Meg Peery McLaughlin
World Communion Sunday
October 2, 2022
Luke 15: 1-10
Prayer of Illumination
We do not live by bread alone,
But by every word that comes from your mouth.
Make us hungry for this heavenly food
That it may nourish us today
In the ways of abundant life,
Through Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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 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? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
These parables are often called the parables of the lost.
A trilogy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.
These parables are also often called the parables of joy.
Jesus mentions joy and rejoicing 5 times in just our 10 verses today.
There are parties in heaven and on earth when the lost are found.
But Jesus doesn’t start telling these stories because everyone is in a festive mood.
It all starts out with grumbling.
The Pharisees and scribes complain, “Jesus welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”
And they’re not wrong.
Of course Jesus does.
If we’ve been around church at all we know him to be the kind of savior who
eats with outsiders and bad pennies,
finds wayward ones and prodigal types.
That is simply the Jesus way. One that we’re invited to walk.
But, if we’re honest, we’ll say it is not an easy way.
So much so that when we see someone actually doing it—
We point it out, and say, hey look at that!
My dad did that in an email to the family last week.
He was pointing to his grandfather, George C Peery, saying hey Look,
Someone who gets it!
He’d been watching the Ken Burns’ Holocaust program on PBS.
If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it tells of the xenophobia that
emerged after World War I,
which led to an amplified fear that “real” Americans would be replaced by immigrants.
This ultimately led to the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act,
Restricting entry here to anyone other than white, Northern Europeans
who were primarily Protestant.
That legislation touted it would “preserve the ideal of US homo-geneity.”
Senator Reed wanted to “keep American stock up to the highest standard
—that is the people who were born here.”
The Act passed Congress overwhelming with the full support of President Calvin Coolidge. The date of the Act caught my dad’s attention. 1924.
His grandfather was in his first term in Congress that year.
Lo and behold, his granddad had voted against the act—one of only 89 negative votes.
I could tell Dad was proud–
My dad emailed his siblings with a question as to why they thought their granddad would have taken such an unpopular stand at that time.
My aunt wrote back, “because he was a good Methodist!”
The presumption is that a good Methodist, a follower of the Jesus Way,
Would be welcoming,
Would make room for lost sheep.
Well, truth is, Dad did more digging.
Before his grandfather’s career in public service,
He was as an attorney representing coal companies in VA.
And most illuminating was the fact that in his congressional district
was a town called Pocahontas, a town. close to the West Virginia border.
That town housed an immigrant enclave,
a large group of Jews from Hungary.
And they were the one who primarily worked the coal mines there.
Now, coal fueled
power production and railroads,
the entire local economy,
and my great grandfather’s own paycheck.
So, think about that for a minute.
We might want to applaud him for his welcoming stance,
But most likely
George C Peery voted the way he did
Not because of the gospel
But because of his own self interest.
And we’re not unlike him, are we?
We have a persistent tendency to focus inward, not outward.
We like to look out for our own tables, not necessarily this one.
And if examining our own stories, our own histories and heroes is too tender,
we can look to the stories we have in scripture to remind us.
Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
Two people pass the hurt man by,
It’s the LEAST likely one who stops to help.
Or Ole’ Jonah:
He’s asked to preach to outsiders,
And he literally says he’d rather die than do that,
and he ends up in the belly of the whale.
Or in the story of the Early Church,
when Philip meets the Ethiopian Eunuch on the road.
Sure he baptizes him, but apparently it’s so scandalous that the text says
“the Spirit of the Lord snatches him away.”
As if the very earth would have swallowed him up for making such a radical choice.
This Fall at UPC we’re participating in a Hunger Challenge.
You’ve already packed 12,000 meals to send abroad.
In just a moment we’ll see how many local pantry shelves we can fill.
And on Wednesday, how many sweet potatoes we can glean from the field.
This week, I intended to include in my sermon
Another layer of this challenge.
I wanted to see how many of us could invite someone to our own kitchen tables,
someone whose skin was a different color,
whose vote was an opposing shade,
whose accent was an unfamiliar sound.
But who am I kidding?
What was I thinking?
It’s not that it’s a bad idea at all, it just that we’re unlikely to do it.
I mean, Had I read the scripture at all??
I went back to the text. Each parable begins: Which one of you would do this?
Which one of you –
What man would leave 99% of his livelihood endangered to find one stubborn sheep
who was either so injured or unintelligent so as not to keep up with the rest?
What woman would act a fool and stay up all night long, upending the house,
for one coin that’s not even worth that much by itself,
and then knock on her neighbors door at 3am to tell them?
Which one of us?
None of us!
Church, this is hard for us to do. Listen to that. It is hard for us.
But for God???
And maybe that’s what the gospel is trying to tell us.
This is not hard for God.
This is WHO GOD IS.
God wants everybody there.
God seeks the lost, perhaps even at the expense of the majority.
God takes so much joy in finding us that a midnight party is in order.
Yes, even us,
we who, in our self-interested stupor , find the Jesus way so hard to walk
we who have willfully put ourselves out beyond the fold,
we who have lost our self-worth
so much that we cannot imagine having any value at all.
God takes joy in finding us.
God takes joy in finding you,
And pulling out a chair for you at the table.
Because it’s not a party until you’re part of the crowd.
So, come to think of it, church,
I do have an addition to our UPC hunger challenge.
I challenge us to get in touch with our hunger for that.
Our hunger for God. Our longing to be found. Our yearning to be at the Table.
Our readiness for joy in God’s presence.
Today is World Communion Sunday,
We’ll hold the bread and cup, until we can all feast together, at once,
siblings in Christ all over this globe.
But today, we’ll also receive the bread and cup
By passing the plates instead of coming up here by ourselves,
Which means that these symbols of God’s grace
Will come to us,
Right in our pew,
Right where we sit,
Right where we are,
Just as we are.
This is a celebration of our being found.
This sacrament in its very self is a parable of joy.
For God wants a house with a crowded table.
Where everyone belongs. Everyone belongs.