Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
An elementary teacher asked his classroom one day, “If all the bad children were painted red and all the good children were painted green, which color would you be?”
Think about that. What color would you be? Red? Green? And would the color you choose change if we asked someone who knows you well what color they thought you would be?
After a few minutes of thought, one wise child in the classroom answered the teacher’s question by saying that they wouldn’t be red or green, they would be “striped.”
In today’s gospel reading, and in our world today if we’re being honest with each other and ourselves – Jesus is the only one who isn’t striped. There are times in all of our lives when we are among the lost. There are other times when we are among the found. There are times when we are good. And other times when we are not.
One of the reasons I’m a Lutheran Christian today is in part because of one word that is so central to Lutheran theology and how we understand ourselves to be in relationship with God and each other in the body of Christ. That word is “and.”
In the words of Martin Luther, “we are simultaneously saint and sinner.”
In the words of that wise young student, we are red and green.
Or in relation to our gospel reading today, there are times when we are sheep simply grazing quietly and obediently amongst the flock and other times when we are so lost that we don’t have the faintest clue what life would even be like as a sheep that is in fact part of the Shepherd’s flock.
The good news about being in relationship with God through the savior of the world Jesus, is this. God knows that we are at the same time red and green, saint and sinner, lost and found. And God loves us anyway.
You and I are so often stuck behaving like the Pharisees and scribes at the beginning of today’s gospel reading. The Pharisees and scribes complain that Jesus eats with sinners. The question I always ask myself is…who else would Jesus eat with? I mean, the Pharisees and scribes don’t realize that there is no other kind of person. Even when Jesus is eating with society’s most elite and seemingly most righteous people, he is eating with sinners.
Jesus offers these parables about being lost in response to those who criticize him for welcoming sinners and eating with them. Pastor Bruce Epperly wrote that, “The Pharisees and scribes believe they are righteous – good citizens, faithful churchgoers – but they lack grace and forgiveness. Their hearts have closed down to sinners and in so doing they have closed their hearts to God.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought or behaved in a way toward another child of God that resembles the way of the Pharisees. And I can’t begin to share with you how many times I have heard or witnessed the same thing from others toward me or someone else.
Why is it so hard for us to move beyond finger-pointing and name calling? To move beyond all of that and into a realization that we are all the same. We grumble and say to Jesus, “you’re not going to eat with those people, are you Jesus?” The truth is, we are all those people. Sinners in need of the Savior’s loving embrace, bringing all of us back into a flock whose shepherd is the God of all creation.
The fifteenth chapter of Luke is filled with stories of God’s unconditional love. God’s unrelenting quest to find every lost sheep, every lost coin, every lost person. God’s welcome to sinners all and God’s invitation to join in an everlasting meal. There’s that and word again. An everlasting meal that begins today. Do you and I believe this? Do we really believe that God loves us and is on an unrelenting quest to find us?
I heard a great sermon a few weeks ago in which the preacher made this claim about Christ’s church today. He said, “Having little or no expectations for change is a dangerous situation in which to find ourselves.” And he went on the prophetically challenge the church to raise our expectations!
As we celebrate Rally Sunday this weekend, I think we should raise our expectations a little. You see, Rally Sunday is not just about the start of youth programming or church school or the return for many of us to a more regular schedule of worship attendance after a summer away.
Rally Sunday gives the church – which includes all of us who seek to follow the risen Christ Jesus and claim to be members of this little part of the body of Christ known as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Rally Sunday gives the church a chance to raise our expectations.
To raise our expectations about what it means to worship together as a community of faith grounded in the Lutheran Christian tradition.
To raise our expectations for what it looks like to educate our children in the faith.
To raise our expectations for how we are connected to our community as the hands and feet of Christ serving our neighbor.
To raise our expectations and claim ownership for our own life-long journey in education and growth in the Christian faith. Not a journey that ends when confirmation is over.
To raise our expectations as we are called to be the hands, feet, and voice of the risen Christ in the world today. May our words and our actions be reflections of the Shepherd’s love for all of God’s children.
To raise our expectations that we truly do believe that God is on an unending quest to find us when we are lost.
To raise our expectations that God will paint us green again and again and again in spite of all the ways that we insist on behaving like the only color available to us is red.
Every single one of you here today is an important part of this congregations ability to raise our expectations. None of you can sit this one out and let someone else do the work.
Because every one of you matter.
You matter to the person sitting next to you. And you matter to others who are also part of Good Shepherd that you may never have an opportunity to meet in person. You matter to your friends. You matter to your family. You matter to me as one of your pastors. And most importantly, you matter to God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Rally Sunday I hope and pray that you and I will raise our expectations. And in doing so – there’s that and word again – God will change you and I in ways that are far greater than anything we can imagine with human minds and hearts. Raise your expectations and be changed forever. Come Lord Jesus, come and be with us in each day. Amen.