Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Trinity XVI
September 16, 2013, 10:19 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday September 15, 2013

Bishop Tom Wright, in his excellent and simple commentaries on the New Testament, tells the story of how he and his family had just moved into a new house. It was in a dream location, quiet, secluded, beside a lake. On the first Saturday night they were there, all chaos broke loose- loud music, laughter, a public address system making announcements, cheering, fireworks. It was dreadful- was it going to be like this every weekend? Fortunately, they learned next morning that it was only once a year- the local yacht club’s annual party. But the story is told to illustrate the fact that one man’s party can be the next-door neighbour’s nightmare!

The two parables in today’s gospel each end with a party. Our Lord was fond of parties. Some of his critics characterised him as “a glutton and a wine-bibber.” He associated with disreputable people. For some, this was a nightmare, seeing that at the same time he presented himself as one who taught people how God wanted them to live.

The two stories (and a third, that of the Prodigal Son, which follows) are about finding something or someone who has been lost, and celebrating. One of the points our Lord makes, and which we may not notice, is that it is in heaven that the celebrations are going on, when a lost sinner repents. It is the angels who rejoice. Heaven and earth are not far apart: what happens here is known and a cause for joy or sorrow there.

goodshepherdNotice how Jesus depicts sinners: not so much as wicked people who need to be punished (that was perhaps how the Pharisees thought of them), but as lost souls, people who had gone astray, wandered off or somehow got mislaid, and who needed to be found again. The shepherd worries about the sheep that has disappeared, the woman is distressed over her lost coin, the father grieves over his lost son. No-one is angry (as far as we can see)- not the shepherd with his sheep, not the woman with her coin, not the father with his son. All they want is for the lost to be safely found. Then we can all have a party.

In today’s Epistle, St Paul tells Timothy how he himself was found. Not only found, but entrusted with the job of representing Christ and finding other people. Earlier on, he had said things about Christ that now he would regard as blasphemous. He had wanted to force people to conform to his ideas, using violence if necessary. Of course, he didn’t realise what he was doing. It was ignorance- but he did it. And yet Jesus had turned him around, offered him love and forgiveness, and treated him as a trusted friend.

Neither Paul nor our Lord suggests that the lost sinner is OK being lost. To be found means to be repentant: to change one’s attitude, to turn about. The Pharisees did not realise that they were lost, any more than Paul had done in his early life. They thought of themselves as “righteous who needed no repentance.” As long as you think that (our Lord suggests) there will be little joy in heaven over you! Obviously, in the stories the coin did not know it was lost- but the silly sheep may have been getting stressed, and the prodigal boy certainly recognised that he had gone the wrong way.

(In passing, can I make a short plug for the practice of Sacramental Confession? It is a very effective way of getting self-knowledge and renewal of our sense of being found again by God.)

When someone knows that they have made a mistake, and realises that God still loves them and only wants them to come back, they too rejoice, though perhaps they feel rather unworthy of having a party thrown in their honour! When Matthew was called to follow Jesus, he invited all his friends to come and meet Jesus too. He wanted to share his blessing. Similarly, Paul overflows with gratitude and praise: “To the King of all the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” And so say all of us!

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