September 15, 2019 – 14 Pentecost C, Proper 19
Exodus 32:7-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-1
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
What are you grumbling about? Are you willing to admit you might be a little lost? Are you a little too focused on other people?
Grumbling is one way we participate in groups and it’s not all bad. We really need to process what others are doing and sometimes anger is a very appropriate response. But grumbling is always a little dangerous. It can quickly turn into self-righteousness and the belief that we have everything right. We often grumble about things in others that are actually the things we like least about ourselves but things we are reluctant to face honestly. The things we deny about ourselves are the things that get us into trouble. Being faithful isn’t about eliminating sin; it’s about admitting you’ve got some.
The Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling again today. You gotta love them. If you haven’t figured it out, they are us more times than not. Today they are grumbling that Jesus is hanging out with sinners. It’s like walking into a doctor’s office and grumbling about all the sick people sitting there. Of course the sinners are flocking to Jesus. He actually has something that is going to be helpful to them and change their lives. He’s not bashing them in the head with rules and regulations and scriptures. He’s offering them forgiveness and the tools to put their lives back together. What in the world do the Pharisees and the scribes not like about that? They’re a little too stuck on who is right and who is wrong. They have divided the world into “them” and “us” and that approach is pretty much a dead end.
Jesus opens a new road but they just won’t take it. So Jesus moves on with those who will take it. He’s not leaving them out. But grumbling makes most anything new impossible. Grumbling empowers the problem more than the solution. So Jesus gets on with solving, healing, salvation of souls, a brand new way of seeing things.
The sinners are at the bottom. They are humbled and now can be exalted, they are the last and now they can be first. The Pharisees and the scribes are first and the thought of others being first causes them to cling to what they have instead of being open to what could be. They think they have earned what they have and have forgotten that life is a gift. They’re so bothered that Jesus is just giving salvation away for free that they forget how much they have been given.
Don’t you hate to lose something? “What did I do with it? “Where could it be?” If I’ve lost it, by God I’m gonna find it. It’s a matter of principle. I need what I have lost. It has value. If I’ve lost something of no value, I’m not stopping or losing sleep over it. But losing something I need results in something very similar to the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. I’ve got to find it. I’m stopping everything else until I find it. A sense of urgency arises and I start thinking about where all it could be. I’ll look in the same place five different times. I’ll look in places I’ve never been. I’ve got to find it.
Maybe that’s what the Pharisees are grumbling about. Maybe they feel ignored or left out in some way. I’ll admit it is a little irritating when Mary Ward has dropped everything to look for something she has lost. “Can’t we just have supper and look for it tomorrow?” “No, I’ve got to find it.” It feels a little like those keys are more important than me. And why is she always losing stuff anyway?
The sinners hear the parable and they get the point. God is searching for them. They’ve been lost and he has missed them. They have value in his eyes. He has been looking all over for them and now he has found them and the angels are singing in celebration.
The Pharisees and scribes are grumbling that God is searching for something they don’t care one whit about. “Sinners are garbage. Why would God even bother with them? Why doesn’t God just pay attention to us instead of worrying about them?” Ironically, all the Pharisees and the scribes have to do is to remember that they are lost. They hate the sinners because they too are sinners but they can’t face it. In all their scurrying about in life, they are running away from God. Grumbling keeps us on a dead end road, it keeps us from getting on the new road, it keeps us from seeing that we too are lost, it keeps us from seeing that God values us and will not rest until he finds us. Grumbling keeps us from admitting we are lost. And until we know we are lost, we can’t know the joy of being found.
I was in the grocery store the other day. That’s always a major test of my faith for some reason. All those people getting in the way of me finding what I want. I got a few items and then thought I needed a box of baking soda. Where is it? It’s not on the baking aisle. Not on the cleanser aisle. Where could it be? Along came a clerk. “Can I help you find something, sir?” “No thanks. Got everything I need.” What in the world is wrong with me that I won’t admit I need a little help? I guess it’s the principle of things. I still don’t know where the baking soda is.
In Christ Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God is searching diligently for us. He has dropped everything else to find us. We are valuable and loved and he wants us with him. Are you willing to be found? Are you willing to even admit that you are lost, that you can’t find what you most need on your own? Are you willing to be found? Or are you just clinging to what you have and grumbling about everybody else?
Christ Jesus offers a brand new road.