Sacred Soil


Lost & Found
September 15, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

lostLuke 15:1-10

In our liturgy most Sundays, we begin with confession and forgiveness. According to the scholars, this is an optional part of the service. Not required. To which, I say, whatever. Sure, it’s not required, because God’s forgiveness is not up to us, because there is nothing we can do to earn the love of God. But we need it nonetheless. And some days, we just need it.

We have all failed. Miserably. We have screwed things up. We have hurt each other, we have not done what we said we’d do. We have treated our bodies horribly. We have told lies, and worse. We do that individually and as a group. And so we stand up in front of each other–boldly and honestly declaring–we screwed up. And worse. We declare: we have been so lost. So lost.

In response–I get to say these awesome words. Extraordinary words, really. I get to declare to you the entire forgiveness of your sin. I get to remind you of God’s promises–how God promises to never, ever, ever, let you go. I get to tell you, God says: Come home. Come home.

The parables today are just such stories. The story of a shepherd who loses a sheep, and a woman who loses a coin. Upon finding these things, these otherwise ordinary things, they both celebrate with unbridled passion. With great joy and thanksgiving, for the one who was lost has now been found. And now, everything is different. The one that was lost has come home.

When we do confession & forgiveness–that’s what I get to declare to you–God’s overwhelming joy at welcoming you home. I’m telling ya, my job is pretty great.

But for us, well, often times, forgiveness is just too hard. We don’t want to search. It is too hard to seek. Sometimes it is so much easier to cut each other off, saying, “you are lost to me.” And sometimes, there’s good reason in this. Really good reason–especially the cases of violence and psychological harm. In those moments sometimes the best we can do is to recognize that we are human–and sometimes only God can do the work of forgiveness. And we can only move on to releasing the hold that harm has had on us…

There is this interesting thing then, about the lost sheep and the lost coin. I don’t think there was anything particularly special about either this sheep or this coin. They were one of a hundred, one of ten. Average. Normal. Nothing noteworthy. But then this one was lost, this one was gone as if it were dead. And the loss was awful, and mournful, and there was great grief. This one, this average one, became important beyond expectation, beyond reason. And upon finding it, celebration broke out, with wild abandon. The one lost, has been found. And this is how God feels upon welcoming each one of us home. And it is amazing.

And so, being God’s children, we try to do the same. As best we can. Grateful, though that we are not God.

Here’s the thing: this kind of grace is hard. Really, really hard. We who dare to live in human community–we will upset each other. And that’s putting it lightly. We will say the wrong thing, be insensitive, careless, unclean. We will be unkind, and sometimes even mean. And worse. There’s no end to the depth of human depravity. Even as we wish better of ourselves. We all get lost. We all screw up. Because we’re all sinners.

But, when we can find the grace to stick with each other, to keep searching for each other, keep seeking each other out, then, that’s when the amazing thing happens. That’s when the world is changed. That’s when we get, perhaps, a little glimpse of the resurrection. The moment when that thing that was dead to us suddenly and unexpectedly has new life.

The thing about this though is that it sounds simple. But it’s not. It is impossibly hard. As I prepared this sermon, I kept searching and searching for a story to illustrate this. And I have these stories, really several, but they’re all the kinds of stories that aren’t well suited for telling here. They’re the stories of late night discussions with my spouse, those moments when, by some miracle, we stick with each other in our disagreements even when that gets really hard. They’re stories of wonder and amazement at the relationship I can have with my mother 20 years after I left home. They’re the stories that are hard and personal and intimate, the stories of being sought, of seeking out the ones I love, and being sought by those who love me, even when that seems impossibly hard. They are stories of rejoicing, of coming home.

But, the thing is, as I thought through all these moments in my own life, there were far more stories of those moments when something was lost, and the search turned up empty. Or how often I failed even to start looking. They are stories of someone seeking me, and I refuse to be found. Too often an argument, or a disagreement meant the end. That everything is lost.

I’m sure you have these stories too. The moments when you decided it was best not to search, those times when you searched in vain. Those moments when you tried not to be found. And hopefully, a few moments when the search brought joy and celebration. The one who was lost came home. When you came home.

But, thinking through these stories, and how rare it is that I am able, that we are able, to welcome the lost one home. How rare it is that I have the strength to keep seeking. How rare it is to allow myself to be sought. It is even more amazing to me that our God keeps searching. Keeps seeking. That our God never gives up on us. Our God is longing to utter the words to us: come home. Come home.

