Sept. 11, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion, you lead back to yourself all those who go astray. Preserve your people in your loving care, that we may reject whatever is contrary to you and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

11At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse—12a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

22“For my people are foolish,
  they do not know me;
 they are stupid children,
  they have no understanding.
 They are skilled in doing evil,
  but do not know how to do good.”

23I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
  and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
  and all the hills moved to and fro.
25I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
  and all the birds of the air had fled.
26I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
  and all its cities were laid in ruins
  before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
27For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
28Because of this the earth shall mourn,
  and the heavens above grow black;
 for I have spoken, I have purposed;
  I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm 14

1Fools say in their hearts, “There | is no God.”
  They are corrupt, every deed is vile; there is no one who does | any good.
2The Lord looks down from heaven up- | on us all,
  to see if there is anyone who is wise, who seeks | after God. 
3They have all proved faithless; all alike | have turned bad;
  there is none who does good; | no, not one.
4Have they no knowledge, all those | evildoers
  who eat up my people like bread and do not call up- | on the Lord?
5See how they trem- | ble with fear,
  because God is in the company | of the righteous.
6Your aim is to confound the plans of | the afflicted,
  but the Lord| is their refuge.
7Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come | out of Zion!
  When the Lord restores the fortunes of the people, Jacob will rejoice and Israel | will be glad.

Luke 15:1-10

1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 4“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? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’ 7Just 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.
8“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? 9When 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.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I am going to be straight with you today that there is a lot going on in our scripture passages, especially situated as we are in this Season of Creation. And that’s on a day that is already filled with so much—Sunday School restarted, we’re celebrating the ministry of Luther Heights even as the forest near camp burns, we’re planting and dedicating our Peace Pole from Peace Camp 2021 on the anniversary of 9/11, we are celebrating guests the same day we say goodbye to a long-time member. 

It’s a lot. But that is one of the things that the life of faith, and life in a faith community, actually excels at—holding seemingly contradictory things side-by-side. Asking, where is God in all of this? How is the Holy Spirit working in the messiness that is real life?

I have colleagues who might discourage me from reading the Jeremiah text and Luke texts on the same Sunday—for they seem so opposed. One is doom and gloom and the other is about throwing parties. Is the same God active in both passages. Definitely yes. Last week something stirred in me a memory of my dad and I standing in the pew of my home congregation in Custer, SD singing the liturgy together. A perfectly normal Wednesday morning turned into a pool of tears as I cried and cried. But I was simultaneously so filled with gratitude—for my dad, for music, for that congregation that loved me into so much of who I remain. Sorrow and gloom alongside deep joy—messy. 

So, we have this seemingly wonderful gospel text full of good news. The lost sheep and the lost coin are both found by a loving God whose mercy is everlasting. The thing is, most of us who read and hear this gospel are probably among those 99 sheep who God left in the wilderness to go search for the lost sheep. We might have felt alone and forgotten by God out there. Are we really rejoicing when the lost is found and brought back? If someone we had not seen for a while showed up today, would we accusingly ask, “Where have you been?” or would we simply say, “I’m so happy to see you! What’s new?” Do we want the lost to be found or are we more like the Pharisees and scribes who grumble and say, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

In the second parable we do not hear about the other coins. The focus is entirely on the searching God, who like the woman in Jesus’ parable just keeps looking. And now, with this parable, we are reminded that each of us has been lost at some point, maybe even today. And the reason why the “holier than though” attitude of the scribes and Pharisees (and maybe a few grumblers here—I’ll count myself among them) is unacceptable. The real reason to seek and love the lost and throw the party is because ours is a seeking and loving God. 

Basking in the gaze of this loving and seeking God, we could say, great. Carpe Diem. Anything goes. God’s mercy is everlasting. Except that right before he tells these parables, Jesus has talked at length about the cost of discipleship. What’s more, our passage from Jeremiah reveals that while God is a God of relationship and never quite gives up on the human family, there are expectations.

The prophet Jeremiah implores his first audience and us to listen to God’s voice speaking through the natural events. The imagery of approaching catastrophe in Jeremiah’s narrative emphasizes the direct connection between the disobedience of the people and the cosmos and natural order. The entire earth groans when there is unrest among humans. When we abuse God’s wonderful creation, we hurt ourselves. The prophetic idea of knowing God involves living decent and honest lives in harmony with all of God’s creation. 

Pope Francis wrote, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet… The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor.” 

I think the harshest line in the Jeremiah passage is verse 22, 22“For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” The people have not just done evil, they have not been wise. As one scholar put it, “On the basis of everyday common sense, this people should have known better what it means to do good and shun evil.” 

Likewise, should we as a large body of people not have known better? How could the Flint, Michigan water crisis have happened in 21st century America? Don’t we collectively know better? Isn’t there enough science, compassion, wisdom, and technology today to have prevented the current water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi? For those in the West, we might take a god hard look at sources like the Ogallala Aquifer and the Colorado River. What are their futures? Will we listen to them and to the land around them so people can access them for years to come? To read statistics on the global water crisis is sobering, but to read about it happening in this country is devastating and should move us to action.

What has happened that we are so apathetic about how out of balance our collective relationship with the natural world is? How can we get back in sync? There are prophets in our own time that it might be more obvious to turn to, but I actually find it both hopeful and helpful to go way back and hear from saints from the Christian family who struggled with this imbalance long ago. One such saint is Hildegard of Bingen, the German mystic born in 1098. Most of her writings, as we have them today, are records of her visions. She also wrote hymns, treatises on medicine, lives of saints, and poems. Today she is sometimes known as the patron saint of green and growing. 

She believed, as Jeremiah did, that humans had been given wisdom and tools to live in harmony with the natural world. She wrote, “With all these things in the world [God] surrounded and fortified humankind and everywhere imbued them with the greatest strength, so that creation might assist them in all things and partake in all human works, so that they might do their work with creation—for humankind can neither live nor even exist without creation, as shall be shown to you in the present vision” (The Book of Divine Works 1.2.2).

Hildegard also had hope that we could turn things around when they went sideways—and the way to do that was through the restoration of justice. The solution to our ecological crises does not lie in fixing the physical damage of the natural environment alone. From Hildegard’s perspective, the only way to restore balance, harmony, and viridity to the natural world is to restore true justice to all aspects of the human condition.

To me it’s appropriate that we celebrate what Lutheran Outdoor Ministries is and does during this Season of Creation. I firmly believe that it’s nearly impossible for human being to help usher in the reign of God if they have never had a glimpse of the kingdom, and one place to get a glimpse is at camp. Not only are you living in intentional Christian community, but you are living in close proximity to the natural world. 

And yet we also get a glimpse of the reign of God each week when we celebrate Holy Communion. We eat bread, which comes from wheat, grown in fields rooted in soil. We drink wine made from grapes on the vine. Each of us comes to the table with the burdens and joys of the particular week but also from a particular life. We gather around the table together and remember God’s promises of forgiveness and new life. The grumpy, the lost, the foolish, the wise all together receiving the gift of Jesus himself. It is messy and beautiful, and it is absolutely a glimpse of creation restored, if just for a moment in time.

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

As scattered grains of wheat are gathered together into one bread, so let us gather our prayers for the church, those in need, and all of God’s good creation.

A brief silence.

Your people receive mercy and your grace overflows in our lives. Fill your church with faith and love, and give understanding hearts to those who work to strengthen our ecumenical and interreligious commitments. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Your creation groans as it suffers the impacts of pollution and lack of care. As the seasons change, renew in us the will to protect plants, animals, and habitats. Bless us with bountiful harvests that all may share. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Your world is shattered and the nations rage. Remember us in your mercy. Teach wisdom to our elected leaders so that we know peace in our world, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Your children wander homeless and the hungry cry for bread. Seek out those who are lost or lonely, anxious or depressed, or struggling with addiction or illness. Provide for those in any need (especially). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Your work is done in this congregation with our hands, feet, voices, minds, and hearts. Build up the ministries of this community (local ministries and partnerships may be named), that we serve our neighbors and welcome the stranger in your name. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Your blessed saints who have died now rest in your presence. Give us thankful hearts for those who have been examples of faith in our lives, and receive us with joy when we come to share eternal life with you. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Gathered together in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit, gracious God, we offer these and all our prayers to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Amen.

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