The Sermon video for September 11, 2022
When I read the Gospel for this morning, he first thing I thought was – I’ve got a great story about something that was lost. The church where I served in Los Angeles had parking. But the deal with the parking was a little complicated. Because right next to the church there was a huge parking lot which we could use every Sunday and whenever we needed to. But it did not belong to the church. It belonged to the elementary school which was on the other side of the parking lot. It was their parking, and, because of a long-standing agreement, we could use it.
And the one thing they told me about the parking when I got there was – just don’t lose the key that opens the lot. Because it was a special Los Angeles unified School District key with a number on it, and it said do not duplicate. We had it attached to a tag. And it was kept in the key box. And someone once told me that if we ever lost the key, the school would get really upset –and we could even lose our access to the lot. It was a very valuable key. And I was really careful about it. Until I wasn’t, and one day it wasn’t there.
It was Monday morning and I realized that the key was missing, and I would have been the last person to use it on Sunday when I opened the lot in the morning. But the key was not among the things I had. It was not in my office, it was not where I sat in the church. It wasn’t in our house. So I didn’t panic when I couldn’t find the key, but I panicked a little bit.
And I became the shepherd looking for the sheep and the woman looking for the coin from the Gospel today, and that consumed me. And when I wasn’t actively searching for the key, I was passively searching with my eyes, scanning the ground and the floor, everywhere I went to find that key. Whatever else I did that week, I was also looking for that key.
And Friday came and I still had not found it, so I prepared myself to go to the office of the elementary school next door and talk to the principal and let her know that I lost their fancy key and see if we would still be able to park in their lot.
And as I was walking down the front steps of our house to go over to the school, my eyes were still obsessively looking. And suddenly they came upon the key, there on the ground, in the dirt, beneath a bush, right outside of our door, where it must have fallen out of my hand on Sunday.
And it was beautiful. Just lying there it had a glow. It was probably the most beautiful piece of metal I had ever seen. And of course a key is really nothing – just metal. But the beauty of the key came from its value in that moment, because it was the one thing I needed to be complete and be happy and have peace. And I was complete, just for that moment. And I put the key over my shoulders, like a sheep, and I brought it home. And of course when I talked to the people at the school later, they were like – that’s fine if you lose the key. It happens all the time. we can give you another one.
You are the thing that makes God complete. Do you think that God would have made you and brought you forth from the dust of the universe and given you this life without also wanting to find you, to lift you, to carry you home and be with you? Do you think God would have created you, out of all the infinite possibilities of life and all that could have happened, you with your personality and your gifts and your skills without wanting you to be there in God’s presence.
This comes up today in the Gospel because Jesus is there talking with the people, and as he does so, some sinners and tax collectors come to listen to him. And instead of telling them – you are not valued and you are not worthy of sitting with me, you are not God’s children, instead of doing that he treats them as human beings who are loved. He treats them as someone who in God’s eyes is so precious that God has sent him to bring them home.
And there among the crowd are some Pharisees who completely disagree. Because for them, the notion of God’s love or God’s acceptance is conditional – that there are certain conditions a person has to meet in order to sit at the table of the Lord and be in the presence of Jesus.
The Pharisees say: if you want to clean up you can come. If you want to act like we do you can come. We still won’t like you, but you can sit here. It’s like the Christian churches which say – you know Jesus loves everyone, except these people – the ones who are gay or lesbian or trans or bi or queer. People who are divorced, or never married yet living together, people who have sinned, people who don’t have my political beliefs. Christians have all sorts of ways of defining who can and who cannot sit at the table.
So this passage in a way is a reminder for us not to be the pharisees of our day, but to continue to value every single person, and to treat them as someone beloved by God, which can be hard to do. Because it means sometimes that we have to expand our notion of who God is.
And I think that’s what I see today – Jesus inviting the Pharisees to expand their notion of who God is. They think they know God and what God wants and how God is, based on some understanding and traditions they have been taught and that have been passed down for years.
