Proper 19C Sermon (2013)

Proper 19 (September 11-17)
Texts: Luke 15:1-10;
Exodus 32:7-14


Today kicks off a six-week stewardship journey, which will eventually take us to the story of Jesus and the wee-little tax collector Zacchaeus. We will see that, once again, Jesus makes an outrageous move! Upstanding Jews stayed far away from Roman collaborators like Zacchaeus. Yet Jesus invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner — where Jesus ends up proclaiming to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus’ response is to pledge giving not just a 10% tithe, but half his possessions to the poor.

“Today salvation has come to this house” — an ideal theme for this entire stewardship season. Jesus comes to our houses all the time – a promise from him at our baptisms. As with tiny ______ this morning (baptized at 8:00), Jesus promises to live with us throughout our lives, wherever we make out homes. And Jesus has promised to come to this house, our Prince of Peace family, every time we share this Holy Meal. What will be our response to Jesus?

Over these six weeks we’re going to ponder our response a bit a time by breaking our Stewardship theme into four pieces, “Salvation / has come to / this house / today.” This morning we begin with the most central piece, “Salvation.”

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the highest Holy Day of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Like our Christian Holy Week, it is the center of their celebrating God’s salvation. How much do we know about Yom Kippur? Perhaps the most it has been in the news – and it may only be die-hard baseball fans that even paid attention to this – was when the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax declined to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it was on Yom Kippur. Don Drysdale got bombed by the Twins in that Game 1. Fortunately, Koufax came back to pitch shutouts in Games 5 & 7 so that the Dodgers took the Series from the Twins, 4 games to 3.

So we know from stories like Koufax and from Jewish friends that Yom Kippur falls late September to early October. What else do we know as Christians? What was it like in Jesus’ time, for example? When Israel still had its temple, the heart of Yom Kippur was the goat ritual detailed in Leviticus 16. Two goats were used. The first was sacrificed on an altar, and its blood was sprinkled on the congregation. (And you thought being sprayed with water from the baptismal font was bad!) The second goat was even more important. The priest would symbolically load all the sins of the people on this goat, and then drive it into the wilderness, at the mercy of the wild animals. This is the goat we now famously call the Scapegoat. The Jewish version of salvation at that time was for God to demand a sacrifice in order to receive forgiveness of sins.

It’s important for us to know the roots of Yom Kippur to understand the impact of Jesus’ actions. Imagine it’s early autumn and Yom Kippur is drawing near. We hear Jesus’ teaching: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Jesus pauses. First of all, this is a farm-based economy. It’s crazy to put 99 sheep in danger by leaving them to search in the wilderness for just one sheep. You cut your losses. But then also think about Yom Kippur and the Scapegoat. The logic of sacrifice is to drive the one into the wilderness in order to save the many. Jesus is telling us the total opposite! It’s a great reversal! The many are left in the wilderness in order to go after the one!

In recent weeks we’ve been talking about an important dimension of our sin as a crack in the container. The container is a metaphor for the cultures and institutions that thoroughly shape of lives. Here’s another way to see the crack: The cultures that shape us operate from a logic of sacrifice – sacrificing one or few for the many. Jesus comes to repair the crack by bringing God’s culture, God’s container, which is based on a logic of inclusion: go after the one so that no one is left out. Jesus became the Lamb of God to dismantle the logic of exclusion and build a new logic of inclusion. Salvation, in short, is this: God in Jesus is making sure that no one is to be left out! No one is to be sacrificed! Jesus came in history to begin changing history.

Because God is healing the crack in the container, our cultures are changing. A good example of that is how culture has changed for people with disabilities. At one time they were first to be sacrificed and left out. They fell through the crack in the container. But today we do everything possible to make sure these otherwise lost sheep are brought into the fold. And not only heaven rejoices – have you ever been to a Special Olympics? It is a joyful experience. This dramatic change reflects Jesus’ great reversal.

Luke’s Gospel begins with Jesus proclaiming from the prophet Isaiah that he is the fulfillment of the blind and lame being healed and Good News for the poor. The first part of that prophecy has largely come true through God’s repairing the crack in the container. We now have a culture that does everything it can to heal the blind and the lame. And if not heal, then to live as full lives as possible. In Jesus’ day, blindness prohibited a person from even entering the main court of the Temple, much less become priest. Ours is a culture where a blind man can become Bishop. This is our new Bishop who started last week, Craig Satterlee, who is legally blind.

The second part of Jesus’ prophecy, though, has a way to go yet. Our culture still tends to sacrifice the poor. We aren’t yet doing everything possible to make sure everyone has the basic necessities in life. But this week I heard about a promising program that bears more marks of Jesus’ logic of inclusion than our logic of sacrifice. Rick Stravers of Open Door Ministries gave a presentation at the Housing Matters luncheon on a new initiative to Kalamazoo County that goes by the acronym F.U.S.E.: Frequent Users Service Enhancement. Who are Frequent Users? Among the most lost or left out in our society: the homeless who are the most frequent users of government services, such as jails, Emergency Rooms, detox centers, Community Mental Health, etc. Here’s one case study of Richard in Chicago:

  • 42 years old
  • 21 years of homelessness, incarceration, and hospitalization
  • 3,758 days in mental health / hospital setting – Cost: $1,503,200
  • 399 days in jail (over a 6-year period) – Cost: $27,930
  • TOTAL COST: $1,531,130
  • Average annual cost for Richard: $73,910

So what is the approach of F.U.S.E.? Life can be improved for these individuals, and public costs can be reduced, by providing frequent users with:

  • Housing
  • Intensive case management
  • Coordinated care

We save lives and save money by focusing holistic attention on the most lost. It’s like Jesus comes and asks us, “Which one of you, having a hundred people and losing one of them to homelessness on the streets, does not leave the ninety-nine in their homes and go after the one that is lost until she brings him home?”

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Jesus came into this world not to simply teach us a new logic of inclusion instead of exclusion. That wouldn’t work by itself. Jesus came to live that new logic in history to change history. He let himself become the Scapegoat, the vilified person cast out, so that with God’s vindication on Easter morning he could begin the process of forgiving us for our ways of sin that keep God’s human family divided. He became the Lamb of God to take away of sin of division, and so the long, slow process began in history of God saving us from our powers of exclusion in order that no one is to be left out.

And so it begins in each of our histories at baptism. It began for little ____ this morning, so that he can grow up with the promise of God’s Spirit to ask with all of us, “Where do I see that power of reconciliation and inclusion working in my life?” Belonging to God’s expanding family in Christ, we ask together, “Where do we see that power in the world around us?” And we are about to see it once again in this family meal hosted by the Lamb of God who is saving us from our sin of exclusion. Come, all are welcome. Amen.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, September 15, 2013

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