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Select Homily
September, 15 2019

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Rev. Del Staigers, DMin; Dr. Susan McGurgan

 

We may have an image of an endless buffet as we hear the gospel passage read at Mass today.  You know the experience:  your senses are overwhelmed with the colors, textures, smells and choices of so many varieties of food to fill your stomach.  For some, the options may even be overwhelming.  For others, the plate may not seem ample enough to carry the first helping.  Even for the heartiest of appetites, the realization finally hits that it’s all just too much.  “I just can’t take any more in,” we end up saying with exasperation.   

            Our gospel passage today from Luke may well leave us saying, “I just can’t take any more in.”  For Luke these three parables are all parts of a single message of grace that leaves the listener filled up with the awareness of God’s graciousness.  And, it may well be a sensory experience of God’s love for us, most especially when we do not deserve it. 

            Sheep, coins and children – all lost – give a perspective that, hopefully, everybody can reflect upon to understand the richness of God’s love.  For whatever way each person – each of us – has been lost, God never says, “I just can’t take any more in.”   Lost sheep, coins and children all make the same point about joy over the repentant sinner, even one repentant sinner. 

            There is a progression in these parables as they give us one, unified message.  The shepherd loses one of a hundred sheep (a one percent loss).  The woman loses one of ten coins (a ten percent loss).  The father loses one of two sons (a fifty percent loss).  (cf. Richard Donovan, www.seromonwriter.org , 14:87)  Luke sees these stories as different perspectives on the same truth:  as the Pharisees grumble, Jesus confers dignity and acceptance on the undignified and unacceptable.  (Again, from Donovan.)  It’s as if Jesus is saying to religious leaders who were upset that he was eating with tax collectors and sinners, “I’m not just eating with them, I even invited them!”  The riches of God’s kingdom are endless, and the meal is just the beginning!  Such is the Kingdom of God.” 

           In a movie, Up In the Air, a man named Bingham spends his life in endless air travel, obsessively pursuing receiving 10 million job-related frequent flier miles.  His work requires him to fly all over the country, telling people euphemistically as he fires them, “Your position is no longer available.” He used slick, rehearsed catch-phrases so that he does not get involved emotionally with the clients he has been hired to fire. 

            In one scene the Bingham uses one of his glib, unemotional lines telling a man he has just fired to remember how everyone who conquered the world was fired, too.  The now-unemployed man once dreamed of becoming a chef.  Bingham encourages him to go out and get a job as a chef instead of working in insurance any longer.   We don’t really know how the man’s life worked out, or if the man really followed his culinary dream.  The point was made in any event:  sometimes true loss forces us to put aside what was merely important, and turn to a way of life which is essential for happiness and fulfillment of God’s will for us. 

            Lost sheep.  Lost coins.  Lost children.  These three parables are all parts of a single message of grace that leaves the listener filled up with the awareness of God’s graciousness.  The parables give us an opportunity to reflect on the ways that each of us has found ourselves in the position of being lost, realizing that God does search for us, and God rejoices when we are found. 

            Our personal stories of loss vary, sometimes dramatically.  The Lord’s mercy does not vary; God’s forgiveness is consistent.  Too much to take in?  Maybe for us, but not for those rejoicing in heaven! 

 Rev. P. Del Staigers

 

HOMILY II

 

 He had been lost for a long time.

 

In fact, he had been lost

for so long

that his family

could hardly remember

the time before he went away.

 

He had been lost for so long,

that nieces and nephews

he never even knew

grew up

and began to reflect

the smile and the talent

of an uncle

they had never seen.

 

He had been lost for so long,

that neighbors sometimes

forgot

there was another son.

 

It’s hard to talk about the lost,

and so most of the time,

they didn’t.

 

When they did,

their words at first

were sharp and angry ones  —

Who does he think he is?

How can he just walk away?

Wait till he gets home!

How can he do this to Mom?

 

Later,

a long time later—

their words were different.

They were shaped by fear

and filled with regret.

Is he alone?

Is he afraid?

Is he ashamed?

 

His mother’s words were the hardest ones.

Long after she quit cursing the silent phone—

Long after she stopped

praying beside an empty mailbox,

she would sit on the porch

and watch,

and wait,

and tell his story to the darkness.

 

And then,

little by little,

without really knowing

when or how it happened,

they ran out of anger,

and then they ran out of fear.

 

Eventually,

they even ran out of words.

 

After that,

all they had left was silence.

 

You see,

time is the enemy

of those who are lost.

 

In his family,

a whole generation

of weddings and funerals and births

created a world

he wouldn’t even recognize.

The familiar landscape of home

shifted 

and became something alien and new.

 

And yet,

even then,

even after all that time,

a niece would quirk her brow,

or a brother

would throw his head back and laugh,

and for a moment—

just that one moment—

he was right there beside them again.

 

You see,

it wasn’t that no one wanted him.

It wasn’t that no one cared.

 

Each of his brothers secretly

looked for his name among the dead

and searched for his face

among the homeless.

 

It wasn’t that.

 

It was something else all together.

 

There was something in him

that seemed to want to be lost.

There was something in him

that never quite healed

when he was hurt,

that never quite knew

when he was home.

 

And so no matter

how much they loved him,

and no matter how much they cared,

there was something in him

that was broken

that they just couldn’t fix.

 

And so,

when we listen to these stories in Luke

about the lost being found,

we always focus on all those happy endings….

 

            The lost sheep is returned

            The lost coin is recovered

            And the lost son finally comes home.

And everyone,

even the woman who finds

a single solitary coin

rejoices,

and throws a party for all the neighbors. 

