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Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 24 - Proper 19 - Year C
Jeremiah 4:11-12,22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10
"And God Wore Red Gym Shoes"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Ordinary 24 - Proper 19 - Year C
Jeremiah 4:11-12,22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10
"And God Wore Red Gym Shoes"

     Now all the toll collectors and sinners were coming near to
     listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling
     and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
The campers arrived on Sunday night.  By Monday morning, someone was
missing his hunting knife.  By later that afternoon a baseball glove went
missing.  By canteen time that night, one of the campers was missing five
dollars.  One did not need to have "light years" of experience to know that
the camp had a thief!
It is hard to say why kids eleven and twelve years old steal things,
especially when they don't really need the things they steal.  One thing,
however, is for sure.  They are really bad at it; and by Tuesday afternoon,
they had the culprit.
"Why did you do it?" asked the camp counsellor.
"I didn't do it," said the kid.
"We know you did it.  We found the knife, the glove and the money in your
locker.  Why did you do it?"
"I didn't do it."
"Look," said the counsellor.  "I'm going to give you a break.  This is only
the second day of camp and I'm going to forget any of this happened.  I'll
return the stolen stuff.  We'll wipe the slate clean and start over.  OK?"
"I didn't do it."
This kid was not afraid of anybody, and the whole time the counsellor
talked to him there was no expression on his face whatsoever.  No light in
his eyes.
On Wednesday afternoon, in a rowboat out on the lake, he stuck a fish hook
in another kid's leg.  And there the two of them were again.  The
counsellor and the kid with no light in his eyes.
"Why did you do it?"
"I didn't do it."
The counsellor was clearly out of his league.  
This was a Roman Catholic camp.  So the director decided to give the kid to
one of the nuns who worked there.  Sister Ruth Ann was retired, but her
only concession to old age was a pair of red gym shoes that peeked out from
under her habit as she shuffled along from building to building, doing what
her late father, who had been a handyman, had taught her how to do.  She
could repair anything.  And they called her Sister Fix-It.
On the first morning she appeared beside the kid's bed and said, "Wake up
and get dressed.  I need you." Then it started.  The other campers would be
playing baseball.  The nun and the kid would be out past center field
planting something.  The other campers would be swimming.  The nun and the
kid would be painting the side of the chapel.  The other campers would be
eating.  The nun and the kid would be out on a bench together having lunch. 
Wherever you saw the nun you saw the kid.  Wherever you saw the kid you saw
the nun.
Instead of sending the kid home when the new campers came in, the parents
and camp director agreed to leave him another two weeks.  The new batch of
kids did not know the history of the kid with no light in his eyes and they
would ask him, "Do you want to play baseball?"
He would look at her and she would say, "Go play baseball.  Then meet me
back here.  We have work to do in the garden."
The other kids would be going horseback riding and would say to him, "Want
to come riding?"
He would look at her and she would say, "You go riding.  Then meet me back
here and we'll paint the bench down at the lake."
And that's how it went for another two weeks.  She let him out and she
reeled him in.  She let him out and she reeled him in.  At the end of the
two weeks, the kid was integrated into the life of the camp.
The day his parents came to pick him up, they waited with the camp
counsellor and director on the hill overlooking the camp.  They all saw
them at the same time.  The old nun with the gym shoes and the kid with no
light in his eyes.  They were coming up the path that led down to the lake. 
Even at twelve he was taller than she was.  She had her arm around his
waist and a glow on her face like a woman who had found a coin she had long
searched for.  With each step she pulled him against her.  She was
hip-hugging him all the way.  And he was letting her do it.
                                    - Adapted from a story by Fr. John Shea
The startlingly comforting and challenging thing about the two parables
Jesus tells to open the 15th chapter of Luke is that God seems completely
intent on finding those of us who are lost - whether or not those who are
lost ever appreciate that fact.  Yes, I know.  Luke adds,
     Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels
     of God over one sinner who repents,"

although I doubt if Jesus ever said that.  Why?  Because they don't fit the
stories, that's why.  Lost sheep don't come to their senses anymore than a
lost coin does.  Lost sheep keep running away, hiding in caves and acting
frightened even when it's the good shepherd looking for them because that's
what it means to be lost.  If that and the analogy of a misplaced coin with
about as much sense as a sheep don't convince you, then just think about
the real "live" sinners you have ever met or been yourselves.  We're just
as "sense-less", just as set in our ways, and just as inclined to keep
running the other way whenever love comes searching for us, too.

