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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 19/Year C: September 11, 2022
Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
People lose things all the time. So much so that we have learned how to implement the art of retracing our steps to see if that which is lost is waiting for us somewhere along our previous path. We lose things so much that the places where people frequent often have a container set aside called the “Lost and Found.” If you have ever looked through a lost and found container, you might recall that they are rarely empty. Some lost items are, however, reclaimed by their owners—and there is much rejoicing. But the items left behind, perhaps remain there because no one realized that they were missing in the first place. The act of seeking anything that is lost, with the hope of finding it, presupposes that one must first have an awareness that the item is missing. And, no one would notice a missing item unless it was of some value to them.
Our gospel passage continues this theme of Jesus being noticed and criticized by the religious leaders, for his radical hospitality toward tax collectors and sinners by eating with them. You see, these sinners, in need of repentance, had long been discarded by the religious types, relegated to society’s “lost and found” or simply society’s “lost.” And, why would any of the religious leaders care about “those people” when they were of no value to them?
The difference between the sinners and the righteous was a clear distinction for the writer of Luke. Our Christian doctrine says that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
But taking this passage on its own terms, the writer of Luke distinguishes two camps: people who choose to repeatedly oppose God and need to repent, and the righteous who act in accordance with the will of God and who presume to need no repentance—Tax collectors and sinners on the one hand, Pharisees and scribes on the other.
The always-attentive Jesus created a teaching moment in response to the grumblings of the Pharisees and scribes, who were reacting to the group of sinners coming near to listen to Jesus—way too close for the Pharisees. In the parable Jesus asked “Which one of you would not seek the one lost sheep until it is found? And, what woman who loses one silver coin doesn’t do everything to carefully search for it until it is found?
This word “until” is significant because it implies that giving up is not an option. The search continues until that which is lost is found. “When” the man has found the one lost sheep and “when” the woman finds the valuable, one lost silver coin, the only possible outcome is reclamation and restoration to the whole.
I am reminded of the life and ministry of 17th Century French Reformist, Elie Naud. His life’s ministry epitomized seeking and finding Black slaves and Native Americans in colonial New York whom he said, “Were without God in the world and of whose souls there was no manner of care taken.” Having been freed from imprisonment as a Protestant Fugitive in France, Naud had gone to New York where he became acquainted with Episcopalians and served as catechist for 15 years at Trinity Church Wall Street specifically preparing Black slaves and Native Americans for baptism—the ignored, dismissed and denied in society. Naud founded the first school open to Black people in New York City in 1704, and was licensed by the Bishop of London as missioner to “slaves and ragged people in the New World.” Ragged people like those tax collectors and sinners shunned by the Pharisees and Scribes in our gospel passage.
Naud showed great fortitude when faced with the opposition of slaveholders who perceived the education of slaves as throwing the children’s food to the dogs. That same fortitude fueled Naud’s courage to challenge the slaveholders and the unjust structures that kept slaves in physical, intellectual and spiritual bondage. The life and ministry of Elie Naud inspire us to actively seek, the marginalized, the ignored, the dismissed and the ragged in this world so that when we find them, the liberating Gospel message, may be shared equally to all, and set enslaved souls free.
Jesus’ parables are about us and our neighbors. Those of us who, like the sinners and tax collectors, may, from time-to-time, feel marginalized, ignored or denied in our society. How soothing it is to the soul to know that in those times when you may feel invisible and separated from other human beings, God is always seeking after His beloved, valuable children. God does care enough to notice when you are still far off in the wilderness. And when you are at one with God, steeped in His divine grace—God rejoices!
The mission of the Church is to restore all people (not just the 99)—all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ (BCP, p. 855). How spiritually grounding it is to know that by virtue of your baptism into Jesus Christ, separation from God is impossible.
As the body of Christ, the Church must be faithful to that mission—for the mission of the Church is the mission of God. Elie Naud’s life was certainly an instrument of God’s restoration, and God calls each of us to be willingly used for this purpose. Therefore, let us be about God’s business of reclamation and restoration. Let us rejoice, “…in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”1
1 Notes. An Order for Burial. Book of Common Prayer, 1979. p. 507.