Jesus Dives into the Dumpster
The following sermon was preached by Rebecca Sheridan, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, September 16, 2010.
The Holy Spirit does work in mysterious ways! As I was beginning to contemplate what I might say in this sermon to you last Friday, I found myself rummaging through the dumpster, looking for my lost laundry card. Some of you already know this, but I am a terribly forgetful person. I lose things ALL the time. You’d think I’d learn from these experiences, then, and NOT try to do laundry while also taking things out to the dumpster to throw away, throwing my laundry card out with the trash in the process. But there I was, standing on a dining room chair I had dragged down two flights of stairs, broom in hand, sweeping the bottom of the dumpster for that unintentionally discarded laundry card. It was worth it, I thought – It had $8 on it, after all. And finally, there it was, just as I expected, at the bottom of the dumpster. The experience was another “lost” parable to add to Luke’s collection, perhaps, I thought.
But afterwards, I remembered Kim’s sermon from last week on the lectionary from Luke 14, which ends: “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Hmmm. I had never connected these two texts in Luke before, but they do follow each other in the lectionary. Give up all your possessions. Lost sheep, lost coin, lost laundry card. Lost possessions. I had always understood this gospel text for today of sheep and coins to mean that Jesus was talking about us, people, as sheep and as coins. It’s commonly assumed, isn’t it? So I started to wonder, what if these things, to Jesus, really are just possessions? For which one of YOU, having lost one laundry card (which has the ability enable you to do at least 8 loads of laundry, by the way, 12 if you dry two wash loads at once), would not go to the dumpster to fish that laundry card out? We care about our possessions, Jesus reminds us again as in the chapter before – it’s hard to let them go, give them up. But imagine how much more, then, like when we find a lost possession, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over ONE sinner who repents.”
Jesus reveals to us the deep value he has for people. We often don’t think twice about taking the trouble to seek out and find lost possessions. But, for as valuable as livestock and coins and laundry are to us, how much more valuable is the wholeness of the human being?
Jesus is concerned, not about lost possessions, but about lost people in today’s gospel! And we hear his invitation to us today, just as he invites the Pharisees, scribes, tax collectors, and sinners, to be about the business of finding lost people. Jesus invites US to be about the business of welcoming sinners and eating with them. “Oh Jesus,” I want to say, “easier said than done.” It’s so much easier to just go looking for lost laundry cards in the dumpster. Because we know, those of us who come here to this place to be leaders in this church, to be ministers in this broken world, that there isn’t just one lost sheep or coin or laundry card for us to worry about. Lost PEOPLE are many, not few. There is not just one more person wandering around in the wilderness needing to be found. On internship, in CPE and MIC, in our home congregations and in our lives before coming here to LSTC, we’ve learned something of what it means to be lost. We’ve heard stories about being lost from Kate, Brooke, Thomas, and Jack; from Bill, Marie, Bettie, and Ed. They’ve told us something about what it means to be lost, whether it’s contemplating suicide, battling with a drug addiction, moving from our home of fifty years to an assisted living facility, or looking for God when we’re not sure if God even exists. And we know that there are countless others. There are people who are lost that we don’t even know we should be looking for. Maybe even we ourselves, lose our way at times.
Maybe that is what drove me to the garbage bin on Friday – it is easier to go looking in the dumpster for laundry cards, for lost possessions, than to keep on looking for lost people, when there are no easy answers or quick fixes. It’s easier to look for some object that is obviously missing and bring it back than to bring words of life, wholeness, and healing to people who are lonely and hurting. It’s even simply easier to eat lunch or dinner with our same old friends than to seek out someone new, someone unfamiliar or alone.
Thanks be to God we’re not the only ones looking for the lost! For Jesus never tires of welcoming sinners. He goes out into the wilderness after even one that is lost until he finds him. He sweeps the house and searches carefully until he finds her. He rummages through the dumpster until he finds YOU. And, if we could ever imagine that creation might be made so whole that only one would be left to be restored to wholeness, Jesus would keep pursuing that very one until ALL would be gathered together around one table, in one home, for one big party where all are welcome, all are invited, and all take part in the celebration.
Ministry is hard work. We have the privilege to share in some of people’s most treasured and most terrifying moments. Yet, the stories of wandering in the wilderness that people entrust us with can leave us worn and weary, wondering when this restoration that Jesus promises might finally happen. We can find ourselves becoming lost in the process. Jesus reminds us today that we are not alone. For while the lost are many, the found are not few, either. Jesus has restored us, has healed, us, has found us so that all might know what it means to be whole. Jesus has gathered us into this community to nourish us and support us through the sharing of our ministry stories. We are not alone in the telling of Jesus’ story. We are not alone in the seeking the lost and of rejoicing with the found. Jesus shows us this, going so far as to become lost himself on the cross for us, so that we might know God’s desire for all creation to be one, to be whole, to be found.
Imagine this – Jesus is jumping into the dumpsters of our lives, and he doesn’t care about the laundry cards. He will not rest until he’s found you and me. He’s ready to welcome us home and he’s calling us into the lost-sinner dumpster so that the 99 might be 100, the 9 might be 10, so that we all together might be made whole. Amen.