Monday, October 6, 2008

99+1

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

                        Luke 15.4

“Sinners” Welcome

The parable of the lost sheep answered Jesus’s critics. He stopped to teach and Luke reports that tax collectors and “sinners” gathered to hear Him. Much like now, tax collectors were despised in Jesus’s day. Their unpopularity went beyond general disdain, however. As local agents of Caesar and willing parties to the Roman occupation, they were hated as traitors and low lives—in other words, the wrong people to be seen with. “Sinners” were no better. The New International Version frames Luke’s original word with quotes to underscore its specific meaning. They had been excommunicated from the temple and were viewed as unredeemable pariahs, the worst of the worst.

Wherever Jesus went, He drew these sorts of people, never expressing the least discomfort in their company. This drove the religious right crazy. On this occasion, before He even began, the Pharisees and legalists complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus could have ignored their mutters to teach those who really wanted to listen. After all, the holier-than-thou types nagging Him had also scandalized many in His audience; their opinion held little or no weight with the outcasts. Still, Jesus set His message aside to address His detractors. It was more urgent for Him to straighten them out than speak to the sinners. Interesting.

Why Heaven Rejoices

No doubt by design, the critics put Jesus in an awkward spot. Defending Himself would require defending the crowd—which would set fire to a wasps’ nest of theological debate—or trick Him into condemning them. From where the Pharisees sat, it was a win-win. But Jesus took a sharp turn that left them speechless and gave the world one of His most powerful parables. Having set the story up, with the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to recover the lost one, He said that after it was found, the shepherd invites his neighbors to celebrate with him. “In the same way,” Jesus told them, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Being educated men, the Pharisees most likely understood the story’s subtext, which must have bruising to hear. Doing what’s right makes us happy; it keeps us safe, fed, and free of worry. On the other hand, restoring us to our rightful place in His love is what makes God happy and why heaven rejoices.

You’re the One

You’re why Christ came to Earth—He was looking for you. You’re the one He sought to reclaim to His care. You set off shouts of joy when you returned to the fold. You belong to Him. You’re entitled to live and grow in His pasture, just like any other sheep. You’re no less worthy of His attention and protection than anyone else. You’re blessed with the same opportunity to follow where He leads. He numbers you among His prize possessions and without you, His flock is incomplete. You’re the one. I’m the one. We’re the one. He welcomes all of us to gather around Him, regardless of how we’re viewed by others in His fold. Finding each of us brings Him great happiness. Heaven rejoices. So should we.


Anonymous (ca 1490): Jesus and the Pharisees

(Tomorrow: Seventy X Seven)

Postscript: Observances and Awards

Today marks a milestone for Straight-Friendly—100 posts. When I started, I had no expectation of what it would require, or any idea how fulfilling it would be. I probably check the Straight-Friendly traffic a half-dozen times a day to see who’s dropped by. Yesterday, we topped 1,000 visits, which may seem insignificant to many of you established bloggers, but it’s astounding to me. This could never have happened so soon without the endorsements and links many of you have seeded around the Internet. I'm so grateful for all you've done and pray God blesses all of you above your highest hopes.

You’ve taught me much about how this blogosphere thing works. (I still don’t know how to italicize quotes and phrases in my comment responses, though…) The Internet really is a net, a woven-together community of vibrant minds and spirits promoting each other’s causes and endeavors.

Not long ago, I experienced this when Missy, of Missy’s Big Fish Stories, listed Straight-Friendly among her five choices for the Brillante Weblog Award. The way this award works is that each blogger who receives it passes it along to five of his/her favorites. There are no rules or criteria. Missy’s kindness overwhelmed me; but it also triggered a conundrum: whom do I pass my five awards on to? Many of my first choices already got the award and I imagined others I wanted to honor would have theirs soon. Then there was the issue of choosing some at the expense of others. That would never do.

So, to celebrate 100 posts and 1,000 visitors, I’ve come up with a plan—not as great as I’d like, but one that helps approach this in a manageable way. I’m opting to limit my “regular” choices to two, use another two to highlight new blogs I recently discovered, and send the fifth to an old favorite that reflects gay secular sensibilities. Here goes:


  1. Here I Am Lord

Sherry’s gentle sensibility and probing inquiries into Scripture are always inspiring and fascinating, making me wish I had more time to spend relishing everything she offers.

  1. The Rev’s Rumbles

Fred’s drive and passion are simply magnificent. I never fail to find something hot there, which usually fires me up to write an overlong comment that I’m sure tries his patience. (I do this on Sherry’s blog, too.)

  1. A Christian Voice for GLBT Rights

This blog is new to me, written by an ordained (straight) Independent Catholic priest, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker. His coverage of the theological and political challenges facing the GLBT community is superb, clear, and unapologetically frank.

  1. I’m Christian. I’m Gay. Deal With It!

The second newbie on the list, this could be the twin brother of Straight-Friendly. Written by Spirit & Flesh, an anonymous gay Lutheran pastor, it also features devotional and personal reflections, and mirrors many of the ideas expressed here. S&F is someone you should know.

