What a week! Many of you sent prayers for me and my congregation, and we were stronger for them. It is a good thing to be in the trenches together. Old men who called me "Meta" last week now call me "Pastor". Something has shifted since an annual review and two funerals last week. I am frightened by the great losses in our little church and how much I love these people, but I'm also glad for everything vulnerable about being with them.
I was all preached out (again) yesterday, so I did not prepare a sermon. Instead, I brought The Giving Tree and read it before the kids left for Sunday School. We believe in a God who is rooted in our lives. When we return to the place where we are known, there is always rejoicing and acceptance.
Then we heard all three Lost Parables. A coin went missing. A sheep went wandering. A son strutted off. And the congregation read the words of rejoicing aloud at the end of each story. Love-Surround-Sound. The Searcher rejoiced in the finding.
Not because the Lost one earned it or scored well on a test.
Not because the Lost one made a good case for being reclaimed.
Not because the Lost one deserved the effort more than others.
The Lost one was worth finding because The Searcher decided it was of value. And that is enough. I don't remember exactly what I said yesterday, but it probably went like this:
There are one thousand angles for preaching this text, but today I hear only rejoicing, Zion. You are worthy. You are valuable. Not because you've done something right, but because Christ has righted something. I'm reading a book about vulnerability and shame and worthiness right now, which is teaching me something very important about God's love for us.
We are not perfect. We are wired for struggle. But we are also valuable and worthy of love. That is louder and even more true than the rest of life's stuff. I know that being vulnerable and really feeling this world is dangerous and scary sometimes. We'd rather numb the pain, but humans are incapable of selectively numbing our feelings. If you numb the sorrow, you are also numbing the joy. So I invite you to feel the struggle. Experience the filth of the pig pen, but also the rich welcome and belonging we receive when the Father runs to meet us along the way.
There are lots of voices out there. They're identifying you based on who you are and what you do and what you earn. But this morning I raise my voice above those things to tell you the truth: you are valuable and worthy of love even when you get lost - because the One who comes looking has decided that you are worth the effort. You are worth the searching. You are worth the finding. You are worth the rejoicing and celebration.
That's all I got, but it's all truth. Amen.