Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Lost Coin: Proper 18C

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse-- a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

 For my people are foolish;

              the do not know me.
they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good."
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back. (Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28)
I find this oracle from Jeremiah strangely comforting today. It is September in North TexasWhile the weather has had a break from the triple digits, it is still 90+.  It is dry and we have had no rain to slake the earth.  Dust is a common problem in Texas but during September it is more so.  We haven't had a bad summer--we have had much worse, but for some reason I am very dry.  It takes more iced tea than normal to get me through the day.  And spiritually I am dry.  I have flitted around to various different churches over the last few months trying to give my home church the freedom to be about calling a new rector without my influence.  But I was somehow unaware of how much community is part and parcel of who I am spiritually.  And while I have had some wonderful experiences in other congregations, I know that my dryness in many ways is self-imposed.
Jeremiah talks about a wind--Texans know about wind--a hot wind that comes to the
People--God's people.  God is speaking though Jeremiah reminding them of their loss of consciousness and failure to be the People God called out of Egypt. They have failed to celebrate the good times of God's presence among them.  They have been unwilling to live in ways that build up their witness of togetherness with others and with the Holy One.  They are lost in the sandstorms of their own making.
It is interesting that many of the movies that portray a post-apocalyptic world show this kind of desert scenery.  The idea of the total obliteration of temperate climates catches our imagination.  And I could very easily take this passage to preach on ecology or the sin of pollution.  But that is not where this passage takes me.  What I see in Jeremiah is a statement of what it means to be human today.   
 The hot wind is the searing wind of nothingness that seems to empty humanity of what it means to have meaning in life.   The hot air of rhetoric, whether it is political, economic or theological seems to empty people of the juices that give us the energy to live life to the fullest.  

In Texas, we don't do much in the summer.  It is like those in the North who don't do much in February but look at seed catalogs.  At least seed catalogs give hope.  Dryness doesn't.   We become befuddled by our dryness and cranky.  I remember how hard it was to start school here with no air conditioning.  The kids were cranky and so was I.  Hope was not on our minds, unless it was for the football team.

It is hard to be hopeful in the desert.  It is hard to see God’s work being done.
Even in Jeremiah’s time the wars that were to engulf the People of God were not going to turn back.  In our own day, the consequences of our bellicosity will not be easy, but we are promised that it isn’t the end:   For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.” 

And even in the wars that would come, the Babylonian Captivity would come, the land would lie fallow for seventy-five years, but God would not destroy God’s people because of their failures, because of their evil-doing. 
I tire very quickly at preachers who rant doom and gloom.  I admire preachers who speak of being willing to accept the consequences of our actions, our stupidity, but are still willing to hear the hope of the Gospel.

The Gospel reading from Luke is what makes this reading from Jeremiah something more than a rant:
Luke 15:1-10  All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this 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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Being lost in our fights whether they are between individuals, with political ideologies, theological differences, family members, dries us spiritually.  The hot wind of antagonism desiccates our life with the Holy One.  It takes away the Divine oil that heals our wounds.  It gives us a crustiness that tells us we can make it on our own. And yet it is our individualism is what keeps us from knowing Gods true love for us. 

I have always been leery of the evangelical phrase “taking Jesus as your personal savior.”  It connotes a type of individual relationship with God that can be construed as “Jesus and me and nobody else”.   This is contrary to the message Jesus came to preach. We are not called to be the People of God in isolation.  It has nothing to do with us personally and everything to do with us being the People of God.

The Gospel for today speaks of a God who wants us to be united with the whole.  The shepherd who goes searching for the lost wants the sheep to be returned to the flock.  Or the one who loses a portion of her treasure, rejoicing with others that the coin has been found.  It is the rejoicing that soothes the hot wind.  It is the sense of community that binds us together. 
And while each person is called to know God intimately, it is not that intimacy that fulfills the Gospel.  It is the willingness of the people of God to work together for the betterment of Creation that stands in the face of the heat.  It is the oasis for our deserts.  It is the cool cup of water for the thirsting.

All too often in the midst of church fights, political jousts, family feuds, the hot air of our actions dries us out.  However, the way that we absolve those differences is to remember what we have lost—the sense of community, the sense of wholeness that comes when we rejoice with one another. It is why the confession in our liturgy always comes before the table service. The Eucharist is the center of worship.  When we come to the table together every effort needs to be made for us to know that this is a celebration—not a “bounded duty”.  The passing of the peace is the resolution that Christ’s peace has re-entered our lives following the confession of our failures.  The desert dryness has been slaked in the bread and wine that we have shared.  It is the
Christian’s clearest and most visible form of delight.

I do not worry about reunification with those who were lost to us in schism.  I do not worry about red and blue folk trying to work out their differences. I do not worry about family tiffs.  I do not worry about the burned out grass in my back yard.  The fall rains will come.  God has promised it.  If I persist in my worry, I just prolong  being found by the God who searches for me just as surely as does the shepherd for the sheep or the lady for the coin.  And in that ‘foundedness’ my dryness is quenched.  Sometimes I have to wait for it.  Sometimes I can find a way to make being discovered happen easier.  But I must be willing to harbor the hope of community, the oil of intimacy, the ideal of gratitude in my heart.  It is the only antidote to the heat of the desert of humanity’s inhumanity.  It is the only way that I can remain human in an inhumane world.  


Terri said...

It is an interesting perspective, that we are lost to the one (God) who always seeks us out and finds us, even when we may not have known we were lost, right. like the person who has a spiritual epiphany and suddenly thinks of God in a whole new way, not having ever really known that this way was missing in the first place. It's like the dry grass, which has become accustomed to dryness, feeling the soothing nurturing of rain.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your words about Jeremiah. Just what I needed to hear today.