September 11, 2022
In Jeremiah 4.11-12, 22-28 the prophet warns God will send a hot, destroying wind because of Israel’s evil. There will be earthquakes and barrenness.
Psalm 14 celebrates God’s presence, even though sometimes it seems like God is not really there—especially amidst injustice.
In 1 Timothy 1.12-17 Paul thanks God that God has patiently sought him out even though he is “the foremost” of sinners, affirming that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
In Luke 15.1-10 some Pharisees criticize Jesus for welcoming sinners. He responds with images of God as a woman and a shepherd devotedly seeking something that’s lost, and rejoicing when it is found. God does not exclude us or forget us, but deeply desires us.
The prophet’s vision is pretty bleak… but it’s not a very exaggerated picture of the impact of the climate crisis—the difference being this isn’t God’s action: we are bringing this on ourselves with our selfishness and injustice. Hot winds, barren waste, hills moved to and fro and birds having fled speak of rising temperatures, mountain-top removal for coal mining, Superfund waste sites and the loss of native species. That’s our doing. It’s important to make this distinction: although the ancients spoke of God’s punishment, our suffering is the logical consequence of our actions. Some people say the earth is “getting back at us,” but the earth has no need for revenge. Climate change and its various effects are simply the laws of nature playing out. In fact this text does not picture earth seeking revenge, but the opposite: “earth shall mourn.”
The author’s confession reminds us: if you’re tempted to feel a little special because God loves you so much, remember God’s special attention is exceeding forgiveness for how awful we can be. And we’re also reminded that no matter how awful we or someone else might be we are forgiven and God’s mercy may overflow in us… and them.
Lost sheep. In contrast to the image of God as a punishing tyrant, Jesus portrays God as one who wants us, searches for us, and rejoices in us. Imagine the times you were lost and felt abandoned: that whole time God was seeking you, following you, enduring the same rocks and thorns to be with you and to bring you back into a safe, healing place of belonging. Those times when you felt worthless or that your life was wasted, like a coin lost under the cushion, God knew every part of your life and the whole world, every nook and cranny, and treasured you enough to seek you out and return you to a place of honor and rejoicing.
What might it be for us as followers of Jesus to embody this theology in our own lives? Trusting God’s delight in us?… Maybe: searching for the lonely and overlooked people…. seeking what is valuable but hidden in others… seeing people not in terms of what bad things they’ve done but what delight God has in them… Rather than looking for an illustration of these parables for your sermon, look for ways these parables illustrate faithful living.
It’s our natural tendency to identify with the lost sheep, and thrill at the thought of Jesus rescuing us. But recall the context of Jesus’ conversation: he was criticized for welcoming sinners. In this parable we aren’t the one; we are the 99. We are the ones the shepherd leaves to find the lost one. We are the 99 insiders who resent the one outsider, the one who doesn’t belong, doesn’t “qualify,” the one we judge as less worthy. We good Christians have to accept God’s delight in the non-believer, the person whose life is not so good, the sinner who’s trying their best and not doing well. The story invites us to be humble and not judge.
Jesus asks “Which of you does not leave the 99 in the wilderness to go after the one?” The answer, of course, is none of us. We stick with the crowd. We maximize our profit. This parable provides an interesting theological angle on affirmative action: giving extraordinary attention to groups that have been under-represented, or voices that have been silenced. What its opponents would call “reverse discrimination” we might see as leaving the 99 for the one, giving special attention to the one who’s been left out so they can be honored and made a part of the community. Justice sometimes requires extra effort on behalf of those who have been excluded.
Lost coin. Again Jesus offers an image of God quite unlike an angry judge who is liable to send us to hell. God is a woman who seeks us, wants us, treasures us, and delights in re-connecting with us. Her energy is always toward drawing us closer, not pushing us away. When Jesus speaks of “ten silver coins” his might imagine not just a sum of money but a dowry, a set of coins that represents not just monetary value but also her value, a treasure of particular emotional value—and also a symbol of marriage, of loving faithfulness. (Jesus is fond of images of marriage and weddings…)
Jesus’ parables speak of the spiritual work of seeking and finding the lost parts of ourselves, the neglected or even repressed parts of ourselves that may be valuable and precious to who we are. The same applies to “lost” members of our community: the marginalized, the forgotten. While you’re looking for lost sheep or coins, keep your eye out for all the “lost and found” in scripture: Joseph in Egypt, Moses in the bullrushes, Israelites set free from slavery in Egypt and later returning from exile in Babylon, Jeremiah’s “scattered sheep” being gathered…. Seems to be a pattern that God seeks us and finds us and brings us home.
Call to Worship
1. Leader: God of grace, you create us because you desire us.
All: And we desire you, and we worship you.
Because you treasure us, you seek us out.
Even when we wander, you search us out and bring us home.
Spirit of love, help us to reach out for you and for all who are lost.
For in your love we discover one another;
we enter our own lives; we meet you at last.
It is your will to seek and to save.
So we worship you. Alleluia.
Leader: Bountiful Creator, Lover of all, we greet you.
All: God of love, we belong to you.
Jesus Christ, gentle shepherd, you call to us.
Shepherd of love, we belong to you.
Holy Spirit, breath of God in us, you sing, you cry out, you call in us.
Spirit of love, we belong to you.
With joy and gratitude, we come home to you.
Receive us, bless us, change us, and give us gifts to serve you. Amen.
Leader: Creator God, you have declared that we are the people of your pasture,
the sheep of your hand.You tend us and guide us.
All: Lead us to you.
Christ, our faithful shepherd, our unfailing companion, you show us the way.
Lead us to life.
You search out others, and bring them in with joy;
those who are lost or feel unworthy you treasure and you rescue.
Lead us to one another.
Open our hearts to your presence, Holy One,
and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Loving God, you have searched for us in the lost places,
in the lonely places, in the grimy places.
All: And you have found us, and brought us home,
into the light, into one another’s company.
And you have set a celebration of joy, and invited us all.
So we come, to give thanks and to celebrate! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, celebrate with us,
and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Gracious God, you have searched for us in love.
All: And you have found us and brought us home, and we thank you.
And you have sought others in the lost places,
in the lonely places, the grimy places,
and brought them also to be with us here.
You have brought us together, and we rejoice.
All of us are lost and found; not one made our own way here.
All of us together worship you in humility and gratitude.
Deepen our gratitude, our humility, and our togetherness,
in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
Leader: God of love, as a woman rejoices at finding a lost coin
you delight in us.
All: We praise you, and thank you for your grace.
You gather your coins together, all of us,
for each one, new and shiny or old and grimy, is valuable.
We praise you, and thank you for each other.
All of us alike are lost and found, wayward and redeemed.
In humility and gratitude we praise you, we thank you,
we worship you. Alleluia!
Gracious and loving God, though we are lost you have sought us out; though we are scattered you have gathered us in. Open our hearts, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of love and wisdom, we are your lost sheep. Raise your voice; speak your Word to us, and call us back to your side. We are listening. Amen.
2.God of love, we sometimes feel like a lost sheep, not knowing the way. Sometimes we feel like a forgotten coin under the cushion, not knowing our worth. Yet you treasure us; you seek us and find us and speak your Word to us. Reach out to us now with your Word, touch us with your grace, and transform us, so that we may live among those who are lost as living signs of your mercy. Amen.
Holy One, you guide all who seek your delight to ways of peace and safety; you lead us out of darkness by your grace into the light. You guide us to a path that is straight. So we listen for your voice, and we follow. Amen.
Gentle God, you have shown mercy, and given to us the fullness of life. Jesus has overflowed with your grace and love for us. Help us now to listen for your voice, to hold ourselves up to your light, so that even in our deepest darkness you may find us. We pray in the name of Jesus, our shepherd, our homemaker, our savior. Amen.
Gracious God, we have left your house, and wandered from your care. Yet you call to us to return, always seeking us, always desiring our presence. Help us to leave behind all that we must in order to be present to you now. God, you have invited us to the banquet of your love. Stir up in us your Spirit, so that we can listen to your Word, and feast on your grace. Amen.
Loving God, we give you thanks that you seek and find all the lost. You welcome sinners. Sometimes we are the ones welcomed, sometimes the ones doing the welcoming. For both, we give you thanks. For this community of the lost and found, the seeking and the wandering, we give you thanks. We are one in your love, and we open our hearts to your Spirit. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
God of love, we are the people of your pasture, the sheep of your hand.
Yet we stray from you, and seek fulfillment in lifeless places.
Come find us, bring us home to you,
and bless us with your life-changing grace.
God of life, we return to you.
[ Silent prayer… The Word of Grace]
God, we confess sometimes we are your lost sheep,
wandering and needing you to return us to our place in you.
And we confess sometimes we think we are the insiders,
the saved, and we resent those who are lost,
who are outside our fold,
and we scorn your grace toward them.
Soften our hearts to your grace
for us and for all your children.
In humility and gratitude we ask your forgiveness,
your healing and your grace. Amen.
Loving God, gentle shepherd,
we confess that although we cannot flee from your presence,
our hearts have wandered.
