September 11, 2022: Welcome Home Sunday
The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw
Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT
All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable:
4‘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? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,* if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
Luke 15:1-10, NRSV
Welcome back on this lovely September Sunday!
My first Welcome Home Sunday in your midst.
And as I said in my Mailchimp Newsletter yesterday, I am delighted to be here!
We could not have chosen a better Gospel reading for this morning than the one that has landed in our lectionarial laps. For it is the first two thirds of Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel known as the Lost and Found parables. The two we hear this morning about the lost sheep and the lost coin, and then the most famous of the lost and found stories, the Prodigal Son, which we heard earlier this year during Lent. All three could well be called the Welcome Home parables.
These stories remind us, emphatically, that hope is born into our DNA as children of a Creator who will always seek us out with the fierce resolve of a divine amber alert whenever we disappear from the fold…God’s fold, that is. No matter how lost we feel, no matter far away we have strayed. Or how long we have been gone, we will always be welcomed back. By the One who loves us from their divine toe bottoms.
The story we just heard from Luke’s Gospel about the lost sheep, occurs also in Matthew – but in that Gospel that sheep just “wanders off.” And then the finding of the sheep in Matthew’s telling is passive and hypothetical. In Matthew this message is about a situation, about the way we humans inevitably stray. We inevitably get lost, but we will always be found. It is almost in the passive tense. We will be lost. We will be found. And so relax. Keep the faith.
But in Luke, the sheep has more than wandered off. The sheep is gone. In Luke, the sheep is seriously lost, not just wandering away. And the moral is not as much that the sheep will be found (passive voice, the subject is the sheep). The sheep will be found. But that God will find that sheep (active voice, the subject is God). God will find the sheep. It is less about the wandering nature of the sheep and more about the deep desire of the shepherd.
In Luke, the shepherd is actively and intently working to find that lost lamb. In Luke, the verbs are not passive, they are active. In Luke this story is not situational, it is relational. It’s about the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. About the deep, unrelenting love of the shepherd for the sheep. It is not so much about how it is to be human…wanderers that we are. It is more about how it is to belong to God….faithful and forgiving as God is. It is not so about how we roll, but about where we belong. Here, with God. It’s a Welcome Home parable if ever there were one!
Because the point is that there is nothing, nothing we can do to divest ourselves of God’s love.
No matter how dastardly our deeds, no matter how diabolically depraved, no matter what deception or debauchery, or decay we present, no matter how despairing or desolate or destructive or despondent or demented, disheartened, dismal, dishonorable, damnable, disobedient, displeasing, disparaging, disorderly, disrespectful, (thank God for the dictionary) disreputable, dreary, dreadful. Even if we are thoroughly driveling, drooling, dubious, drunken, dull, doltish, dwindling, dilapidated, dissident, dissolute, distressing, divisive, ditsy, dolorous (that’s a good one!), dumb, doubting, dough faced, deluded, depressed, defeated, defensive, deflowered, deformed, deficient, degraded, demoralized, deteriorated, distracted, devilish (another goodie!), dishonest, disagreeable, disbelieving. No matter how discontented, discommodious (I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here) discouraged, discourteous, disgraced, deviant, difficult, damaged, dehydrated or downright reprehensible we are. We are all always welcomed back by God.
Good Lord, I never realized how depressing the D’s are!
But I suspect that litany of nouns and adjectives just about covers all of us; something in that list hits at least one nerve in each and every one of us. One place where we feel so lost that we may not be found….or even more torturous, one dimension of our essential selves that makes us not worthy of being found. Or maybe even not worth being looked for. One place that we think stands firm as the divine deal breaker.
And so, Jesus offers these parables to each and every one of us. Because they apply to each and every one of us. No matter what our status…..social, political, economic, religious, or otherwise. No matter where we are. From where ever we come with whatever we bring. We are always welcome home.
These lost and found parables are told in response to a complaint on the part of the religious elite who declare that the folks on the margins of society, the tax collectors and sinners, the ones who are apparently unwanted and unwelcome in their houses of worship, are unworthy to eat and drink with Jesus. These religious elite declare that these folks on the margins are even unworthy to hear Jesus preach.
All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus preach. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. So Jesus told them these parables.
The charge against the lost ones is that they are coming to be found. They are coming to hear what Jesus is preaching. They are coming to church! And the charge against Jesus is that he welcomes them, that he is hospitable. He “welcomes” them, as though they were invited all along, desired to be there, sought out even.
This itinerate preacher who makes his home on the road, traveling from town to town, himself seemingly homeless and ungrounded in the social structure. One who might as first glance look like a lost sheep himself. And yet where ever he is, he is home with God.
This parable is about the despicable almost scandelous hospitality of the living God. Because although we tend to think of hospitality as opening our doors and welcoming everyone in. These lost and found stories tell us that God’s hospitality is not just welcoming in, it is fundamentally seeking out.
If we want to live with Gospel hospitality, we must be seekers. Which means we must change our understanding of who belongs in the fold. And we must be willing, ourselves, to be changed by the strangers whom we welcome. We must work to build the Kin-dom of God rather than just the church filled with our friends. Because the church is far too small to contain the depth and breadth of God’s hospitality.
A few years ago a Roman Catholic church in Florida posted this welcome sign in its front yard. It’s a fairly long sign, so make yourselves comfortable. It said, and I quote:
“We extend a special welcome to those who are
single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, or no habla Ingles.
We extend a special welcome to those who are
crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli
or if you are like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.
You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail.
We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope,
or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are
over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers,
latte-sippers, vegetarians, and junk-food eaters.
We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.
We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps
or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.
We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat,
Who work too hard, who don’t work at all,
or if you are here because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both.
We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now,
to those who had religion shoved down your throat as a kid,
or to those who just got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.
We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
As the sign says, every sheep in God’s flock, which is every sheep with a beating bleating heart, is welcomed by God. And that makes the hospitality of God is a fearful and awe-inspiring thing! It a thing that makes all of our constructed social and political divisions moot.
A few months ago I was talking with a friend about my coming to this parish to serve as your priest. She asked if this wasn’t the “red” part of CT. And she wondered if I would be a good fit here. And so she asked, “What color is your church?” I tilted my head like my golden retriever Fin when he has no idea what I am asking of him. And she said, “red or blue, what color is your church? Generally speaking.” she added as a qualifier.”
Oh, I said. Well, what color is kindness? What color is compassion? What color is justice? Mercy? Generosity? Friendship. What color is peace?
What color is the peace that obliterates all partisanship? The peace that comes when those who feel lost are welcomed home. The peace that speaks truth to power with love. The peace that surpasses all understanding.
That is the color of my church. We humbly and fiercely stand for every shade of peace.
And so on this Welcome Home Sunday, as we celebrate the endless, ceaseless love and care of our shepherd and the open arms of our flock, I invite us to gather our hearts and minds and courage. And to put ourselves to work this program year painting the world the color of Gospel hospitality.
Welcome Home Friends!
© September, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw