Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
Sunday September 15, 2019 – Church Picnic
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10
Preacher: Kate Jones
At a funeral, when there is a graveside service, either on its own or following a full funeral, one of the pieces of scripture that I usually include is the 23rd Psalm. That beautiful piece of poetry that begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul…”
And what I’ve observed is that as I begin to read this psalm, the semi-circle of people who are gathered there around the open grave will often start reciting it along with me. Even when it isn’t the funeral of someone who attended church regularly; even when the mourners aren’t regular church attenders, this is a piece of scripture that people know by heart. There, in the presence of death, people take comfort in believing that God, like a shepherd cares for and protects all of us.
As we get on towards the end of the 23rd Psalm, the last verse reads, (and feel free to join in if you know it), “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The interesting thing about this verse though, is that the original Hebrew word that is translated here as “follow” is actually a much more active verb. Instead of goodness and mercy passively trailing along after us, the original word means something more like pursuing, or chasing down. “For surely God’s goodness and God’s mercy chase after me every day of my life.” Even if we try to escape God, goodness and mercy are already there.
Which I see as a connection to the parables that Ida just read for us – often known as the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
In a flock of 100 sheep, one of them wanders away, becomes lost. Instead of letting it go, the shepherd goes after it. This isn’t as neglectful as it might appear at first glance since the shepherds worked together. The 99 were not in need of that shepherd’s immediate attention at that moment – the one who wandered away was. But the 99 were still cared for in his absence. And the shepherd searches and searches – looking behind rocks and down crevices until he finds the sheep and brings it back to the flock. And what happens then? A party to celebrate that what was lost has been found again!
Or a woman with 10 coins loses one. The coin didn’t choose to be lost, it just isn’t where it is supposed to be. And the woman searches and searches – turning over couch cushions, moving cupboards to look behind, checking to see if it has rolled between the floorboards. On Friday at Sobey’s I dropped my debit card after I had finished paying for my groceries, and believe me, the cashier and I didn’t stop looking until she found it where it had slipped between and under the counters at the checkout! And when the woman finds her coin, what happens then? Well, she invites the neighbours in for a party! What had been lost was found again and we have to celebrate!
And Jesus is telling his listeners including us that God is like that shepherd, like that woman. When we wander away from God, God doesn’t just sit back and wait for us to wander back again. No! God chases after us, pursues us, tracks us down, pulls us out of whatever crevice we have fallen down, pulls us out from whatever cupboard we have rolled behind.
And what comes next? Why, a party of course! God cries out, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the one who was lost! Let there be joy in heaven, let there be joy in the presence of the angels, let there be joy in everyone who has gathered!”
I can’t help but wonder if the kingdom of God might be like a church picnic. Diverse people of every generation gathering from all over the place – gathering to worship God, gathering to break bread together, gathering to care for one another, gathering to catch up with old friends, gathering in remembrance that we are in Christ’s presence, in remembrance that Christ is our host at the table, in remembrance that God is present by the Holy Spirit in the bread, in the water, in the faces of everyone who is gathered.
God calls us in our baptism; God sustains us in the communion feast; and God is always chasing after us, bringing us home, drawing us into the celebration that is the kingdom of God!
Thanks be to God!
Two Rivers Pastoral Charge Picnic 2019
(Photo Credit: Margaret Stackhouse)