Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Sheep and the Coins

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
September 11, 2016

Year C, Proper 19: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:2-17
Luke 15:1-10

The Sheep and the Coins
            On that beautiful bright blue morning fifteen years ago, I was teaching at St. Peter’s Prep.
            It was the second day of classes, the kind of day that’s mixed with both novelty and familiarity: the same halls and rooms, many of the same colleagues and students, but also a new schedule to memorize and lots of new names and faces to learn.
            I was free during first period and was hanging out in the faculty room, when another teacher came in telling us about an accident, a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
            There wasn’t too much concern at first. I think we all assumed it must have been a small private plane, but then we started looking at the photos on the internet – and that led some of us to go down and stand on the school’s front steps, looking east down Grand Street at the smoke pouring out of the North Tower.
            Suddenly there was a fiery explosion as the South Tower was hit – and we all knew this was no accident.
            Traffic was stopped in front of school and a woman was sitting in her car, with her face in her hands, sobbing about what she, what we all, had just seen.
            For a while, the school continued on its normal schedule with most teachers sticking with what they had planned for the day – strange to think about now, but, really, what else could we do?
            My classroom was on the top floor with a skyline view that I had always loved, until that morning.
            We had closed the window shades so the students couldn’t see what was going on but I kept the one shade in the front of the room opened for me to see.
            At one point I looked and saw what my brain had trouble processing, I saw the South Tower come crashing down, leaving behind a dust cloud and, from a mile and a half or so across the river, a strange whooshing sound.
            I remember looking at my students as they looked at me, looked to me, wide-eyed, desperate for explanation, hoping for reassurance that things were going to be OK while, honestly, I just wanted to hide from all of this pain, sorrow and fear – and I just wanted to hide from what I feared was yet to come.
            Later that day, after her own ordeal, Sue made it home from work in the city and that night we came to St. Paul’s for the simple, sad, shocked little service Fr. Hamilton offered right here in the chapel.
            That night as we walked up Highland Avenue on the way to church a cab was double-parked, waiting for a fare. Suddenly, a pick-up truck came roaring up behind the cab and the driver began honking furiously. When the cab didn’t immediately move, the man got out of the truck and approached the cabbie - who, yes, was a Middle Easterner. The pick-up truck guy began to shout and curse, so angry and out of control that I thought he’d kill the terrified driver before he had the chance to speed away.
            And so, fifteen years of terror, war, fear, and hatred began.
            On Friday night, some young men from St. Peter’s Prep sang so beautifully here at our choral festival, singing among other things, St. Francis’ great prayer for peace. Later, someone pointed out to me that these guys were just babies in 2001, that this is the only world they’ve known.
            Of course, there’s nothing new about human beings making evil choices, making a mess of God’s creation, turning God’s beautiful garden into a ruin.
            And, there’s nothing new about hiding, or wanting to hide, from the consequences of our own actions. There’s nothing new about hiding, or wanting to hide, from the sadness and pain that’s all around us, nothing new about trying to hide from God.
            We get lost.
            In the very first story of God and us, the story of the first man and woman, there’s wrongdoing and shame and hiding.
            In today’s first lesson, God, speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah, doesn’t have much good to say about God’s people:
            “They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
            And then there’s today’s psalm:
            “Every one has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one.”
            All too often, we mess up, make evil choices and then hide, or want to hide, from our own actions, hide, or want to hide, from the sadness and pain that’s all around us, and, even try to hide from God.
            There’s nothing new about making evil choices, making a mess of God’s creation, turning God’s beautiful garden into a ruin.
            We get lost.
            Now, if we were God we’d probably give up on us – the way we so often give up on each other – but the good news, the best news ever, is that God, like a shepherd desperately seeking his lost sheep – God, like a woman looking absolutely everywhere for that lost coin - God never gives up on us, never stops searching for a way into our hearts and into our lives, never stops searching for us until we are found.
            In that first story, Adam and Eve hide, but then God comes through the garden, calling out to Adam and Eve, calling out, “Where are you?”
            Throughout the centuries, no matter how much God’s people messed up, no matter how many times people turned God’s beautiful garden into a ruin, God continued to seek them out, sending prophets and holy men and women, calling out to all the lost and hiding people and then, finally, God came among us and found us - and in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God showed us just how much God loves us.
            We get lost, but God never stops searching for us.
            Fifteen years ago, in the midst of pain, sorrow, and fear, so many people immediately began to band together, searching for the lost, and welcoming dust-covered office workers into their homes for showers and food.
            Democrats and Republicans set aside their petty squabbling for the common good.
            People began praying together like they had never prayed before - and like many haven’t prayed since.
            People immediately began the long, hard work of restoring this ruined corner of God’s garden, and giving us a glimpse of God at work in the world, a taste of the way things were always meant to be.
            We try to hide. We get lost. But, God never stops searching for us.
            In a few minutes, I’ll have the joy and privilege of baptizing two beautiful boys, Charlie and Liam.
            They’re beautiful but they’re human, so although they’re too young to have messed up in any big way – yet - they’ve definitely inherited our tendency to make evil choices, to make a mess of God’s creation, to turn God’s beautiful garden into a ruin.
            Although they look pretty innocent, Charlie and Liam have inherited our way of hiding from the consequences of our own actions, our way of hiding from the sadness and pain that’s all around us, of trying to even hide from God.
            From time to time, Charlie and Liam will lose their way.
            Like all of us, sometimes, they’ll get lost.
            But, in the water of Baptism, God is going to make a bond with these two little boys, a bond that can never be dissolved, a bond that can never be broken, no matter what.
            So, no matter how much they mess up and no matter how much they try to hide from their own actions and from the sadness of the world, no matter how lost they are or how lost they feel, God will never stop searching for them, never stop searching for any of us, God will never stop searching for a way into our hearts and into our lives until, like the sheep and the coins, we are all reunited – and then, then, there will be so much rejoicing, so much rejoicing in heaven and on earth.