Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost + September 12, 2010
People murmur, grumble and complain.
The Israelites did it throughout the Exodus. The whined about Moses’ leadership, God’s plan for them, how they missed the ‘good’ life in Egypt, the food God provided, and about wandering and being lost. They get so caught-up in their complaining impatience, well you know the story… they sin boldly by casting a tangible god to worship, replacing God the creator who then gets mad and tells Moses how they are stubborn, and hard-headed people!
The early church and its leaders struggled and while we don’t hear about their murmuring in Timothy today, the letters to Timothy are know as the Pastoral Epistles because they contain advice to the church leaders on how to deal with the challenges of leadership. Paul who once grumbled and complained louder than anyone, who was as lost as any sinner could be, Paul’s story is shared in the letter to those leaders and you and me today. It says that that no matter how stubborn, hard headed, or sinful one may be, the one God who created us, forgives us, and is with us and loves us forever and ever.
In Luke Jesus is being Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors and the church leaders (the Pharisees and religious scholars) murmur, grumble and complain because they were not pleased, not pleased at all. They growled, “He welcomes those people, sinners all and eats meals with those dirt bags, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggers Jesus telling the two stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
Jesus talks about sheep who have their own murmuring style. Sheep bleat, a lot and loudly, so if one was lost it would be as annoying as the folks in Exodus, the early church, and those upset with Jesus for eating with undesirable sinners and tax collectors. Jesus then talks about another lost item, a coin that cannot bleat, like people who murmur, grumble and complain loudly when we loose money or other material things.
Now the stories are fascinating and I could and have preached on the virtues of sheep, the value of the coin and the faithfulness of the shepherd and the woman… but those messages are not what resonate in the Word of God this week for me or our context here in this place.
In our world this week we have lots of murmuring, groaning and complaining going on. The 9/11 anniversary, ongoing war and economic crisis cause many in our lives to feel lost, frustrated by life that is beyond and out of their control and murmur…
In recent weeks a report was released listing America’s Ten Dead Cities. The cities included obvious ones like Detroit and New Orleans. But the report noted that a city does not die when its last resident moves away. Death happens when cities lose the industries and vital populations that once made them important cities. Hartford ranked number three, behind only my home town of Buffalo, New York and Flint, Michigan.
And just this week Allstate issued their annual report of Best and Worst Drivers in the U.S. Again Hartford made a list of ten, ranking as the sixth worst metropolitan area for drivers. We drivers are more than lost, we average an accident once every six years and all you have to do is check your insurance bill to murmur, grumble and complain.
We all murmur, grumble, complain and if we are honest have a distinct and annoying bleat like sheep. We all have been impatient with God, felt lost, or out of control. And in our restlessness, what do we do… we bleat. We bleat in our day to day lives with friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors and anyone who will listen. We bleat even gathered as the people of God, just as the Israelites and the early church did.
So what do we, the people of Faith who gather around Word and Sacrament each Sunday murmur, grumble or complain about…?
- New times for worship, learning and fellowship
- New worship bulletin formats
- New liturgy settings, hymns, or the quirks of a new pastor
What stuff, grief over change and loss, or murmuring, grumbling, complaining anger stands in the way of a relationship with each other, those in your life outside of this Faith community, or even with God who longs to be in relationship with you…? What stands in your way of asking for forgiveness, strengthening your relationships, or knowing God more fully…? Why is it that we often avoid repentance and spend our time and energy bleating and moaning, rather than seeking and finding…?
We murmur, grumble, complain and its no wonder at times we feel lost and overwhelmed. It is not surprising that Lost was one of the most popular recent series on television. It was multi-layered, deep, and complex. If you missed a subtle detail, or a few minutes because you ran to the fridge, or a whole episode, you too became “lost.” This series reflected our desire to figure out the lost and out of control places in our lives. People watched it intently to find answers and understand the mysteries of a complex world that thankfully, they didn’t have to live in.
But our lives are as multi-layered, deep, and complex. And so even for us as Christians, we often feel lost, and seek answers to make sense of our lives. We gather as people of God to worship, to learn, seek forgiveness, and to find peace and hope for our lives. I can’t say that I have all the answers, but it is interesting to note that Jesus is not searching for or seeking the lost.
The tax collectors and sinners are coming to him, drawn to hear him, his Word of peace, hope and life. They were drawn as we are doing exactly what Jesus asked us to do in the verse just before this text: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (14:35b). Jesus then invites all who come to him. To listen to his voice, come and eat, taste and see, because the banquet is ready. See any connection to Word and Sacrament, God’s Word we listen to and eat here each week?
All those tax collectors and sinners were drawn to him to hear him. They wanted to be near him to hear his word, and he welcomes and shares his words and meals freely and openly with all, even if they bleat and moan…
- even if they were the kind of people who openly lived as they should not live, known by all to be sinners and wicked people…
- even if they were people like Paul who terrorized the church…
- even if they are like you and me who murmur, grumble, and complain.
+ + +
When a person looses their way, their focus, their faith and do not hear God’s voice, it is just like a lost sheep. We wander, we may murmur initially, but we get lost moving farther and farther from God. We get pulled and find ourselves drawn to things we think will make us stop murmuring, words we think will give us hope, people we think will give us comfort, places we think will give us peace, and meals that we think will feed and sustain us.
Like a lost and confused sheep, who runs from one place to another… We too, the longer we run the farther we go astray. We find no comfort, nor help, until we again hear the voice of the true Shepherd, Jesus ringing in our ears and the murmur of his heart that longs for us.
We, who long for the peace which passes all understanding come here each week to become strengthened and comforted. We must learn the voice of our Shepherd, and let the other voices in our lives go. Voices that only lead us astray, and chase and drive us from the murmur of our Shepherd, whose heart longs for us.
We gather with other bleating lost sheep to hear and taste and see that the Lord is good. The Lord, Jesus Christ who loves us, wants us to come to him, to bring others who are lost, murmuring, grumbling, and complaining. So that as Luther said, we can say with all confidence: My Lord Jesus Christ is truly the only Shepherd. And that as the lost sheep who strays into the wilderness we might know that He is as anxious for us as we are for Him.
Know that Jesus as our Shepherd has a heart of love that murmurs and longs for you to hear his voice through the Word each week and be sustained at His table. A table for all saints and sinners, a feast of victory, a banquet of love where Jesus rejoices when we come home.