9/12/2010 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost -- Welcome Home Sunday

posted Sep 12, 2010, 5:45 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Sep 12, 2010, 5:47 PM by Terry Brady ]

Text: Luke 15:1-10

Welcome home! Welcome home on this welcome home Sunday. It is very good to see all of you. I began my time at St. Margaret’s during the height of the vacation season.  People have been in and out the way most people are during the summer season so I haven’t gotten a sense of what the whole of St. Margaret’s looks like.  So it is truly wonderful to see all of you – those whom I have met and      those whom I haven’t. Today is a day of rejoicing and celebration as our community re-gathers met.  It is not that we weren’t gathered over the summer, but there is a certain intensity when summer ends and we return to the various ministries that were on break during the summer – Sunday School, EFM, regular Sunday forums and our wonderful choirs as well as the upcoming seasonal activities like the rummage sale, the mini-walks for Charlie’s place and the Blessing of the animals.  Yes this is a bit of an advertisement. 

Welcome home Sunday is an interesting backdrop to this Sunday’s gospel with Jesus’ parables of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep and the woman searching for the lost coin along with the ensuing rejoicing when the lost is found.  Rejoicing we have going on for sure, but which of us is the lost sheep or the lost coin. Or which of us is one of the 99 sheep or the coins that are no lost?  I’m not sure which one I want to be. The one who is found is greeted with much rejoicing whereas the ones who have been there all along don’t get any attention.  This is where we have to be careful about identifying who is lost and who is not.   Being away for the summer does not qualify as lost. We can be lost even though we were here every Sunday. Being lost in this gospel has to do with our relationship with God and at some point we all are lost. 

When I was in graduate school studying physics, I stopped going to church.  I must to point out that I could stop because, I had been going to church - something which I was not able to do as an undergraduate when there was no church that I could get to on Sundays. However, in graduate school there was a chapel on campus that I could walk to, and so I dutifully went to church until my first summer when I began to question why I was getting up each Sunday morning and attending the 8 am service. When I was honest with myself, my reasons mostly seemed to have to do with pleasing my parents.   I was being taught to be a scientist and to follow the scientific method.  How could I go to church when I didn’t have solid reasons to be there?  During that summer when a supply priest preached a sermon that really rubbed me the wrong way, I left and didn’t come back.  

About a year later, my father who was  a priest, told me that he was going to be visiting me at school on his way to a church conference and that he wanted me to let the university chaplain know that he would be around and available to assist during Sunday worship. I protested, but lost that argument. Now my parents had been very upset about me not going to church and had been putting the pressure on about why I was not going to church.  Our phone conversations on this topic were full of anxiety on my parent’s part fearing that I would never return to church, and guilt on my part that I was letting down my parents. So with all this in my mind, I went to church one Sunday morning to speak to the priest.  I found him after the service. I was in tears. I managed to say that my dad would be visiting in 2 months and that he would be available to assist.  Then I started trying to explain why I had disappeared from church.   The priest did the most amazing thing for me.  He said – it’s Ok. You will find your way.  When you are ready to come back to church, you will. Don’t worry. That time will come.  

I left that morning feeling a whole lot lighter about church that I had in a long while.  I had come to an impasse with church and the pressure my parents had been applying was not helping. The chaplain’s words told me I would be welcome when I was ready to come back.   I didn’t return to church right away, but in time my heart drew me back to the worship that I loved and to the Christian community that strengthened me. In that moment, that priest had made me feel welcome. I think that is the main message to us this morning is one of welcome. God welcomes us back. We are all welcomed back no matter how long we have been gone and no matter what reasons we had. When we are found, there is great rejoicing. 

You see our gospel begins with a non-welcome. The religious leaders are fussing about the people Jesus has around him – people who were outsiders – sinners in the religious leader’s eyes.  In response, Jesus tells these parables of rejoicing when the one lost sheep and the one lost coin is found.  It is not just any old rejoicing. It is the rejoicing of angels, the rejoicing of gathering friends together and having a big party. This is big rejoicing that Jesus is talking about. I think we all get lost at times, and we all need to know that God is still looking for us.

God is not just looking for us in small ways. God is looking us in big ways –like the shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one sheep or the woman spending hours and hours to search for one out of ten coins.   God is also searching for us even when we have given up. The commentaries[1] on this text pointed out that a sheep that was lost would not bleat in fear of attracting predators. So the shepherd would have to search without the aid of hearing a call for help.  In the same way, coins cannot call out.  They will be found only after intense searching.  God will look for us in our deepest holes or most secret hiding place.  Perhaps the question is whether we are ready to be found. The good news is that when we are ready to be found, when we are ready to say yes to the welcome that God offers us, God is there and we can come home.  And whenever we come, whether it is sooner or later, there will be great rejoicing. Our work as Christians is to follow in God’s ways, to welcome each other home, to welcome the stranger, and to welcome the friend. This is our work in a world where so many are excluded.   

So on this Welcome Home Sunday know that you are welcomed, but also know that you are called to be welcoming.  For many of us have been the one sheep or the lost coin or the one who battled coming in through the doors.   Some of us may be that person today.  You are welcome here. You are welcomed into God’s arms whether you have been here or away all summer.  You are welcome whether you are here for the first time or for the 1000th time. You are welcome whether you are involved in our ministries or not at all. You are welcome whether you have kids or not, whether you are single or married or partnered.  You are welcome whether your politics are on the left or the right or somewhere in the middle.  The welcome that we offer is the difficult work that Jesus demands of us.  May we live into to this radical welcome that Jesus calls us to and let us extend that welcome to others in the midst of great rejoicing.  

[1] Helena Montgomery Debevoise, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Proper 19, pg 70.