On this Reconnecting Sunday, when we are back from our summer travels and ready to begin a new season together, I want to consider four ideas around this theme of reconnecting. First is ways in which we disconnect, sometimes for very good reasons. Then we will explore the two parables that we heard in today’s reading. After that we will look at two specific ways to reconnect.
Vacations take us out of routine, let us see life at 30,000 feet, adventures. Sometimes vacation is to stretch us by going to new places, experiencing other cultures. Sometimes it’s more of a retreat: sitting by a glassy lake, listening to the birds, watching fish jump. Disconnect from our cell phones, news streams, Facebook pages, so we can reconnect to Spirit.
Airports, boat docks, train stations—people saying their goodbyes.
Disconnect from family—go off to school, out into the world, or because our families are dysfunctional and we need to separate in order to survive. Of course your family knows how to push your buttons—they installed them!
Disconnect from our own selves, especially around trauma—suppress bad memories.
Disconnect from the news, from politics, from the immigration tragedy unfolding at our borders, from climate change, from things in the world that are painful to watch, where people are suffering and there are bad consequences—la la la la, I can’t hear you!
So on this Reconnecting Sunday we have two parables about reconnecting: a shepherd finds his lost sheep, and a woman finds her lost coin. Let’s unpack these parables.
The set-up for Jesus to tell these parables is that the sinners and tax collectors have drawn near to listen to him teach. He’s on his way to Jerusalem with the disciples and has been teaching parables all along the way. We heard one of these parables two weeks ago, about taking the lowest seat when you go to a dinner, and hosting dinners for those who cannot repay you. People of all stripes are listening, taking heed, understanding that they might be invited into God’s kin-dom just as they are. And the Pharisees and scribes don’t like this. They live by the rules, follow the laws, and they want to know that this puts them in the insider group with God. What is this about inviting everybody even if they haven’t earned their spot?! I mean, come on!
So Jesus tells these two parables about searching diligently for every last one—every last sheep, every last coin—and celebrating when they are found. In fact, the shepherd abandons the 99 sheep in the wilderness while he goes off to search for the 100th sheep. Those 99 can take care of themselves. It’s that one that is particularly vulnerable.
Sheep get stuck. At my friend Catherine’s farm, where I spend half the week, we’ve had to cut wire fencing to pull a ewe back into the field when she has stuck her head through a gap to eat the grass on the other side. This spring a lamb got her head stuck in a gap in the barn wall, and we had to pull on a board to get her back in the barn. Sheep get stuck, and sometimes they need the shepherd to come along and rescue them.
Likewise, coins get lost. They drop and roll and wedge themselves into obscure cracks in the floor. Now when we hear of a lost coin, we may tend to think of a quarter or a dime, not worth much. But the coins we’re talking about in this parable would be worth a full day’s wages. And also note we’re talking about a woman having money—in a patriarchy where women often had nothing of their own. So she hasn’t just lost a quarter; she’s lost a paycheck.
The typical reading of these parables is that God is the shepherd, God is the woman. God is the woman—this is one of the few depictions of the divine feminine. But the thing about parables, unlike allegories, is that there is no one right way to interpret them. So we could say that God is the shepherd and we may be the lost lamb, and God will never let us stay lost. Which is great. Except that I think God always knows where we are, so we’re never lost from God. Rather, we may be the ones who need to seek God. We may think God is not present in our lives, and we need to look, like the shepherd, like the woman, until we find God again.
And then, did you notice, in both stories there’s a party, a celebration? You don’t keep this good news to yourself. Hey look, everyone, God and I have reconnected. Party!
Except the Pharisees don’t want to attend that kind of party. They are not celebrating that Jesus is opening the gates to heaven to every last sinner and tax collector. So they turn up their noses and choose not to attend such a celebration. Heaven was supposed to be reserved just for them, and now there are going to be all these dirty, messy, “wrong” people.
Penny Nixon, a UCC pastor in the Bay Area, has seen modern-day Pharisees, in the form of church insiders, act in this exact kind of way. She writes,
Religious insiders can still be easily threatened in the sharing of a meal. Many churches put conditions on the Communion table. In fact, in one church, people wearing rainbow sashes, indicating their solidarity with LGBT people, were refused Communion. A person who was offered Communion took his wafer and began to break it into pieces to share it with those who had been denied and deemed unworthy. The church officials, the religious insiders, called the police. [G. Penny Nixon, Feasting, 71.]
Can you imagine? “We can’t have these gay people getting into the kin-dom of God!” So when we’re talking about reconnecting the sheep, the coin, we’re also talking about reconnecting the Pharisees with God’s message of radical welcome. Everybody’s invited to God’s celebration, including the tax collectors and sinners, and including the Pharisees—if they’ll come. Have we ever acted like those Pharisees? Have we ever said, “We don’t want those people at our party”?
When we talk about reconnecting, we may also be talking about reconnecting to some part of ourselves that we have tried to suppress or forget. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I spent a week of vacation at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival seeing shows. One of them was Cambodian Rock Band, about a group of young people in a rock band in Phnom Pen in 1975. As people are hearing about the coming of the Khmer Rouge, those with any means are leaving the country. The family of one of the band members, named Chum, is ready to go. He asks them to wait for one more week so his band can finish making a recording. But in that week, the Khmer Rouge closes the border. Everyone in his family is killed—his parents, his brothers and sisters. He is the only one to survive. He is tortured in a prison camp but eventually escapes across the border to Thailand. He makes his way to the U.S., where he gets married and raises a daughter. He never tells his daughter anything. He suppresses it all. He doesn’t play music.
When the daughter grows up, she becomes a lawyer and is doing research on people who survived the prison camps. She comes to Cambodia to find this particular survivor, not realizing the person she seeks is her own father. He follows her to Cambodia, tries to dissuade her from doing this work. But she’s onto him. Like the shepherd, she seeks him out, finds out his deepest hidden truth. Finally the two of them make their way to the old prison camp, and he relives with her the terror and torture, the ghosts and the guilt that haunt him. He had tried to walk away from all of this in order to spare her bearing this burden through the generations. But in finally sharing it with her, it’s like he lances a boil and lets it start to heal. Now he can live as his true self, start making music again. Nothing to hide.
So reconnecting can be about doing the kind of work that heals our own past traumas. Nothing to hide before ourselves, before God, before the world.
Finally, there is the reconnecting to the things in the world we would rather choose not to see. You know that I talk frequently about climate change, and in part it’s so that we are empowered to see, to hear, and to take meaningful action. It can be tempting to put our fingers in our ears and sing “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” If we don’t know what’s happening to the planet, we don’t have to change our behavior, don’t have to rethink driving our cars or flying in airplanes or eating strawberries from Argentina when they’re not in season here. Confronting our fears about climate change can be overwhelming. We might prefer to live with our arms out, holding this knowledge at bay, pretending it doesn’t exist. But that’s exhausting. And deep down we know it’s not authentic or life-giving. We know we’re living from a place of fear.
For decades, Joanna Macy, a Buddhist, has led spiritual workshops doing what she calls the Work That Reconnects. She helps people confront the realities of our environment in ways that are healing and empowering, inspiring, life-giving. She gets us to take our arms down, to take our fingers out of our ears. This is a great role for communities of faith in the face of climate change. People are overwhelmed, they are feeling hopeless. But we are connected to a God who always loves us, no matter how lost we get, who always knows how to find us, who wants to celebrate in community every last one who is found. This is a God of life and love, of healing, hope, and abundance, even in the face of Pharisees, even in the face of climate change.
So I invite us to reconnect to the planet. Starting this Friday, September 20, the whole world is invited to connect with climate change in the form of a Global Climate Strike/Walkout. There will be events unfolding over the course of a week, from Sept 20 to 27. We’ve been announcing the youth-led events this Friday morning at Cal Anderson Park, with a noon march down to City Hall and a rally there starting at 1:00. We can all be a part of these events in some way, or find our own means of taking action. It might be to write a letter to the editor or to your legislator saying how important it is to support our youth who speak out on climate issues. Or whatever.
The farmer poet Wendell Berry, who has worked for decades on behalf of the environment, has known his own despair and disconnection. Here is how he reconnects, as described in a poem known as “The Peace of Wild Things”:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
That sounds like a sheep who has found his shepherd.
So let us join God’s party. Let us be a people of reconnecting—reconnecting ourselves with God and with each other, helping others to reconnect with God and with their own whole and healing selves. Let us do our part to heal this planet, to reconnect ourselves to its beauty and abundance with humility and respect and deep, deep love.
When we leave this service and go downstairs for our potluck, we will be living into our own celebration of God’s creation. Some of us carpooled to church this morning. Some of us took the bus. Some walked. This is one way we celebrate creation with respect. We will share a potluck meal focusing on food that is from right around here, in season within 150 miles of this spot. We will pass around cards to members of our Prospect family whom we haven’t seen in a long time, because we miss them and know that we are incomplete without them. And we will have laptops set up for those who wish to calculate their carbon footprint, because knowing where our footprint is biggest gives us the power to make some changes. And, of course, the very act of eating together is its own life-giving, community-building, loving celebration of every person here. You are all invited to this celebration of God’s goodness and abundance, of God seeking reconnection with us and us seeking reconnection with God. Sheep and shepherd, woman and coin, all of us and God. Let the party begin! Amen.