September 15, 2019 – Too good to keep to ourselves!


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“TOO GOOD TO KEEP TO OURSELVES”
By Rev. Victor Kim
Luke 15:1-10
(09-15-19)

As you know, a federal election was called was on Wednesday and ever since all the party leaders have been criss-crossing the country seeking to connect with voters and to share their platforms so that you will vote for their party on October 21.  It is worthy to note that the four major party leaders, Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May, all identify with a particular faith tradition.  Both Trudeau and Scheer are professing Roman Catholics, Singh is a practicing Sikh and Elizabeth May is an Anglican, having planned to become an Anglican priest before entering into politics.

 

Speaking of Elizabeth May, perhaps you heard this past week about her interview in which she said that her personal hero was Jesus Christ.  But it’s not as simple as that.  In an interview with a CBC journalist, May was asked who her personal hero was.  She answered, Jesus Christ, then added, sorry, that’s my answer.  When the interviewer asked why she chose Jesus, May replied, because he led a revolution that was non-violent.  He inspired people… it’s been 2,000 years. I rely on his advice, a lot.

Then the interviewer asked, why did you say sorry when you answered?  May’s response was that politicians in Canada shouldn’t put their religion on their sleeve. And I gave you my quick, honest answer.  I didn’t self-edit, she said.  She was then asked why politicians shouldn’t put their religion on their sleeve and May’s response was that because we are an inclusive and all-embracing society. Within the Green Party, May said, we have candidates from every faith and religion and lots who don’t believe in a God and wonder why anyone would be foolish as to think so.  And everyone is respected and welcome.

But apparently in this party of inclusion where everyone is respected and welcome, the leader cannot speak about her personal faith without apologizing for it, without self-editing.  It’s a quintessentially Canadian response around religion, isn’t it? We Canadians are often quite apologetic when it comes to talking about personal religious faith.  Both Scheer and Trudeau acknowledge their Roman Catholic faith but go to pains to let people know that their personal faith won’t affect their public policy.  I suppose Jagmeet Singh is the same, although I have never heard him speak about his faith directly.  It’s so different from our neighbours to the south in the United States.  Remember, Donald Trump self-identified as Presbyterian.  Now there’s a time when someone should have been self-editing about their professed religious faith!  But the way religious faith is spoken of in the U.S. and the way it’s spoken of here in Canada, is quite different.

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor Pete as he’s known, is a Democratic Party candidate for President.  He’s an openly gay man but also very open about his religious faith. He’s an Episcopalian, basically an American Anglican.  Joe Biden is Catholic, Elizabeth Warren is Methodist, Bernie Sanders is Jewish, and on it goes.  It almost raises suspicion in the U.S. politically if you don’t identify with a faith.  But in Canada, Elizabeth May is right, we usually don’t put our religion on our sleeve. And it’s not just politicians, but most of us as well.  And that’s a bit of a problem.

Many mainline Christians, like Presbyterians, are somewhat, or downright, suspicious of people who do wear their faith on their sleeve.  We’ve seen too many bad examples of evangelism, rooted in judgment, not grace, fear, not love, or the promise of prosperity.  People get turned off by inappropriate and obnoxious forms of evangelism and so we neglect it all together. But for Jesus, reaching people was his priority.  Calling people to follow him and the ways of the kingdom he spoke about was his ministry.  It was Jesus who said that the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.  And the extent to which he would go to do just that is made clear in our reading this morning from Luke’s gospel account.

As always, the context is important. Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  So, Jesus told them a parable.

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully under she finds it?  Well, the simple answer to Jesus’ question in the parable is, most of us.  Its poor stewardship, isn’t it?  What kind of shepherd would leave the 99 sheep in the wilderness to go after one lost sheep?  That’s poor shepherding.  If you leave the 99 alone in the wilderness, how many will be left once you find the lost sheep after the wolves have had at them?  And who would really turn a whole house upside down to find one lost coin?  It’s not worth the oil that would be burned to find it, especially when it would probably turn up in time.  It’s not worth the effort.

 

But it is to Jesus, it is to God. Listen to what Jesus says. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. He calls his friends and neighbours together, saying to them, rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.  Really?  Shouldn’t you just be happy that you didn’t lose anymore sheep after leaving them in the wilderness to go after the one?  If I were the shepherd and I had to go looking for a wayward sheep, the only thing I might be say once I came home with that dumb lost sheep around my shoulders is that we’ll be having lamb chops for dinner. What’s with all the rejoicing?  And so also with the woman who calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.

Really?  Big deal, you lost a coin and now you found it.  Good for you.  You didn’t need to call me over to tell me that.  But Jesus says, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Think about those who were with Jesus when he was speaking.  Imagine what the Pharisees and scribes must have been thinking.  Shouldn’t you be looking after the 99 sheep that aren’t lost?  Shouldn’t you be thinking about what to do with the 9 coins you do have?  Why waste the effort and energy on the one?  You start going after lost sheep and before you know it, you won’t have any sheep to come home to.  Get your priorities straight, take care of what you already have, don’t risk so much to find those who get lost.  They’re called collateral damages, acceptable losses, the cost of doing business.

Except those collateral damages, those acceptable losses were right there with the Pharisees and scribes listening to Jesus.  Imagine what they’re thinking. You’re saying that God is like a shepherd who would risk it all to look for me, like a woman who would turn her home upside down just to find me, and when she does; she invites everyone to rejoice with her?

