This morning, I want to invite us to use our imagination. Let’s imagine ourselves in the crowd that first heard Jesus telling these stories. Think what that might have looked like: It was likely a dry and dusty day. We are ordinary first-century folks living ordinary first-century lives, which are probably lives of bare subsistence. We might farm land not our own; or tend sheep not our own. We work within systems that have fixed our place – systems in which those who have get more, pushing us to the margins of life. And we eke by: working, loving, living – as best we can. And then there’s Empire – always present, always pressing down.
We’ve heard about this radical teacher, this Jesus – we’ve heard that he is healing people. We’ve heard that he speaks a brave word against the authorities who oppress – a word against Empire even. And so we go – we travel dusty roads – to find this teacher – and here we are, listening, in this sweaty crowd of ordinary folks like us. And Jesus is telling stories – of a man who loses a sheep – and a woman who loses a coin, and he says this:
Who among you, having 100 sheep, and losing one,
would not leave the 99 in the wilderness,
and go after the one, until they are found?
We hear this, and we look at each other – Does he want an answer to that question? Who among us having 100 sheep and losing one, leaves the 99 in the wilderness to go search for that one?
Well, no one. Not me. No one like that does that. If someone has 100 sheep, they are fairly well off. Those 100 sheep may be their wealth. One sheep is expendable if it is necessary to preserve the 99. You certainly aren’t going to put all that you have – at risk – leaving the 99 alone in the wilderness, just to find one sheep. Maybe one of us would have said to Jesus, “Jesus, at the end of the day, do you know what the man who leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one sheep – do you know what he has at the end of the day? One sheep.” And we would have laughed – maybe even Jesus too.
You see we’d be hearing the story in terms of how we know the world works – in terms of the world’s economy. In the world’s economy, those who have 99 sheep protect that. When you have that much, one sheep really is expendable. And we’d know that we were standing in a crowd of expendables like us – in the world’s economy.
But remember: Jesus is turning the world rightside up. Parables do that too. They take this everyday world that we think we know so well, and they tell a story that turns that world on its head. We hear this simple story from our place in the world’s economy, but Jesus is speaking of God’s economy. As Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine points out: In God’s economy, the one is as important as all the others. The one has as much value as all the others put together. “The missing sheep – whether one of 100 or one of 1 million – the one missing sheep leaves the whole flock incomplete.” In God’s economy, we are not just 1 of 100 or 1 of 1 million. As Beyoncé says on her latest album, we are “one of one.” You are one of one.
As Beth Ludlum writes, “In God’s economy, no one is forgotten or lost. No matter how many are safe, God doesn’t rest until all are found and restored. God is searching, sweeping, traversing the wilderness, ready to carry us home.” You are one of one.
Last month, I spent a few days at a Benedictine monastery and retreat center. Benedictines are known for their hospitality. A central part of their monastic Rule for living in community is “We welcome all guests as Christ.” We welcome all guests as we would welcome Christ himself, and as Christ welcomes us. On my first night there, I was the only guest in the retreat house of about 50 rooms. I went to Vespers (evening prayer) at the monastery church with the monks, and then I walked back to the retreat house and to the dining hall – just me – and the lights were out. I went to the front desk, and asked, “Um are you serving dinner?” (because I knew there wasn’t anything around for about 15 miles). And the woman at the front desk said, “Oh didn’t they find you? They knew you were here, and were going to try to find you at Vespers – you can eat with the seminary students tonight.” They had lost me, for a moment.
The next morning, after morning prayer, I walked back to the dining hall, and the lights were on bright, and there was a full buffet breakfast set out: For just me. Now it wasn’t as completely excessive as it sounds – but it could have fed 4 or 5 – eggs, cereal, pancakes, a huge plate of bacon – it was set out for me – one of one – just as it would be in the next few days when I was one of 50 people in the retreat house.
The Benedictines are known for their hospitality because they have taken as their rule: “We welcome all as Christ.” What do these scripture stories of the man who traverses the field to find the one sheep and of the woman who sweeps the house to find the one coin – what do they have to tell us about how we are to welcome all as Christ? What do they have to tell us of how Christ welcomes – particularly on this World Communion Sunday?
On World Communion Sunday, we also remember the story of the Last Supper. In Luke’s telling, Jesus has gathered his friends – including those who will betray, deny, and desert him – he’s gathered them all at the table – and after they’ve shared the meal, the disciples start arguing about who among them is greatest. But Jesus – perhaps with a sigh – responds by asking them, “Who is greater, the one who feasts or the one who serves? I am among you as one who serves.”
In one scripture, Jesus asks the crowd, “Who among you, would seek out the one?” The man watching the sheep and the woman with the coins – they both notice the one who is missing – and they set out to find and bring them back home. And when the one is found, the man and the woman each throw a feast, rejoicing. Who among you? At the table, Jesus gathers everyone for a feast, like that and then says, “I am among you as one who serves.”
