Discovering What We Care About
First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
August 19, 2018
Luke 15:1-10 (MSG)
15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.
8-10 “Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”
I have heard our text for this morning since I was a young child. It seems every time I lose something (which seems to be more often these days) I have these parables running through my mind. So simplistic…so relatable…turning over one’s entire house to find those lost keys, that thumb drive, the gift card from Christmas, the glasses (that often are on the top of your head)…you name it – the house becomes a whirlwind of clutter and mess as the item is sought. I think we all can relate to this.
But folks, let’s be honest, being “really lost” or really loosing something can be rather terrifying.
Most of us can remember an experience from our childhood when getting lost left us terrified. One of my earliest memories was getting lost at Walgreens when I was probably 3 years old. My dad was the pharmacist and my mom had taken me to the toy isle. She walked to the end of the isle and turned just out of the isle – I looked around and completely freaked out because I did not see her. And all the while my dad was filling prescriptions behind the window at the end of the isle.
But that is only one type of “getting lost”. We get lost in many ways and there is not always a quick find or a quick fix. It’s not always simple. And as I have become older, I have realized being lost might even mean one’s livelihood or having the life sucked out of you. Leaving you feeling helpless, alone, and even defeated.
Maybe this is because when I was doing my typical research for my sermon, I learned that the online dictionary says the word “lost” means:
· Unable to find one’s way
· Denoting something that has been taken away or cannot be recovered.
Throughout history, many people have viewed our text as focusing on the people who many more fundamental Christians have been accustomed to labeling “unbelievers.”
But there seems to be something even more important in this that we may still be missing – a “lost” piece of seeing this text for all Jesus was talking about.
This is where the original text can shed some light. The word that is translated “lost” by many (the Greek word apollymi) is really the word for “destroy.”
So it means a person who has been…
· Put out of the way entirely – abolished.
· Rendered useless.
· Given a death sentence
Our own definition of lost implies that the person was unable to find their way and that at one time they may have had the necessary things but no longer have a capacity to recover them.
Did you notice the progression of the text for this morning?
1. The religious leaders were out to “destroy” Jesus because he treated sinners like old friends.
I like Eugene Peterson’s translation because he gets to the crux of why Jesus begins telling the following parables.
Jesus is treating those “destroyed” by the religion and religious leaders like old friends.
These were as our text read “men and women of doubtful reputation.” And obviously Jesus knew the religious leaders had wanted them “destroyed” as well. These men and women were put out of the way entirely – abolished from religious life, rendered useless, some like the woman caught in adultery were given a death sentence by stoning, their lives were ruined, they were what we may label “lost.” Lost from religion. Lost from God’s ways. Lost from a better life.
In the beginning of the introductory book, “Finding Our Way Again” from The Ancient Practices Series, Brian McLaren tells a story of an interview (done via satellite) with the famous lecturer and thinker, Dr. Peter Senge for a group of Christian ministers. Brian says,
[Dr. Senge said,] “…I thought I’d begin by asking you all a question: why are books on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?
[Brians says, ] Great. Not only did I have to pose questions to a face on a screen, but now I had to field one from him as well. I managed to recover enough to punt the question back to him. “Well, Dr. Senge,” I said, trying not to sound as clumsy as I felt, “how would you answer that questions?”
He replied, “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to discover their own faith as a way of life, because that’s what people are searching for today. That’s what they need most.
[Brian continues…] I don’t remember a single thing about the rest of the interview, but I will always remember Dr. Senge’s statement. In fact, a number of the attendees told me how that one statement was worth the price of the entire event for them. In the days and weeks after the event, I couldn’t stop thinking about the relative proportions we in our religious communities had assigned to “system of belief” and to “way of life.” And I couldn’t help but agree with Dr. Senge: we must rediscover our faith as way of life, not simply a system of belief.
The issue, of course, is not either/or, but both/and; it’s hard to deny that too many of us have lost the “way” of our faith. Without a coherent and compelling way of life, formed in community and expressed in mission, some of us begin losing interest in the system of belief, or we begin holding it grimly, even meanly, driving more and more people away from our faith rather than attracting them toward it.
Those who reject religion are often rejecting a certain arid system of belief, or if not that, a set of trivial taboos or rules or rituals that have a lost meaning for them – each the thin residue of a lost way of life.
Just think about it…
How much of people being “lost” or even “destroyed” is the church’s own fault?
How many of us in this room have left the church of our youth? Have been willing to be considered lost by family and friends? Who have ventured out on a new path because it became a lost way of life.
This is something we must continue to be concerned and aware of at First Friends.
2. So the religious leader’s grumblings lead to Jesus going into story-mode. He tries to get them to understand from a different perspective, by using something very simple that they could understand.
“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it?”
“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it?”
Notice that the lost item in both scenarios is…
· Important to the person
· And is part of a greater grouping (100 sheep, 10 coins)
That says to me, Jesus is concerned for the lost and destroyed person – they are as important as a sheep or coin (which in his day were extremely important and valuable) …
…and that they were at one time part of a greater group – possibly like a community of faith or the church.
Folks, might Jesus have been warning us of the possible destructive nature of the church or specific communities we are part of?
Might He have been telling us that when we have destroyed people – put them out of the way entirely - abolished them, rendered them useless, told them they are worthless or going to hell, that from our perspective they are ruined and lost…just maybe we need to drop everything and go give them a reason and way to live again?
So many communities that we are surrounded by such as academic, governmental, social groups and media, and yes our religious and cultural communities have destroyed and lost people. We have done this to Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, people with Aids, the homeless, the addicted, those needing healthcare, the challenged and special, the disabled, the elderly, and even other Quakers groups, other denominations, other faiths…and the list could go on.
The parables of Jesus (I believe) are about restoring more than just faith. They are about restoring community (bringing the one sheep back with the 99 and the one coin back with the 10) As Quakers this is one of our SPICES – the C is for Community.
Friend Phil Gulley points this out in his book Living the Quaker Way by saying,
“To be a Quaker is to always understand yourself and actions in terms of the world…[and]…to always see oneself in relation with the world, answerable not only to God but also to humanity and to history…I can think of no nobler and more vital work for the church to undertake than the building of healthy communities in which differences are appreciated and not feared, where past truths are honored and emerging wisdom encouraged.”
Personally, if there is one thing, I have learned about my faith, it is that at times I have wandered and become “lost” (which I have on many occasions) or sadly when I have been “destroyed” by the church or by the people who say they represent God that more than anything, that is when I need a community that sees my life as important, that appreciates me, that understands that I may see things a little different than they do, who wants to draw me back into the fold of relationships and friendships because together we are all working to restore life and find the way to live out our faith in the world.
It is in these moments that we connect with the Jesus’ Way in a profound way. We see the impact the way of Jesus has on community and in the lives of those who come together in community. In these moments we realize we need each other…I need you…because there is that of God in you that I need.
One of my all-time favorite poems is from a book from my doctoral program. The poem is called Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley from a book by the same title. It is on the back of our bulletin for this morning. I am continually drawn to the opening line. It reads…
There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
· We must care for the destroyed and lost.
· WE must become aware not to destroy any more and work to bring those who we have destroyed back into community.
Then the party can begin! Then we can enjoy each other fully. We can crank up the music and celebrate for what has been lost has been found.
To close, I would like to read the rest of that poem from Margaret Wheatley.
Turn to One Another
There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness.
Let these thoughts help you enter our time of open worship.