I know over this year, I keep repeating that there is a theme of Joy in the Gospel of Luke. Well, because there is! But is that what you heard when the Gospel was read?
Our pharisees are once again grumbling against Jesus for flying in the face of tradition and spending time with those whom society considered inappropriate to fraternize with. Jesus actually eats with them. Eating was specifically a way to show that you were in communion with others. You sit down to eat with equals and people you care about.
Here we are with Jesus, standing up to the Pharisees, not in order to defend his actions, but to teach about the reality of God, the reality of the Universe. The Pharisees present are part of a Jewish sect who observed strict law and considered themselves religiously superior. The scribes are here too. They are the teachers of religious law. Later in Luke, Jesus warns…
“Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and who love respectful greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets.”
We know how the Gospeler Luke feels about the Pharisees and the scribes: self-righteous hypocrites!
Jesus goes onto tell these grumblers two short parables to make his point about who God is and what God does. First we have the story of the shepherd who has gone after the lost sheep. He has left the rest of the herd (99 of them) in the wilderness in order to find the lost one. In fact, he basically challenges them, which one of you doesn’t do this?! And Jesus is poking fun at them. When he tells this story about rejoicing in finding the lost, he adds “that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” That’s just a little jab there wrapped in a compliment…
Plus the ninety-nine are not safely in a sheltered pasture or in a barn… no, they are in the wilderness (the wilderness which is traditionally not safe space.) Jesus is poking just a little more fun at the pharisees and scribes. The lost majority with all of their righteousness and human-made rules. Jesus had a sense of humor. There is a lot of double meaning in his remarks. We often overlook how artfully he is wielding language through “word play.”
There is joy in the presence of Jesus.
Joy is used twice in both of these parables. In the second story about the woman who finds her lost coin, like the shepherd, there is also rejoicing with friends and Joy as a source that has been established in Heaven.
The lost sheep and the lost coin are symbols of reunion and communion with God. This is a source of rejoicing in "the here and now” with friends, but also as a source of joy on an eternal level: That stream of True life - the Well that Jesus speaks of, that is never empty. To be tapped into this everlasting communion is joyous. God searches us out and knows us.
While the story frames the situation in terms of sin and repentance, the theme & emphasis is about everlasting joy. Jesus knows we are only human. Right? As in another story he suggests, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone…” We all have our issues. The theological definition of Sin really is our separation from God. To “Repent” as Jesus says “metanoia” … is literally to change one’s mind. Theologically we think of it as turning our minds and hearts toward God. Turning toward that Well of Love that Jesus offers us. It is not about beating ourselves up over what we’ve done, but turning our minds and hearts anew: to communion.
The Christian lens sees Abundance in communion. Sometimes we hear the phrase tossed around that the “universe is abundant” in a kind of superficial understanding… I usually hear it from more well-to-do individual’s who don’t want to concede that there is a correlation between wealth and poverty that has more to do with power structures than with hard work. I can cringe when I hear a “spirituality of abundance" especially in the World right now; especially in the midst of the climate crisis. We haven’t been able to manage our planet’s resources very well. Our passage from Jeremiah is so apt for today with its imagery of desolation. “the birds of the air had fled.” How poetic in its language; “the earth mourns.” My people “do not know me.”
Today is also the anniversary of 9/11 with all of its destruction and the aftermath of more and more war, we can hear Jeremiah’s judgement “my people are foolish.” Most of our children, did not grow up with 9/11, but are reeling from what they’ve been told about the future of the planet. Jeremiah and most Scripture reminds us time and time again that humans can make such a muck of things. But it also reminds us that we are in the midst of things. Jesus’ message about communion, is not abundance as if our resources are unlimited, but rather abundance in terms of what is possible… the potential for hope, sharing, and communion: Our potential.
The visible potential in our passage today is offered up in the very first line. The group of tax collectors and sinners are coming to Jesus. They are drawing near to listen. In doing so they are already turning; looking for this healing relationship - as opposed to the group who stand aside criticizing and grumbling with their sense of human righteousness. Jesus knows we are human. We all have facets of our life, relationships that are out of union and essentially work to drive a wedge between us and God. We have pieces of ourselves that are lost. And we see this manifest in society and on a global level through destructive choices and misuse of our resources. Repentence is about making new choices based on a higher love for our families and for creation. God does not solve our problems, but helps us to move into them.
The visible potential manifested today also shows up in the letter to Timothy. We are reminded of Paul’s conversion, (his metanoia) his turning. And Paul represents more than just one man’s change of heart and mind. He offers us hope that society can change. Before Paul saw the light, Saul (as he was called) represented the very elite of society who benefited from the power structures that persecute and victimize; intolerant social structures that discriminate; agencies who monopolize economic resources and damage natural resources. 
Paul was lost and then he was found. Like the woman’s lamp, God illuminated Paul. The woman looking for the coin lights a lamp. We know this is a metaphor for God who searches for us without limit, with every effort and in the middle of the night, in the darkness of our own journeys to illuminate our hearts…. And to change our minds.
One way to grapple with this passage (which seems so simple and clear on a basic level) and to take it deeper, is to wonder where you might be situated in this story?
Where do you find yourself in the story today?
Are you a grumbler? Are you missing the joy?
