Sermon for September 15, 2019

An elderly couple decided to check with their doctor about possible memory loss. The doctor told them. “Your memory loss is pretty bad. I’ll give you some medication for now, and I suggest you start writing things down when you need to remember them”. The couple reluctantly took the medication and went home, refusing to accept that they were getting too old to remember small things.

The next day, the woman asks her husband, “Why don’t you go into the kitchen and make us some breakfast? Remember that I like cheese on my eggs.” “Alright, I got it,” he said confidently. After a brief pause his wife speaks up again, “You know, maybe you should write that down like the doctor said. I want cheese on my eggs.” “No! I can remember that much. I’ll be fine.” 

He makes his way into the kitchen and begins to make a plate of spaghetti. After he finishes he brings it back to her and she immediately looks angry. “What did I tell you! I told you that you would forget the meatballs!” 

Many of us can relate to the elderly couple’s memory problems. We have experiences just like the lady who lost the coin, of searching over and over again for something we have misplaced. Today, we consider not the loss of our memory but rather the loss of our way with God. The good news is that God is always looking for us and God doesn’t ever forget.

Our Scriptures fit a general understanding of the differences between the Old and New Testament. The reading from Jeremiah describes God’s anger at the sin of the people of Judah. Jeremiah and other prophets often focused on the communal sin of the people rather than individual sin. Jeremiah wrote not long before the Babylonians attacked and destroyed Jerusalem taking many of the people into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah implored the people to change their ways.   My favorite quote is “They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” That sounds so much stronger than how we might describe sin in our world. I think we would more likely say, “I was tempted and fell under the spell of the devil.“ It is certainly a different sense than the idea that we are skilled and intentional about our sin. God seemed to be angry with the sin of the people. God’s wrath was so strong that God decided to punish the people. There is a cartoon which shows two saints passing by the throne of God and one says to the other, “God said that if humanity cannot get its act together then God will push alt control delete and start all over. Isn’t that how we think about God in the Old Testament?

The Psalm has some similar lines.   “Every one has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad”; It is as if no one on earth will follow the ways of the Lord or ask for God’s forgiveness. But then we hear some encouraging words.   The Lord will be the refuge of the few who are willing to be faithful. God cares for those who trust in the Lord 

The trend towards a more forgiving and understanding God continues in the letter to Timothy. Do you have the sense from this passage that Jesus is on your side?   Paul was thankful because Jesus has strengthened us. Jesus could see beyond Paul’s sinful nature and recognize that he was a follower despite his mistakes. Our sins are no longer quite so deliberate but rather they are caused by ignorance. Regardless, Jesus came to forgive our sins and to save us from our sins. God has mercy on us.

The trend continues the movement to a more loving God, a God who desires to bring us back to a life of faithful following. Now, Jesus is not only our friend but in the gospel he looks beyond our sins of ignorance and forgetfulness, Now Jesus searches for us, looks for those who have been sinners.

The gospel begins with another rebuke from the Pharisees. They complain that Jesus associated himself with sinners. We understand the perspective of the Pharisees. We often say that you should only surround yourself with good people. If you chose the wrong people to be with, their behavior may rub off on you. Of course, Jesus is God so he doesn’t have to worry about that. He searches for the sinners. In this parable, Jesus tells us that He came to bring back the lost sheep from their sin.   I believe that all of us at one time or another have felt as if we are the lost sheep. And Jesus comes searching for us, not concerned with the other faithful people of the world but concerned individually for the one who has lost his or her way. Jesus, or God the Father if you prefer, is looking for us in our sin. This is a different temperament than what we usually consider for God. This God is relentless, stubborn and insistent, never willing to give up. This God wants us to find our way back. This God wants us to be faithful once again. In the parable of the lost coin, we relate to what God is like when we think about the woman who lost some money and searches diligently through the house until it is found. And this God is jubilant when we turn back.

The parable of the prodigal son is found in verses 11 to 32 of this same chapter we are reading today. That story states so clearly that God gives us free will to follow our own heart even if it means that we turn to a life of sin. And God is always looking for us to come back when we are ready. I think of the times that a parent is looking down the street from the window of their house waiting with an

Let’s not take this parable too literally. The sheep is totally reliant on the shepherd and the coin is an inanimate object. When Jesus comes to take away our sin, we must take some action. We have free will and can decide whether we will change our lives or not. Would you try to put yourself into the gospel reading for today? Have you ever been lost and wish that you would not be found? Perhaps you have been comfortable. You liked things the way they were and you wish that God would just forget about you. You didn’t want any attention, you just wanted to be left alone. What did it take for you to find God once again?   How did it feel to be found? Was it joyful? Maybe it was enlightening, a feeling like you learned something new or the sense that God’s light shone on you in a different way.

Have you ever been like the shepherd or the woman. searching diligently for something that you have lost? Have you ever lost your faith and don’t have a sense of where to find it? Maybe you have searched for God in your life and are unable to feel that God is with you. If you are able to find what you are looking for, the joy that you would have felt must have been overwhelming.

I already spoke about the wrath of God that is found in the Old Testament But we find God’s forgiveness and mercy in those same books as well. Let us not forget how God interacted with Abraham and Moses, frequently forgiving the people for the sins they had committed. And while we may hear only the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus in the New Testament. let us not forget that he looked for sinners that he could help. We are some of the sinners that he willingly sat with. I hope today that you will see there are many ways to understand these passages. All of us have been lost at one time or another. We have been thankful that God kept searching for us.   All of us have searched for our way as well. It may have taken a long time before we were able to find God in our lives. I think all of us have searched for something very important in our lives. Let us open ourselves up to allow God to find us when we are lost and to search diligently when we wish to find God in ourselves. Our faith is determined when we are found and also when we are the one doing the finding. May you find God in your searching. Amen.

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  • Proverbs 15:23
    “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!”