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Pentecost 17 Proper 19C RCL September 11, 2016

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is telling the people that, because the people are drifting away from God, there will be an invasion from the north and the land will be laid waste.

Back in those days, people believed that everything that happened was directly caused by God. Herbert O’Driscoll offers a modern example. He writes, “Some time ago in Australia, rescuers had to drag bodies from  a number of shattered ski hostels that were demolished by a landslide. Nobody today would say that this was a judgment of God. Yet people did acknowledge that, because of the scarcity of good ski hills in Australia, this area had been heavily over-developed by business interests wishing to make high profits. It was well known that this development was stressing the mountain side severely. In other words—to use the language of morality—greed and stupidity prevailed over intelligence and a healthy respect for the created order.”

O’Driscoll is offering us an excellent example. In biblical times, people would have said that the landslide was sent by God. Now, we have a much more scientific understanding of events, and we also say that moral and ethical laxity have consequences. This is what was happening in Jeremiah’s time. Leaders were forgetting God and relying on human power. They were also failing to care for those who were most vulnerable in the society. Jeremiah is saying that there will be consequences, and he is also saying something else that is very important. God’s love and mercy will prevail.

Our epistle is from the First Letter to Timothy. Most scholars think the this letter was written by a student of Paul, but for simplicity’s sake, I am going to call the writer Paul. From his years of experience, Paul is advising and guiding his beloved assistant, Timothy. Paul can be so refreshingly blunt and honest. He begins by thanking God for judging him as faithful and appointing him to serve God, even though Paul has many flaws.

God chose a persecutor of the Church to be the apostle to the world. Through God’s love and mercy, Paul was given the gifts and strength to speak God’s love and forgiveness to hundreds and hundreds of people around the Mediterranean basin. But Paul does not focus on his life and ministry. He ends by giving glory to God in the words we use in one of our most beautiful hymns. He writes, “To the king of the ages, immortal, invisible. the only God, be honor and glory, forever and ever.”

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes are saying that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Yes, our Lord opens his arms to us sinners and does that most intimate and nourishing thing. He breaks bread with us.

Then he tells us how he feels about us. If we are that lost sheep, he is going to look and look until he finds us and brings us back home on his shoulder. He is going to hunt for us the way the woman looked for that lost coin.

As my beloved mentor. David Brown, has said, “The Church is the Communion of Saints, but it is also a hospital for sick sinners.” We have all done things which we ought not to have done and we have all not done things which we ought to have done. We have sinned. We have committed sins of commission and omission. Our Lord has reached out and welcomed all of us. Because of his love and forgiveness and healing, we have been made new in him.

This very day, September 11, 2016, is the fifteenth anniversary of one of the most tragic and horrific events in our history. It is a day that we will never forget. It was such a terrible day that we actually call it by its date—Nine-Eleven.

I am not going to attempt to comment on the meaning of that day, except to say that it has marked each of us and all of us forever. I am not going to try to analyze how we might have avoided that day or how we might prevent another day such as that from ever happening on this earth. I know that we all pray for peace. We pray for all those who lost their lives, and those who were wounded on that day, and we pray for their loved ones. We also pray for the first responders, police, fire fighters, and the many others who went to help and who were injured or lost their lives, and for their families and all who love them.

We pray for the members of our armed forces who put their lives on the line in the fight against terrorism.

When I hear the fighter jets of the Vermont Air Guard flying overhead, as I often do, I always remember that they were the ones sent to protect New York, and we all know that they fly missions all over the world.

As we remember the events of fifteen years ago, our collect offers us some very profound and wise guidance. “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.

As we move forward in this day and beyond, may we seek the guidance of God in all things; may we work with God to bring in God’s shalom. Amen.

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