“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
What an indictment!
What a sick burn
That these scribes and Pharisees
Level against Jesus.
That he welcomes sinners
And eats with them.
It’s like that scene from Mean Girls
Where the most popular clique of girls
Have a dress code required to sit with them.
“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”
And when the Queen Bee herself breaks that rule,
The rest of the clique shrieks at her,
“You can’t sit with us!”
But lest we get too high on our horse
While we chuckle at high school bullies
And self-righteous prigs,
It behooves us to remember
That the world is full of girls at tables
Screaming “you can’t sit with us!”
We might even be some of them.
There is a loneliness afoot in the world.
So many people
Of all ages and generations
Every race and nationality
Singles and families
It doesn’t matter who we are.
We all long to be invited to sit at the table.
We all yearn to belong.
That’s why a song from the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen
Has struck such a chord with Broadway audiences around the world.
“Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall and no one would hear?”
This song is sung after Evan Hansen’s friend Connor has died by suicide.
Connor is from a wealthy family
And is popular at school,
Though he has been struggling with his marks.
No matter who we are,
No matter how pretty,
No matter how smart,
No matter how wealthy or successful,
We all fear that one day the world will turn on us.
That even if we’re the Queen Bee,
One day the clique will turn to us and say,
“You can’t sit with us!”
And if we never got a seat at the table to begin with,
Then our worst fears have only been confirmed.
But in a world full of mean girls
Policing who’s invited to sit at the table,
“Come sit by me.”
After the scribes and the Pharisees
Grumble at Jesus
For offering too generous a welcome,
He tells them a parable.
In this parable,
He asks what shepherd would not leave behind
His 99 sheep
To search for the one
Who has wandered away.
Modern day readers just accept this,
But I’m not actually sure most shepherds would.
Those of y’all who come from farming and ranching backgrounds
Have some idea of acceptable losses, right?
Sure, you’re sad about it,
But it happens.
Just like it’s too bad
That the geeky kid
Who doesn’t smell super great
Has to eat lunch alone again
If he wanted an invitation to sit with us
Then he had better enter the right way.
He should know the rules and follow them.
He should wear pink.
But Jesus isn’t willing to write anyone off.
Not a sheep.
Not a coin.
Not a prodigal son.
When we feel like nobody is there,
Like no one will hear when we fall,
Jesus comes out looking for us.
Leaves behind the 99 sheep
Who are jealously guarding their own seat at the table
And comes out to seek the lost.
Dear Evan Hansengoes on,
“Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found.”
No matter how long it takes to find you.
No matter how hard he has to look.
No matter who grumbles when he offers you the seat next to him.
You will be found.
This is who we are at Good Shepherd.
Not a clique of people who wear the right clothes.
Not a collection of righteous people
Who sneer at those asking if there’s room at the table
Because they haven’t followed the rules.
But a flock of sheep
Who have been found.
This is what I love about our reading from Timothy today.
The author proclaims this,
That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, not the righteous.
He came into the world
To find those who were missing from his table
And invite them to come in.
But not only that, he says,
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,
“Of whom I am the foremost!”
Whenever I am tempted
To level the sick burn of the scribes and Pharisees,
Whenever I am tempted to edge away
From the smelly kid,
Whenever I am tempted
To shriek “You can’t sit with us!”
I remember that I am not the finder.
God’s invitation is not mine to grant or withhold.
I have been found.
This community does not belong to me.
It does not belong to the people who’ve been here
Since the beginning of time.
It does not belong to the Altar Guild
Or to the Vestry
Or to whoever you think is the in-crowd.
It belongs to God.
Who left his heavenly throne
Who died on a cross
To come and find
And so today,
As we welcome particularly
Three new members
Who have come to be baptized.
As we celebrate the beginning of another year together,
We call all the heavens to rejoice.
Because we have been found.
And the God who came so far to look for us,
Is not done
Seeking out the lost and lonely in the world.