 

But for some families,

there is no party,

no happy ending.

no fatted calf,

no jealous brother.

 

For some families,

there’s no ending in this world at all.

 

Sometimes,

the lost just stay lost

and the people left behind

spend the rest of their lives

practicing their smiles.

 

Sometimes,

the lost just stay lost

and the people who look for them

spend the rest of their lives

trying to patch the holes

in the family album.

 

But maybe that’s why Jesus told these stories

in the first place.

 

Maybe that’s why Jesus spent

so much of his life

eating with the forgotten

and walking among the lost.

 

Maybe that’s why he tells us

the Story of the Lost Sheep

and the Story of the Lost Coin

and the Story of the Lost Son,

one right after the other.

 

After all,

families where the lost one is found--

families where the lost one comes home

don’t really need a story, do they?

Their stories are written in laughter

and remembered in joy.

 

I’ve always wondered

if Jesus doesn’t tell these particular stories

for the other families.

 

Maybe for families like some of yours

where every story

doesn’t have a happy ending.

 

Maybe Jesus told these stories

for the mother who curses a silent phone

and prays beside a mailbox—

For the man who stands beside the rubble

of a bombed out building

and holds out a photo

crying, "Missing....Missing... have you seen her?"  

For the brother who looks for

that one special name among the dead

or for a face among the homeless.

 

Maybe Jesus gave these stories

as a gift

for all of the people who still watch

and wait

and weep into the darkness.  

 

These are stories

for mending the broken.

 

These are stories

for filling the empty.

 

These stories

remind us that we are beloved.

 

They remind us that

even as we wait,

God is already at work

searching

and healing

and gathering up.

 

They remind us that

God doesn’t just love us

when we are bathed and clothed

and waiting to be found.

 

God loves us

right here and now,

right in the middle

of our brokenness

and despite all our fears.

 

God loves us

even when we don’t know we’re lost.

Even when we don’t want to be found

Even when the search seems hopeless

and the world has given up.

 

Even when we decide to live with pigs.

 

These are stories that promise

God will risk everything—

search every wilderness,

sweep every corner,

walk down every path,

just to lead one person back home.

 

It’s a story that promises

no matter how far,

no matter how lost,

no one,

not anyone,

is ever lost to God.

 

 

But there’s more to this story

than sweeping every corner

and searching deep in the wilderness.

There’s more to this story

than finding lost sheep

and recovering lost coins. 

 

And we might just miss

an important piece of this parable,

if we believe that God

only searches

for the ones who run away.

 

We might just miss

a message intended for us

if we believe that only the missing

can be counted among the lost.

 

After all,

there is someone else in this story--

someone else

who needs to be healed

someone else

who needs to be found.

 

There’s someone else in this story

who’s been invited to come home.

 

He's the kind of guy who never asked

for anything special.

He never caused any trouble

or took more than his share.

 

He's the responsible one.

The reliable one.

The steady son.

 

He is the one everyone called upon

when things went terribly wrong.

 

She's the sister who

never let anyone down.

The wife who would never, ever cheat.

She’s the daughter who spent her entire life

behind a broom,

cleaning up someone else’s mess.  

 

And for all of his trouble,

for all of her efforts,

they never even got one lousy calf

to barbecue with their friends.

 

“Father,

here I’ve been

all my life

and you never even gave me a kid goat

to celebrate with my friends.

While the one who caused all that pain—

this prodigal of yours

is welcomed

with a party.”

 

Father,

I’ve tried to do the right thing,

and it never seems to pay off.

 Father,

I’ve worked hard

all my life,

and it never seems to matter.

 

And a lifetime of that bitterness--

a lifetime of that secret pain

can start to taste

just like dry husks

caught deep

in the back of your throat.  

 

A lifetime of doing

the right thing

with a heavy heart

can begin to feel

a whole lot like being lost. 

 

And maybe that’s another reason

Jesus gave us this story.  

 

Maybe Jesus told this story,

not just for the mothers

who wait beside a silent phone,

but for every single one of us

who have ever choked

on the smell of fatted calf.

 

Maybe Jesus told this story

not just for the father

who stands beside rubble

and clutches a photo,

but for every single one of us

who loves the music

but is really,

really, really

starting to resent the noise of that party.

 

These stories remind us

that searching for the lost

doesn’t take anything away

from the ones who never left.

 

Welcoming someone home

doesn’t make less space for us.

 

Holding on tightly

to God’s gifts

doesn’t make them

any more ours,

or any more real.

 

These stories remind us

that opening our arms wide

is good exercise for the heart.

 

In the end,

maybe Jesus told this story

because every single one of us

can be found

somewhere

within it.

 

And whether we wake up one morning

to find ourselves living with pigs

or whether we

wince

at the sight of prodigals dancing,     

God is closer to us than we ever know.

 

God loves us

even

when we aren’t very loveable.

 

God forgives us

even

while we struggle to forgive someone else.

 

God has prepared a place for us

at this table,

even

if we’re not quite sure

we’re ready to sit down.

 

And to all of us,

God says,

Come,

There’s a family reunion

going on

right here--

right now--

and you are all invited.

 

There’s a family dinner being prepared,

and the banquet

won’t be complete unless

all of you gather around the table.   

 

Now, it is true

that the family invited to this banquet 

may not look  

exactly

like a Norman Rockwell painting.

 

It may include some people

we’re surprised to see

or some people we’re not happy to see.

It might include people we’ve

given up for lost

or even people

we wish

had never been found.

 

But to each of us,

God offers the same invitation.

Come,

join the party.

everything I have is yours.

It always has been.

 

Come,

join the party

I can feed you all.

 

© Susan Fleming McGurgan

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