  1. Famous Like Me

Donnie has been at this for over three years now and it’s been a consistent joy—sassy, sarcastic, and just edgy enough to appreciate the thoughtful contrast of the occasional serious post. It’s definitely a PG-13 kind of spot, spiked with occasional profanity and discreet homoerotic images (no nudity). But what I love most is “Monday Mug Shots,” a devilish combo of handsome guys who’ve run afoul of the law and a few scofflaws who've plainly run afoul of common sense, fashion, taste, or (to quote Ms. Palin) "all of the above." FLM won't be for all of us, but I couldn’t resist including it.

7 comments:

afeatheradrift said...

As always Tim you speak powerfully. I always loved this parable, though I suspect not many ranchers would agree that an entire flock can be left to search for a stray. The message is powerful though, and you explain it so well.

Thanks for the nice award. I'm afraid I'm temporarily halting the Here I am Lord blog. I don't have the time right now, and am starting to neglect too much at home I feel. I just have so many blogs to read and comment on. I'm certainly not ending it, just waiting perhaps until the election is over, and I can take a bit of a breather on getting out the information about the candidates.
I love stopping by here and wish I could every day, I have to race through far too many blog postings as it is, and yours bear careful reading. Thank you for the award still!

Tim said...

Sherry, I'm totally sympathetic with your need to take time off from Here I Am Lord. I seem to be forever trying to squeeze in a moment here and there to keep S-F up-to-date and moving forward.

During your hiatus, maybe I'll find the time to catch up on all your previous posts. Like you, there's must never enough time to enjoy so much good stuff out there at a leisurely, thoughtful pace.

I can't think of a better reason for a break than working on this election. I believe we're all nervous about the possibility it could take a last-minute, wild swing in the wrong direction. (I'm on a bus this weekend to register voters.)

During all of this, and until you restart your blog, I look forward to seeing you here--whenever you get a chance to stop by. The cool thing about these blogs is that they're always available, which takes the pressure off of daily obligations, etc.

Be blessed always,
Tim

DON CHARLES aka "STUFFED ANIMAL" said...

Well, howdy Tim . . . it's Don Charles "Stuffed Animal" from over at Christ, The Gay Martyr! I'm glad you're taking the time to mark milestones . . . I just celebrated 150 posts on my blog. Looking back is useful, especially if you've ever had occasion to doubt that you're doing much good! I've stopped doubting . . . whatever impact I'm able to have in God's hands. Gay Christian bloggers like you who show that "holy" and "homosexual" aren't opposing terms is a trend that I hope will flourish on the Web. There are too many blogs out there that reflect badly on LGBT folk . . . not to mention the blogs that reflect badly on Christians!

Tim said...

Don, it's so cool to have you come by and I look forward to your comments and input as Straight-Friendly plows ahead!

Congratulations on 150 posts! That's a whole lot of work, my friend, and I can totally empathize with the doubt that springs up as you toil away and wonder if what you're doing is actually useful. Like you, I learned long ago to leave that part of the job to God.

It's going to take all of us doing what we can where we can to help facilitate what I believe will be a great gay Christian reawakening. Everything I feel and see happening on the Web and in ministries everywhere reminds me very much of the early days of the church, when small breakthroughs started erupting on all fronts and then gradually coalesced into a full-fledged movement.

This puts me in mind what Paul told the Corinthians: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." If we just remain steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, our labor won't be in vain. God will give the increase. And sooner than we imagine, the good we accomplish will offset the anti-gay, anti-Christian spirits trying to lay siege to the Web.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith; I and many, many others are fighting beside you!

Blessings,
Tim

Missy said...

(More good blogs to read!)

Tim said...

Missy, I'm so sorry--I inadvertently clicked the wrong button on your reply, lost it under your signature, and can't seem to retrieve it. But--thank goodness--it was still in my email. So I'm posting it for you here:

MISSY said...

Have you ever read Megan McKenna? I'm reminded of a story I heard from her last summer.

She said that a shepherd will go looking for a lost sheep. Having spent a summer working with shepherds and sheep, McKenna said that if a lamb wanders away once, it will do so again. So this is what the shepherd does. He will break the leg of the wandering lamb. Then he will set the leg and carry the lamb over his shoulders everywhere he goes, caring for it tenderly until the leg is healed. After this, the lamb will never leave his side.

I'm not sure of the metaphoric significance of this, but it moves me. And every time I see an image of the Good Shepherd with a lamb over his shoulders, I think of this.

Tim said...

And now to my reply to Missy's comment... (I feel like such an idiot.)

I've not read Megan McKenna (I will now), but I've heard this same thing a few times and it always captures me with its poignant depiction of "tough love."

One of the things we don't think about in this story--and one which I didn't include here--is the time that elapses between when the lamb wanders off and when he's found. That's when danger poses its greatest threat and when he's most at risk of being permanently injured, scarred, killed, or lost forever. In this context, the shepherd breaking the leg is consummate kindness and in his carrying the lamb until he's able to stand on his own I find one of the finest symbols I've seen of God's concern for our well being.

Thanks so much for adding this layer to the story. It's something we should remember. Sometimes a broken leg is necessary to protect us against greater injuries and suffering. But we're never without a Shepherd willing to carry us until we can walk on our own.

It is very moving to think about.

Peace, Tim