Welcome Home!

Luke 15:1-10

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[1]. 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

[1] https://www.episcopalcafe.com/the_church_that_welcomes_everyone/

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment


Psalm 139:1-18

September 4, 2022

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

Psalm 139 , NRSV

 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;   you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down,   and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue,   O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before,   and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?   Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there;   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me,   and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,   and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you;   the night is as bright as the day,   for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   Wonderful are your works;that I know very well.    My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret,   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written   all the days that were formed for me,   when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!   How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand;   I come to the end—I am still with you.

If there were one promotional phrase, one bumper sticker from scripture to promote God and the value of a religion that finds its hope in God, this first line from Psalm 139 would be it…..in my humble opinion.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.

And, in my humble opinion, Psalm 139 is a perfect passage of scripture for this moment in time.

It’s a moment in this nation and in the wider world we need some grounding for hope; some reason to believe that the violence and the racism and the bullying and the greed and the seeming wholesale destruction of our planet, our political system, our civility as one nation under God, our sense of security, and a hundred other losses will some how, some day stop.  

We need a reason to hope in this weary and broken world; in this world in which we seem to have forgotten how wondrously and marvelously, albeit differently, made is each and every one of us. We are each and every one of us created by the same God. Who is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican, nor even an Independent. Who is neither white nor black nor yellow nor any other shade of the rainbow. Who is neither American, nor Russian, nor Chinese, nor any other nationality. Our Creator is beyond every label. And etched on every heart.

Psalm 139 is a bit of an odd duck in our psalter. It is the only psalm in the book that focuses on the individual. In fact, it might even be the only place in the entire Hebrew Bible where the state or fate of the individual is not only addressed, but stressed.

The Hebrew Bible is almost always the story of the people of God; never a single person of God. But Psalm 139 speaks directly and specifically about the intimacy of our personal relationship with and to God. 

The first 18 verses of the psalm are divided into three parts.

Part one, verses 1-6 say unequivocally that God knows us through and through, top to bottom, stem to stern, inside and out. Yahweh, You (and it is the emphatic you) have searched me and You know me.

Part two, verses 7- 12 say that no matter where we flee, or how far we run, or how dark the hole in which we are buried, God will always find us. Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? And the unequivocal answer is, loosely translated, nowhere.

And then part three, verses 13-18 insist that God knows us fully and stays with us always because God has woven every thread of our being into the tapestry of our unique selves by hand…..intentionally….joyously…..without one single regret. No matter who we think we are.

No matter how many regrets we have for ourselves, God has none. Not a one.

This psalm is the story of who each and every one of us is as beloved individuals of God’s wondrous creativity to serve God’s unfathomable purpose. And so it is very personal. The God of Psalm 139 is not Our Father who art in heaven. The God of Psalm 139 is the author of our existence who dwells within us right here on earth. The God in whom we live and move and have our being, as it says in the Book of Acts. The God who knows us fully and from whom there is no escape – a God who is with us always because we are God’s most precious creation; and not just created, not just constituted as the work of a divine potter, as this morning’s reading from Jeremiah says.

But in Psalm 139 God has not just made us, God has knit us together –woven us out of whole divinely endowed cloth….the first knitting ministry, as it were! And we are the pearls of God’s labor.

It’s an image of God’s creativity as a process of careful integration and intricate design. We are the way we are, every mole and freckle, every nook and cranny, every warp and woof, knit and pearl of our being is by God’s grace-filled design. And this is, as I see it, a sort of good news / bad news situation.

Because it means that where ever we go, however hard we try, we cannot escape the knowing breath of God. We cannot preclude the unbearable vulnerability that comes with God’s unyielding attention and interest. However desperate we feel to free our fragile egos from the terrifying assurance that we are simply and inherently good enough, that our brokenness may not be a mistake or a failure, but may in fact be by design – whatever it is that haunts us in our self-proclaimed unworthiness, it is not a fatal flaw or an original sin, but rather a beloved  built-in opportunity for growth and reconciliation and eventual magnificence – an opportunity that would hardly exist if we were perfect from the get-go…..which of course we are, as this psalm tells us in no uncertain words.

But here, then, “perfect” requires some serious revision and redefinition, does it not?

For if we are awesomely and wondrously made – perfection, each and every one of us, in our own unique ways – then our old connotation of perfection, our old notion that perfection is some universally objective quality that precludes cracks or wrinkles or character – the idea of perfection as that without room for improvement, well, that is clearly not what God intended in God’s perfect creation of humanity. For we are indeed a collection of uniquely perfect opportunities for magnificent creativity and growth, each with our own unique cracks and unsightly crevasses.

 And so this psalm speaks not only of our magnificence, but also of our vulnerability, our built-in propensity for falling down as a part of our wondrous and awesome creation. Let us stop lamenting our failures. They are built in.

But this psalm speaks to that inner fear that each of us has experienced at one point or another in our perfectly insecure lives. That deep and abiding suspicion that if we were truly known…that if our true selves were ever revealed, we would be sooooo busted. Busted as the unworthy children that we know ourselves to be. Busted as worthless, shameful, unlovable failures.

This is our secret fear….well, I’ll just speak for myself here, but if the shoe fits….then this psalm may fit you, too. But, it assures us that although we ARE known, fully, completely, without any privacy whatsoever when it comes to God, although God sees it all, still we are loved beyond our wildest dreams; and not just loved, adored.

We are each the center of God’s full attention. And so God is inescapable.

But the Good News in this psalm is not that God is inescapable, it is that only God is inescapable.

Which is why this psalm comes not a moment too soon in this season of vicious and seemingly hopeless political warfare. A moment in our American history when our ugly arrogant heads have been given full throated voices and our self-centered self-righteousness plays out in unbridled incivility and violence in our streets and even in our schools, almost on a daily basis.

But hear this, Psalm 139 assures us that no matter how dire the civil climate, how impossible the odds, no matter how high the mountain, no matter how unjust, unkind, unfair, uncompassionate, or unlikely that our current state of affairs will be, or can be changed…the only constant is that God is still here. Inescapable. And our steadfast hope lies in the sure and steady knowledge that only God will prevail. Everything else will change, eventually. Only God is inescapable.

For as the Psalm says, even the darkness will not be dark to You, O God.

This is the psalm for these trying times.

I would like to close with a poem that I wrote twenty five years ago, long before I had ever really heard of psalm 139.  I wrote it for my then 6-year-old niece and godchild, Lauren.

It was included as the first of a collection of poems about nature, well, insects to be exact, called Big Bug Creek that was published in 1998. And today I would like to dedicate it to an undying faith that with the Gracious and Ever-Loving God of our creation, anything and everything is not only possible, but possible within our current means….That is to say, inescplicable, miraculous possibility is already here and now.


Pursuant to the theories of most scientists renowned,

The bumble bee, all quite agree, should not get off the ground.

The principles and test results will verify with might,

That bumble bees, like black eyed peas, were not designed for flight.

It’s simply that their shape and weight are not in right relation

To the wingspan that is needed for this mode of transportation.

Sure, we of sound and solid mind indubitably know

That what the laws of physics say is surely what is so.

But somehow, somewhere, someone failed to thus inform the bees;

And so although we’re in the know, they buzz off as they please.

It’s utterly impossible, preposterous, no-can-do;

Unreasonable, high treasonable, and yet, by gosh, they do.

It could be simply strength of will, or winging on a prayer,

Or possibly the bumble bee is just a fluke midair.

It doesn’t really matter which, the point is when they say,

“It can’t be done, you’re not the one,” just smile and fly away.

And the peopel said: Amen.

© September, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment