Year C — The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for September 15, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

There’s a new wind a-blowin’ — and it’s not one you want to be around for!

This passage speaks of God’s judgment on a people whose will it is to live life without God. Imagine, if you will, the world as it would appear were Jeremiah’s famous lamentation not in place: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3: 22-23)


Here– in Jeremiah’s prose– you have it.


Psalm 14

The psalm text reinforces the foolish choice of a person who says, “There ain’t no God! Why would I want a God, anyhow?”

Exodus 32:7-14

Moses takes the sly approach with God in this passage, in which God’s anger waxes hot against the people who are turning away from him.

“Now, God, don’t you think it would make you look pretty bad if word got out that you lost control of your people in the desert? Let’s see if we can’t work this thing out, here.”


Maybe God’s faithfulness needs a little urging sometimes?


Psalm 51:1-10

There is simply not a passage in scripture that illustrates more clearly the significance and shape of repentance. 

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Paul could certainly come across as pompous, opinionated, stubborn, and probably a whole load of other invective we could sling in his general direction. However, he also realized that he — an Apostle of the Lord Jesus — was also a sinner. In fact, in his own estimation, he was the biggest sinner around!

And God’s grace was for him, too.


Luke 15:1-10

We read two-thirds of one of the most famous gospel passages in the Christian Scriptures for today. (Noticeably absent is the parable of the lost son.)

Though we often focus on that which was lost and is now found in these stories, it might be a profitable exercise to ask to whom and for what purpose Jesus is directing these parables.


Possibly the “scribes and the Pharisees?” Surely not at us? We would never be “grumblers,” would we?



Sermon

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“Mom, is God a grown-up or a parent?” Writing in the Catholic Digest, Kathleen Chesto admits being confused by her 5-year-old’s question. “Mom, is God a grown-up or a parent?” “I’m not sure what you mean,” she said, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” “Well,” the child went on, “Grown-ups love you when you’re good and parents love you anyway.”

It’s a good question, isn’t it? Is God a grown-up or a parent? Does God love you only when you’re good? Or does God love you anyway, that is, anyway you are? In many ways, that’s what our Gospel lesson is about today. What is the nature of God’s love? Is it really complete and total and unconditional? Really?  And if it is, what does that mean for us? Do we have to love everybody too? Or are there some people we are allowed to dislike because God doesn’t like them either?

In today’s Gospel lesson, we find the Pharisees and the Scribes are definitely the Grown-ups. They have done a fine job of figuring out all the dos and don’ts of good and bad behavior. And, they have, like Santa Claus, made up a list of who’s been naughty and nice, they’ve checked it twice, and they have separated themselves from the bad people, the “tax collectors and sinners.”

Problems start when Jesus acts more like a parent than a grown-up; that is, even though he knows that the people with whom he is “fixin’ to party” are not acceptable, nice and good people; he’s fixin’ to party with them anyway. 

And this upsets the “Grown-up” Pharisees and Scribes because they thought He was on their side.  They thought he was one of them. They thought because he knew so much Bible and talked about giving your all for the Kingdom of God and was an obviously good man, well he must be a Pharisee or a scribe or someone acceptable to Pharisees and scribes and . . . . . .well, they just couldn’t figure this behavior out. What was he doing eating with those people? Doesn’t he know who they are, and whatg they’ve been doing?It is an unfortunate part of basic human nature that we try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s hot and who’s not; who’s cool and who’s a fool.

It starts in elementary school and, unfortunately, continues in some form for the rest of our lives. We separate ourselves out into working class and white collar, urbanites and country folk, red states and blue states, the Religious Right and the Secular Humanists, good people and bad people.

It is when this separation-ism works its way into our religion that it is especially heinous. Not only do we decide whom we like and whom we dislike, who’s in and who’s out; we turn into grown-ups and judge the behavior of others and love them only when they’re good and then put the blessing and curse of God upon our choices and prejudices; for we know that God is a grown-up too and will, of course, endorse our decision.

This is what the Pharisees and scribes did. Not only did they decide that these people were violating the rules of good behavior; they had further decided that God had rejected the bad people and would have nothing further to do with them, and so, all Good People should unite in rejecting and shunning them as well. Therefore, when they saw Jesus’ eating and drinking; partying, with these “tax collectors and sinners,” they were appalled and seriously questioned his Good Person credentials. Jesus, as was typical of him, responded to their distress by telling them stories, stories about who’s in and who’s out, and about how God feels and acts toward those who are out.

The two stories have what we might call “God figures,” people who, according to Jesus, act like God. One is a shepherd, the other is a woman. These are interesting choices for Jesus to make, because both shepherds and women were out as far as Pharisees and scribes were concerned.  Because of their nomadic, outdoor lifestyle, shepherds were unable to keep most of the purity laws. They slept, bathed, ate, lived outdoors. nAnd women were always a problem for strict Pharisees; they preferred to neither see them not speak to them anymore than was absolutely necessary.

Jesus’ stories about the 99 and the 1 sheep and the woman and her lost coin have two simple points;  First: Just as a shepherd values his lost sheep enough to spare no effort in looking for it, just so, God values all people enough to spare no effort in looking for them. God values us the way the woman values her piece of money and will spare no effort in getting us back.

These are incarnational stories, stories about God in Christ coming into the world to seek out and find God’s lost creation. Jesus is the shepherd seeking out those not in the fold, Jesus is the woman, sweeping through the house, looking high and low for a valuable possession.

Second: In telling about the parties given by the shepherd to celebrate finding the lost sheep and the woman to celebrate finding her coin., Jesus is chiding the Pharisees and scribes over their grouchiness about Jesus spending time with the “tax collectors and sinners.”  Look, he says, God is real happy these people are interested in spiritual things. These people are thinking about coming back to church. That is cause for celebration.


The question for us today is; are we Grown-ups or Parents? Do we only love people when they’re good, or do we love them anyway, including anyway they are? Do we make lists of ins and outs, goods and bads, acceptables and unacceptables?  Or do we, like Christ the good shepherd, the good wife, go into the world looking for those whom God has placed in our care, which is everyone. 

What is the Gospel for us today? Is God a grown-up or a parent? Does God love us only when we’re good, or does God love us anyway? God has clearly been revealed as a loving parent who never ever stops loving us. Christ left the safety of heaven and leapt into the world to seek and save us. Christ has grabbed onto our souls and has promised to hold on to us until the fires of Hell go out.


Amen and Amen.

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