Luke 15:1-10 9/11/16 Epiphany, Norfolk

Every once in a while someone will ask, or I’ll get an email asking why I picked a particular reading or Psalm for our service. Well, I don’t pick them. They are prescribed in what is known as “The Lectionary.” The Lectionary is a schedule of readings and Psalms that are adopted by our national legislative body, known as General Convention, which meets every 3 years.

Prior to the early 70s, we had a 1 year lectionary. The same readings were used on the same Sundays, year after year. Every 4th Sunday of Easter was the same, year after year. Well, in the early 70s, General Convention approved the trial use of a 3 year lectionary, where readings would repeat every 3 years. That sent a lot of clergy into a dither because they had a sermon for every Sunday of the year, and repeated them over and over every year. The old adage used to be, “If they remember the sermon, it’s worth repeating. If they don’t remember it, I need to preach it again.” Well, all of sudden a lot of new sermons had to be written, and clergy who hadn’t written a sermon in years were sitting down at typewriters. Or, we could always subscribe to a “sermon service” that would send us sermons in the mail each week. There was good money in publishing sermons in those days. And you didn’t even have to be clergy to write them.

Well, putting the lectionary together is a pretty complicated affair. When the 3 year lectionary was adopted, we were in the midst of what was called “The Ecumenical Movement”, where various denominations were exploring what they could do together. The Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians agreed to pool their scholarly resources and design a “Common Lectionary” – one that would be used by all three denominations. So now on the 4th Sunday of Easter you would now have the same readings in all Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches around the world. Since then, the United Methodist Church has joined in the design and use of the Common Lectionary. Incidentally, the Roman Catholic Church gets one week behind the rest of us for a few weeks each year due to a difference in their calendar. But we all get back on track within a few weeks.

Now, not too many years ago a decision was made by all 4 denominations to revise the Common Lectionary. How in the world these 4 denominations ever agreed on something as important as the Lectionary is just amazing. A few years ago the Episcopal Church approved the use of what became known as “The Revised Common Lectionary.” If you will look at the front page of your lesson sheet, in the top left hand corner, you will see the letters “RCL.” That means that these readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary. The only thing that has been changed in this week’s readings is the reading from Exodus has been shortened. And we will see these readings again in 3 years.

Well, sometimes I wonder why in the world particular readings were selected. Sometimes it’s just beyond me. But today’s readings are absolutely brilliant, either intentionally, or by accident. What they do is present a progression of God’s relationship to human kind.

In our 1st Reading from Exodus, we find Moses on the Holy Mountain, getting the 10 Commandments, and God has a temper tantrum. Moses has been gone too long, and the Hebrews at the bottom of the mountain have made a golden calf and have begun worshipping it. They have turned away from God, and God is furious. God tells Moses: “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” And Moses pleads with God to not destroy the Hebrews, and God agrees.

So, in this reading we get the Old Testament concept of an angry God that unleashes destruction and vengeance. It is a selfish, spoiled, childish God. And it’s Moses, a human, a creature, that has the maturity to calm God down and fend off the tantrum. That is very much the primitive Old Testament concept of God, as described here in Exodus.

Then our Psalm, a Jewish hymn, begins: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness.” And it is a confession of humankind before God. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” This is a real progression from denying God and casting a false idol, to asking forgiveness. Here, the relationship between God and creature softens. And humankind turns to God, and asks forgiveness, and asks for a clean heart.

Then our Reading from 1st Timothy shows the next phase in the God/human relationship. God has sent Jesus, the Christ, to show humankind what relationship should be. And our reading begins: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me.” Here, mankind is showing thanks for a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It’s the next step in the development of the creature’s relationship with God. This is totally different than the relationship in Exodus.

And then of course, our reading from the Gospel of Luke. In this passage, we get the next step in the development of relationship with God. Here we get human kind “reaching out” to the weak, the needy, the lost.

I really love the picture on the front of your bulletin. It’s a stained glass depiction of Christ reaching out to help a lamb tangled up in a thorny bush. We know it’s Jesus because of the 3 red marks in the halo, representing the cross. When you see a halo with those marks, it’s always Jesus.

This story of the lost sheep is also in the 18th chapter of Matthew, which is much earlier than Luke. I think Luke lifted it because he thought it was authentic, and Jesus was trying to say that when we reach out to help the weak, or the distressed, or the lost, or the troubled, it is the Christ in us coming through. Remember, we are the Body of Christ on earth. That’s what the church and her members are all about – being the Body of Christ. And humankind’s relationship to God now becomes one of “reaching out” to help, to find, to heal, to save. That’s the Christian understanding of the creature’s relationship to the creator.

In a few minutes we’ll leave this building and go out into a world filled with thorny bushes and trapped or lost innocence. Try to keep the bulletin cover picture in your mind. Keep an eye out for the lamb caught in the thorns. And don’t be afraid to reach in and help when you have the opportunity.


Posted September 20, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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