Saved By the Lost – The Rev. Michelle Meech
September 11, 2022
“Upper Broadway” – Adrienne Rich
The leafbud struggles forth
toward the light of the airshaft this is faith
this pale extension of a day
when looking up you know something is changing
winter has turned though the wind is colder
Three streets away a roof collapses onto people
who thought they still had time Time out of mind
I have written so many words
wanting to live inside you
to be of use to you
Now I must write for myself for this blind
woman scratching the pavement with her wand of thought
this slippered crone inching on icy streets
reaching into wire trashbaskets pulling out
what was thrown away and infinitely precious
I look at my hands and see they are still unfinished
I look at the vine and see the leafbud
inching towards life
I look at my face in the glass and see
a halfborn woman
In this poem by Adrienne Rich, the poet offers us a poignant image: A woman, “a blind, slippered crone” inching along on icy streets in New York City is reaching into wire trashbaskets and pulling out what was thrown away. And what was thrown away is “infinitely precious.”
As Rich looks on this scene, she is inspired to examine her own life, realizing that, although she is an accomplished poet, having “written many words…[wanting to be known]… wanting to be of use” to her audience, she has overlooked, thrown away, something precious. She sees her hands are still unfinished. She looks at herself and sees a “halfborn woman.”
It seems that we can overlook, even throw away, so much that is precious in our attempts to gain something that is truly transitory – positive regard, societal approval, acceptance, power, prestige. And the result is that we are impoverished, unfinished, halfborn.
As we may remember from last week, when I told the story of Ancient Israel and how the nation of Israel was created out of the 12 tribes of Israel. And then they asked God for a king, one that would give them power and positive regard among the nation-states around them. And after trying to explain to them that a king might not be such a good idea, God finally relented and gave them Saul, then David, then Solomon.
After Solomon died, the desire for power split Israel into two nations – the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. This split lasted for 200 years and ended when Israel (in the north) was conquered by the Assyrians. Within a few decades, Judah (in the south) was under attack and losing ground until after 100 years of steady battle, it was conquered by the Babylonians.
Why is this history important? Because, the story of Israel is the story of us, as children of God. It’s the story of convincing ourselves that it is worthwhile to throw away something precious, in order to gain the acceptance and power and regard we think we need. Kingship, power, prestige… but at what cost?
And we might remember that, as a prophet to the exiled leaders of the Southern Kingdom, Jeremiah’s job was to help them understand how they had gone astray – how did they find themselves so far from their own homes? How did they find themselves a conquered people?
So, today we hear Jeremiah telling them that they had been foolish in their attempts to live by worldly power because, in so doing, they lost their very identity. They had thrown away what was precious. And for what? 200 years of saying, “We won! Aren’t we great?”
As Jeremiah explains to the people of Judah in the last days before their kingdom collapsed, “You have not taken the time to discern God’s Will. You have been foolish. And now, this land will be desolate.”
But there is hope, as Jeremiah explains, “yet [God] will not make a full end.” Yet, God will not make a full end. God is always asking us to return, waiting for us to come home. Anticipating that we will finally stop looking so far afield for where we can make our mark, gain worldly acceptance, and begin to look at what is under our slippered feet for the precious things we’ve thrown away.
Jesus effortlessly explains God’s invitation to return for what was thrown away by offering 2 parables – the lost sheep and the lost coin. He knows his audience gets just how precious sheep are to a shepherd and how precious a silver coin is to the average person. They are so valuable that we rejoice when we are reunited with them.
In offering these metaphors, we are invited to see all people as God’s see us – valuable, infinitely precious. Of course Jesus is talking about us, really. You and me. We are beloved children of God. Precious is the sight of God. And when we choose to search for what we’ve thrown away, God rejoices in our efforts. God is pleased.
God delights in our endeavors because to search for the lost, to look for the thrown away, to reclaim the marginalized and invite them to our Table, we are doing the work of Christ. And, in the process of doing this, we are opening God’s Table to the precious parts of ourselves that we once believed needed to be tossed aside and alienated.
For I hope you remember, because I’ve preached about this before, it is only because we believe we are not worthy of God’s Love, do we believe that others are not worthy of God’s Love. We have this Pharisee side of us, all of us do. The Pharisees, in this story, are the ones who name the sinners as “those people…” And when Jesus challenges them with these stories, it is clear who he really finds to be the problem– those who refuse to look for the lost, those who refuse to question their own prejudice, those who do not value God’s beloved children as God does.
I speak often about the Table of Reconciliation as a place to which we are invited to bring our whole selves. If no where else in the world is safe for us to open up and lay down our burden, we are invited to bring all of ourselves to the Table – every part of ourself. Confession opens us up to receive healing from God and reclaim those parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed. And we are invited to bring all of us to the Table: The parts that we want everyone to know and the parts that we’ve tried to throw away. God wants all of us.
This is the Radical Hospitality of God. All are welcome at God’s Table. This invitation must include the lost parts, the marginalized people, the ones that we’ve refused admittance, the parts of ourselves that we think aren’t valuable.
Why? Well, we could quote Jeremiah and say something like, “Because God said so.” But the real reason? Jesus isn’t talking about saving the tax collectors and the sinners in this passage. Jesus is talking about saving the Pharisees, the ones who sit in judgment. The ones who are truly impoverished.
Here is where I diverged into talking about the new “St. John’s Welcomes” sign.
Is that, like the poet Adrienne Rich, we remain halfborn until we welcome the lost. We remain unfinished unless we reclaim that which has been thrown away. We are saved when we recover the infinitely precious. And this… this is cause for great celebration!
Because it is never, not ever, just the best part of ourselves that is invited to God’s Table. It’s not just the part of us who supposedly knows how to dress. It’s not just the part of us who supposedly knows how to act. It’s not just the part who can sing or can walk without an aid or who can give lots of money. It’s the part of us that we hope no one sees. The part that we would rather hide away. The part that makes us feel vulnerable. The part that really wants to be known. This is the lost coin. This is the lost sheep.
When we are able to bring this part of ourselves to the Table, the part of which we are most ashamed, then we know what we mean when we say: All are welcome at God’s Table.
The Table is a messy place then. It was always meant to be. It’s full of lost coins and lost sheep and lost people. It’s full of us. The Table is the full end that Jeremiah was talking about – the place where the all the hopeless parts meet Hope itself because it’s where all the lost are found again and all are reconciled to God.
All are welcome at God’s Table. And may we rejoice with God as everyone returns.