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Grace that doesn't make sense

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Exodus 32:7 – 14 Psalm 51:1 – 10 1 Timothy 1:12 – 17 Luke 15:1 – 10 17 Pentecost, 2016 Where were you when…? Each generation has its moment when most folks who were old enough to remember, know where they were at a certain time and place when something significant happened. For many pre-baby boomers, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For many baby boomers, it was the death of JFK, or perhaps MLK, Jr. For many generation X’ers it was the challenger explosion, or for those at the end of the generation 9/11. For many of us in this parish, it may be the Virginia Tech shootings since so many of our children were there on that day. Think about this for a moment, today marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This means that our high schoolers are too young to remember this event. Faith and I were glued to the TV that morning after my Seminary roommate called me to let me know what was happening, but she turned 1 a few weeks later. I hesitate to guess what significant event will be known to the next generation. Yet, when we think about that event now 15 years ago, what do we remember? Do we remember the fear we felt? Do we remember the hatred that quickly led to two long wars? Do we remember the way a nation seemed to pull together for a while? Do we remember the sudden rush to churches that sadly only lasted a few weeks? Do we remember the stories of heroism that saw countless first responders heading into buildings that few would come out of? Perhaps the sad stories of loss still dominate our memories. Perhaps we remember the fact that the world trade centers were symbolic of the true immigrant based nation we have become as people from all walks of life, from many nations around the world and from as many beliefs as there are in this world were found among the dead. We remember all these things, and the lives that were touched and changed. Story Corp broadcast a story in remembrance of the 15th anniversary the other morning. It was an interview with a ticket agent who checked passengers into one of the planes that was used as a weapon that day. He found himself shunned by co-workers after they learned he was one of those who checked some hijackers in. This despite the fact that no one could have known what was going to happen that day and all he was guilty of doing was his job. The other stories we often gloss over are those of the families whose loved ones did come home that day – people who were yet changed by all that happened around them. Lose shares the story of one person who helped, along with many brave first responders, make many joyful homecomings that day. Welles Crowther went his job as an equities trader in the World Trade Center. After the second tower was hit, the one he was in, Welles led everyone he could find down the steps to safety, and then he went back for more. And after leading more people to safety, he went back again, and again, and again, until the tower collapsed. On that day, this talented, athletic, good natured, but in so many ways ordinary person did an extraordinary thing, giving his life to make sure others could live. There is joy in the lost that are found, saved, returned to loved ones. Thus Jesus uses this opportunity in chapter 15 of Luke to teach a lesson to these leaders who think they know what God is all about. When they think about God, they think about rules, the right way to live, work, and be in relationship with God. Instead, Jesus comes, eats with tax collectors and sinners and shows them that God is really about joy and love. The two parables in our text this morning talk about the lost being found. Yet these are both ridiculous examples of the lost being found. No shepherd, with 100 sheep in the wilderness, will walk away from 99 to find one lost sheep. Otherwise, this shepherd will now be searching for 100 lost sheep. The story of the woman with the 10 silver coins is similar in nature. First of all, she’s poor. No one should brag about having only 10 silver coins. Yet, when she loses one of them, she tears the house apart and then, when she finds the lost coin, with great joy she calls her friends and asks them to share in her joy! The extravagance of the parties thrown by the shepherd and the woman far outweigh what they had lost in the first place. These parables simply do not make sense from our human viewpoint, from our human understanding, and from any cost benefit analysis that could be run on these examples. Perhaps that’s the point, that and the pure joy these two celebrate with when they announce to their friends and neighbors, come celebrate with me for I have found what once was lost. This, Jesus says to the Pharisees as they criticize him, this Jesus says to us when we find ourselves judging others or wondering if they belong, is what the kingdom of God is all about! Pure and utter joy when the lost are found. Is Jesus talking about just tax collectors and sinners where? Probably not. This may include anyone who is lost in any way, shape or form. Perhaps it includes those who have been hurt by the institutional church. Perhaps it includes those who are left on the outside for whatever reasons. Perhaps this includes those who are judged by their actions, words, deeds and way of life. Perhaps this includes those who do not have enough food or the right clothes to be present or comfortable. Perhaps this includes our fellow church members who no longer come for whatever reason. Perhaps this includes you and me depending on the day, the moment, our temperament and our ability to face the world and the problems we each have confronting us. God wants to use us, our hands, our words, our embraces, our gifts to reach out and touch others as Christ has touched us. Perhaps this touch may be felt this Wednesday at our healing service. Perhaps this touch was felt last Friday and this coming Thursday as we serve others in the community. Perhaps this touch was felt as you purchased supplies for the Minnick Center in Wytheville. Perhaps this touch is felt when we dare to invite others to join us in church. Perhaps this touch is felt in so many ways we are never made aware of. These parables capture this good news like few others. On the journey to the cross, in the midst of crowds, disciples, and temple leaders trying to trap him, Jesus tells them the astonishing ways God’s grace will be made known. God’s grace is so awesome, that sinners and tax collectors will be rejoiced over. God’s grace is so free, that God’s own Son will journey to the cross to die and be raised in order to set the people of God free from their bondage to sin. God’s grace is so sufficient, that there is little if anything people can do but receive it with pure thanksgiving and utter joy. God’s grace and love for humanity is the only way parables such as these make sense. They don’t add up in our world; however, in God’s kingdom these stories make perfect sense and highlight the joy found in the kingdom of heaven when any one of us turns towards God and receives life in Christ’s name. On that day that will live in infamy for our generation, God used Welles Crowther and many other men and women 15 years ago to find people who were lost. Most likely we will not be called to give our lives up to help find the lost as some many did on that infamous day. It’s more likely we will be asked to open our hearts, open our minds, raise up our voices, open our wallets, and our arms to welcome the tax collectors and sinners. Or in other words, to show welcome to people who are in need of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness, people just like each one of us!