September 16, 2010—Luke 15:1-10, Exodus 36:3b-5
What is one lost sheep, really? In truth our gospel probably doesn’t have that much meaning for us anymore. Jesus describes the shepherd who loses a single sheep and then scours the countryside, looking for it. And the woman who, having lost one gold coin, searches high and low until she finds it. We all know that’s not the society we live in today – we are throwaways. Go home and look under your couch cushions or in that junk drawer, and I bet you’ll find some coins, long forgotten. Lose an Ipod, get another. Drop a mitten – oh well, just run off to Zellers for a new one. This is, after all, how all those box stores make their money – by counting on us to lose things, or to dump the old things for new ones just a little bit better. In our day, that metaphorical sheep would probably, well, just stay lost.
Of course, the point that Jesus is making is that every sheep in his flock counts, even – and perhaps especially – the wandering ones. The sheep that hang around, staying in the flock – well, they are also loved – but they don’t need his attention in that moment. After all, they also have one another for support and care. That one sheep – well he’s made a mistake and gotten off course, and he’s all alone. He needs a hand from God to find his way. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes: like we messed up, like losers, like nobody understands us? Sometimes, it’s just because we don’t want to burden other people so we keep it all inside. In those moments, Jesus says, God gives us hope – and tries to give us the hope and perspective to join the flock again. Don’t interpret sin in the gospel as solely an act of wrongdoing – our definition should include loneliness, anger, despair, bitterness – all the things that keep us from doing God’s work. In those moments, Jesus speaks to us loudest, mostly clearly. Which is why we so often turn to God when things are rough. God is there for us, and that’s a hopeful message, one we should carry with us all the time.
But there’s another message in our gospel this morning. Jesus is a “go-big-or-stay-home” kind of guy.” He goes the distance, that extra mile. That sheep is important to him, and he’s not going to sit around humming and hawing about what to do: he goes out and finds him and brings him back. Go big or stay home – that is always an undercurrent in the gospel. Don’t do things in half measure.
Now, on this Rally Sunday, I want everyone here to feel fantastic. Because this year, Saint John is going big. We are not a big church; there are congregations far larger than us across this country. But we have something that others don’t, and it’s remarkable. Look at our track record – we have sponsored refugees, built a well, and sent off school kits. That might seem small to us, but trust me, I travel to a lot of churches, and that is just not happening everywhere.
Now, we are going big again. This year, for our 115th anniversary, we aren’t adding a new stained glass window. We aren’t dressing up our material things. We are going to raise money for 1,150 school kits to be sent to countries in need. Think of it – 1,150 students are going to have school supplies because of us, and every single one of the school kits has the power to make a difference. When I phoned Canadian Lutheran World Relief to tell them our plans, you couldn’t imagine their reaction – at first, they thought I had the number wrong. You may not know this, but last year with our 200 school kits we set the record for the biggest one-time contribution from a single church. Now we’ll demolish our own record by a whopping number. We are going big, instead of staying home. You might say: well, it’s not done yet. But there is no doubt in my mind that it will get done. And I know that everyone, from our youngest to our oldest members will take part. I want you to bask in that simple choice – to reach out to the lonely sheep for our anniversary, instead of gussying up the warm and cozy flock. We have decided to rally, on this Rally Sunday.
This is an important message, and an important part of the gospel. The larger church is obsessed right now with numbers and dollars and losing sight of the big picture. Some of you are stressed about that too. But let me tell you that a church willing to take on something this big should feel awfully alive. And it is not about numbers, and it is not about money; it is about doing and acting in the name of God. This is the modern approach of a thriving church: to get the work done, to reach beyond what it thinks it can do, what it can easily do, and do more.
Now I know many of you will notice that I changed the first lesson this morning. I am not so keen on what’s in the bulletin – frankly, it doesn’t set a looking forward tone, and it’s all about feeling bad for the mistakes we make. Of course, if you read that lesson with the gospel, we are meant to see that although we all screw up, we also get God grace in the midst of those screw-ups.
But I like better this ancient prayer based on the Exodus reading you heard, because I think it sets the tone for our year to come: “To God who is able to do in us exceedingly more than we think, be all honour and glory now and forever, Amen.” After all, we have to raise a lot of money, we have to buy a lot of pencils and notebooks, and we have to get started right away. But Jesus was a doer – and we are people who do. You can bet when Jesus went out looking for that lost sheep, he might have had to do more than words: he would have had to say more than, “You should do this.” I doubt that he chastised that sheep by saying, “Why’d you wander off in the first place?” Jesus could be stern, to be sure, and he challenged people back then, just as he challenges us, but he made sure that he set the example first, that he inspired people. And we all know, from our own politicians, from the people we admire, that it’s inspiration and example-setting that motivate humanity forward.
That’s what this church will accomplish this year – and I urge everyone to be a part of it. Because I can assure you that you’ll feel inspired, you’ll feel closer to God. And we’ll inspire other churches, other communities, out there to do the same. So I am calling our project “1,150 Reasons To Be.” Because fancy buildings and full pews are not the reason why the church exists. The church exists to put pencils and paper in the hands of disadvantaged children so they can learn, so they can grow up to change the world for the better. Feel proud of that. After 115 years, we still have our priorities right – we are still honouring the gospel. We are not hiding in that cozy – and frankly, too often stagnant — flock; we are following Jesus to help out the lost sheep. We have chosen 1,150 Reasons to Be. And they are all the right reasons. Amen
Prayer of the Day
Let us pray…God of grace, God of forward thinking, God of motivation, God of choice, God of inspiration, God of full measure, who is able to do in us exceedingly more than we think, be all honour and glory, now and forever, Amen.
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
God hears the cry of the poor and is near to all in need. Let us pray for our neighbours, our world, and ourselves, trusting in God’s mercy and love.
A brief silence.
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you fulfilled the promise made to our mothers and fathers in Jesus, our brother. Guide your church in its ministry of extending your promise of life to the whole world. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of all goodness, your Spirit sustains the universe, from the stars of heaven to the deepest sea. We pray that our exploration of the expanses of your creation always honors its creator. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of all people, your patience is revealed in your mercy toward us, even when we turn aside from your ways. We pray for all world leaders, that they might be guided in your way of peace. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of all healing, the pain we feel is also felt in your wounded heart. We pray for all who long for joy and gladness in the midst of sickness of mind, body, or spirit. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of all welcome, Jesus was there for all those whom society rejected. We pray for our ministries of hospitality, that this congregation may be a place of sanctuary for all people. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
God of all time, you call us to follow you to help out the lost sheep. Motivate this community of faith to know the right reasons for being your followers. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
All this we ask, gracious God, together with all that is known to you alone, in the name of Christ our Saviour who calls us into mission for others. Amen.