Sunday, September 15, 2013

God Rejoices in the Recovery of the Lost - A Homily for Proper 24, Year C, 2013 "Rally Sunday"

Homily for Proper 24, Year C, 2013 “Rally Sunday”
Sunday, September 15th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 15:1-10

“There is much joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
-Luke 15:10.

There are many ways in which we can become lost or feel lost.  In today’s gospel we hear of a God who rejoices in the recovery of lost sinners.  It is like finding the one lost sheep, or the one lost silver coin – even though you may still have ninety-nine more sheep, or nine more silver coins, you still rejoice in the recovery of the one that was lost because it is so precious.  The passage that follows this one, that beloved parable of the prodigal, speaks of the recovery of a lost and found son – moving the analogy away from chattel and money, to a person, a son, something even more precious.

Sin is but one way we can become or feel lost.  When we sin we separate ourselves from the ones we love, and from God. There is much emphasis in Scripture and in Christian theology about how sin can destroy lives and break communities.  What we sometimes forget to emphasize, though is the restoring and healing power of the grace of God.  I once heard of a pastor who preached twenty-six week sermon series on sin.  I thought, “I sure hope he spends another twenty-six weeks (at least) on grace!” The point is not that we should not talk about sin – it is a reality with which we all struggle – but rather that we should talk abundantly about grace.

Every community and every individual will struggle with sin and its effects.  This is no different for us as a parish, or for us as individuals.  But let us hold fast to our faith and hope that God’s grace is not only the remedy but the answer to sin.

I do want to propose another idea, though, which much more radical, and yet in some ways might seem like a “no-brainer”, namely, that God’s grace is the remedy and answer to so much more than sin.  Thus, when we hear of God rejoicing over the recovery of lost sinners in the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, or lost son, I think we might open our ears and our hearts to hearing more about God’s grace than his delight over the recovery of sinners, only, as wonderful a thing as that is!

There are many times in life when we feel or find ourselves lost.  It may be the result of sin, to be sure, but perhaps it was someone else’s sin that has hurt and isolated us.  Or perhaps it was an inexplicable, uncontrollable turn of events.  Or perhaps it is just the circumstances of life, of aging, or of illness that makes us feel lost.  Is there help for us on these occasions? Is there grace for us in these moments? 

I want to think for a moment about these last few years in our parish.  This week we begin our fourth year together in shared ministry in this community.  The events that brought us together were, to be frank, as series of unhappy events.  This  parish had known much hardship and had felt betrayed.  I think it safe to say that amongst many of you there was a feeling of being lost as a church.  For my own part, I left for the first time in my life my own home town where I was comfortable, accepted and at home, to enter into a new ministry in a place where I was not sure I would be accepted, and with an expectation that caused much fear and trembling.  While I was excited, I have to admit to feeling a little bit lost, and out of my depth.  And yet, something wonderful and remarkable happened that brought us, together, from that feeling of being lost and from that place of fear: that something was God’s grace.

In these three years together we have worked hard. In these three years together we have accomplished much.  In these three years together we have found much healing.  And what has been the cause of all of this? We can speak of hard work, and we have worked hard together to be sure, but I think what we must really speak about is the grace of God. People can work hard, but without God’s grace can we really accomplish the goals of the kingdom?

We are called to be faithful, and I believe that over the years, in the midst of great adversity you have been faithful; this parish has remained ever-faithful.  As a priest, I am called to be faithful and model faithfulness, but like you, I am human and can easily falter and fail.  We have come through challenging times, but we celebrate accomplishments today because not a single one of them has been achieved without faithfulness.  And we celebrate the one who has been faithful through it all, even when our faithfulness has seemed precarious. We celebrate our Lord, and his faithfulness. We celebrate the faithfulness of God.  We celebrate that even though we have felt lost, we have been found. We celebrate even more humbly and joyfully because we realize from Scripture that God rejoices over the recovery of what seemed lost.

I believe that healing, restoration, wholeness – these things are the victory of God.  Healing, restoration, and wholeness is the journey we have been on together, with Christ as our master and our guide.  As darkness turns to light in his presence the road is made easier and more navigable. Healing, restoration and wholeness is the journey which is really only brought to completion at the consummation of all things when Christ draws all unto himself and is all in all, when the dead rise in perfect glory.  Yet, the healing, restoration, and wholeness we experience along the way is evidence and a signpost of that complete and perfect healing we shall know in Christ at the last.  I believe we can be confident that God rejoices with us today as we find ourselves on this place along the road.  And that is truly a gift for this present moment, and so we should rejoice today as well.

Therefore, we praise and thank God for his faithfulness in leading us from being lost. We thank God for finding us as we grope along the way, taking questionable turns and following meandering paths.  We thank God because in reality, although we may feel lost at times, he has never really lost us, we just lose ourselves, but in Christ, we are never, ever lost to God.

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