Look up! God is coming to meet you
I have a list. I have many lists in fact. Grocery lists, must-watch lists, not to be confused with must watch-lists, and of course the all important to do list, where I’ve attempted to turn as much of my life into an algorithm as possible. Lists are good, and useful, and a necessary part of college life. I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the ensuing chaos of listless friends panicking. But every now and then things happen that are just too big to fit into our neat little lists. Perhaps evidenced by the fact I’m writing this sermon with a sink full of dishes, in need of a shower and food all at the same time, though you can’t really see that now can you? Life is simultaneously the big weighty moments that break all planning and preparations, and the rhythmic, routine, completion of daily tasks. Neither can exist without the other. The practice of regularly coming together in community at Church, to hear the gospel, take communion and receive the holy spirit brings both the big and small into unity together. Yet tonight our readings are heavy in moments of magnitude, filled with lamentation, struggle, suffering, and salvation.
Paul’s writings tonight show us the cost of change. Change can happen to us without our choosing. Our environment and the people who surround us all shape us. Change can also come from within; we can choose to actively shape the person we become. Through our habits, through dedication, commitment and diligence, sticking to our lists day in and day out, we can determine who we become. But this is no smooth road, as both the marble and the sculptor we cannot change ourselves without suffering. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Paul’s words embody that struggle within us: the internal competing wills lock horns, each a beast pushing us in different directions causing us to stumble in our path over and over again. It’s the task of a lifetime to form ourselves and one another into creatures of love. Becoming fully alive in Christ as a community and as individuals does not happen overnight, nor is it a static state of being. “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” The journey is a wave of highs and lows and tonight we heard Paul at one of his lowest moments.
Yet the pairing of this letter with the parable of the lost sheep screams out exactly what Paul needed to hear. To all those in the fires of struggle, who are working to form ourselves a new in Christ’s light and teachings, hear the words of Jesus. Stop and listen. This isn’t something that can be done while in the middle of something else. There’s no TV on in the background. This isn’t an item on a list to check off. Be present and know that no matter how lost you feel, or how deep in hopelessness you are that you could ever overcome your own past or whatever hurdle lies before you, Jesus is the good shepherd. He will come and find you where you are. When one of the many in the flock is lost there is no doubt that the good shepherd will go out and search. He will leave the 99 just to find you and he will celebrate when he does so.
The coin the woman searches for, no matter how much dust and dirt covers it as it lays hidden away in the darkness, is never worth any less than before it was lost. When the prodigal son returns to his father’s house, after squandering his wealth, to offer himself up as a servant, his father sees him from afar and runs towards him to embrace him. The prodigal son’s return, like the finding of the lost sheep, is rejoiced by the father. You are so loved, in the words of Jeremiah we read tonight, “he rescues the needy from the hands of the wicked.” It’s not a question of what you need to do right now to clean up your life so that it might be worthy to be in God’s presence, it’s a question of turning to find God there with you, wanting to help every step of the way. So look up. Look homewards. See the Father running to embrace you. See the women finding you under lamplight and rejoicing with friends and family. See the shepherd, and be carried home to rejoin your flock.
During the crucifixion, as Jesus breathed his last, the veil of the tabernacle was torn in two. The veil of the tabernacle separated the people of Israel from the place where God dwelt. it was not because the tabernacle was no longer fit to hold God, but rather the messy, chaotic and problematic world we live in was in need. There is nothing in this world so sanctified as to be worthy of God, yet God chooses to come to us anyway. In the lowliness of suffering, the depths of our sin, and the harm we inflict on one another, the oppressive systems we construct, God still comes to the table and invites us all to share in the communion. God still comes out to meet us and bring us back to the flock. We have a seat at the table waiting for us, where there will be rejoicing in heaven. In Jesus, God comes to meet us, however inconvenient that may be to us. The Holy Spirit never seems to find me when I schedule time for her. Rather I find myself stopped in my tracks, remembering to look up and See God. The realization that God is there, that should I be lost I need only look up, is not a daily life practice but a violent disrupting to all that I’m doing, which gives me life.
The last item on my to do list is not, okay now I’m good enough I can go pray and encounter God. The last item is a challenge to me to find God in all things, as the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola emphasize, a challenge to look up, no matter how much I have going on down in front of me. Meeting God is not something we can fit into our schedule at greatest convenience. Like the good shepherd, God comes and finds us when we are lost. Despite our best efforts to convince ourselves that now is not the time, that we aren’t holy enough, we haven’t been praying enough, we haven’t been good enough, when we dwell in turmoil just as Paul does wrestling with all the ways we want to change ourselves and all the ways we are failing to do just that, it’s enough to know that God comes to meet us.
Lord God, may we remember to stop. May we remember to look up. May we remember to see you so that we may be carried home to join the flock when we are lost. Amen.