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    Sep 15, 2013

    I am all in. Come join me.

    Series: All

    Category: Stewardship, Fall 2013

    Stewardship Kick Off Day is October 13, 2013

    September 15, 2013

    I am all in. Come join me!

              Susanna Metz, and Episcopal priest, was once a Roman Catholic nun.  She was in a teaching order and after receiving a teaching degree she was assigned to a large parish where the Monsignor placed her in charge of all First Communion Classes.  She designed one of the lessons, “Confession, Forgiveness and Absolution,” around the two parables in today’s Gospel, the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” and the “Parable of the Lost Coin.”  Her lesson plan was to teach each story separately by first reading it to the aloud loud as her students followed along in their Bibles, to demonstrate the parable by having the students act out the parable, and conclude with a time for discussion about being lost and then found.

              She greeted her class, had them get out their Bibles and turn to the parables, and she read to them first the Parable of the Lost Sheep. When she went to “cast” the parable she was shocked to discover that her eager students had changed the name of the parable!  It became the “Parable of the “Lost One Hundred Sheep!”  They all wanted to be lost! 

              Once she restored order she moved on to “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” She had the same results.  They all wanted to be “lost coins.”

              Once Susanna was able to restore order again she directed a discussion with her students and heard over and over how they had experienced being lost and then listened as her charges talked about being lost in a grocery store and then found by a parent or to playing. She heard stories of the children playing Hide and Seek with older siblings or other children in the neighborhood and intentionally being “lost” when everyone slipped quietly away while her or she remained hidden.  No one came looking for them.  A cruel joke maybe some of us have also experienced.

              That night as she reflected on her experience with her students and as she wrote in her journal about the many nights during her spiritual journey of being spiritually lost – her own dark nights of the soul – she found herself returning over and over to these two parables.

              She uncovered in her Bible study as we can too the great truth that all of those we name as great spiritual saints were men and women who were were lost and then found over and over and over.  Just like us they too made mistakes and had their doubts and were never rejected by Jesus or thrown into the outer darkness!  Time and time again we read in the Old Testament how God searched for his “lost” people.”  The same is true in the New Testament because Jesus’ Christmas incarnation was named over and over again as being a mission of reconciliation - of bring all of us disciples back into the fold. I vivid remember reading a deeply moving Good Friday meditation about the crucified Jesus leaving the tomb in search of Judas and bring him back into the tomb with Him as the both waited for the Easter sun to rise.

              The great sin of being lost is not being lost or our “dry spiritual times” and our “dark nights of the souls,” when life takes our breath away and our pillows are soaked with our tears, it’s about allowing those lost times to leads us down the pathway to cynicism and eventual to soul draining despair.  Spiritual despair versus clinical despair are those times when a person turns so inward and ego centered that he or she believes that even God cannot find them or even wants to do so.

              As I read Susanna Metz’s story and remembered my own times of being lost, I once again wondered how does it really happen?  I believe with all my heart and soul that doubt can be a positive spiritual experience and we are all capable of using our questions to help us dig down deeper and deeper and find all kinds of hidden treasures we might never have seen had we not had our doubts and our questions.

              But how have you like me experienced that destructive pathway that harms us and misdirect us?        Not being really all “in.”  Maybe even never being invited to be all in –to make a commitment to a community where others are also all in and are inviting other disciples to join them.  Reflect with me not only right now but this week on those times when we felt and maybe even believed we living in a foreign spiritual country. Focus on my personal needs versus needs of the church.

              Certainly there are external circumstances, such as the death of someone close to us, a traumatic failure of a relationship, a wreck, or a disease.  National events such as 9/11 also impact our spiritual journey. 

              My experience tells me that there are far more self made circumstances that are also culprits in knocking us off course.  There’s a lot more, “I just don’t feel like it” being going to church, daily prayer, reading the Bible, and so forth.  Then there’s getting out of the habit or it’s Sunday my only day off or I haven’t been fishing, play a round of Golf, or  . . . it’s boring, or I don’t like . . . blah, blah, blah . . . You know just like I know.