God would risk it all for me? And then, not only would God risk it all for me, God would celebrate in the finding and invite others to rejoice! Imagine how good that news must have been to the tax collectors and sinners in the crowd!  And then remember that each and every one of us, no matter how much we can be like the Pharisees and scribes, on the right side of the law, from the right side of the tracks, we who are insiders, we who know the way, can also find ourselves on the outside, with those who are lost, and we need finding, we need a shepherd who would risk it all for us, we need someone who would leave no stone unturned or no corner un-swept to find us, and then to rejoice in that finding.

This is good news, such good news and it’s just too good to keep to ourselves! We live in a world full of people who hunger for good news, for someone to tell them that they are loved, that they are worth caring for, that someone would risk it all for them, that there will be rejoicing when they are found.  There are more people than we know who need to hear that they aren’t just collateral damage, damaged goods, acceptable losses, that their mistakes or poor choices don’t condemn them forever, that there is someone who is looking for them, seeking them so that he can bring them back to the fold, to rejoice in their finding.

People are hurting because they feel isolated, that they have done something from which there is no return, no restoration, that they just aren’t worth saving, that no one would risk anything for them.  But the good news is that God would, and God does, and that in Jesus God has, and through the people of God, God continues to seek the lost.  It’s a message too good to keep to ourselves!

Remember our motto as RPC, Deep with God, Wide with the World. But if we are to truly go wide with the world then we have to be ready to share the good news, share our hope, share the source of our joy.  Sometimes I think that the patron saint of Presbyterians isn’t St. Andrew, but St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis is attributed with the quote, “Preach the gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words.” We love that.

We love it because it allows us to focus on the doing without having to worry about the speaking.  Going wide with the world does mean that we need to share the love of God through our actions, our deeds.  But there’s a false dichotomy that says that our actions don’t need our words.  Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commandment, to love God and to love neighbour as you love yourself.  But Jesus also gave the Great Commission, to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.  We don’t get to choose which one we want to follow, the Great Commandment or the Great Commission.

Jesus gave them both.  And Jesus understands that unless our words and our actions line up, we can’t bear true witness to him.  We can’t just say God loves people then do nothing about demonstrating that love as the people of God and we can’t just help people without sharing where our motivation comes from. People aren’t just a charitable cause; they are children of a God who never stops looking for them, who will leave the ninety nine to seek the one, who will turn a house inside out to find the one lost coin, who will rejoice when the lost are found.  Its news too good to keep to ourselves. 

If we want to go wide with the world, we need to get better at sharing the good news with people who have yet to hear of God’s love for them.  We can begin by engaging in what might be called lifestyle evangelism, by living lives of love, grace, compassion, integrity, service and justice.  People will see our lives and they may think, “If this is what Christianity looks like, then, I’m interested.” It’s a foothold.

And we can also engage in relational evangelism, sharing our faith naturally with those with whom we already have a relationship.  It’s not a sales pitch or annoyingly pressuring people, but rather a natural outflow of our relationship with them.  It’s about speaking about our faith in ways that let people know that our faith is important to us, grounds us, gives us meaning and purpose, helps us through hard times and motivates us to serve others.  Sharing our faith in this way can have a huge impact on people.  And people aren’t as resistant to our sharing of our faith as we might think.  Even if they don’t believe in God, our credibility as a friend, as a relative, as someone who has gained their trust and earned their confidence gives us an opportunity to speak and to be heard.  Often, like Elizabeth May, we apologize for bringing up our faith when no one is offended. 

Finally, we can engage in invitational evangelism. This is when we invite people to come and see, to join us at a church service or special event or small group.  Again, we might feel embarrassed to share or to invite people, but study after study shows that about 90% of people first visit a church because someone they know invited them to come.

Maybe that’s why you’re here. If you already have a relationship with people to the extent that you think that you might be able to share an invitation to come to church or to a church event, it’s highly unlikely that such an invitation would be seen as inappropriate. They may choose not to come, but again, given our prior relationship, it’s unlikely that they would be offended.  Once a man was asked, is Jesus Christ your personal saviour? He replied, no, I prefer to share him.[1]

The theologian Jim Wallis, said, “faith is always personal, but it’s never private.” We live out our faith publicly because it’s too good to keep to ourselves.  We share Jesus and his love for all people, especially those people who think that they are unlovable, that they are unredeemable, that they aren’t worth it. Jesus wants to rejoice because one lost soul has returned home, one lost person created in God’s image knows that they are a child of God.  This is our calling as the church, to share the good news, to live, work and speak as a community that shares the good news of God’s unceasing love and wants to rejoice as God rejoices, when even one lost one is found.

Will we be a church that wants to go Deep with God and Wide with the World? Then we can’t be afraid to speak about the one who is the source of our rejoicing, the one who found us when we were lost and who seeks all those whom he loves. If we will do so with integrity and with grace, we don’t need to apologize or self-edit, we need to share Jesus confidently, lovingly, graciously.  And trust that the one who welcomes sinners and eats with them will fill us with his peace and presence, this day and always.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Written by Rev. Victor Kim
Preached on 15 September 2019
at Richmond Presbyterian Church.

[1] Martin Thielen, Disciples seek people for Christ and Church, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series