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Blessed To Be a Blessing

Sermon - 9/12/10
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable: 4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

 

This morning we kick off our Christian Education year and celebrate the lives of the children and youth in this congregation, the volunteer teachers that serve in those classrooms, and we are uniting with congregations and faith communities all over the country by participating in the “Children’s Sabbath” Sunday.  Sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund, the National Observance of Children's Sabbaths Celebration is a way for faith communities to celebrate children as sacred gifts of the Divine, and provides the opportunity for houses of worship to renew and live out their responsibility to care, protect and advocate for all children.

And so congregations will pick a Sunday in Sept or Oct to celebrate Children’s Sabbath but Today kicks off the campaign for the 40 days of prayer for children & families, you heard a bit about that earlier (or will soon) and we hope you’ll join us for a day or a week whenever you are able to light a candle and say a prayer.  But as you begin to pray for the children of this nation, or this county, or this city –

Do you know how many children are without adequate shelter, food, clothing?  Access to health care?  Access to education? Given a head start?  

In the publications of the Children’s Defense Fund that accompanied our worship ideas, photos, videos to help us plan our children’s Sabbath worship some startling statistics came with them:

  • Every 11 seconds a high school student drops out.*

  • Every 32 seconds a baby is born into poverty.

  • Every 41 seconds a child is confirmed as abused or neglected. Every 42 seconds a baby is born without health insurance.

  • Every minute a baby is born at low birth weight.

  • Every 4 minutes a child is arrested for a drug offense.

  • Every 7 minutes a child is arrested for a violent crime.

  • Every 18 minutes a baby dies before his or her first birthday. Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.

  • Every 5 hours a child or teen commits suicide.

  • Every 6 hours a child is killed by abuse or neglect.

These numbers are scandalous and when considered in the light of our parable of the lost sheep it is way more than the 1 that has gotten lost, left, abandoned.  It feels more like we are the 1 saved and they’re the 99 lost.  We have alot to carry with us in prayer.

A parable is a teaching story.  A unique teaching method that Jesus used to educate those he encountered on his journeys.  And one of the joys of parables is that Christians are still trying to best understand the meanings of these teaching tools.  I’d like to offer one interpretation this morning and may it spark conversation in your families or at brunch after worship that you might come back to me with your own interpretation!

This particular parable in Luke comes directly after Jesus has dined with a group of tax collectors and other lower class, dispossessed individuals.  The Pharisees, They were a group of educated men of a particular school of Jewish thought.    I read this week in a textbook about the Great Jewish thinkers and ideas that the Pharisee school of thought was more eclectic than others and often more democratic.  One could even summarize with an old Pharisee saying “   A learned mamzer (this is an outcast, specifically an child born out of marriage or some other forbidden relationship) – a learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest."

So why then, is this group of learned individuals upset that Jesus is inviting the outcast to dinner?  Well we all know that theory is sometimes far from practice in terms of inclusion, equality, fairness.

They are mumbling and grumbling among themselves about this latest meal.  Jesus is once again crossing the imaginary line of purity, law, what is understood as God’s command.

And his response is to tell this story:

It starts with suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and you lose one?  Hypothetical question, one we can all pretend to try right now.  Sort of.  Yeah, I guess I’d go look for it.  Maybe.  Depends on the weather.  Maybe.  Am I hungry?  I joke because I know a secret – you may know it too – I only learned it this week. 

Turns out – though God is referred to as the people’s shepherd in the OT writings by the time we get to the 1st century, shepherds have a bad reputation – akin to the tax collector the sailor.  They were reputed to be shiftless, thieving, trespassing, of a lower class.

Jesus asks the Pharisees to pretend they are the shepherd, and says God is too, tirelessly searching for the lost sheep.  The second story is God as a woman, searching for the lost coin.  Watch out now, you’re playing with fire, Jesus.    I think it’s important to recognize that the hypothetical is hard to imagine for these men.    

Let’s play:  Suppose your shopping cart is full of the only things in this world that are yours and someone takes one while you are resting in the park.  Do you not search and search, every other person on the street, try to find it? 

I’m asking you to imagine yourself and God as a homeless person. 

The Pharisees are asked what they would do if they were an shepherd.  An outcast.  A woman.  It’s nearly impossible to say what you would do in another set of circumstances –because you don’t know really what that’s like until you are there. 

Would you not celebrate at finding that one thing?  Carry the sheep home on your shoulder?  Call your friends and tell them not only did you find the lost coin, but you want to celebrate with them!  This celebration in heaven, on the living room floor where the coin is found, in the open country where the sheep graze – this is the kingdom - it’s come alive.  People lifting one another up, those once lost now found.  The outcast are welcome, that the child, that falls between the cracks, left in foster care or on the street is brought into a caring home, a loving family, an appropriately equipped school. 

God’s desire is to celebrate, to honor, to show mercy, to help out the one lost.  The lost or prodigal son is the 3rd story Jesus tells in Luke, right after the sheep & the coin.  Third story helps to bring it closer to home.  Who doesn’t celebrate when a cousin is released from prison or a brother or sister is home from war, a daughter comes home after running away?