              My experience tells me those are clear cut easy to distinguish symptom of a spiritual desert time.  Time and time again we have decided things like, I really don’t feel a part of the church or they really don’t need me. Why make a pledge? They don’t need my money. Attacking the church, clergy and the congregation become easy excuses and it is however those excuses that drives people right into the time of spiritual starvation.  What to do?

              The answer is contained in the two parables of the lost and found according to the theologian Bruce Eppty in his essay on healing. “The story of the lost sheep can relate to individual as well as corporate salvation.  The shepherd goes after the lost sheep not only to save her, but more importantly to save the other ninety-nine. The other ninety-nine cannot achieve wholeness apart from the hundredth.  In this passage, there is no individual salvation or blessedness – no rugged individualism, no rejection of the vulnerable and useless.  The majority cannot be saved a part of the well being of the minority –even a minority of one!

              Again discovering the lost coin is essential to the completion of the nine coins.  Be a dollar short at the checkout counter someday –not by design or trickery but by “I thought I had enough. Is painful and we start wondering how did this happen?” 

              A healthy church doesn’t abandon anyone who wants to come to the altar of sacrifice where there will always be enough grace and sacred food to feed us. A healthy church at the same time isn’t afraid to set standards and boundaries and hold one another accountable – without apology- for destructive behavior.

              “The church is called to a style of hospitality that like Jesus seeks rather than waits for all the lost sheep to find their own way home. The church doors are opened TO LET US OUT in order that we might find the lost sheep – the lost coins –those in any kind of trouble, sorrow, or need and to bring them home with us to the flock. Remember our salvation and wholeness depends on the lost being found!”

              I encountered at liturgical in a publication of the United Disciples of Christ that captured my attention as I turned back to the telling of the today’s two Gospel parables.

              I wanted us to experience it today.  It is rather easy to do yet the words are worth revisiting this coming week.

              First listen up all the men and boys:  When I say men:  You respond to back to me by saying:  When you find it you lay it on your shoulders and rejoice!  Repeat it with me:  When you find it you lay it on your shoulders and rejoice.

              Women and girls:  When I say “women” you respond:  When you find it you call together your friends and neighbors and rejoice!   Let’s practice:  When you find it you call together your friends and rejoice!

     

    Officiant:  Which one of you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one until it is found?

     

    Men and boys: When you find it you lay it on your shoulders and rejoice!

     

    Officiant: Or what one of you having ten silver coins, if you lose one, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until you find it?

    Women and girls:  When you find it, you call together your friends and neighbors and rejoice.

    Officiant: As faithful people all, let us gather by the grace of a seeking God –who rejoices in finding us here today!

              One of the Hallmarks of nondenominational churches besides their drum sets, electric guitars, and other similar instruments are their praise songs. A part of their worship experience is singing a lot of those songs.

              Not to worry I am not looking for a place to put a praise band here in our worship space, because we already sing a lot of praise songs!  Look at the texts of our music.  Fourteen of our hymns begin with the word Praise.  Hymn 390: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! And of course at the offertory:  Praise God from whom all blessing flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise Him above you heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

              Saying thank you for forgiving us our trespasses – our sins- flows freely from our lips with great humility and a commitment to serve when we take sin seriously.  Our feet propel us out the door seeking those we know who need a church – that need this church – this flock of sheep God has called together as one body of the living Christ.

     

    Our Stewardship theme this year is: I am all in.  Come and join me.  I am not going to steal the thunder of our three speakers from among us but you can be assured that each speech will have something to say about making a commitment to join this community with your heart, soul, and mind by being all in.  By showing up week after week, by making a pledge, by being a part of the life of the community by signing up for our committees and organizations and our activities including our parish cleanup days, Helping Hands, and Trunk or Treat. Being all in by praying for our leaders and for one another every day.  Making a commitment to be an Episcopal disciple among all the people of this community of faith who are St. Theodore’s. I am all in 100%.  Come and join me!  Amen.