And if you look at this passage as an invitation to the Pharisees, what Jesus is saying is this – God is way bigger than you think. And God’s presence continues to develop, and change, and be alive, even though you may not understand it or be aware of it. But you have to accept the fact that God is not static or stuck like you may be. And you have captured perhaps one idea of God, one image of the divine, one notion of how things have to be in God’s kingdom. But that God has grown and changed, so you have to keep growing too.
Imagine for many of us, our notion of God is stuck or caught on something in the past. Maybe something that happened to us when we were children, and maybe we had a horrible experience in a church. Or we got from our families these ideas of God that are negative– that God was abusive or distant or cold or judgmental. And many families give you that message, and many churches and communities of faith have trained us to think of God in a certain way.
But God is alive and the holiness of life is unfolding all the time, in every single moment, creating something new. This is a new second, a new moment where we are with God right now. And the problem comes when we are like the Pharisees holding onto an understanding of God or an understanding of holiness looking only for this limited way we think God should be.
How should God be? Should God be like God was when you were fifteen? Like God was at some point in the past when you had peace and happiness and contentment in your life, and you’re still looking to find God the same exact way? Even though you are not the same person and the world is not the same world. Maybe you’re still looking for God to be the same.
But God is not one a note being. God is not one tone played continually over the course of our life, but is a complex symphony of sound flowing onward. If Mr. Beckham just played one note on the organ for every single hymn, we would say, well that’s not music. It’s not alive. God is more than one note. God is alive.
What happens is that we are like the Pharisees so often in that we are simply living with these concepts of God without realizing that God is way bigger than our concepts and more varied and subtle and changing all the time. And we expect to find God in places where perhaps we once did but no longer do. And so we say – well God has abandoned me.
We could say – the Cathedral isn’t the same as it was before the pandemic. God has abandoned us. Things have changed in our community, in our routines and habits of church. God is no longer here, because it’s not like it used to be. And so because it’s not like it used to be, we give up on seeing how it is. The well is dry, we say, it no longer has water. But we’re not looking for another well to dig, and sometimes we should be.
Finding God in life requires effort. Sometimes we have to dig new wells in the world to see where God dwells with us now because the old wells are dry. We are used to thinking of God as being in these set experiences, and God certainly has been there for us. But where is God now? How does the Cathedral find God today? How do you find God today.
The problem is- we need to search for God, and we don’t always want to search. It’s hard work to be the shepherd or the widow in the parables today. They have to get up, turn the light on, sweep the house, check every nook and cranny, head out to the fields where the sheep may be, and in put in the time of finding that valuable thing which may not be right in front of us. But we do this because God is a moving and living presence, and we are not in a relationship with an idol who is stuck in one place, but in a relationship with something alive, and life is change.
We have a lost and found drawer in the office and occasionally someone comes in because they have misplaced something, usually glasses. And it’s usually Linda. But sometimes it’s a car key. And so you can’t just give car keys to someone who says they lost their keys. You have to ask them to describe what they are looking for. It’s a Chevy key and it’s got this fob and it’s got these tags on it.
And in the sense, our own search in this life is the same, we also must describe, at least for ourselves, what we are looking for when it comes to God. What are you looking for? How are you looking to connect? We might say: all right God, What do you look like for me today? How am I seeing you, how do I feel you? Can I describe for myself that about you which gives me peace, which makes me feel loved, and the opportunities I feel I need so I can be inspired to go out there and make a difference?
How are all the ways God speaks to me? It’s worth trying to describe or clarify what we seek, and we want to know where to look. The world out there will offer us all sorts of opportunities to find momentary fulfilment and buy a couple hours’ worth of happiness. If we are searching for something easy, the world will give it to us.
I have one other story of a man looking for his keys. He was there in the kitchen of his house opening the drawers and the cupboards and his wife came in and said, “What are you doing?” and he said, “I am looking for my car keys.” And she said, “Why are you looking for your car keys here in the kitchen in the drawers and the cupboard. Do you think you lost your keys in the kitchen?” And he said, “No I lost them in the back yard, but there is more light here in the kitchen.”
The beautiful thing is that God wants to be found just as much as God wants to find us. God is not content to let us stay in one place, or to lie there in the dirt forgotten underneath some bush. But God wants to lift us up and dust us off and bring us home. That’s God’s greatest desire. We are God’s greatest desire.