Separation from God Is Not an Option

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, M.Div.
Proper 19/Year C: September 15, 2019
Gospel: Luke 15:1-10

Mother Hymes’ sermon this morning (Luke 15:1-10). Please note: The first two minutes at the start of the sermon are missing due to a technical glitch.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, September 15, 2019

People lose things all the time. So much so that we have learned how to implement the art of retracing our steps to see if that which is lost is waiting for us somewhere along our previous path.  We lose things so much that the places where people frequent often have a container set aside called the “Lost and Found.” If you have ever looked through a lost and found container, you might recall that they are rarely empty. While this is largely the case, some lost items are reclaimed by their owners—and there is much rejoicing. But the items left behind, perhaps remain there because no one realized that they were missing in the first place.

The act of seeking anything that is lost, with the hope of finding it, presupposes that one must first have an awareness that the item is missing. And, no one would notice a missing item unless it was of value to them.

Our gospel passage continues this theme of Jesus being noticed and criticized by the religious leaders, for his radical hospitality toward tax collectors and sinners by eating with them. You see, these sinners, in need of repentance, had long been discarded by the religious types, relegated to society’s “lost and found” or simply the “lost” container. And, why would any of the religious leaders care about “those people” when they were of no value to them?

The difference between the sinners and the righteous was a clear distinction for the writer of Luke. Our Christian doctrine says that we are all sinners.

But taking this passage on its own terms, the writer of Luke distinguishes two camps: people who choose to repeatedly oppose God and need to repent, and the righteous who act in accordance with the will of God and need no repentance—Tax collectors and sinners on the one hand, Pharisees and scribes on the other.

The always-attentive Jesus created a teaching moment in response to the grumblings of the Pharisees and scribes, who were reacting to the group of sinners coming near to listen to Jesus—way too close for the Pharisees.

In the parable Jesus asked “Which one of you would not seek the one lost sheep until it is found? And, what woman who loses one silver coin doesn’t do everything to carefully search for it until it is found?

This word “until” is significant because it implies that giving up is not an option. The search continues until that which is lost is found. “when” the man has found the one lost sheep and “when” the woman finds the valuable, one lost silver coin, the only possible outcome is reclamation and restoration to the whole.

Of course, the images of the sheep and the silver coin are meant to be applied to the people listening. These parables are about us—those who are at once, sinners in need of repentance and the faithful, who may struggle with feeling lost or separated from God—who sense the pain of spiritual dryness.

God is always seeking after His beloved—the sinner that you are and the faithful follower of Christ that you are. God cares enough to notice when you are still far off in the wilderness and when you are at one with Him steeped in His divine grace—and He rejoices!

On one occasion during my chaplain residency I was called, at the patient’s request, to visit the psychiatric ward. I met with a twenty-something young man who clearly claimed Jesus. I say this because his face, his neck, his arms, even each knuckle on his hands, either had the word, “Jesus,” or the cross permanently inked into his skin. He was a walking Jesus billboard.

When our visit started he gave a litany of his work in the church—any ministry you can think of—he was active in it.  Peppered in between the litany of active ministries, was a look of pain on his face and his desperate refrain, “I just feel so separated from God.” He felt lost and helpless to the point that his daily functioning had been compromised, landing him in the hospital.

Finally, sacred silence fell upon us. How ironic that someone who literally covered himself in reminders of Jesus and his saving work on the cross to unify us with God, felt so isolated and disconnected from God. I looked at him, with both hands up in a sort of touchdown shape, with a lot of space in between, and said, “I notice that you have Jesus and the cross all over your body.  Tell me, if you’re here (motioning with my right hand) and you’re telling me that you feel God is all the way over here (motioning with my left hand), where is Jesus?” After a long period of silence, he dropped his face into his hands and he said, “Jesus is here.”

God used me as an instrument of His grace to whisper a reminder to his beloved child, that in Christ separation from God is impossible, and I rejoiced in knowing that on THAT night, “one” of God’s faithful found clarity in his identity as a beloved child of God and realized that he belonged to God.

Here’s the good news. Separation from God is impossible for those who are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked forever as Christ’s own in baptism (BCP, p. 308). As the body of Christ, we, the Church, must be faithful to the mission—for the mission of the church is the mission of God.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people (not just the 99)—all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ (BCP, p. 855).  As the body of Christ, Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, exists to be a beacon of Christ’s light for those who do not yet know Him, and to boldly remind those who do know Him, like the tattooed patient, that Jesus is always here. May God strengthen us to do the work He has called us to do.

Therefore, let us be about God’s business of reclamation and restoration. Let us rejoice, “…in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”[1]

Amen.

 

[1] Notes. An Order for Burial. Book of Common Prayer, 1979. p. 507.