“Welcoming Everyone” Colchester Federated Church, May 8, 2022, (Luke 15:1-7) Confirmation Sunday

On this Confirmation Sunday we remember that we are all on journeys of faith.  Though sometimes our journeys will take us to unexpected places and we will find ourselves in unexpected circumstances.  Jesus told his followers about a lost sheep in the Gospel according to Luke.  Jesus related that suppose someone among us had one hundred sheep and lost one of them.  Wouldn’t that person leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until they find it?  Now this is a large flock of sheep in Jesus’ day.  It would seem that the shepherd could afford to lose that one lost sheep.  Maybe they’re a pain anyway, always wandering off and getting into trouble. 

But that’s not how this parable goes!  Jesus says that the shepherd goes looking for the wayward sheep until that sheep is found.  Wouldn’t that person who found the wandering sheep be thrilled and place the sheep on their shoulders?  Wouldn’t they arrive home and call together their friends and neighbors, saying, “Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.”[1]

Jesus tells us in our Gospel story that rejoicing is the reaction in heaven when one person changes both their heart and life and comes back to God.  Now Jesus told this story about the sheep being lost and found after he was criticized by the Pharisees and legal experts.  Why was he criticized?  Because Jesus welcomed and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  In those days tax collectors were almost universally despised.  In the First Century, tax collectors were known to be untrustworthy cheaters.  In their line of work they collected tolls, market duties, and all kinds of local taxes (sales tax, income tax, property tax, and inheritance tax).  Though tax collectors made a better living by overcharging people.  Some of their fellow Jews saw them as Roman collaborators.  So it’s understandable that Jesus was criticized for welcoming tax collectors and sinners and even going so far as to eat with them.

Though Jesus obviously saw the situation differently.  He responds to this criticism by these “righteous” good religious folks by telling this story—about the one sheep that went missing.  About how the shepherd could have afforded to let the sheep stay lost, but couldn’t do so.  About how much the shepherd rejoiced when they found what had been lost.  Jesus ends by saying to those who criticize his welcome of everyone by saying, “In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”[2]

It ends up that God isn’t looking for our perfection, but our sincerity.  God knows that we won’t be perfect.  Because we can’t be perfect.  Sometimes we end up lost like that sheep in the parable Jesus told.  We mess up—we end up separated from God, from one another, and from being the person that God created us to be.  The point is to remember that we can be found and that there is much rejoicing by the divine when we’re found.  The point is that separation can be overcome, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  There’s rejoicing (not judgment) when we come back home to God no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done or left undone in our lives.

Now we cover various topics in our Discipleship Class throughout our time together.  We learn about—worship and the sacraments, the Bible, the history of Christianity and the history of the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, sexuality and our faith, world religions, the meanings of the UCC Statement of Faith and the ABC Identity Statement, witness and service, justice and peace, forgiveness and grace, and eternal life.  That’s a lot of information to cover over the course of fifteen classes and nine months together.  What wonderful information Nicole, Kurt, and I have shared with you from all these classes is retained is always another story.  We know that. 

Though indoctrination is not what Discipleship is about.  Memorizing facts and figures is not what Discipleship is about.  Asking questions.  Being open to new ideas.  Hearing what each other believes or struggles to believe.  Finding a belief or two that you can hold onto and can anchor you when life gets stormy.  Knowing that faith is a journey and that we’re on this journey together.  Feeling the power of community that one can experience by being part of a church family.  Those are some of the overarching lessons that we hope you will carry with you beyond this Confirmation Sunday.

This year some of you in our Discipleship Class decided to be baptized or to remember your baptisms in the Salmon River.  Some of you decided that now is not the right time for baptism.  Some of you decided not to affirm your baptisms in the rite of Confirmation and some of you decided that this felt right as a rite of passage.  Finally, some of you decided to join our church as adult members and some decided that was not the right path.  These personal decisions were yours to make.  It shows that you’re not just going through the motions and you’re contemplating these choices for yourselves.  That’s a good thing because all of us are on our own individual faith journeys even as we are part of the larger Body of Christ in this our church here at CFC.  There’s room for everyone because everyone is welcome here.  And we are proud of all of you for being committed to this part of your journey.

It was poet Rainer Maria Rilke who wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”[3] 

It’s good and holy to live the questions.  And I pray that you will never forget that you are loved by God for exactly who you are—Kaytlyn, Sam, Abby, Maya, Aaron, and Willow.  Remember that sometimes in life you may be the lost sheep.  Most of us are from time to time.  We mess up.  We wander off.  We get a little lost.  Though living a life of faith isn’t about perfection—it’s about loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves the best we can and being open to God’s grace when we sometimes get it all wrong.  Because there is rejoicing when once we were lost, and now we are found.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 15:6, Common English Bible.
[2] Luke 15:10.
[3] Quote from Rainer Maria Rilke as found on Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/717-be-patient-toward-all-that-is-unsolved-in-your-heart