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Tonight at Rockwell House: You. Are. Enough. (A sermon on Luke 15:1-10)


You are worth it. You are enough.

Sometimes I like to ease into a sermon, bury the lede, let people work it out for themselves as we go along. But this time I want to be crystal clear, if you hear nothing else in this sermon: You are worth it. You. Are. Enough.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. You are enough, already, to be God's - simply because you already are.

At the level of basic theory, this is something that most everyone agrees on across religious backgrounds. And yet, so often the way things play out, what is communicated is something more like this:

One night when she returned from swim practice, my friend K walked into the dimmed dining room to find me still sitting at the table deep in intense conversation with her boyfriend who was visiting from far away. "Whaaat's going on?" she said, looking from him to me and back to him.

We looked up at the clock, realized we'd been there for three hours, understood her concern, and said "We're talking theology." She looked at us for another beat and said "Of course you are."

And the conversation that took us three hours was this: why be a Christian?

For him, the answer was "because it's the only way to be saved". This is how we got into that conversation - debating whether you need to have accepted Jesus to be saved from hell. He said yes. I said no. He said, "then why should anyone be a Christian if everyone gets to go to heaven anyway? Why not just do whatever you want here if you're going to be saved anyway?" And it took us three hours in large part because we each honestly wanted to understand the other's perspective but honestly didn't get the other's perspective.

I take partial responsibility for that, in that I didn't yet know how to be clear about that answer. That three hours was a lot about us talking in circles trying to clarify what we really did and didn't believe was true and what we were fuzzier on. But here is what I eventually realized I was trying to say - what I wished I had said - what I would say now: we love because God first loved us. I work for justice and pray to God and try to treat people well not because I'm scared of hell, but because I'm convinced of the truth of the Jesus story in my life, and God's love has taught me to love God, and so I want to express that love for God and others in ways that will make God happy, just as I want to do things for my mother or brother or friend because I love them and want them to be happy. I do believe that after death we will all have some work still to do to become more fully who God means for us to be, and that that work will probably be less difficult if we've practiced well while we're here, but ultimately that's not why I'm in this game, and it's not why I want to invite others into this game. It's not to get saved from a scary God. It's to rejoice in a God who already loves us.

The coin did not have to come to life and sing and dance and fall from the sky to make the woman want to look for it. She looked for it because it was missing.The shepherd did not go look for the sheep because the sheep wrote an eloquent missive on why it should be found, but because the sheep was *his* sheep, and must be brought home. This man eats with sinners. This man welcomes sinners. This man does not make us prove our perfection in order to be loved.

There is more joy in heaven over making a connection with one imperfect sinner, one person who still has room to grow and learn and change and develop, than over 99 perfect drones. Why? Because we imperfect creatures belong to God. We are treasured by God, even when we've wandered away and rolled in the mud and smell bad and need to be cleaned up.

On Wednesday at Bible study we prayed through the passage that says "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." And reading this passage in light of that, it occurs to me that this is the story of the Incarnation: God putting God's heart here among us, because it is here that God's treasure is, because God's treasure is us. And the one doing the treasuring and the searching and the finding is not us.

All the action in this story comes from the God-figures, the woman and the shepherd, not from the lost things. They don't have to earn their belovedness - which, incidentally, Apple really really wants to correct to "beloved mess" every time I type it, which strikes me as also not a bad description of us humans.

Now if I were writing this as a Disney movie, with coins and sheep that could sing and dance and write eloquent missives, this is the point at which I might well have the coin and the sheep *respond* by doing those things, out of gratitude and joy at being sought and found and brought home. None of this, in the Disney version or in our real lives where coins don't sing and dance, none of this is the prerequisite. None of it.

God begins everything - creation, incarnation, teaching, saving, judging, everything - with love. And this is where it swings back around to what we might do or why we might do it - because as God always begins with love, God hopes that is how we will choose to respond.

Karl Barth or someone like that is supposed to have said "Love Jesus. All else is commentary." Everything else is commentary - it makes a difference and so is worth doing as best we can, but it is not the thing itself. It's commentary. It's the sour cream on the chili, the cherry on the sundae, the ketchup on the fries. It's not the main thing, and the chili or ice cream or fries doesn't stop being there or edible if the topper isn't there.

All this, then, actually frees us. It frees us to return to the role for which we were made - to love God, and love the person we find next to us, and to be co-creators with God in the world that God has set in motion. Because we don't have to be or do perfect, because the world doesn't depend on us. Our salvation doesn't depend on us. We are freed to need each other, to need God, to live in response to God instead of in desperation for God's approval. And because we know that God is a persistent seeker, and that God takes joy in running after and after imperfect beings, it means we can co-create out of love and joy in God, taking breaks and trying things and taking risks and trying again, secure in our place at God's table.

It's glorious. It's how God hopes we will live - liberated and loving. But it's not what earns us our golden ticket. Even if this parable were a Disney movie where the coin and the sheep *could* sing and dance and write eloquent missives, the beginning isn't the point where it would happen, because none of this, the singing and dancing and writing, the worshiping and praying and repenting, the giving and working and striving, the succeeding and failing and risking - none of this is the prerequisite. You are - I am - each of us is - already enough to be beloved. Thank God.
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