Homily, The God Who Seeks Us Out
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Think back with me to the first time you entered the doors of Good Shepherd. Whether it was 30 years ago or 30 days ago, think back to what brought you here. What were you looking for? What captured your attention? Why are you here today?
I LOVE hearing stories about how people ended up here. And people often share them with me. I hear stories about how people accidentally pulled into the wrong parking lot and then never left. I hear stories about people coming to Coffee House Open Mic night and feeling drawn by the people. I hear lots of stories about people planning to visit a few churches but never did after visiting Good Shepherd first. And I hear stories about people just driving by and feeling drawn to the beauty of this place.
I first heard about Good Shepherd through a job posting. I had interviewed at a number of churches across the nation but nothing felt quite right. And so I kept praying, “God prepare a place for my family, and prepare my family for a place.” When I saw Good Shepherd pop up on the call list, something stirred in me and I felt in my heart the welcome of this place and an answer to my prayer in the phrase, “We have a place for you.”
Now we could go on and on about Good Shepherd, but this is not a homily about how amazing Good Shepherd is. This is a homily about a God who seeks us out.
Every one of us has a different story about how we ended up here, but our stories all share one thing in common: God sought us out. God led us to this place—to this community—whether for a season or long-term—to be with one another and to share in the body of Christ.
That’s what our gospel passage is about today: a God who seeks us out.
It begins with Jesus sharing a meal with the religious outcasts of his day: the tax collectors and the sinners. And when the so-called righteous pharisees and scribes see this, they grumble that Jesus would spend time with such questionable company. But Jesus turns to them and tells them three parables about a God who goes out of the way to seek out the lost. We get two of them in today’s passage.
The first parable is about the well-known lost sheep. It describes God as a shepherd leaving ninety-nine other sheep just to seek out the one that was far away. And when he finds the sheep he calls his friends and neighbors together and throws a party in celebration of the sheep’s homecoming.
The second parable is less known, but describes God as a woman who diligently sweeps her whole house, carefully looking for the one coin missing from her collection of ten. When she finds it she calls together her friends and family to celebrate that her treasure is restored.
Both of these stories demonstrate to us that God seeks us out, long before we even try to find our own way. The pharisees and scribes are upset because they expect sinners to pull their life together before coming to God, but in this passage Jesus is teaching them that long before we ever take a step towards God, God takes a hundred steps towards us. Long before we are deemed worthy, God considers us worthy enough to come look for us. God is a God who seeks us out.
And this is an incredibly powerful message, because in today’s world so many of us struggle with self worth. We see our mistakes in life. We’re keenly aware of our blemishes. We carry the weight of our shortcomings. We wonder if we’ve achieved enough. If we’re smart enough. If we’re successful enough. And while we try to put on a brave face and carry on, sometimes its hard to see our own worth. And even if it never comes to our lips sometimes in the quietness of our hearts we ask ourselves “Am I really worthy of love?”. Have you ever found yourself there?
The message of today’s gospel answers that question with a resounding YES! Yes, you are so worth loving that God seeks you out just to be with you. And when God finds you, God rejoices.
God doesn’t wait for our lives to become less messy to love us. God doesn’t wait until we’ve accomplished more. God doesn’t wait until we come to church or read the Bible. God loves us just as we are. And God will do whatever it takes to bring us home to that love.
This morning I’m struck that in these two parables when the lost is found there is a celebration. And I like to think that Good Shepherd is that celebration. I like to think that we are a community of sinners and saints, lost and found, new to our faith or well along, that come together because God has called us together to celebrate being found.
We all come from different experiences and backgrounds. Some of us come through these doors with a strong and solid faith and some of us come through these doors riddled with doubts. But this passage tells us that wherever we are on our journey Jesus welcomes us just as we are and celebrates that we are here. I like to think that’s what it means to be part of this community of Good Shepherd. I like to think that’s what we mean when we say, “We have a place for you.”
Today is the beginning of the program year at Good Shepherd. After today’s service there will be a cookout and ice cream party to mark the return of many of our ministries and gatherings. In some ways then, like the parables, today especially is a celebration of a reunion with one another. I invite us then into today’s celebration to be mindful of what it is we celebrate. We celebrate that God seeks us and finds us. We celebrate that God rejoices at our presence. We celebrate that God loves us as we are.
So here’s your homework assignment. Today as we celebrate with one another, be it in the narthex, in the courtyard, at the cookout, in the livestream comment box, or out to lunch, I invite you to share with one another how God found you. What is your Good Shepherd arrival story? Where else in your life did you find yourself found by God? Share your story with one another. And let us celebrate the God who seeks us out. Amen.