But that’s just what our God does. Which leads to another awesome part of my job– I get to welcome you, fellow sinners, to gather with me at this table. Each one of you welcome, welcome to come home. Because God has searched and searched for you, and is overjoyed to welcome you home to share in this feast, given for you, to celebrate the one who was lost, who has now been found. And God has said to you: come home.

Amen.



Friend, Come up Here.
September 1, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

This past Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It’s is an extraordinary day in our history, a day that reverberates through us even now, more than a generation later.

When we tell this story, we tell of a peaceful gathering of people, people of color who longed for dignity and freedom. Though, back then, this is not what some expected. Yet despite expectations, folks describe the day as a festival, joyful, and celebratory, as people from all across the nation gathered to dream. It is a story of people coming together to claim their place at the table. At God’s table. To at long last, claim their place of honor. It is no wonder they celebrated.

It is an incredible story of our nation’s history. A moment when those who had been humbled were exalted. A moment when those who had been made the lowest, gathered with joy and thanksgiving, taking a seat of honor at the wedding banquet.

It is a day when they celebrated God’s invitation: Friend. Come up here.

There is delight, and comfort, and wholeness in these words. Friend, come up here.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this. Actually, I know that at least a few of you have. For those of you who have, it is your own story, decidedly different from the story of the African American struggle for civil rights. But, I know, that for some of you, there was a moment when, at long last, you finally heard the words: friend, come up here. For others of you, these are words that ache in your heart—desperately longing to be heard. And the waiting has been too long.

Perhaps it is the honoring of family, the honoring of your vocation, the honoring of your body. Far too many of us know, at least on some level, what it is to long for the words: Friend, come up here.

For me, one of those moments was an August afternoon in Minneapolis, at the 2009 churchwide assembly. This is a regular gathering to make decisions for the ELCA. (The churchwide assembly is the highest legislative body of this church.) This was the same assembly that, among other things, made it possible for folks like me to be ordained. Maddie was with me, sleeping quietly against my chest, as the vote count appeared on the screen. The room was silent. No one dared to breathe. And then to my right and to my left, I saw silent and joyful tears streaming down the faces of friends and colleagues, those who had, for too long, been denied a place at the table—now at long last hearing the words, “Friend, come up here.”

I still get chills thinking about it. That was the moment, the vote, which made it possible for me to stand up here. The moment that made it so I could say to you, from this place, “Friend, come up here.”

But I am reminded that a simple invitation to the table does not suddenly change everything. Today, the voting rights act sits decimated, waiting for an act of congress to once again protect the civil rights of our African American brothers and sisters. Families are not reunited by naïve hope. LGBTQ folks can still be fired in many states, just because of who they are. And churches like Unity are all too rare. It seems that we are constantly dividing ourselves from one another, setting ourselves apart, seeking distinction and honor. Fighting each other for it. And sometimes it gets bloody.

A great woman once taught me that when ever we gather, we should look around, and we should ask ourselves, “Who is not here?” Who is not at this table with us? And then we should ask ourselves why? As we look today, surely we can include those on vacation—many blessings to them. Of all of God’s enormous diversity, we’ve only got a small slice here. Take a moment, would you? Look around the room. Who is not here? Remember these people. Hold them in your heart. And when we pray later this morning, please, lift them up.

The table, this table, has too many empty places around it. And we are incomplete until all of creation has heard the words, “Friend, come up here.”

I rejoice that we have these amazing moments where this call is heard loudly and clearly. Where we have reached to the neighborhood and proclaimed, come. Everyone.

You said, “Friend, Come up here,” when you welcomed our PADS guests, feeding them with the finest food, and the warmest hospitality you know (BTW, Donna would like you to put your names on the sign up sheet downstairs if you can do this again).

You said “Friend, Come up here,” when, in the 1970’s you welcomed an integrated group of youth to the basement, to provide a safe place to be—even as neighbors threatened terrible things.

You said, “Friend, Come up here,” when you called me, someone who, prior to 2009, was unwelcome at this side of the table.

I am humbled, and grateful, for all the ways you have extended this invitation with grace and joy. But, as I said earlier, there are those who still long to hear this invitation, those who long to hear of God’s welcome throughout our society. And I believe we are called to carry this invitation to the world.

Here’s the thing: in that moment when the waters of baptism washed over your head, God said to you, “My beloved, Come up here.” You were invited to the table, to the feast of the universe, this banquet we all share together. You were invited to the banquet of God’s overwhelming love for all of creation.

And so, we have this story to tell. A story of God’s invitation to all people. The story of God’s invitation to the Pharisees, to the disciples, to you, and to me. This story of welcome and wholeness.

So let us go from this place, and share the good news: Friend. Come up here.