9-11-22 Reflection by Steve Hitchcock

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 11, 2022 ● St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
LUKE 15:1-10

I imagine we were all disappointed last Sunday when Father Jim, in his
sermon, talked about stained glass rather than about the penultimate line of the
Gospel appointed for last Sunday, Luke 14: 33: “So therefore none of you can become
my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.
Okay, probably not. Even though some of us keep telling ourselves, “Today,
I’m going to get started on decluttering.”
But that verse from last Sunday’s Gospel sets the context for today’s Gospel:
chapter 15 of Luke for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The audience for
today’s reading is, on the one hand tax collectors and sinners and, on the other hand,
the Pharisees and scribes. In the next chapter, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees because
they love money. They’re not giving up their possessions to follow Jesus.
In fact, Luke’s Gospel is filthy with rich people and those focused on money and
possessions. In 12, we have the “build lots of barns” guy. In chapter 16, we’ll hear
about the dishonest manager who steals from his master. Of course, there follows the
story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Back to our Gospel reading in chapter 15, we hear three parables
about rich individuals: a sheep owner, a woman with coins, and –
following the two parables we hear today – a wealthy landowner
with two sons.

The first parable is about a sheep owner. He is not a shepherd, one lowest
occupations in ancient Palestine. And he owns a hundred sheep. The woman has ten
silver coins; she’s clearly not a peasant.

What is notable is that these wealthy people are careless. Each of them has lost
something of value. Thus, in one sense, they are sinners. The sheep isn’t a sinner; he
was doing what sheep do, which is wander. And a coin certainly isn’t intrinsically

Today, we are invited to confess that we too have lost something, that
we’ve let our own worries and cares distract us. We’ve let some
important people and events in our lives fade into the background.
We may not consider ourselves wealthy, but we have immense social capital.
We are well educated, and we work hard to have some level of financial security.
Perhaps you exercise so you don’t lose the ability to get around and function. Many
of us make lists and do other things to stay organized and remember as much as

Yet, all our efforts – financial, physical, and mental – come up short. No
matter how hard we try, things don’t work out. Even in the best of circumstances, we
lose our friends, we lose our health, and we lose our connection to God. The New
Testament calls this sin: sin is not what we do or don’t do, but rather who we are,
despite our best efforts.

The introduction to our reading pulls us back from dwelling on our lost-ness,
our carelessness, and our foolishness. The good news for us today is, “This fellow
welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, that is exactly what Jesus does:
welcomes sinners. He doesn’t berate them or criticize them. He
doesn’t even ask them to shape up and turn from their ways.
What Jesus does do is eat with sinners, including us today. And this is not
some mid-morning snack, but almost always a feast or banquet. A big celebration
just like the ones in today’s Gospel reading.

Significantly, during and after those celebrations, those who are welcomed by
Jesus do some extraordinary things. Levi – or Matthew, the tax collector – follows
Jesus. Zacchaeus, another tax collector, decides to give away half of all his
belongings, and Jesus announces that “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
For Luke, repentance is what follows being welcomed by Jesus.
It’s what happens after we have tasted the feast of God’s mercy
and forgiveness.

So, as we return to today’s two parables, we see that the rejoicing is not because
sheep have stopped wandering or because a coin suddenly shows itself. The rejoicing
– the celebration – is because the person who lost something has found it.
Today, the promise is that if you follow Jesus – join him in eating and
celebrating with others and listening to his words – then you will be able to turn away
from your own troubles and concerns. In fact, you will repent – you will turn around
and then you will notice all the other sheep that have been gathered together, all the
others who have been invited to this banquet.
A recent New York Times story reported that seemingly small acts of kindness
had a surprisingly large impact. Offering someone a compliment or a cupcake, for
example. Consistently, those who made those acts of kindness under-estimated how
much a difference their gesture would make.

Even more surprising, the act of kindness gave both the giver and the recipient
a change in perspective. Some of the concerns and problems they were facing
suddenly seemed less daunting.

That’s the kindness we are being offered in today’s Gospel and in our praying
and singing together. We may not always be able to feast on bread and wine.

And,these days, that bread is a brittle wafer. But whenever we gather, Jesus is in the
midst of us, and we can taste that life-saving bread and wine.
And so this little moment in time we share today becomes a feast
of joy in our lives. We are welcomed into a new reality with new

Our experience today is so transformative – so eternal, if you will – because it
is the welcome that Jesus on the cross speaks to the thief. Jesus doesn’t condemn the
thief for his life. He doesn’t say, “Well, guy, you’re getting what you deserve.” No,
Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Those are the green pastures
where sheep can graze.

In a real sense, Jesus is the one who finds us, goes after us, searches for us,
and meets us on the road. In fact, Jesus goes to the Cross to find us. Jesus goes with
us into our death – first of all in our baptism as we are buried with Christ and raised
with Christ, then every day as we re-live our baptism, and finally in our own ultimate
death. We follow Jesus, but Jesus also follows us.

Yes, we have lost so much in so many ways. But today, we are invited to
celebrate that we have been found. We have been welcomed. Let us feast together on
the Scriptures, find each other in prayer, and sing songs of rejoicing. Amen.