Proper 19C (OT24)
341: September 15, 2019
184: September 11, 2016
These two stories are the first two parts of three stories about lost things. Of course, the third part is the story of the lost son, which is one of the most beloved stories in all of Scripture. The Prodigal son comes to the lectionary in the fourth Sunday of Lent in year C.
“GRUMBLING IS A NATIONAL PASTIME, even a universal one. We grumble about political leadership, unless the leader is "our person"; then we grumble about the opposition. We grumble about the actions and morals of the current younger generation. In the church, liberals grumble about conservatives, conservatives grumble about liberals, and moderates grumble about both. Grumbling is a reminder of sin, for sin occurs when God's children are not in harmony with creation and with their Creator.” (Art Ross, Interpretation, Oct 2007, p. 422)
“Jesus understands this from the get-go. So, here’s one of the remarkable and heartening things (among many) in this passage: Jesus is engaged in conversation with these men. Unlike the situation of moral outrage we find ourselves in today, where politicians refuse to engage with people from other parties, and people ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ each other on social media over differing opinions, Jesus is aware that the Pharisees and scribes are themselves lost. He is willing to teach (not condemn or ignore) them as well. This is one of the many beauties of the lure of God.” (Nichole Torbitzky, Process and Faith)
Previous chapter Jesus had just finished preaching about the cost of discipleship (from last week). Telling people that they must be willing to reject their previous social norms and status. So now, after rejecting familial ties over more important connections based on the Kingdom, he is found with the wrong people.
V. 1-2 sets scene as Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. Pharisees and Scribes “grumbling” (NRSV).
To be labelled a “sinner” is not the same as the cliche “we’re all sinners.” This group of sinners would have been labelled as such for a habitual lifestyle. Though not mentioned exactly what the nature of the sin, it seems certain the greater society knew what it was and who they were.
Conversely, to be labelled “righteous” was not to be marked as perfect, but as someone who generally lives a life with the law in mind.
“Note that the complaint is not that Jesus has been rousing the rabble or saying the kinds of things that draw this wrong crowd, but that when this crowd draws near to him Jesus welcomes them and eats with them. I suppose they expect him, instead, to excuse himself.” (Mark Davis, Left Behind and Loving It)
“Two quick notes on all this. Eating isn’t catching a quick bite at the local coffee house and moving on. Eating -- that is, sharing table fellowship -- is a mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship. And so in eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is demonstrating a deep and abiding acceptance of those society has deemed beyond the moral pale.” (David Lose, Working Preacher)
According to Wesley Study Bible, “these three parables are intended to move the [scribes and Pharisees] from grumbling to rejoicing.” (Wesley Study Bible, p 1266)
Lost Sheep. (1 of 100)
Shepherd loses a sheep. Searches for it. Finds it. Celebrates.
God is actively searching to reconcile, not seeking to punish.
God - and the heavens - celebrate when even one is found.
Rejoicing is the proper response to God’s love (not grumbling).
Heaven celebrates when one sinner repents.
Seems to be pointed to the Scribes and Pharisees to celebrate the “finding” of the tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus’ rhetorical question needs to be examined more
Is it true that any shepherd would leave behind 99 sheep, unprotected? Is that really what a ‘good shepherd’ would do?
The searching for one at the risk of 99 seems to be frivolous (wasteful, prodigal)
“Many flocks were roughly this size… Shepherds and herders often watched over the flocks together (2.8), so the shepherd here could leave his flock with the other herders while searching for the lost sheep.” (notes from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)
Lost Coin (1 of 10. One coin is a day’s wage)
Similarities in structure.
Something is lost. There is a search. It is found. There is celebration.
Woman is the main character, which is a remarkable fact. There is nothing particular gendered about the story other than Jesus says this is a “Woman.” All the more remarkable is that the surface reading of the story places God/Jesus in the role of the searcher - who is a woman.
Again, Jesus’ rhetorical question needs to be examined.
If you lost a tenth of your savings - or a day'sm’ wage, you certainly would search diligently for it. But if you found it, would you really call your neighbors and have a party?
It seems as if the woman would spend the full coin in celebrating finding it. This feels frivolous (wasteful, prodigal).
Thoughts and Questions
The coin and the sheep aren’t repentant. They are simply found. They take no action, and have no agency. It is the shepherd and the woman who do all the “work,” and then call their friends to a celebration. They are also not involved in their being lost. A coin doesn’t lose itself, nor can a sheep really be blamed for wandering off. Others see the sinners as being totally at their own fault and places blame for their “lostness.” Instead, Jesus shifts to the amazing effort that God is willing to do to claim and celebrate those who are found.
“God's message to us, through these parables, is this: "You are mine. You have always been mine. You were created in my image and are therefore connected to me. And because you are mine, I will seek you out wherever you are and try to bring you back home—because I love you so much!" Can we be open to that kind of amazing love? Can we let down our defenses and self-doubts long enough simply to receive it, to be engulfed and swept away by this love?“ (Julie Perry, Review and Expositor, 109, Spring 2012)
Both the effort to find the lost sheep and the celebration over the lost coin seem to be overkill. Thus is the frivolous - prodigal - nature of the Kingdom. This is how Jesus characterizes God’s joy over sinners, the ones whom society as completely rejected.
These stories are about sin and repentance, righteous and sinner, and grumbling and rejoicing. Who is the one that needs to be found? It seems as if the tax collectors and sinners have already found Jesus. They have done so, and are still considered on the outside. It seems as if it is the ‘righteous’ that actually need to be found. Is it possible to be righteous and still need to be found? David Lose asks:
Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around hockey games and dance recitals be lost?
Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder the one and only priority be lost?
Might the folks who work jobs they hate just to give their family things they never had be lost?
Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement be lost?
Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do just about anything to fit in be lost?
Might the earnest Christian who is constantly asking whether people have accepted Jesus into their hearts be lost?
And the lectionary is jumping around again- and will continue to do so
vs. 13-18: Song of describing God’s judgement
18 Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your doom; how bitter it is! It has reached your very heart."
vs. 19-21: Still God’s voice, but the tone shifts to lament
19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
Babylon is threatening
People response if not trusting in God
God speaking out in judgement and lament
vs. 11- My poor people
Bat ammi - poor, beloved, sinful, wounded
Not a socio-economic statement, but being morally or faithfully poor - poor in Spirit
Does not let them off the hook- God is compassionate and holds the people accountable
What is the crime?
vs. 22: Foolishness and stupidity. An inability and unwillingness to trust in God
What is the punishment?
Not the wrath of God - or is it a wind of unmaking instead of uncreation?
God is observing what is happening:
Besieging armies (v.16-17)
The “unmaking of the Earth” -
Earth- wasted and destroyed (v.23)
Mountains and hills quaking (v. 24)
Birds and living things fled (v. 25)
Desolation and desert (v.26)
vs. 27 -”yet” or “for” ki in Hebrew indicates a causality
“The whole land is a desolation because I refuse to end it”
God doesn’t cause these things but refuses to step in and stop the devastation
The people need to change, their refusal does not bring about God’s wrath, but rather God’s unwillingness to rescue them from the consequences of their actions
Standing by and watching us kill ourselves and creation hurts God (v.19)
Thoughts and Questions
What threats face us today that keep us from “doing good”?
How many threats that we face today are of our own doing? Instead of waiting for God to “fix” things, perhaps God is waiting for us to repent - “change our hearts and minds” and until then God will refuse to end the desolation we have caused.
When faced with very real threats and fear- where do we place our trust? In God? In fear? In ourselves? What are the consequences of misplaced trust
Jeremiah proclaims Babylon as an agent of God. Many preachers use natural and human disaster as a proclamation of God’s judgement. When Jeremiah does this he uses it as a call for all people to repent- instead of telling others what they need to repent from, we need to first look and see what we need to repent from.
1 and 2 Timothy now through October - check out Deb Krause (1 Timothy (Readings: A New Biblical Commentary) and our interview with her on preaching these letters: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/academy/pastoralletters
Written to Timothy from “Paul”
Most likely written afterwards intending to capture how Paul would respond to the issues of the day (namely- rising Gnostic beliefs)
Strongly anti-Gnostic - focusing on the goodness of creation, goodness of God and living in the world (not withdrawing from it)
Authorship - probably not Paul, but one of Paul’s followers late in the first century.
Among other reasons, it is difficult to imagine Paul calling himself a “blasphemer.” He was admittedly guilty of much, but not that.
“Paul” gives thanks to God instead of people (in his undisputed letters he gives gratitude for people and communities, not specifically to Christ) and the language is not one of giving thanks (eucharist) but of having gratitude (charin ech) Mitchell G. Reddish Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
Should this be a part of the sermon?
Yes. Depending on the Context.
Don’t keep textual criticism a secret, but don’t focus on it, and do it with humility.
Hymn suggestion: “Immortal, Invisible, God only wise” - see verse 17 or Amazing Grace (overall theme of this passage)
Focus on God’s mercy in the face of our sin - very Lutheran - as in - of Luther
The righteousness of God is a gift received not a standard attained
What is the balance between active opposition to God (v. 13) and passive acceptance of God’s grace (v.16)?
Stephanie Mar Smith, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
Passive acceptance is the language of abuse for many women, minorities and oppressed peoples - how do we balance this active opposition and passive acceptance into good news which is life-giving and life-affirming?
V. 14 - love and mercy in Jesus Christ. Seen in light of John 8:1-11 and Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus exposes the societal sin that sought to use the woman as a scape-goat and reveals the woman’s agency in the command, “go and sin no more” - this is not simply passive acceptance in the light of sin, but exposes societal sin and one’s agency in response to grace.
Peace, not Violence - Paul rejects violence as a means of grace. In fact his disbelief leads him to violence and his belief leads him away. This undermines the use of faith as tool of violent oppression.
Paul’s story is presented as a model of transformation.
Begins as the lowest of the low, ends in the glory of Christ
“If I can do it, you can do it.”
Or better: “If God can do it for me, God can do it for you.”
God uses the sinner to do great things, not for the glory of the sinner, but to the glory of God.
Paul’s authority as someone worth teaching is that he has “been there”
Recovery ministries - almost always led by those advanced in the program, recovering themselves.
Resist “Story topping” or “Sin Topping”
All transformation is celebrated. Not just those that were “really bad”
Pastoral vulnerability? Do you share your story (if you have one?) If so- PREPARE and know what you are going to say and DO NOT make it all about you- it is about God’s grace
Thoughts and Questions
A personal story. Paul enters into vulnerability by owning his past (as a sinner) as well as his present (as redeemed). How might we engage in authentic testimony to reveal deeper truths about how we have experienced God’s grace?
It is one thing to talk about grace theologically and intellectually- what about as testimony? How have you experienced God’s grace?
1 Timothy has a terrible and well earned patriarchal reputation which is avoided by the lectionary. Don’t avoid it. Preach into it. Next week is 1 Timothy 2:1-7, perhaps keep reading and expose a word of grace in this painful passage. See our conversation with Deb Krause for more on this.
Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Miserlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.