

And yet, he bought it: bought the field, signed the deed, sealed it into the clay jar, and buried it until the day when the land might live again.

Of course, what happened next was exactly what Jeremiah had been prophesying:  the people lost their homes, their country – everything – and went into exile for over fifty years. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt, where he died. So, for all practical purposes, the transaction was meaningless. But, of course, not all purposes are simply practical.

The prophet of Judah bought a useless field because he trusted that the God who told him his world would die, also told him that

The days are surely coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people… The days are surely coming ,when this city will be holy to the LORD.

It was clear to Jeremiah that times may change, but God’s love never does. For Jeremiah, that meant a last minute investment in worthless real-estate. He chose to live his life in the light of a future yet to come.

What do you do when the present ends and the future looks bleak? You live on hope. Call it grace, or survival instinct or anything else you care to – it’s a gift from God.

How do you imagine hope might look for us? For this church? For this planet? How might it feel to recognize that hope is about something far more than simple wishfulness? How might it feel to give ourselves up to the possibility that God’s promise at its deepest is for radical newness of life?

Many of us have known times tough enough that no one could offer either explanation or comfort. Those are times, it seems, when only God can speak of hope.

The great sweep of biblical stories have a single pattern. They tell of new life, and a new beginnings, no matter how bleak the bad times. They say that, as tough as it might be to grasp in the sad times, God’s one promise – from Eden, to the Exodus, to Babylon; from the flight into Egypt, the journey to Jerusalem; even from Calvary to resurrection morning – God’s one promise is that devastation and death are single events within God’s whole eternity. They are never the end.

Hope is, I think, is what is happens in the moment when God’s unthinkable bursts into our possible. At first it seems ever so small and maybe meaningless: an outstretched hand, a deed in a clay jar, a melody in the dark. And then suddenly, it sparks, stretching the limits of who we are into who we might become. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Sermon, September 22: Forgive

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ He called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

 

Let’s take a closer look at the odd plot of this story. We know he manager oversaw the work of the tenant farmers, right?  We also know the tenant farmers slipped further and further into debt each year, even as they worked harder and harder.

The landowner fired the manager because of rumors that he was squandering the landowner’s resources. But “squandering” isn’t necessarily a bad word in Luke’s gospel – a sower in another parable squandered seed by tossing it on roadways and bird feeders. A shepherd potentially squandered the ninety-nine sheep by running after the lost one. It’s too soon to judge the manager.

So what did the manager do when he thought about his life after employment? He gathered all of the farmers who owed the landowner money, and told them that their debts have been reduced from a gazillion dollars to only half as much. He did not tell the farmers that the landowner never authorized that deal and the farmers must have believed the landowner was more generous than anyone else in the whole Roman empire. And so the landowner became a hero in the farmers’ eyes – and the manager, of course, did also.

Now one thing the landowner could go out is go out to the crowd – those people shouting blessings on him and his family and tell them it was all a terrible mistake. The cheering would stop very quickly. Or, he could go out and take credit for the manager’s actions and be a hero.

Why did Jesus tell this strange story? Did he really mean to suggest that the shrewd manager had something to say to us? Is he a St Francis – giving to the poor from his father’s warehouses? Or a  Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? Or is there something more here? What, precisely, was it that this manager did, even if it was without authorization and with considerable deception? The simple answer is that the manager forgave – he forgave the farmers’ debts.

The manager forgave. He forgave things he had no right to forgive. He forgave for all the wrong reasons. But that’s what he did – he forgave.

Then what’s the point of the story? Forgive. Forgive whoever injured you in any way. Forgive now. Forgive for any reason you want, or for no reason at all. Forgive because we know how desperately we need forgiveness ourselves.

Forgive because – if a person who was shrewd and dishonest can forgive to find a friend after he’s been fired – then we who have experienced grace, have every reason to forgive. Forgive because God forgives.

Forgiveness is a force, an strength, a power. It can change people. The force of God’s forgiveness is the energy that drives Luke’s whole gospel. From Zechariah’s opening prophecy about the child who would preach salvation through the forgiveness of sin, through the stories found of healings that happened because sins were forgiven, to the gospel’s closing words: “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Only Luke would remember that when a faithful people handed the answer to their prayers over to be crucified, his dying words would be “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Son’s dying words to the Father flung this force of forgiveness across heaven and earth and time and time to come. Forgiveness is God’s guiding will.    Amen.

 

 

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Sermon, September 15: God Is Like…

Jesus told some tax collectors and sinners this parable: “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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Or: “once upon a time there was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep and one of them went astray. His colleagues assumed that this was caused by a certain carelessness on the shepherd’s part. After all, years ago – when the shepherd was a farmer – he had often been seen tossing wheat seeds in the middle of parking lots. He had a reputation for being a little odd.

Be that as it may, the ninety-nine sheep wanted to help, and so they immediately sprang into action – or into discussion, anyhow. One group tried to win over another by deciding to celebrate the contributions of all sheep, even the ones who might be goats in sheep’s clothing. And, since they hoped to convince the One True Flock to take the lost sheep back, it was important not to engage in any action at all that might offend any of them.

Meanwhile, over at the edge of the flock, a few sheep huddled together, brooding over the shepherd’s departure. They just stood there and wondered where she was going, as they watched one lonely figure made her way toward the horizon and listened to the wolf howls in the distance.

But that’s not all there is to this story because this is not a story about the flock. It’s a story about the lost sheep, and next will be a story about a widow and her lost coins and do you remember last week’s lost son? Are they all about being lost?

In order to get closer to the meaning of all this, we need to notice the inconstancies in the first story and what they might mean. For example, did you notice how this shepherd was not running the business like it was a business? He was neglecting the numbers, ignoring the bottom line, risking the larger loss by chasing one small profit. He acted as if one dumb sheep were a member of the family! I have wondered: odd as it might sound to our worldly ways – could that be what Luke is saying?

Actually, the shepherd was also acting like that father of two sons from last week – the one who let the younger one throw away his half of the family fortune and then welcomed him home with a big party. It is hardly cost-effective to celebrate like this. Still, I wonder about this joyful extravagance: could that be what Luke says God is like?

You know, these stories are turning out to be the kind that seem simple only until you read them carefully. So, what I’m wondering now is: who is really lost in the shepherd story? Is it the single sheep nibbling along –  head-down, ignoring everything until she suddenly realizes she can’t hear or see the others and no one is answering her cry for help? Or is it the shepherd who went charging out in the darkness, abandoning the flock in his need to find the missing one? Or is it the ninety-nine who find themselves out in the desert without a shepherd?

And then I wonder: who are we to identify with in the story? Am I the sheep worth dying for? Are you the shepherd, searching and searching and then celebrating?

Loss is devastating and life-altering. There were times in my life when it seemed like I was lost. And darker times when it seemed like God was lost. I would say that, at one time or another, I may have played every part in this story. And I’d expect, at one time or another, that most of you have played every part, too.

What’s amazing to me is to think about how God has played every part, too: God, the treasure lost and found. God, the searcher and the searched for. God, abandoned when we go seeking some distraction. God, who seems to abandon the many to seek out the One. God, who invites the neighbors in to celebrate extravagantly.

The bible says that there is some bit of God in each of us. If this is true, then we are all the searcher and the lost, all at the same time. And I wonder if that isn’t Luke’s way of saying we are all so connected together that we are part of each other and part of God and remembering just that sets off a shiver of contagious joy. And I know that that is what God is like!   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments