Are We Even Worth It? — 17 September 2023

Pastor Adrianne Meier
7 September 2023
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana 

Are We Even Worth It?

Please click here for a printable version of this sermon.

1 Samuel 30:1-8, 17-19

Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negeb and on Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag, burned it down, and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great; they killed none of them but carried them off and went their way. 

When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned down and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 

David was in great danger, for the people spoke of stoning him because all the people were bitter in spirit for their sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. David said to the priest Abiathar son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” The Lord answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.”

David attacked them from twilight until the evening of the next day. Not one of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken; David brought back everything.

Grandparents. I have a bone to pick with you. No one told me, before I became a mother, how much of the job was finding lost things. This week, I found lost glasses, lost library books, lost worksheets, lost socks, lost stuffies, and a lost necklace. I also found plenty of things I didn’t know I needed to look for, odd discoveries in the couch cushions and…in the back of the fridge—I’m sure it was alive. I wasn’t terribly organized before I took this job—parenthood, that is— and with the distractions and the pressure of keeping other human beings alive, I find I mislay my keys every time I set them down, also my coffee mug every morning, and the book I wasn’t quite finished with.

To make matters worse, when I was a kid, I had a reoccurring nightmare about loosing my shoes, because somewhere along the way I had internalized the idea that loosing things was a stain on my character. That good people are organized, on time, and dependable in all things. It is amazing how lost we become in other people’s expectations of us. And how “lost” becomes synonymous with being a disappointment, being unworthy, being broken, even being of questionable character. But what if last wasn’t about being wrong, or a disappointment, or even being a sinner—a wretch like me— but what if being lost was about loosing track of who you are? Being lost is forgetting, even for a moment, that you belong to the flock of the Good Shepherd—forgetting for a fraction of a second that you are deeply and completely beloved.

In Matthew’s gospel, a conversation about children turned into a conversation about other “little ones”— the little ones who believe in Jesus, the neophytes, the new Christian converts. Jesus calls the community to special care and compassion for these little ones whose choice to follow Jesus could meaning leaving behind one’s family or community, new and strange ways of living, or submitting to persecution. I think about the newly sober or those recently released from prison— how easy it is to meet up with old friends and visit old hauntsand return to old ways of living. It is the will of the Parent, Jesus says, that they not be lost. But if they are,they’re like a sheep who has strayed from the flock, sought out by the shepherd. The shepherds exist for the lost sheep, and the sheep on the edges of the flock who are vulnerable to attack, and the sheep who can’t seem to find the green pastures and still waters. At the end of this story, it is the lost sheep—not the loyal, obedient flock— who are with the shepherd.

Last week, Pr. Lecia’s dad was here, in the adult forum, talking about a ministry he’s been a part of for several years— Kairos Prison Ministry. This ministry goes into prisons to “Listen, listen. Love, love.” They spend a weekend with folks incarcerated in maximum and medium security prisons, and the pinnacle of the weekend is Saturday, when the Kairos team members and their inmate guests consider who they need to forgive. They make a list on a piece of paper throughout the day— friends and family, but also, perhaps, the arresting officer, the district attorney, the sentencing judge. Inspired by the inmates’ honesty and vulnerability, Bill noted, even the Kairos team members who prepared for this exercise in advance are often surprised at who they feel called to forgive. The paper is rice paper, and, at the end of the evening, it is dissolved in water. A metaphor for the act of forgiving.

After hearing about Kairos, the first question that came to my mind was whether or not a weekend like this has an impact on recidivism rates, do folks who participate commit fewer crimes when they are released? It is an honest question, a maybe a even good one for understanding criminal justice. But as I thought this week about the lost sheep and the lovingly pursuing shepherd, I realized the question assumes that ministry done in prisonsis solely about the impact on the lives of those who have no contact with the criminal justice system. The question assumes inmates are only worthy of ministry insofar as they can be rehabilitated, and not because they are the deeply beloved children of God.

Back in ancient Israel, David and his band of soldiers have been away with the Philistine army. To David’s great relief, the generals of the Philistines thought it best that David not fight with them against the Israelites— better to not give him a chance to turn traitor and sabotage the Philistine defense. Unfortunately, while David was away, the Amalekites kidnapped the women and children, the servants, the flocks. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out David’s hesitation—why does he consult with the Lord—asking for the ephod, which we think is a divination tool. We haven’t seen him do that for all the marauding and conquering he’s been doing of other people. And then I realized: he saw the women, the children, the servants, the flocks as replaceable. These…well, things…there were property that was won and lost in battle. He inquires of God, asking, if it was worth it.In the “real world,” that’s what a shepherd would wonder about one, dumb, lost sheep. Was it “worth it” to pursue it?

Somewhere along the line, we have come to believe this about ourselves. That we are either in the flock and doing the right thing, or we are lost and are a dead weight. We are either contributing to society or cost it.We’ve either done enough or we haven’t. We evaluate ourselves and one another and assign a value. Are we even worth it? But in this parable, by the end, it is the lost sheep who is with the shepherd. The truth is, even when we look up and realize we’re with the flock, we feel lost. We’re adrift because we’ve lost ourselves under cultural conditioning, and everyone else’s opinion of us, and the baggage we’ve been hauling around since childhood. We’re lost because we can never give enough, contribute enough, or balance enough. We’re lost because society has judged us and found us wanting— and most of us in the room have steady jobs, a house, and no criminal record! Imagine if that were not true!

Look, strictly speaking, this parable is a mess. There is a joke about this parable: if a shepherd has a hundred sheep, looses one, and goes in search of it how many sheep does the shepherd have when he returns with the lost sheep? One—the one he searched for. If he left the rest alone, they’ll be scattered. But maybe this place that we’re so sure is where the parable falls apart is actually where the parable holds, because we are held fast.Because if we are lost, the parable says, the shepherd will find us. It is the lost sheep who is with the shepherd.

I think about David, and how, when he discovers everything missing, he inquires of God, and I really hope God’s response was, well, censured—heavily edited. That God didn’t just answer, God roared: “You dummy!Those that you consider least are mine. Those who you wonder after, I am already and always with! Come and find them you silly shepherd!”

Beloved, if you are feeling lost today— if the weight of the juggle, the expectations, the balance, inflation,demands at work, caring for your flock, estrangement from those you love— if you are feeling lost, I want you to know this: you are right where you belong. This is not a place for the people who have it all together. It is not for the people who are so in love with God that magically nothing is ever out of place. This is the place for the people with messy houses and messy relationships and messy lives. This the place for the people who can’t find their keys anymore than they can find themselves. This is the place for the lost, because this is the place where we hear about a God who loves us so much God will do anything to find us. Amen.