Are you feeling lost?- Or found?
Are you drawing near?
Are you one of the friends who shows up to rejoice!
As we come together to the communion rail, we offer the ultimate expression of our desire to draw near: for unity, for reunion. We eat with equals across the very globe. It reminds us of our potential. The Lord’s table is sacred and serious, but don’t forget the eternal joy manifest there as well. As we say in the Eucharistic prayer:
“It is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
1. Yang, Sunggu. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-3/commentary-on-1-timothy-112-17-5, Sept. 10, 2022.
"Wake up" and "Let go"
Today Jesus is traveling with large crowds. We are at a bit of a turning point for all of these followers, who for several chapters now have been witnessing miraculous things in the presence of Jesus. Jesus has been healing people, casting out demons and sharing wisdom teachings in the form of parables. There is a lot of momentum, spirit and excitement. Imagine: crowds moving from town to town! You would think that such a leader would be excited for all of these followers - and yet Jesus turns to them and says something pretty shocking:
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
What?! Certainly he hasn’t changed his mind about the ten commandments, has he? Honor your mother and father? Later in this chapter we even hear this commandment repeated as part of our way to eternal life… Love is an essential teaching. So why the hyperbole?
Not quite as shocking (but also extreme) is the statement at the end of today’s passage. Jesus says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions.”
The other parables sandwiched into these seemingly harsh book ends (of hating family or giving up possessions) are about preparation: economic planning for building a tower, or strategic planning for war.
Jesus wants his followers to understand discipleship is a choice that requires putting God before all else. And that requires some preparation.
We know the phrase that Jesus is the way.
Following this way is not simply about jumping on the bandwagon of a popular movement. Jesus is not just trying to be popular. So, yes perhaps he needs to shock us! Wake us up! Walking the spiritual path is about waking up to choices. He is startling us with another form of wisdom teaching that (unlike a parable) gives us a very binary way of speaking; using Love and Hate to emphasize a decisiveness in decision making.
You’ll recognize this kind of teaching in other sayings:
No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Blessed are you when people hate you on account of me.
These are teachings that use extremes to force the point. “…the wicked are said to hate discipline, justice, and knowledge, while the righteous hate wickedness, falsehood, and gossip.” 
Perhaps there is no room for a grey area in some of the choices that we face. Jesus is saying this is a choice, such an important choice that you must hold it above all else. It is the highest choice.
There is a story of a brilliant artist and his friend of many years with a devoted faith life. One day the artist said to his friend, "How can you have so much faith and I have so little?”
His friend responded, "How often do you practice your craft?”
The artist replied, “I must practice every day of course!”
The friend then said, “I didn’t have more faith. Like you, every day, I practice faith. I made a choice because it helps me have a relationship I want: one with God.”
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Choosing a relationship with Love: with the merciful selfless love that Jesus exemplifies takes practice and preparation. As one of our Anglican tenants says “Praying shapes believing.”
“Hate your Father and Mother” is a hard teaching. It is shocking! But in Jesus’ wise way he is telling us that we actually need to soften, not harden; open, let go of our human trappings in order to truly follow him. He is saying we will be unable to truly follow him if we do not give up our unhealthy possessions (What possesses us). Possessions include our expectations, property, and even our attachment to family systems and other people’s actions or reactions.
Possessiveness keep us in states of inflexible self absorption. Often in a reactionary state. We have expectations, attachments and desires that end up trapping us. The World preys upon us by inflating these predilections on our part. Scripture talks to us about these timeless predilections. We start reading about it from the beginning in Genesis: selfishness, cruelty, jealousy, desire. None of this is new: Our desire for belongings and status. And when things don’t go our way we can become miserable. And it is a domino effect of repercussions for our selves and others.
Jesus is saying, to “Follow me” means to journey on a path which requires preparation in the form of learning to “let go” of all of this. The ultimate expression of this selflessness is Jesus’ crucifixion. He references this humility on our part by saying we must also pick up our cross: to give over to a love that is bigger than everything else.
In the New Testament reading, Paul is making this request on behalf of the young slave Onesimus. Onesimus has run away to be with Paul for a while. Paul pleads with Philemon let go of his anger, resentment, wrath what ever it is that he may be holding up against Onesimus. Paul says, I ask this of you on the basis of love. Welcome him, as if he is my own heart, as if he is me. (Skirt this cycle of misery I can already imagine unfolding!)
Living the way of Christ is about prioritizing Love over all else. “It is a love great enough to overcome a reason not to love…” as Monk and Mystic, Thomas Keating, describes:
“…It is a realization that The love of God is all that we have: Namely infinite mercy is the only thing that we can really lay claim to. And that is not ours, but is sheer gift. If you have any other possessions, then you are not quite ripe for the Kingdom of Heaven. Because any other possession besides the divine mercy, you’ve got useless baggage… Its not about wealth as such, but that we are attached…” We are inflexible.
Jesus is saying, “wake up” The Kingdom of Heaven is about selflessness: An outpouring of love which prioritizes the “way” over our own limited and often self serving perspective.
We don’t literally hate, but we choose to Love: to know God.
From another of Paul’s famous letters:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
1.Carolyn J. Sharp
https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-23-3/commentary-on-luke-1425-33-5, Sept 3, 2022.
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk