September 15

All Count

By Marsh Chapel

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Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

Luke 15:1-10

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        A long time ago JB Phillips wrote a good book titled ‘Your God Is Too Small’. On another day, a sermon from St. Luke might pursue that theme. But the parables of sheep, coin and prodigal, Luke 15, take us in the opposite direction. Sometimes, ‘Our God Is Too Large’. All count, all sheep, all coins, all prodigals, all however small, all count.


        All listeners count. They say on the radio you should think of speaking just to one person. Have one person in mind, not a blurry assembly of many. So, Krista Tippet has one person in mind, say, when she interviews Imani Perry over the radio waves from Chautauqua Institution. Or the Red Sox play by play announcer has one fan in mind, not a township, say. Perhaps we should sometimes do the same here. (After all, if we have 200 in the sanctuary, and 20,000 listening from afar, that is a factor difference of 100.) So…

        In southern New Hampshire, it may be, then, a woman is listening this morning. The house is quiet. Her teenage children, one back from college, are still asleep. Her husband is golfing, probably stopping right now after the ninth hole for any early beer and hot dog, before the back nine. She is alone though not lonely. She plunks a bagel in the toaster, and sips coffee. She loves WBUR, and tolerates the Sunday morning worship service. That said, she loves the music and tolerates the sermon. She loves the familiar pieces, ‘Lead me Lord’ and the sung benediction (I wish he would talk less so that I could hear that more often.), and tolerates the new sounds. She loves the old hymns, but sometimes a new one will spark something in her too.

        The house is solid, the roof is new last summer. The lawn is mowed. Her kids are grown and growing. They will take you for a ride, she thinks. She does not love her job, but who does? Her husband seems happy enough, and they too together. Men. She heard William Sloane Coffin say once that ‘Preachers are egotists with a theological alibi’. She smiles and thinks ‘Men are egotists with a cultural alibi’. Men. She chuckles.

        The Gospel, she realizes, is about a woman cleaning a house. That sounds way too familiar. But it is good that the woman is the star. Actually, she now remembers, in this Gospel of Luke woman are often set so. She mulls that for a while. In the story, the woman is hunting for a coin. She thinks about last Christmas when for love nor money could not find the bracelet that she wanted to wear for the company party. Then she found it on a snow day in February. The sermon is about finding the lost, including the outcast, hunting for the one in a hundred in real need, and how God’s grace finds the lost, includes the outcast and hunts for those in need.

        At book club last Tuesday, they talked about politics, she remembers, as the sermon drones on. She vaguely hopes the choir will sing that ‘walk through the valley in peace’ afterward. At book club she thought about the last national election and how she voted. She is middle of road, middle aged, middle class. She had an idea about why she voted as she did, but she now has a funny feeling about that. Somebody at book club had said, ‘I realize about that now what I meant is not what it means. I meant one thing but it turned out to mean something else.’ She enjoys the bagel. The sermon meanders on. Where does he get this stuff?, she wonders.

        Then for some reason she thinks about last February when they went to San Diego. They decided to go down past Chula Vista and into Tijuana. There is a piercing, sharp memory of those poor children, looking into the train window, some with shoes and teeth and some not. She thinks about her two teenagers. Then her mind wanders back to her grandmother who came over from Scotland, and held every penny tight as if it were a hundred dollars, and counted every coin in her purse twice, and waited for the sales to buy anything, not that she ever bought anything. Then she thinks of those families in the Bahamas, one blind man who had to walk out of his blown down house carrying his disabled teenaged son, right in the middle of the storm. She thinks about her two sleeping teenagers. She remembers reading in college a book by Howard Thurman, The Disinherited. She thinks about her two teenagers, and wonders what they are reading…or are they reading at all? The sermon ends.

        And the choir sings. Come noon she walks out onto the patio, thinking about the week ahead. All count. All listeners count.


        All words count. Last year this week we went to celebrate a wedding bear New York City. Driving home, past the Long Island Sound, my wife asked, ‘What do they call it that?’ Sound? A dexterous monosyllable.

        Is your faith sound?

        Does it have breadth, like a body of water?

        Is it reliable, durable, sound rather than unsound?

        Does it sound right, does it sound of off, does it make a sound, as the trumpet shall sound?

        Is your faith broad, durable and audible?

        Is your life? Broad, durable, audible? Here is a question: do you use email or voice mail, sight or sound?

        What is sound? What sound do you make and hear and revere?

        A long time ago, my dad gave me, with intent and portent, a book I believe titled, THE MAYO BROTHERS. He had read it and loved it. I set it aside for future reading. Fortunately, 50 years later, Ken Burns has saved me.

        One of the SOUND features, the saving features, of our shared, patriotic, national, purple common hope is, simply, health. Health, salvus, is a mode of salvation. If Gandhi rightly could teach that for the hungry God must come, and only, as bread, then we could add, with the Brothers Mayo, that for the sick, God must come, and only, as health, as medicine, as doctoral care, as nursing love, as healing. We might differ, a bit, about delivery and cost and structure. But when you have appendicitis, you want a good surgeon. When you break your arm in a boating accident, you want a skilled orthopedic clinic, nearby. When your hip is worn out and you need new one, you want somebody who knows what they are doing. We have an easier time cutting costs on other peoples’ medical care than we do cutting costs on our own. The place to begin thinking about medical frugalities is from your own hospital bed, when your own healing, that is life, is at stake, with your own family standing around in anxiety and tears. Most good thinking starts at the hospital bed side, in any case, as does much good praying. We say a direct personal word of blessing to those listening live right now in hospital, in nursing home, in rehabilitation, and right at home.

        But as Alf Landon said, ‘I am liberal, not a spend thrift’. Sound, that. So, we can still keep Ben Franklin close, ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’. All count. All words, even those with single syllables, all count.


        All losses count. Today’s parable is about loss. Think for a moment about loss. About the loss of love, say, or about falling out of love.

        Sometimes we fall out of love. Love of a job, love of a house, love of a vocation or avocation, and, well, other loves too.

        More is written in all modes about falling in love, and so it should be. But sometimes the reverse occurs. What once drew now repels, what once beckons now repulses, what once enticed now sours.

        Our youngest, Christopher, is an athlete. People would come to watch him at age 5, in children’s soccer, to see how many goals he could score in 10 minutes. I saw him hit the only hole in one I have seen live. He played baseball, basketball, football, golf, and, especially soccer. He was team captain on a good team. Yet I saw something memorable in his senior year of high school. He fell out of love with soccer, his favorite sport. I watched him game after game becoming more and more listless, less and less engaged, no longer seeing the field, no longer leading the squad, content to play his position and finish the game. His talent was the same, his ability the same, his condition and capability the same. He just no

        longer loved the game after 12 years of loving it so. He really could give no explanation, though he did try, and I did pry. His heart just was no longer in it.

        Have you ever fallen out of love? Academics might pick up again Richard Russo’s novel, Straight Man, which is largely about a man who falls out of love—with his work, with his employer, with his co-workers, with his vocation, with his parents, with his children, with his baseball team, with his friends, with his place in life. It is an uproariously funny novel. Yet, underneath, it is a meditation on what it means to fall out of love. Sometimes something happens to somebody that steals from them a way of loving something or someone, that breaks whatever energy current was running, or that somehow fractures an ability to love. You have seen it, in life, in pastoral care, in reading, and in reflection.

        Sometimes you just fall out of love. Better to admit it, whatever you end up doing about it. Sometimes the way out is the way through, through love lost to love found, found like a coin after cleaning and sweeping and hunting. All count. All loves count, both past and future.


        All souls count. The gospel comes in meager morsels. 3 years of preaching, teaching and healing: the ministry of Jesus. 27 short books: a New Testament. 12 original followers, fisherfolk and others: the disciples. An audacious claim, God-Love-Resurrection-Faith-Heaven, resting on a tiny patch of land, an outback area of history, a single individual, a scandalous, small, particularity. Jesus Christ and him crucified. Yet today you in love may of a sudden be ready, in the small, in the heart, for a new love, a divine love, a loving life of faith.

        Nancy Marsh Hartman, of blessed memory, lived faith as a singing Methodist all her life, right here, and said often, Life is how you take it.

        Rudyard Kipling was once addressing students at McGill University in Montreal. The lure of having things and even the power of success all sound so good if you listen quick. Yet, powerful successful egotism is the ultimate failure. Kipling said: Someday, you will meet a person who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.

        Speaking of listeners, from New Haven our dear friend Dr. Kristopher Kahle sent a line from the Polanus, a reformed theologian: God is able to raise up for Godself children from stones—he can establish inanimate creatures as the heralds of divine glory. As with a coin lost.

        Lost, we. And then, of a sudden, by dint of a still small voice, found, in God, found, of God, found, by God. All count. All souls count, all. You count. You count. You count.


        8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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