Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) 12 September 2010
(Exodus 32:7-14 Psalm 51 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-10)
Grumbling—it all begins with grumbling! Grumbling! Grumbling!
Grumbling–that’s what gets Jesus going with his story-telling! And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
What’s the grumbling about? That Jesus is too loving and too open-minded and too tolerance and too accepting and too welcoming! So he tells them three stories (but we only hear two of them today)—lost sheep and lost coin!
So I will share with you three stories:
Two of my grandson’s favorite films are “Finding Nemo and Madagascar 2.
Nemo: Nemo is a clownfish who is without a mother. Nemos’s father, Marlin, tries to protect him, but one day Nemo swims beyond the reef, is scooped up by a diver and taken away. The horror and the grief and the dreadfulness on the father’s face as he sees his son being taken away sets the movie in motion and the father sets out to find his lost son.
Madagascar 2: Alex is a Lion cub, out with his father, Zuba, learning things lion cubs learn from their fathers, when he is captured by poachers. Alex’s father, Zuba, tries to catch up with the truck, but cannot do so. The shock and the grief and the horror on the face of Zuba, as the crate with the lion cub inside, is taken away sets this movie in motion. Although this movie doesn’t quite have the story line of finding the lost lion cub as does Finding Nemo, in both of these there is this initial sense of dismay and terror as each father experiences the loss of his son.
My third illustration comes through a book I’ve almost finished (one of those books I don’t quite want to finish), entitled, “Tattoos on the Heart.” 1 This book is the story of a Jesuit priest who works with gangs in Los Angeles. It is the story of a pastor working in a neighborhood in Los Angeles with the highest concentration of murderous gang activity. This book is filled with parables about people, some are uplifting but many are tragic.
There is one story about giant tattooed Cesar shopping at JC Penney fresh out of prison, and we learn how to feel worthy of God’s love. There is another parable about 10-year-old Lula learning the importance of being acknowledged as a person, even though she is a female. And there is the story of Pedro who develops enough patience in order to rescue someone from the darkness.
They are heartening stories about universal kinship and redemption and unconditional love in difficult times and when fighting despair.
And they are stories about recognizing our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in the parables. They are stories to remind us that no life is less valuable than another.
The writer Anne Lamott said of this book: it is an astonishing book…about suffering and dignity, death and resurrection, one of my favorite books in years. It is lovely and tough and tender beyond my ability to describe and it left me in tears of both sorrow and laughter.
My favorite line in this entire book is this: Compassion was the wallpaper of Jesus’ soul, the contour of his heart, it was who he was. Just assume the answer to every question is compassion!
Maybe not a more timely scripture challenge on a weekend when we remember the events of September 11, 2001 and the newspaper headline zeroes in on the sad irony when it says that nine years ago the anniversary of September 11 terrorists attacks was marked by somber reflection and a call for unity, about coming together and working together, but today the headlines speak of Quran burning and the building of a New York City mosque.
Today is Rally Day. I may have asked this question in years past, but it is such a good question that I will ask it once again. If this is Rally Day, what are we rallying about?
I want to rally about God’s Love! And I don’t want to grumble that God is too loving! Rather I want to rally around the vision that as a congregation we can become more loving! I want to rally around the belief that it in the Word of God where we hear those challenging and comforting stories of God’s love! I want to rally around the belief that it is right here at worship, at the table, and at Sunday School where we hear of God’s love and experience God’s forgiveness.
And I want to rally around the assurance that when we are like Nemo and don’t follow the rules, we have a God like Marlin who will come and find us when we are lost. And when we are like Alex, the lion cub who would rather dance than learn to be a lion, we have a Father in Heaven like Zuba who will find us. And when there is anything else but God’s love tattooed on our hearts, I want to rally about the assurance that God will come after us, into the most gang-infested area of any city, in order to tattoo our hearts with God’s love.
That’s what I want to be our rallying cry!
The poet, William Blake wrote: “We are put on earth for a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love.” I want us to believe that this is what we all have in common: church members, non-church member, gang members, and non-gang members alike: we’re just trying to learn how to bear the beams of love to each other, for all people.
Let’s not grumble about that! Let rally around it! Amen.
Tattoos On the Heart. Gregory Boyle. 2010.