Most here today have had access to education, still do have access.  Many of us have higher education degrees.  We’ve been raised in the church and most of us have a loving parent or have worked hard in our personal lives to overcome situations of abuse, neglect.  These children we talk of today do not have access to those things and need the found to stand up on their behalf and celebrate them! 

To celebrate with God is to share in God’s mercy.  God’s action is merciful, like the happy parent, the good shepherd. 

Those who find God’s mercy offensive, who cannot imagine God as the outcast, helping the marginalized, disenfranchised, cannot celebrate with the God when a one is found, when the treasure is restored. 

The early years of a child, ages birth to five, are critical years for children to develop social, emotional and cognitive abilities that lead to healthy development and academic & behavioral success in life.

My eyes have been opened since last week, where I over stated the care that most of our children receive here in the states, when I compared our parent’s ability to afford childcare.  Which I knew somehow but my reading this week from the CDF has only cleared up the generalization I gave last week. 

In Oregon, it is estimated that child care, full time, for a 4 year old is about $7500 for the year.  According to the CDF & US Department of Education the annual in-state tuition at the U of O, just tuition, not talking supplies room & board, etc. but tuition for classes is $5900(and change).  Families on the margin economically have tough choices to make and when it comes down to these numbers, It’s no wonder more aren’t in pre-school or other early educational opportunities. 

The system is big and complicated and all interdependent  but in the midst of all these statistics and the economy, federal budget, the children themselves are lost.  Precious gems, because I believe that every child has that same magic I see in Hannah, that thing that melts you entirely.  Did you know the U.S. spends almost three times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.  I know a statistic can be manipulated to fit a cause but if these children and youth, these lost sheep were supported by insuring all had access to health care and schooling  at that base level the number shoved into prisons would also lower. 

These are the children that need our help today are the ones that tomorrow end  up in the juvenile detention centers, are at risk for continuing a to get into trouble, find others who are in trouble and never finding the one person or the one community to watch over them, give them other choices, teach them how to problem solve and make a positive future out of what looks like a trajectory headed straight for imprisonment, early death, and certainly, life on the margins.  

More than 20 percent of children under age five in the United States are poor; 30 percent of children in foster care are preschool age. In Oregon’s public school system in 2008/09 there were an estimated 18,000 homeless children enrolled. 

Each one faces multiple risks that jeopardize their futures.   Which man or woman wouldn’t do what they could to help these young souls?

For more than 20 years, CDF has worked closely with national religious leaders and organizations, state and regional bodies, and local congregations, leaders, and lay people.  They are training young adults to return to their communities and start early ed programs, they are creating schools wherever they can, they are tirelessly working for children.  Let’s watch a 5 minute video now, an introduction to the CDF and the work they are committed to – in leaving no child behind. 

Watch CDF video:  see it at www.childrensdefensefund.org.  It is a link on their main page to a YouTube video (or, watch it on YouTube here).

“Don’t Give up on Me” She is precious.  Baby, God is blessing you.  God is blessing us this morning through the parable.  God is waiting for us to respond with the same goodness, celebrate with the same sincerity and search for the lost with the same intensity as God would.  Use the power we have, the hands we have to…notice when a child in our neighborhood is in need.  Use the voices we have to bless all children and remind them they are special, capable, and have a voice.  Use our hearts to listen to the child that reminds us to love one another.  

They need a plan to succeed now. 

A Chance now. 

Someone to care for them now. 

We can do our part.  We can’t give up now.

I want to help you get started, but then you’ll have to take the initiative and go further.  Our teachers got us started today (Leitha/Mel or Betsy) by introducing our commitment to pray.  Yes we start all things in prayer.  But we want to get involved locally too.  Already this year we gathered enough supplies for 180 school children to start school off right – NEW backpacks with every single supply that is required of them to complete their homework.  From kindergarten on up.  We are still handing those out and if you know of a family that needs these supplies they need to call the office, we want to give these children the best running start they can have. 

For that matter our classrooms are in need of new or used reading materials for our nursery and school aged children.  Consider donating your favorite children’s books that offer spiritual guidance or tell important stories to our CMT.

More than 75% of the children waiting for mentors through Committed Partners For Youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters are boys, There are currently more boys on our waiting list then they can readily serve. Some have been waiting for over a year.  (CPY) They will train you.  They will mentor you as you become a mentor.  You can make a difference in the life of 1 more child, talk with me about how to get signed up for that.

We are also now collecting baby food and diapers for a local agency called the Relief Nursery.  3 locations in the Eugene/Springfield area and 80% of the children served through this organization are under the age of 3.  Yesterday I went and bought some supplies.  You can buy anything non-perishable for anyone 0-6.  Rice cereal, so important for the diet of an infant.  Formula.  Cans of fruits and vegetables we all know how important it is to get our kids started off right with healthy foods and frankly the families that need it the most can’t make their own baby food, they can’t even find work let alone make it to the farmer’s market or Fred Meyer.  It’s expensive and they need our help.  We’ll collect those items through the end of October. 

Read the insert, there are even more ways.  I’ll tell you more next week. 

May we celebrate today God’s grace given so lovingly to others.  May we celebrate with God because we have experienced the mercy ourselves.  May we celebrate that grace and manifest that grace in the lives of others.  Today. Tomorrow.  Together.  Amen.

 


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