from the reflection Sunday at simple church. cultivating calm, centered, compassionate lives.
it’s helpful if you read Luke 15:1-10
The setting for these stories that Jesus tells, of a lost sheep and a lost coin, is a confrontational moment where Jesus is responding to some Pharisees about his preference for dinner companions. The text says some Pharisees were grumbling ‘this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ This is a constant throughout all of scripture just FYI, anytime anyone is called to do something different, radical especially when it is done with radical inclusion in mind, there are always naysayers, negative Nancy’s, Debbie downers. Maybe you experience this in your life, your family, your work. People who are always just down on you no matter what you do, maybe there are people in your world that you can never satisfy NO MATTER WHAT. It seems to me that more often than not these folks usually ‘grumble’ about what you are or aren’t doing right.
The Pharisees’ major complaint against Jesus is that he is talking, relating and gathering tax collectors and sinners, and not only is he talking to them, he’s welcoming them and eating with them. It’s important to remember that back in the day who you chose to eat with was a MAJOR deal. It’s kind of like a high school cafeteria, what table you sit at defines so much about who you are as a person. Jesus lived in what we call an ‘honor and shame’ society. Basically, we have the same societal structure still to this day, but back in the day, they were a little more overt about it. Basically, the goal of life was upward mobility to a more and more honorable place through the accumulation of wealth, prestige, or power and authority of some kind. You were also supposed to avoid moving down the ladder to a more shameful place, the more lowly places, the places on the bottom rung reserved for the marginalized, weak, poor, sinners, and tax collectors.
These two dualistic categories were, in fact, ontological statements about who you were as a person. Right, so the Pharisees even say, this man (notice how they don’t use Jesus’ name, naming someone is empowering) eats with sinners and tax collectors. They are basically defining these people with these shameful and shaming titles of sinners and tax collectors. These folks are defined by the fact that according to the Pharisee’s they are the lost and the forsaken and their understanding of the world said, why would anyone waste their time with people like this.
But Jesus is the incarnation of God’s radical, inclusive grace, Jesus is the in-breaking of a new kingdom, a new reign, a new order of human community, Jesus is flipping all of the understandings and categories of people and ways that we define ourselves and others. Jesus is coming to save everyone from the bondage of sin, shame, judgment and preconceived notions of righteousness, Jesus wants to unbind those who are bound and set them free with perfect love and amazing grace.
So he tells these two stories where the most valuable thing in each is the thing that’s lost. He inverts the ‘normal’ way of seeing things. See the normal way of seeing things is to say that all those sinners and tax collectors, the lost sheeps and lost coins were expendable. The way of the world would say- cut your loses- don’t sacrifice the honorable for the shameful, don’t waste your time, energy, resources looking for the lost, the lonely, the powerless, focus on being more successful, gaining more honor, moving up the social ladder instead of down.
But Jesus says if you want to know what it means to be saved and made whole you have to dive into the world of the lost, you have to know forsakenness , you have to know the bondage of shame, or sin, or feeling like you are just a mistake, because all of this, recognizing it in vulnerability will allow you to be set free and to know the God who seeks you relentlessly because God desperately wants you to know the depths of God’s grace for you and everyone else in this world.
There is a value in being lost. This is super counter intuitive for me because I love to know where I am going, I love to know which direction I’m heading, I love the fact that my iphone has two different map apps. Just in case I don’t like the suggested route in one I can always pop onto the other one to make sure I have the fastest and shortest route.
Getting lost is unsettling, daunting, there’s a real sense of powerlessness, and there is a certain amount of shame we carry with it. Why? Because of ego, because we want to be right all the time.
Getting lost, being lost, teaches us about humility, vulnerability, honesty and compassion. Being lost allows us to know the active grace that seeks us out constantly, even when we are found and safe and secure, but in those moments we don’t really appreciate it, those are the moments we might know it up here, but don’t necessarily know it in here.
We are going to get lost, literally and metaphorically. There will be times when you feel far from God. Times when you feel alone, afraid, and forsaken. Jesus tells us, and more importantly shows us, that this will happen, it’s not a matter of if but when. There will be a time when all that you do feels dry and meaningless.
This is part of the spiritual life. We need be get lost, we need to wander, we need some discomfort in our lives along the way because that’s often the time when we grow the most. When we go into the shadow side of our lives, when we examine those things we’d prefer to keep hidden, when we acknowledge the burden and shame we carry, when we re-forge broken relationships, when we see the log in our own eye instead of the splinter in the neighbors, when we enter into solidarity with someone whose hurting and struggling and some of their pain becomes our pain, from these places real transformation happens, from these places we know grace, forgiveness, acceptance and peace in a new way, from these places we are made into a new creation.
How do we make it through these times? That’s why God gives us trusted sources to double down on. Prayer, scripture, community, mentors, friends, family, therapists, pastors, the sacrament of Holy Communion. Double down of your trusted sources of encouragement, strength, grace, acceptance, and love. Continue to follow a rule of life even if it feels empty, or devoid of meaning . Trusts that there is a wisdom to these things that’s bigger than you
And most importantly
Remember that God’s love and grace pursue you relentlessly, God is waiting to throw an awesome party with all the faithful and the angels when transformation happens, and it will happen if you hold on.
I want to end with a prayer that I find to be one of those trusted sources, Thomas Merton.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”