Text: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Luke 15:1-10
The past several Sundays, we have been taking a closer look at Jeremiah and Luke’s gospel. I’ll confess, as I read and studied Jeremiah’s words this week, it became clear how Jeremiah earned his nickname, the weeping prophet. After all, Jeremiah had a hard word to deliver to the people of Israel, a call to repent, to remember God, and to change. People never like to be told they need to change. In today’s text, God allows Jeremiah to see the impending destruction, the results of Judah following other gods, of the people breaking their end of the covenant with God, and the coming armies and danger which will occur as a result. I’ll also confess that there are lots of possible nooks and crannies to explore and get lost in throughout Jeremiah’s words today, and we are not going to have time to address all of those.
Our passages at first glance may seem to be in conflict with one another, but Jeremiah texts shows us how deeply we need repentance and grace in our lives and Luke’s text takes this idea of God’s grace a step further, illustrating the extremes Christ makes in order to find the lost and eat with sinners. I invite us all to hear these words of scripture
Jeremiah sees a coming chaotic reversal of creation. It is as though the people Jeremiah speaks to continuously choose to wallow in evil and foolishness. One might imagine parents giving a child new clothes, sending the child outside to play and telling the child to keep clothes clean. As child goes about their day, it starts raining. The child sees a puddle on their way home and decides to try and jump over it, but instead slips in the puddle. Not only do they slip in the puddle, they decide to stay there to play and roll in the mud. Once the child is found by angry parents, the child says they only slipped in the puddle, however the parents point out you didn’t just slip in the puddle, you stayed in the puddle. (credit: Pulpit Fiction) It is as though Israel didn’t just slip in the puddle, they stayed there, rolled around, they wallowed in foolishness and turned away from God, they played in puddle and then rolled around some more. It is easy to visualize God’s face palm.
In God’s frustration, God laments and states the people are, “skilled at doing evil and inept in doing good.” God continues and calls the people saw/kawl which in Hebrew means a fool, or foolish. For, “a fool says in their heart there is no God.” The people Jeremiah prophesies to, live godless lives, and turn to false gods from other nations. God shows Jeremiah what happens when foolish people turn away from God and God’s mercy. Jerusalem will be met with an intense wind and danger as the Babylonian armies bring war and destruction. Harsh words, indeed.
Yet there is however, a small glimmer of hope, all won’t be destroyed forever. Even in this coming Babylonian destruction, God mourns with people and for people. God laments saying, “My poor people” or in Hebrew bat ammi which has wide range of translations from beloved to sinful or wounded. God remains compassionately angry and holds people accountable. Jeremiah sees that all won’t be completely destroy forever, even though the rebellious actions of the people pierce God’s heart. The people’s choice to have no close relationship with God- hurts. The words are a call, frustrated plea and challenge to do better. In their foolish hearts, they could do better. How does this resonate today? What can we do better as God’s people? Do we get out of the puddle or wallow in it?
Then on the other side of the coin, our gospel lesson from Luke, takes God’s relentless challenge for God’s people to do better, a step further as Jesus seeks to show the Pharisees who grumble about who Jesus decides to share his meals with, a better way. These familiar parables reveal God’s determination to not leave us to our own devices and destruction. God takes a tremendous risk, becoming flesh and living among us, to seek and save the lost no matter how stupid and skilled at evil we sinners are, individually or cooperatively.
Even the lost, and people who are skilled at doing evil and foolish can be redeemable in God’s eyes. God works to redeem creation, to save the lost no matter how thoughtless and skilled at evil we are. God desires to help us out of the puddle. God yearns for a reversal, for repentance and for us to recognize our need for mercy. God seeks to transform our evil into good and stupidity into wisdom while challenging us to participate in God’s radical welcome—to stop grumbling and celebrate each and every time the lost become found. The call to do better is always there. God never completely gives up on people. These parables are timeless examples of God’s grace. The coin and the sheep do nothing, they are simply found. While others may see sinners as totally at fault and blame for their lost-ness, Jesus shifts to the amazing effort that God is willing to do to claim and celebrate those who are found.
How might we do better at welcoming back the sheep who were lost, but who might have been lost in different ways from us? Those who are rejected or swept under the rug by society. Aren’t we all in some way lost, the sinners and the self-proclaimed righteous who grumble when other sinners get to eat with and be with Jesus? The righteous who can become blinded by their own perfections and by their own self-made images of god. As Anne Lamott points out, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” Don’t they realize they are lost too?
As pastor David Lose, observes, “Might the man or woman who is addicted to substances and working to take steps towards recovery be lost? Might bullies and the lonely be lost?
“Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around football games and dance recitals be lost?
Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder the one priority be lost?
Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do just about anything to fit in be lost?
Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement be lost?”
God is actively searching to bring all to the table. Christ came for all types- lost, righteous, sinner, insiders, and outsiders. God is relentless, stubborn, insistent, and tireless in God’s redeeming work. God searches for all. All have a place at Jesus’ table.
Eating in Jesus’ culture was highly relational. As one pastor observes, “Eating isn’t catching a quick bite at the local coffee house and moving on. Eating — that is, sharing table fellowship — is a mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship. And so in eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is demonstrating a deep and abiding acceptance of those society has deemed beyond the moral pale.” Eating with sinners means encouraging his followers to do the same. Jesus shared table fellowship with all people, Pharisees and sinners alike.
Sometimes, the counter balance between good and evil take place on grand stages, in world events, court cases, sometimes this plays out in small ordinary places…like school cafeterias. I can only think of a few things more anxiety producing than walking into a cafeteria at a brand new school and not being sure where to sit or which table may welcome you. My guess is we all know what it is like to be alone at lunch or to witness someone who is lonely at lunch. You may have heard the story that came out of North Carolina about a young high school freshman who after sitting alone for a few days was joined by several upper class members of the football team. All the football players wanted to let him know he wasn’t alone and was welcomed. Several schools around the country have adopted a movement called, “We Dine together” which works to assure that no kid sits alone at lunch. To make sure everyone has a place at the table.
Church, might we have a “we worship together, we fellowship together, we serve together” movement? So friends, take a moment and imagine our church as a lunch table—are we welcoming? Do we go the extra mile in showing hospitality? Do we sneer at people who aren’t like us? Do we engage in outreach and make room at the table? Do we join in the communal rejoicing when the lost become found? Are we so excited that Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeks after us when we are lost, that we are understanding when Jesus brings a new sheep to the table? Is there always room at the table, do we slide over to make room? Do we branch outside ourselves and share table fellowship with those who society may deem unworthy? Do we seek to share food and resources? How is Christ calling us to do better?
Friends, the good news is Jesus Christ eats with sinners, Jesus welcomes sinners, God in Christ will seek after the lost with relentless energy, and will rejoice when lost are found. Later we will sing a beautiful hymn, “For Everyone Born,” listen to some lyrics, “And God will rejoice when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace- for everyone born has a space at the table. “Jesus doesn’t draw boundaries of relationship; all are welcomed at the table. There’s always room to be welcomed at God’s table, so let us seek to rejoice with and welcome all. Amen.