Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 11, 2022
It’s still hard to comprehend. The planes, the towers, the ash and dust. The people. Twenty-years ago today. I had never been to New York, and I’ve still never been to New York, but I knew that what I was seeing on Tuesday morning all those years ago was not something my brain was prepared to see. It didn’t make any sense, my eyes saw it but my brain just couldn’t process the images. And perhaps that is a good thing; it is a good thing that we cannot comprehend such evil, such horror, such tragedy. Because if we could comprehend it, we might become too accustomed to it.
And yet, those events, those unspeakable events, have a way of shaping our lives. Twenty-one years ago, on September 11, after school was over, I did something I had never done before. I drove to my local Episcopal church. Went into the sanctuary. And dropped to my knees in prayer. I didn’t know what else to do, and truly, there was little else I could do. Looking back on it, September 11, 2001 played a role in my call to the priesthood. A call for which I am profoundly grateful, and such a beautiful life that I couldn’t imagine living any other way. I’m not saying that there was a silver lining, I’m not saying that it wasn’t all that bad; but going to the church that day and praying shaped my day, and it has now shaped my life.
But these tragedies just seem to have a way of compounding. It’s not like September 11 stands alone; no, it’s just been added to our reservoir of trauma and pain and hurt. And horrifically, we’ve added new landmarks to death and tragedy here in Galveston just this year. You know them all too well. We add them to the mournful list including the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. We have all seen, and heard things that should not be comprehended.
So mostly what I want to say to everyone today is a simple message – be kind to each other. We are all walking around with layers and layers of anguish. We walk into church every Sunday with baggage, seen and unseen. We have been through a pandemic, social upheaval, a financial rollercoaster – I think we’re all just a little on edge. There are some things that everyone knows about, and so much pain that is hidden. We do not know the burdens each other are carrying, so be kind. Be gentle. Give grace.
As the Lord God is kind, and gentle, and gracious. These two parables, the lost sheep and the lost coin – to me, they are the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. When we wander off, Jesus comes looking for us. When we are lost, Jesus is willing to tear the house apart looking for us. Not because we earned it, not because we are better than anyone else, but simply because God loves us. Because God is kind to us, gentle, and gracious.
And I really do think that these parables can help us move through our anguish, our collective trauma, they can help us carry our baggage. Because one thing we learn in these parables is that we do not have to know God in order for God to know us. What a relief. Jesus is willing to leave all the other sheep to go looking for you. Jesus is willing to turn over the sofa cushions, look behind the TV, go through the pile of junk mail, just to find you. Whether you know Jesus or not. I cannot think of anything better. You are worth it, in God’s eyes. You are worth it, regardless of your background or identity or history – you are worth love in God’s eyes simply because you are. Because God created you and gave you life, you are worthy of love. You may not know all the right prayers, you may not know all the right words, you may be carrying a burden that the rest of us cannot comprehend; and yet, you are worthy of love to God. Because God is kind, and gentle, and gracious.
Grace. Grace is what the world needs right now and grace is what is so hard to find right now. The world is a hard place, and even the Church can be a hard place. We hear all too often that God’s love has a catch – the language is subtle but it’s there. And so we are hard on each other. We gossip, and tear each other down, and create all sorts of reasons for why God wouldn’t love them, or them, or them. “And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” And to that I say, “thanks be to God.” Thanks be to God that Jesus would welcome sinners and eat with them, because that’s me. I’m the one carrying the baggage, I’m the one with the emotional scars, I’m the one with the trauma of seeing things that I shouldn’t have seen, and all I could ever hope for is a God who would welcome me and eat with me. All I could ever hope for is a God who would be willing to tear the house apart looking for me. That day I walked into my local Episcopal church and dropped to my knees in prayer, that day wasn’t about me. It was about God. In a moment of confusion and horror, God found me. God brought me home. God was kind, and gentle, and gracious to me. I didn’t earn it, I didn’t deserve it. And yet, that is God. Kind, gentle, and gracious. So this sermon isn’t an exhortation, I’m not telling you that you had better know God. That you had better find Jesus. No, I’m simply reminding you that God already knows you, that Jesus has already found you.
And so that is my hope for our community, and for this church. That we would do the same for each other. We ought to be kind, and gentle, and gracious to each other – holding each other tenderly, not knowing the pains that have wounded our souls. Even the most put together people here today, even the ones who seem to have it all, they have been lost. They have been the coin that rolled under the kitchen table. They have been the sheep that wandered off. There is no pretense in the Church. We have all seen such evil things that our brains cannot comprehend, we have all been hurt in ways that run deep; we are all deeply, deeply wounded. And the ones who seeks us out, the one who finds us; thanks be to God that he has been there, too. Jesus was nailed to a cross, Jesus was abandoned, Jesus had horrible, describable things done unto him. Not to make us feel bad, not to get us to be better. No, Jesus did all that with us, so that he would know the pain and the anguish of this human life.
My friends, as I reflect on all that we have lived through, as I think back to that day twenty-one years ago, I know that we have been lost and we have been found. God has been kind, and gentle, and gracious. And I don’t know exactly what is going on in your life. I don’t know what scars, what events, what horrors have shaped you. But I do know, I am certain that all of that has shaped you. Even the worst of it, has made you into who you are today. So all I can say is this – “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.’