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
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
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,
and it did!
In case there are some among us
who don’t use Google Maps
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,
we have come to know
in 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
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,
over and over
misusing and abusing the gift.
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,”
“because [Christ] judged me faithful
and appointed me to his service,
even though I was formerly
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,
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,
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
who “welcomed such people and ate with them,”
was one of them . . .
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
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
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
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 . . .
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
“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,
who would identify themselves
with those ninety-nine:
the righteous, the ones needing no repentance . . .
have there ever been,
any such people?
Jesus audience of tax collectors and sinners
would know what he really meant:
“ninety-nine self–righteous 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,
When it comes to the need
for repentance and forgiveness
the high and mighty
and the low and powerless
It’s the human condition:
for it seems we can’t
live in this astonishing freedom given us by God
without messing up,
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
God’s gathered people,
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,
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,
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,
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,
Jesus called the kingdom
God and Google Maps:
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,