Pentecost 14 September 15, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 14  Proper 19  Year C

Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, September 15 (Gathering Sunday)

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

Friday a member of our parish

sent me an email

with an attachment of the cartoon

that’s inserted

in your bulletin:

 

“God and Google Maps”

 

[To honor the cartoonist’s copyright,

we cannot reproduce the cartoon here,

but this description may help.

God sits at God’s computer keyboard.

On the screen is a map: at the top

a legend showing the meaning

of the teardrop-shaped “you are here” pointer;

the map itself is covered with those pointers.

God, hand to forehead, looks dismayed.]

 

She hoped it would give me a smile,

she said,

and it did!

 

In case there are some among us

who don’t use Google Maps

to navigate

a little explanation might be in order.

 

 

Google Maps shows you on the screen

of your computer or smart phone or car GPS

where you are

with that little “You are Here”

upside-down teardrop shape . . .

 

and a way to get from where you are

to where you are going . . .

 

And so . . .

God opens Google Maps

to discover what we already know

to be true . . .

 

God is not just

somewhere off in the heavens

far away, removed, remote . . .

 

but everywhere on earth all at once . . .

 

here . . .  gathered with us

on this Gathering Sunday

 

and out there . . .

 

all over the map . . .

 

abroad in God’s

suffering and wounded world,

the God

we have come to know

in Jesus . . .

 

 

Jesus

who consorted with sinners and outcasts,

sought out the lost and forgotten,

healed the sick and comforted the grieving,

strengthened the weak,

challenged the self-centered and complacent,

encouraged the hopeless and fearful.

 

I saw something else, too,

in the cartoon

 

after I stopped laughing . . .

 

the expression on God’s face . . .

 

and it led me to thinking

of what must be God’s

weariness,

disappointment,

dismay . . .

God’s willingly carried burden . . .

 

God who has made the beautiful creation,

given us life and everything we need

and the freedom to enjoy it,

 

seeing us

over and over

misusing and abusing the gift.

 

And yet,

God never gives up on us.

 

 

 

Paul, in his letter to Timothy,

gives thanks for God’s steadfast commitment

to God’s wayward people . . .

 

God’s patience with us . . .

 

God’s mercy . . .

 

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord,

who has strengthened me,”

he writes,

“because [Christ] judged me faithful

and appointed me to his service,

even though I was formerly

a blasphemer,

a persecutor,

and a man of violence.”

 

You can’t get a whole lot worse than that . . .

 

Yet Paul’s sudden encounter with the risen Christ

on the road to Damascus

and his subsequent three days

of outward blindness and inward looking

turned his life,

his passion,

to good,

to service,

to the desire to share

what he had come to know

with the world:

 

God’s acceptance, forgiveness, mercy . . .

 

 

Acceptance, forgiveness, mercy

were so active in Jesus,

so attractive in him,

that people who had never known them

flocked to him,

 

sinners –

 

according to rigorous interpretation

of Israel’s religious law

a broad range of people

excluded from “good” society:

 

the poor, the errant, the outlier,

the sick, the disabled, the liar, the cheat, the thief . . .

the hapless transgressor,

the deliberate transgressor . . .

 

In the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes

Jesus,

who “welcomed such people and ate with them,”

was one of them . . .

one with

the marginalized and outcast.

 

 

 

The unfortunate, the wounded, the lost,

separated from their own community

because of who they were,

 

came to Jesus

because he embodied and proclaimed

a new way of life

and invited them into that way

no matter how unworthy

society thought them

or they thought themselves . . .

 

a way of welcome,

a way of respect,

a way of healing,

a way of inclusion,

 

a way, a life, a community,

he called the kingdom

or the realm

of God.

 

The Pharisees and scribes

who confronted Jesus

were invited with all the rest,

but they would have none of it . . .

 

 

This teaching was too wide-open

for them,

challenging to their authority

as religious leaders,

and politically dangerous besides.

 

In their Roman-occupied land,

Jesus’ growing crowd of undesirables

might be perceived

as a revolutionary uprising

 

upsetting the fragile compromise

the religious authorities

had made with Rome . . .

 

freedom to practice their religion

in exchange for keeping the people

in line.

 

 

So Jesus told two parables

of challenge and invitation . . .

involving a lost sheep

and a lost coin . . .

 

 

It’s no accident

that the protagonists of the parables,

a shepherd, a woman,

were among the lowliest in society . . .

 

Jesus chose

to insult the Pharisees and scribes

by assigning them those roles . . .

 

“Which one of you,” he asks them,

a shepherd losing one of a hundred sheep,

a woman losing one of ten silver coins . . .

 

“does not go after what they lost

until they find it . . .

and call friends and neighbors together

to rejoice?”

 

“Just so,” he said,

“There will be more joy in heaven

over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons

who need no repentance.”

 

A dig at the Pharisees and scribes,

at anyone,

who would identify themselves

with those ninety-nine:

the righteous, the ones needing no repentance . . .

 

Are there,

have there ever been,

any such people?

 

Jesus audience of tax collectors and sinners

would know what he really meant:

 

“ninety-nine selfrighteous persons

who think they need no repentance.”

 

 

Straining to earn God’s approval,

to attain some self-defined

pinnacle of holiness,

is the way

not to the kingdom,

but to

arrogance,

spiritual exhaustion,

ultimate futility.

 

When it comes to the need

for repentance and forgiveness

the high and mighty

and the low and powerless

are equal.

 

It’s the human condition:

for it seems we can’t

live in this astonishing freedom given us by God

without messing up,

without sinning,

sometimes when we don’t know what we’re doing

and sometimes when we do.

 

The four essentials to sustain human life:
air, water, food . . . forgiveness.

 

God, hand to forehead,

continues to love and reach for us

 

no matter where we are.

 

Which brings up the question . . .

 

If God is everywhere,

why come here

on Gathering Sunday

or any other Sunday?

 

Because, in the risen Christ,

God is present here

with

God’s gathered people,

God’s Church,

in particular, life-giving ways . . .

 

ways that draw us

as individuals and a community

closer to the kingdom . . .

 

In the proclamation of the Scriptures,

the Spirit of God

speaks words of challenge,

comfort,

truth,

invitation.

 

 

In the bright, searching light of those words,

we confess and repent

of the ways we have ignored them,

failed to live them;

and God’s ever-ready forgiveness

washes over us

and we can begin again.

 

In the sacrament of Communion,

the very life force of Jesus,

renewing, strengthening,

becomes our own through the Bread and Wine

that are for us his Body and Blood.

 

In our companionship with one another

we give and receive

encouragement and care,

as we rejoice together,

sorrow together,

strive together,

serve together.

 

 

We come here

to be nourished

in the Christian faith and life

that we may go out there

to embody and proclaim

this way of life,

 

and invite others into this way

no matter how unworthy

society deems them

or they deem themselves . . .

 

This way of welcome,

of respect,

of healing,

of inclusion,

 

this way

Jesus called the kingdom

of God.

 

 

 

God and Google Maps:

The silly

and yet profound cartoon

I’ve inflicted on you this morning

reminds us that, yes, God is everywhere

within and throughout God’s creation . . .

 

and its “you are here” dots also

suggest that’s where we are called to be . .

all over the map of the suffering world.

 

For God’s presence

is also mediated through God’s people:

Christians seeking the kingdom,

Jews seeking God’s shalom,

Muslims seeking God’s salaam . . .

 

mediated through us

not because we are the 99 righteous,

but because we are not –

 

because we are all just as much in need

of God’s love, God’s help, God’s forgiveness

as everyone else.

 

We have done nothing to merit this,

we can do nothing to merit this,

it is not earned;

but already freely given,

given to us

to be given away.

 

 

Wherever we are

on Google Maps,

we can be sure that God is with us,

hand to forehead sometimes,

rejoicing sometimes . . .

and always with us.

 

When we see a “you are here”

on any map,

Google or not,

may we,

right then,

right there,

remember why.

 

 

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