We have become lost in our own ways,
ways of fear that lead to death.
Come to us, forgive us,
enfold us in your mercy and lead us to life,
in the name of Christ, our brother, and your grace. Amen.
Gracious God, we are your beloved, your treasure.
But in the clutter of our lives,
in the wildernesses of this world,
we have gotten lost.
Come to us, God.
In the darkest parts of our hearts, find us.
Find us, forgive us, and bring us home to you.
Let us shine again in your presence.
Let us be once again coins of joy around your neck,
sheep of your company around your feet.
We pray in the name of Christ
and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We trust in God, creator of all, who loves every soul, sinner and saint, success or failure, in health or infirm, who knows each one’s divine worth, and who cares especially for the last, the lost and the least, those without power or place or voice. Blessed are the poor, and those who hunger and thirst, for they are God’s Beloved.
We follow Jesus, who taught and healed, who gathered the outcast and blessed the despised. He gave love to all people, sought out those on the margins, restored the dignity of the rejected, and died on the cross in solidarity with all who are condemned, ignored or dehumanized. In glory God raised Christ from the dead and seated them in power, where they rule over all Creation with the humble whom Christ saves. Blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart, for they will see God.
We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence in and among us, who gives us the grace to love our neighbors, to seek the lost, to defend the powerless and raise up the poor, to seek justice for the oppressed and hope for the brokenhearted. We believe in the power of forgiveness; the reality of resurrection; the unity of the church, the Body of Christ; and the presence of eternal life. We look to the day when the lost are returned and we are gathered as one, to the delight and rejoicing of God. Blessed are the peacemakers and those who are persecuted, for they are children of God.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
God of grace,
though I am lost and scattered
you search me out; you center me.
Though I lose sight of my worth,
you treasure me.
In the stillness you hold me.
[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
We thank you, God: we are your coins, stamped with your image.
You treasure us, and find us when we are lost, and rejoice in us.
We are your sheep, and you search us out when we wander.
You return us to our place of belonging, and rejoice.
So you set this table and invite us to celebrate with you,
for we who were lost are found.
Therefore with all your saints we sing your praise.
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ, our good shepherd.
He sought the lost, gathered the outcast and fed the hungry.
Like a woman rejoicing at finding a coin,
he embodied your delight in us.
He gathered those the Powers did not want included
and saved those the Insiders didn’t want saved;
therefore by the powers of oppression he was killed.
But you raised him from death
like a precious coin rescued from the trash.
Now he invites us to this feast of reunion, where all are united.
Lost and continually found, we rejoice.
(The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
seeking the lost and lonely, treasuring the outcast and rejected,
and rejoicing in all whom you love.
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. You bless us that in our giving is our receiving; in our searching is our finding; in our living for you we find your purpose for us. God of love, send us out in ministry for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
God of love, every person we see is your beloved, whom you seek. For those who are wandering lost, for those who are neglected as unworthy, give us the eyes and heart of our Gentle Shepherd to seek them out, to offer them a place of belonging and honor, to rejoice with God in their lives, for we, too, were lost, and are found. May Christ go with us, in the life-giving power of your Spirit. Amen.
Prayer after Communion
God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. In this feast of celebration you have united us with all who are lost and found, all who are your precious treasures. By your grace my we always rejoice in the gift of your salvation, and serve you in seeking and including those who have been separated. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Dear Gentle Watchful Shepherd (Tune: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Dear gentle, watchful shepherd,
you lead us as we graze,
and guide, us when we wander,
to find again your ways.
And when we stray in darkness,
alone and lost and weak,
unseen, you still are with us,
your dear ones whom you seek.
We pray for those who struggle
through life all on their own,
who find no path to guide them,
who think they are alone.
You fold them in your mercy
in every lonely place,
and with your hand upon them
you bless them with your grace.
O lead us, loving shepherd
to seek the last and lost,
to love them with your passion,
and serve at any cost.
Send us to find the lonely,
forgotten and ignored:
it’s there that we shall meet you,
our saving, healing Lord.
I Belong to You (Tune: Water is Wide / Gift of Love)
Beloved, I belong to you.
You give me birth; you make me new,
your image formed, by Spirit stirred.
You are the Song; I am your Word.
Whatever pains I may endure,
I still belong. Your love is sure.
Since I am yours, your will I do.
I trust and give myself to you.
I am your coin to richly spend,
so spend me, God, as you intend.
You bless my end; you hold my worth;
send me to love throughout the earth.
Beloved, I belong to you.
Do with me what your love will do.
Bear me, and I, through ease or strife
will find in you eternal life.