Sunday, September 11, 2022

Year C Proper 19 2022 Come Home

 Year C Proper 19, 11 September 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Come Home”

Collect: O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

No excuses. Not a one of us has any excuses. We, each and every one of us, are being told the nature of God. Jesus could not have been more clear. Jesus did not come that we might mend our ways to get into heaven, he came to get us into heaven so that we could mend our ways. We think we owe somebody something. But we grow where we are planted. If we reside in a place that is healthy and nurturing, guess what? We tend to get healthy and nurtured.

This has been proven repeatedly in long-term experiments which have proven true with the unhoused. Too often we have had short-term transitional housing or had sobriety and drug testing before any aid can be extended. Housing First programs reverse the process, getting people in long-term if not permanent housing. This has been repeatedly proven to be successful. Put a permanent roof over someone’s head, and guess what, people get better, often very quickly. Lack of housing is the problem, not the people. Jesus did the same thing for us, welcoming and encouraging us to get into relationship with God before requiring us to get our acts together. Grace comes first, and grace bats last. And grace is present throughout. We can get our act together because of the love and nurture that enables us to have the strength and encouragement to do the hard work needed.

Grace is the theme of Western stories and novels, and we still find it amazing. It has been that way since the beginning.

In our reading from First Timothy today, St. Paul is writing to his  protégé, and reminding him of where he himself came from and how thankful he was.

I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost.

St. Paul is basically saying, if I am redeemable and worthy of Grace anyone is. The call of the Church should be “Come home! Come home!”

Lost sheep? Lost coin? Come home. Come home.

“Lassie, go get Timmy and tell him it’s time to ‘Come Home.’”

We still are amazed by Grace.

I have been witnessing the outpouring of love and grief expressed over Queen Elizabeth’s passing on Thursday. She was 96, and it was no surprise to anyone. She had loved a long, good life, and had been a consistent constant since the time of Winston Churchill. This is not ancient history. For 7 decades she led, not just lived, always in the spotlight wherever she went, dismantling empire, building up a commonwealth of nations, devoted mother, grandmother, a woman leader in a time when that was unheard of, not just rare. I saw a funny picture of her greeting the Beatles, who were usually the spotlight. They were fawning over her, not the other way around.

Wealthy, yes, beyond most of our comprehension, but also a person of deep faith. As Episcopalians we feel an affinity as she was the supreme governor of the Church of England, our Mother Church. We pray for our Archbishop of Canterbury, but she appoints them. Do not forget that. Tangentially, she affected us through her leadership and work. But she was also a person of deep piety and faith.

Before her coronation during her Christmas address in 1952, she said this, “Pray for me … that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”

Her Christmas addresses were always written by her personally.

And speaking of her faith, the Queen said this in her Christmas broadcast in December 2000: 

‘For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.’

To enlighten us a bit more, I found this:

The Queen was crowned in a deeply symbolic church service devised in AD 973 and including prayers and a service of Holy Communion. The orb, scepter, ring and crown used in the ceremony each include a cross to symbolize the rule of Jesus Christ over the world. Even though the crown jewels are set with many of the world’s most valuable gems, a Bible is presented during the coronation and described as ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords’.

The most sacred moment at the heart of the ceremony is the anointing, when the symbols of royal status are removed. The Queen, sitting under a canopy to hide the sacred moment from the cameras, was dressed in a simple white dress with no jewels or crown. As the Archbishop anointed her with oil, the prayers said over her invited God’s Holy Spirit to set her apart as God’s servant. Christians believe that God’s anointing fills his people with his love and empowers them to follow him. Source

No matter your thoughts on the monarchy, or any monarchy, in Elizabeth II, we see a human who chose to serve with her whole life, what she said, did, and thought. Though royal by blood, she was a sinner redeemed by the blood of Christ, and took that as her most important treasure. People I have met who have had interactions with her emphasize how important her faith was to her, and we trust that she is seeing the outcome of that gift of grace and her faithful response to it. As King Charles III said, "To my darling mama, as you begin your last great journey, I want simply to say this: Thank you."

At last, even the Queen comes home.

Friends, Grace, whomever receives it, however it is given, is amazing.

When I was very young there was a song that topped the charts. It was Song of the Year at the Grammys. It touched a nerve. It spoke to the soul.

I looked up the story behind the song, and it was even better than the hit. This is from one of the songwriters, L. Russell Brown, on his inspiration.

I was reading the Reader's Digest. … I read it from front to back. There was an article … it was about a soldier coming home from Andersonville Prison in the Civil War and he was going to Pennsylvania. He told his girl in a letter, "I'll understand if I should stay on the stagecoach. But if I shouldn't, tie a big yellow handkerchief on the big oak tree outside of town. And then I'll know if it's there, I should get off, but I'll understand that you found someone else in the last three years." He couldn't bear to look at it himself. So he told the other people in the stagecoach and the driver to please look. … When they got to the big oak tree, everybody yelled and screamed. He looked out the window, and it was covered with yellow handkerchiefs. A chill went up my neck. I said, "My God!" … I said, "Boy, that would make a great song." 


🎵So tie a yellow ribbon round the ole’ oak tree…🎵

We have been tying yellow ribbons ever since. We are decades into people not knowing why. It is a sign of being welcomed home, no questions asked.

And that, friends, is Grace.

Today we start our program year. We welcome back Sunday School classes. We resume offering a nursery for the youngest among us.

Some places call this weekend Fall Kick-Off. Some call it Homecoming. Whatever you call it, we start fresh today. A good metaphor for what Church should always be.

We could have, maybe should have, tied ribbons around the trees out front as we resume our program year. We are glad you are here. We are glad we are on this journey together. We venture out in faith and hope for what is to come, and thankful that we are still here and at work while we hear the call… Join me if you know the words.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,

calling for you and for me;

see, on the portals he's waiting and watching,

watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home;

you who are weary come home;

earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,

calling, O sinner, come home!

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Blessings, Rock