Thursday, September 13, 2007

Luke 15:8-10 - “Sweeping”

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)
(Year C - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bring out a garbage can on wheels which has numerous brooms in it.

The parable that Jesus tells about the woman searching her house for her lost coin, it says that she swept the house looking for the coin. I brought out these brooms tonight, because that image of the woman sweeping, it tells us a lot about our God and so it also tells us a lot about us as His people.

First, though, perhaps the woman’s action don’t seem noteworthy if you’re thinking she’s sweeping a floor like you’d find in one of our houses. I mean, even here in this big sanctuary, it might take us awhile to find a dime if we dropped it on the floor, but brooms wouldn’t really be necessary. We’d just scan the carpet, look for something shiny to catch our eye. If necessary, we could even get down on our hands and knees, get eye-level with the floor, and try to see where there was something laying on the floor. It would take awhile, but whether here or at home, it wouldn’t be that hard, and brooms certainly wouldn’t be required.

If that’s the image from this parable, well, it wouldn’t be all that impressive. If Jesus is saying that God looks for us lost sinners like a woman scanning a carpet, well, it shows God cares—but does He really work very hard at looking for us?

Except when Jesus told this parable, He wasn’t living in a world of carpeted rooms. Sure, the woman probably lived in a house smaller than the size of a one-car garage, a much smaller floor to search than say looking for a dime in this sanctuary, but listen to what else we can guess about what the woman’s house was liked. This description is from Kenneth Bailey’s book, Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15:

The building material around the northern end of the sea of Galilee [where Jesus spent a lot of time teaching] is a beautiful very black basalt. [Archaeologists have found that] the buildings are almost exclusively constructed of the local black rock….The windows…[were] about six inches high and placed in the wall about seven feet above the ground. They are little more than slits. The ancient building techniques produced ceilings from slabs of the same black basalt….[T]he floors…were covered with flat basalt stones taken from the lake. Cracks between the stones are naturally wide….“[T]he rather deep [cracks] between the stones are filled up with earth….” (Bailey, 101).

Now do you see? When Jesus says that the woman lit a lamp, swept the floor, and made a diligent search, she was searching a very small house, but she was working in very dark conditions, carefully sweeping away whatever filled the cracks in the floors, looking for where that coin may have gone to be covered over by more dirt. Against these very difficult circumstances, the woman is focused on finding that coin, worth a day’s wages, worth so much to her family but worth nothing if it remains lost in a crack in the floor.

Now this image of a woman sweeping searching for her lost coin, now this starts to reveal who our God really is. He is making a diligent search for all the lost ones. He made a diligent search and found you. He rejoiced when He found you among the dark places of this world, hidden in a forgotten crack underneath the dirt, lost because of your sin. He shined His light into this dark world, swept the floor until He found you. The angels in heaven rejoiced when you were found and given the promise of eternal life.

Far from an image of our God looking for us as a matter of course, searching like a simple household cleaning task, instead this parable shows us that God searches for all people, for all His lost ones like one who is up against a difficult task but who works at it with great diligence. God isn’t just doing a little surface search; He is sweeping away the dirt covered each crack. He will not stop until He discovers the lost coin, until He discovers His lost ones who need the Word of salvation.

Ah, but that brings us back to this bin of brooms. I suppose all of these brooms could show that God will use as many tools as He needs in order to find people who need to know about His love and forgiveness. That could be a reason for having so many brooms, but there’s another reason I have for having so many brooms: they represent us. We are called to go out sweeping for the Lord.

As much as this parable tells us about God’s heart, how in His heart of hearts God wants all people to be saved so He is on a very diligent search for each lost person, as much as this parable shows us who our God is, it also tells us who we are called to be.

As followers of Christ, we are called to reflect Him, to shine with His characteristics, to embody His love and forgiveness and. . .diligent search. If it is God’s desire to search for the lost ones with a passion like a woman searching for a small coin in a very dark room where there are deep cracks for a coin to hide, well, then we, too, are to have that same passion for searching.

We are called to go out sweeping for the Lord, called to go out searching for the lost with the same diligence, focus, care, love, and joy.

But what kind of searching are we doing? Will the kind of sweeping we’re doing now ever reveal the lost coin, or are we just doing a surface cleaning which will never find the lost coin in a deep crack underneath the dirt?

In other words, are we as a congregation focused on doing whatever it takes to reach out to people who don’t know Jesus, people who have fallen away from their faith, people who can’t see what Jesus has to do with their daily lives, people who need hope beyond the troubles of their lives? Are we diligently grabbing the broom and sweeping until we find these lost ones?

A couple of weeks ago when I announced our Executive Board’s decision to try keeping worship on Thursday rather than on Saturday, I explained that we’re doing it on a trial basis, that you should pass on your thoughts to an Executive Board member, and that they’re asking you to keep an open mind to see how this might work for us as a congregation.

Now I don’t really know what the answer is to when we should have our worship services, but I want you to think about it from next to this can of brooms. I want you to ask questions about what we need to do as a congregation to be sweeping, to be searching, to be doing whatever it takes to reach out to people who are not here receiving God’s Good News.

In other words, as we think about when to have worship services, it’s not just about what is good for you. The question is about missions, about outreach, about what will make it possible for us to find the lost ones in our community. We’re looking for the right kind of broom for the job. We’re not just looking for your favorite broom or someone else’s favorite broom. We’re looking for the broom that will make it possible for more and more people to come, hear God’s Word, and trust in Him for salvation.

Again, I don’t know what broom we need. I don’t know when we should have worship services in order to serve the people around us. All I am asking based on the Parable of the Lost Coin is that we think about questions like this from a mission perspective: what do we need to do to be diligently searching for the lost ones?

It’s the same question we should be asking about all of the other decisions we need to be making—what are our goals as a congregation, what is our long-range plan, what short-range needs are most important, do we need to expand our building, what is our role in the community?

It’s not enough to just ask what we want, what we like, because that’s only a surface search, that’s only looking for the coins that we already have, that’s just about serving the people who are already here. That kind of approach is like saying, “Well, our doors are open. If people wanted to come to church, they’d come.”

Instead, behind all of our decisions as a congregation, we need to be sweeping the floor, digging out the dirt in each crack, looking for the right tools to discover the lost coins. We need to make decisions based on reaching out to the people who aren’t already in church. What do they need, what will help them come and hear God’s Word? We need to diligently search, look for the people who aren’t already here. That kind approach is shown when we say, “Well, what do we need to do to find people who aren’t in a church? What are we doing now that isn’t helpful to people outside the church? What could we change to make it easier for people to come and hear God’s Word?”

Of course, the only way we can shift our way of thinking, the only way we can pick up the broom for a diligent search, the only way we can set aside of our selfish questions and focus on making decisions based on searching for the lost, the only way that can happen is through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.

Knowing Christ means knowing that He saved you. Knowing Christ means knowing that all people need Jesus for salvation. Knowing Christ means having that broom in your heart.

In thankful response to God saving you, take up your broom. Sweep the world around, searching for the lost coins, trying to find the people who need to know Jesus.

Show them your heart. Show them the broom. Show them that God swept the floor looking for them.

Here’s where I left behind my notes and tried to really drive home that vision of God putting the broom in our hearts. Since God has saved us, we have a broom in our hearts, the reminder that He did so much to save us. We take that broom and go out sweeping for others. Searching for the lost doesn’t come from some idea of trying to prove our worthiness. Rather, it is because of who God has made us to be: people with brooms in our hearts.