In these scriptures, we encounter a Christ who seeks and finds and welcomes and rejoices and serves. We encounter a Christ willing to leave all that he has in the wilderness to find the one who is missing from the flock. We encounter a Christ willing to set aside all of his privilege and power to serve those he has gathered at the table. We already know that Jesus is welcoming everyone to the table – as the authorities gasp, “This man eats with sinners and tax collectors,” and maybe the sinners and tax collectors gasp, “and he eats with Pharisees too.” And in this morning’s Scripture, we find all the sinners and the tax collectors and scribes and Pharisees gathered around Jesus. With everyone gathered, and no one left out, Jesus says, “I am among you as one who serves.”
These stories give us two questions to carry into the week.
First, as we move through our world, we might want to ask: Who is not at the table? Who is missing? Close to home, we might think of this table. Who is not here? In this community, so loving in our tender care of each other, so committed to serving together – who isn’t here – who beyond these walls might need the love of community, or a meal, or some help? Are there barriers to getting here? How might we actively seek and invite and welcome folks into the love of community that we experience here?
Thinking globally on this World Communion Sunday – we might ask that same question a bit more expansively. Who is missing from the table of decision-making? Who is missing from the table of enough? What does a Christ-like hospitality require of us to change the systems that work to keep people from the feast of enough food, steady shelter, and a living wage?
And, a second question – As we actively seek and welcome folks to the table, how might we come to this table as ones who serve? As the disciples bicker over who is the greatest, what does it mean for us to welcome as Christ welcomes – to welcome as ones who serve – maybe even to relinquish our seats at the table, to get up, pull out the chair for others, find food enough – feed, and heal, and welcome, and serve – as Christ?
World Communion invites of us to think of that globally. What does it mean to stand in the world’s economy – in a wealthy nation – and live as ones who serve? How do we serve those in our own nation – in Florida and Puerto Rico – suffering in the wreckage of hurricanes? How do we serve those migrating across borders, fleeing danger and seeking a better life – those with no shelter or home? How do we dismantle, redistribute, and repair systems that hoard wealth in a few nations, leaving so many in poverty?
From these Scriptures this morning, Jesus says, “Who among you would seek and welcome the one?” – and then gathers us all at a table – as ones who serve – ready to feast and rejoice that the separations are no more – that God’s family might be at last restored.
I want us to use our imagination one more time. At the beginning of the sermon, I invited us to use our imagination to go back in time. Now, I want us to use our imagination to be fully in this present moment – here, now, on World Communion Sunday, at Christ’s own table.
We gather at this table to share communion. We gather in this room, in these rooms. We gather in this hour of worship – in-person and online in rooms up and down the West Coast and across the country. Right now, we’re gathering on World Communion Sunday, which began hours ago across the world.
Travel in your mind to the International Date Line – maybe picture that image of the globe that shows the line of daybreak travelling around the world as the earth spins on its axis. Hours ago in Pastor Kang’s church in Korea, as day dawned, folks woke up and made their way to church – in-person, online – and began to share communion. Now imagine daybreak moving around the world, and people gathering at Christ’s table – in India, and Israel/Palestine, and Africa, and Europe – from North and South and East and West. World Communion Day continued to dawn across the Atlantic – as the new day reached us in the Americas – until this very moment. And in the hours to come, the day will head across the Pacific – toward Hawaii – and on. Gathering, and gathering, and gathering – all throughout the day, all around the world, at Christ’s table.
Here we are, on World Communion Sunday,
gathered in this one moment of time
and, across time, with those who gathered before
and with those yet to come.
We gather in this place, in these places,
and around the world –
across time and place,
all of us gathered at Christ’s table, all of us welcome,
Christ speaking to each and all of us
words of belonging and invitation
that will turn the world rightside up:
You are one of one. Beloved of God.
No matter where you are on your spiritual journey,
there is a place for you here.
At this table, Jesus says to us all,
“I am among you as one who serves.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
© 2022 Scott Clark
The spiritual practice of imagining ourselves in a scripture story is a practice vital to Ignatian spirituality – one way of placing ourselves prayerfully in the story of God’s expansive love. See James Martin, SJ, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone (New York: Harper Collins, 2021), pp. 238-264.
Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar, urges listening to the parables of Jesus with an ear to hear them as the original first-century, Jewish listeners would have heard them. See Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2014). See also Justo L. González, Luke (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
 Levine, p.39.
 See See Levine, p.44.
 Beth Ludlum, Devotion in Disciplines 2022 (Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 2021), p.433.
 See Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Crossroad Publishing: New York, 1992, 2010).