Sacred Soil

September 11, 2016, 10:14 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

OperationGratitude2016.jpgFifteen years ago today, Jeanie and I were listening to the radio as we drove into our job at a retreat center outside of Lansing, Michigan. The morning was bright and crisp, much like this one. The summer heat had just let go, and we were looking forward to a day outside, mowing and weeding. As we drove, we listened carefully as the BBC reporter attempted to make sense of the earliest news: the unbelievable news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, right in the heart of New York City.

The news had become more clear when we arrived at work. And all the air seemed sucked out of the world, as we sat breathlessly in front of the small television, trying to make sense out of that awful day.

Fifteen years, and we’re still trying to make sense of it.

In our text today, Jesus describes the love of God as the one who will abandon 99 sheep, to search for that lost one. He describes the love of God as the one who will sweep and search, constantly, tirelessly, until that single lost coin has been found.

And so it was with our first responders, doing, as we say, God’s work with their hands. They swept and searched and hoped, digging through the rubble of that day, until each one was found. Each one precious, and worth finding.

Today, following worship, we will walk down the street, with watermelon and buckets in tow, to go and wash emergency vehicles, and give thanks for these ones who live daily with the promise that they will risk their lives for the sake of the lost sheep.

And we say, thanks be to God, for all those who are willing to take such risks –the risk to see the beauty and value and hope in the other, especially when they are buried beneath the ruble of hopelessness.

Thanks be to God, because this is not always our impulse. Not always the way we do it.

Listen again to that first part of the text: …the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The tone matters. He welcomes sinners. There is no awe here, not a hint of heroism. Just disgust, utter disgust that Jesus would dare to welcome sinners, that he would dare to eat with them.


It is a powerful emotion, one that boils up in us almost unbidden. Its power is unparalleled. I could, with a single word, one word, I could make your stomach churn.

…I’ll refrain, because I’m kind like that. And because Jeanie warned me not to.

Now, disgust is useful–it keeps us from getting into trouble with parasites and germs. And I’m good with that. But it also has this tremendous way of infecting how we view other people. Many of us feel disgusted as we consider our politicians today. You’ll hear the language of disgust as folks describe liberals or conservatives. Perhaps you feel a tinge of disgust toward the Houston Texans, as they prepare to play against the Chicago Bears today.

Disgust is a full body response—which at its worst, leads us to seeing others as less than human. “They” become disposable, a mere waste product.

To the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus’ habit of eating with sinners and tax collectors was just that kind of disgusting. And it made him disgusting too. Which turned out to be deadly for him. The power of disgust helped pave the way toward the cross. It made him into something that needed to be removed, disposed of.

And to be sure, it wasn’t just deadly for him. Disgust led the terrorists to see American lives as expendable. Disgust led Stalin to remove anyone he saw as an enemy. In every war, it is the fuel that allows us to destroy each other. It is the power of bullies, and discrimination.

And if that weren’t enough, we also have this uncanny knack for turning disgust inward—treating ourselves as if we were mere worthless garbage.

Which is all the more incredible as we consider what Jesus is doing in this story. He does not even give a second’s thought to the idea that sinners are gross. He doesn’t believe that for one minute. Indeed, the very people the Scribes call disgusting, Jesus calls beloved. He tells a story of precious and sacred beauty in each one of us. He tells the story of seeking each one, and celebrating when we are found.

Indeed, Jesus did not look for the found, for the worthy, for the good and upright, those who can appear to have their stuff together at all times, or for those who have somehow managed to get through life without making any mistakes—Jesus sought the lost. The forsaken. The sinners. He sought you, and me. Just as we are.

And not only that, he seeks us, over and over again, rejoicing each time, each moment that we are found. Rejoicing whenever we come home.

Because that thing in you that you name as gross, disgusting, Jesus names as beloved. Because that thing in others we find disturbing, Jesus still finds beloved.

Because truth is, we’re all kinda gross. And the amazing thing is that Jesus loves us anyway. Each one of us. Loves us, searches for each one of us through the rubble of our lives, and says “come home.”

You who are weary, come home.

May it be so. Amen.