“The Art of Lostness & the Ridiculousness of Grace” September 15, 2019
“The Art of Lostness & the Ridiculousness of Grace”
Psalm 51:1-13/ 1 Timothy 1:12-17
The Moth Radio Hour was the brainchild of a man named George Green some 20 years ago. Simply put, the Moth Radio Hour was the end result of Mr. Green’s want & need to promote the art and craft of storytelling. And if you enjoy hearing a good story, these broadcasts are awesome. A recent press release states, “We honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience, with 25,000 stories to date, shared live and without notes.” And that’s it. Come to find out, there are thousands of folks willing to stand in front of a large audience and, with a little coaching, tell their stories without notes, teleprompters, or cheat sheets. I got in the habit of listening to Moth Radio when I found myself driving to Amity on Saturday night to print bulletins. There were lots of times, I’m sure, that anyone who was paying attention probably wondered what that man was doing just sitting in his car in front of the church. But I loved them. They were warm, they were funny, and most of all, they were real. It was after reading through Paul’s letter to Timothy and Jesus’ stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep, that one of these stories came to mind; a story about a woman and her father near the end of his life.
The way she told it, father wasn’t known for expressing his emotions. He was calm and reserved and wasn’t much for light conversation. So it surprised her one day when she stopped to visit that he told her he had something special that he wanted her to have. It surprised her when he seemed to be choking up a bit as he handed her a huge stack of 3 X 5 index cards – that were really heavy. “This is my penny diary,” he said, “and I’d like for you to keep it going.” He then explained that for years he had gotten into the habit of picking up pennies that had been dropped. “Everybody will stop to pick up a dime, even a nickel,” he said, “but most folks won’t waste their time with a stupid penny. When a penny is lost, it’s lost for good.” But not Dad. He not only picked them up, he took to taping them onto index cards along with some kind of commentary that he would write on the card. It might be simply what was on his mind at the moment he found the penny, it might be things going on at the time, it might be most anything at all. The point is, Dad not only went out of his way to find these worthless chunks of copper, but he made a big deal out of it whenever he found one. “I thought it was kind of a quirky thing,” she said, “but my Dad was kind of a quirky guy.” When she was finally able to spend an afternoon reading her father’s “Penny Diary,” she discovered two things: (1st) people lose a lot of pennies, and (2nd) this man that she had known as Dad her entire life was the kindest, wisest, and most loving person that ever walked the face of the earth. It wasn’t long afterward that her dad passed away, and wouldn’t you know it but a few days later as she walked across the parking lot to the grocery store she spotted a beat up brown penny that had been run over 100 times or more. You’ll never guess what she did next.
(1 Timothy 1:15) Paul drops a proverbial truth bomb on Timothy in the city of Ephesus. He writes, 5 This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all. Now we could debate the fact that there were probably some pretty rough customers waiting in the wings who might put Paul to shame in the mean & nasty department, but for now, let’s take him at his word. The thing is, Paul was a stand up Jewish citizen: he lived by the law, his faith was rooted in the law, and the principles of crime and punishment dictated every decision and every action he made or took. You could say that Paul was a man lost in the fear of a vengeful God. Add to that the fact that he had a real talent for mean & nasty, and you have a situation on your hands. Yet now, we find Paul saying with conviction, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”- and I’m the biggest sinner of all. Now for those in this place who are wholly without sin, I would ask that you please bear with us. As for the rest of us, we have some issues. We can confess how incredible it is that God is constantly seeking us out – looking for us in all the dark places, but that’s not easy to really believe. Not by a long shot. For one thing, speaking for myself, it’s hard for me to believe that I’m worth looking for. That I’m not expendable. That I’m loved enough or worthy enough that our God would drop everything to come search for me. I want God to be with me when I’m at the top of my game. That’s why it’s hard to believe that he does his best work when I’m utterly lost and can’t find a way out. And what’s more, it’s the weight of my sin that holds me back. That God would feel so much joy at finally finding me that he’ll tell the whole world and throw a big party just seems ridiculous.
But this is in fact the case. The parable of the lost sheep begs the question, “What is a lost sheep worth?” The answer is nothing – if you’ve already given up on them. But they are worth everything in the world if you care. We can hear of a child gone missing from a shopping mall and will be sad by such a tragedy. But if it is our own child, we will move heaven and earth to bring them back home. Imagine a God like that: dogged, persistent; a God whose ridiculous grace will be the one thing to bring us into his kingdom. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and for that we should be glad.
When John Wesley returned from America, he was a beaten man. The man who was always at the top of his game was finding himself lost. His faith was shaken and it was a low point in his life. But God wasn’t giving up; what was needed was a change of heart. In his own words, this is how Wesley described what it was like to be the sheep that was found and the coin that was pulled out of floorboards:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
“An assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” The keys words here are “even mine.” Our sins are not that special. Look at Peter; look at Paul. They were both chosen in spite of their shortcomings rather than because of their strengths and we thank God that he did just that. We thank God for the humility that comes of lostness. We thank God for the ridiculous grace that never stops and never gives up; that is amazing grace. And if you spot a penny on the way out today, pick it up will you? Hang onto it for a while as a reminder of the joy of a life in Christ. And then, maybe, let’s throw a party.
Amen & Shalom