It isn't anything about lost sinners that made Jesus want to eat and drink
with them.  It was something about Jesus.  He associated with the
uncultivated, the vulgar, the irreligious, the notorious - in other words -
with anybody he knew who had ever done anything wrong.  If anything is
plainly true from all four gospel records, that surely is.  He spent most
of his time with people so unlike the crowd you would normally expect to
find in pews on Sunday morning that it is enough to wonder how comfortable
he would be hanging around with people like us.

So much so that one of the charges that began to stick was

     "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

The amazing thing is that he didn't seem to mind one bit.  He kept on
breaking bread with them and lifting a pint or two whether they went on
being the mixed up, self-destructive, irresponsible people they were or
not.  Not that he didn't want them to be better; because, of course, he
did.  But that was not the point.  The point was that he wanted them to
know that God had never turned her back on them and never would, that she
would be never satisfied until she had them back safe and sound, that she
would never rest until what was lost was found.  That was the point.


  That's good news for anybody who has ever done anything wrong - anybody
who has ever messed up so badly and saw so little hope for changing that
they simply went on giving in to their selfish, self-destructive habits. 
Good news because it means that as much as we try to escape that offer of
love and acceptance, as much as we insist on turning our backs on it, God
will not rest until we "get it".  She isn't going anywhere except after us. 
She isn't going to bother herself about anything else except sweeping the
place high and dry until there is no place left for us to hide.  It's just
the way she is, that's all.  Why Jesus was the way he was.

Well, it's good news for everyone but the snob, of course.  The snobs were
the people who looked down their noses at the riff-raff Jesus kept company
with, who looked down at Jesus the same way.  Maybe because they thought
they really were better.  Or maybe just because he reminded them of what
God was like and of what they were not.

Even from a distance, you can usually tell the people who are just plain
trouble.  The people who could hurt your reputation just by your
association with them, the people who are probably not worth the effort. 
The only real question is whether or not you and I keep our distance.


Jeremiah 4:11-12,22-28   - The brief oracle that forms this week Lectionary
reading is part of a larger passage that opens with a call to Israel to
"return" to Yahweh (4:1-2).  If the people do not respond God will come
like a blazing hot wind from the desert, leaving desolation in his wake. 
There will be consequences for not living as Yahweh commands and it will be
like a vision of the day after the world was destroyed.  It will be as if
the world was returned to its primordial chaos.  And yet, the passage ends
with someone, personified as a woman running through the city with
outstretched hand, searching for even one person who acts justly so that
all may not be destroyed entirely (4:31-5:1).

1.   What does the passage say about God?

2.   Why is the image of "the day after the world was destroyed" an
     appropriate image for human disobedience?

3.   Of what does the final image of a woman running through the
     streets remind you?

1 Timothy 1:12-17   - What we have in the passage is a Pauline prayer
commending Paul for being entrusted with the Gospel, reminding readers of
Paul's former, sinful life, his experience of grace and his example of
patience for all those who would share in the experience of eternal life.

1.   What does it mean to be "entrusted" with the Gospel?

2.   What "qualifications" does God seem to have for apostles?

3.   How can you really tell that a person has been "saved"?

Luke 15:1-10    - The really striking thing about Jesus, as compared to
John the Baptist, was "his affirmation that sinners who heeded him would be
included in the reign of God even though they did not repent by making
restitution, sacrifice, and turning to obedience to the Law.  Jesus'
companionship with such people was a sign that God would save them, and
implied, moreover a claim to know whom God would include." (Barbara Reid,
Parables for Preachers)  Jesus aims the two stories he tells in this week's
gospel at those who were critical of his association with known sinners. 
It is hard to miss the challenge.  If this is what God is like - more
concerned about finding and saving those who are lost - why aren't you?

1.   Who needs to repent in this week's gospel? Why?

2.   What disturbs you about the way God is depicted and way Jesus
     associated with sinners?

3.   What implications does this have for the way your religious
     community does business?

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION  - "Jesus knew his friends were sinners.  He liked
them regardless of their sins.  He was far too sophisticated to think that
all their sinful habits and ways had been discarded.  He still liked them. 
He knew about their primal flaw - it was pretty hard not to know about it
when you saw how they behaved.  He knew about their narrowness, their
rigidity, their lack of self-control, their selfishness.  He still liked
them.  He wanted them to be more true to that which was best in them, of
course, because we all want that of our friends, but he still liked them
for what they were.  And that, I would submit, is one of the most
paradoxical notions in the whole of the Christian Good News.  Jesus liked
sinners.  - Andrew M. Greeley, Jesus Lives

HYMN 87   "I Am the Light of the World"  (Voices United 87)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551

copyright - Barry Robinson 2004
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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