First Responders: A Guided Conversation Sermon

Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church on the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Due to a power outage, we had no microphone amplification in the sanctuary, so I decided to switch out my prepared sermon for a series of guided questions instead, asking congregants to share the answers with a partner in the pews. Below is a rough estimation of the questions I asked. 

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.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 neighbours, 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 people 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 neighbours, 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.’

***

At first it seemed odd, this parable about joy on a day when we remember a great tragedy. But the more I read it, the more it got me thinking, about what it means to be lost, what it means to be found, what it means to be divided, and what it means to come together and rejoice. Since we’re unplugged this morning, I’d like to invite us to talk with each other about this parable. I’m going to ask a series of questions, and I invite you to turn to a neighbor in the pew and discuss them. If you can find someone you didn’t drive here with, great, and if you need to move around a bit, go right ahead. It says in our bulletin that the liturgy is the work of all the people; today the sermon is going to be too.

Turn to your neighbor and talk about the parable for a minute. Is it familiar? Unfamiliar? Does it bring up any memories for you?

The parable talks about a lost coin and a lost sheep. Share a story with your neighbor about a time you felt lost.

The parable also talks about a shepherd and a woman who seek out what is lost. Share a story with your neighbor about a time who were the one searching for something or someone who was lost, and what it was like to find them.

Today we remember September 11, a day of great loss and very little joy. Briefly, I’d like to you share with your neighbor your story from that day–where you were, what you saw, what you felt.

I imagine many of your stories just now used words like lost, scared, confused, sad, angry, upset. I think as a whole country we felt very lost that day. One of the worst side effects from that day–and one of the reasons terror is so powerful–is that it can keep us feeling lost, scared, confused, angry, and more than that, make us suspicious of our neighbors. One of the lasting wounds of 9/11–and there are many–is fear in our neighborhoods that keeps us from coming together as one nation. On the other hand, one of the greatest strengths America showed after 9/11 was our willingness to come together and support each other. Who did you gather with on or after 9/11? Did you gather your family together? Did you go to church? Prayer vigils? Rallies? Concerts? What did being with other people make you feel?

I had originally titled my sermon First Responders, talking about the first responders of 9/11 and how the shepherd and woman were like them. In this parable, Jesus asks us to be like the woman and the shepherd, the first to head out into the world when we notice someone is missing. The church is like God’s own search and rescue crew–we don’t wait for them to come to us. Who in our community do we need to go looking for?

This parable is about the joy of finding the lost, but also about the joy of coming together to celebrate. Both the shepherd and the woman call their neighbors together for a party; they don’t keep the good news to themselves. The joy isn’t just in finding, but in celebrating it with a community. I hope that as we move forward, God’s search and rescue crew, that we will take time to celebrate with each other.

Thank you for talking through this parable with me. I pray that in the days to come you’ll remember that if you feel lost, someone is on their way to find you; and if you are found, than it is your job to go out again and search.

My language professor in seminary was a man named Carson Brisson–you might as well remember that because he’s probably going to show up in a lot of my sermons. Carson is a brilliant, kind, thoughtful, humble, faithful man, with wisdom that pours out of him. When I think of how a person of faith goes searching for the lost, I think of Carson: somehow he knew instinctively who was homesick, who was burnt out, who was doubting themselves, who had reached their limit. He shared his wisdom and compassion with us all, but I think he reserved his deepest love for those who were beginning to wander off, and they always came back. And Carson rejoiced in each one of them.

At the end of each class, Carson left us with a blessing, punctuated with words in Greek or Hebrew. The framework was always the same, but each day he would add or change pieces of it. Towards the end of the blessing Carson would ask Christ’s light to guide us home, and one day he added this:

I don’t know for sure, he said. I don’t know, but I think–I think those who are most home are most out searching for those who are not. Those who are most home are most out searching for those who are not.

Amen.

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