Least, Last, Lost – Br. James Koester
This homily was preached at St. Barnabas’ Anglican Church, Ottawa
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41
Back in the days when my time was more my own, I used to watch a fair amount of television. My favourite shows came on in the evenings; things like Falcon Crest, Dynasty and Dallas. You might remember them. Each week I was glued for hours on end to my television as episode after episode played out. One of the shows, Falcon Crest, I think, a character named ‘Father Bob’ turned up every so often to minister to the needs of the family. When he would come on, I would wonder to myself what it would be like to minister to the fabulously rich, the enormously powerful and the incredibly beautiful.
Perhaps it is because of God’s wry sense of humour that that young twenty some year old priest who wondered about ministering to the fabulously rich, the enormously powerful and the incredibly beautiful now stands before you as one who has taken the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Wealth, power and beauty, or “Sex, Money and Power” as the title of one book puts it, are not quite my stock and trade.
We live in a world and an age where the search for wealth, the quest for power and the desire for beauty consumes us. It is staggering to realise that North American’s spend more money each year buying shoes than we do building schools and educating our children. It seems that we all want to live the Dallas myth where no one can be too rich, too powerful or too beautiful and where we will stop at nothing to be and become the richest, the most powerful and the most beautiful. We don’t simply want to watch Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, we want to be ON Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous!
But today scripture turns all that on its head. The lessons, especially from Samuel and the gospel of John and not lessons of wealth and power and beauty, but they are stories of how God searches out the least and the last and the lost and endows them with dignity and decency. For in these lessons God takes the family of Jesse, from the village of Bethlehem, from the tribe of Judah and raises up for his people a king to reign over them. And who does he choose? The least, and the last and perhaps even the lost among the sons of Jesse: David.
Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.”
In the same way Jesus, the descendant of David the king, was sent to bring healing, and wholeness and salvation not to the rich and the powerful and the beautiful, but to the least, and the last and the lost: to the poor, and the sick and the sorrowful. It is not the Pharisees that Jesus heals today, but the man born blind, one who was least, and last and lost among the people of Israel.
Society is fascinated by the wealthy; by the powerful; by the beautiful. That is not hard to see. Turn on the television; open a magazine; look at an advertisement. We are all fascinated by wealth, power and beauty; by sex, money and power. But open the pages of scripture and you will see a different story. It is not that God can’t or doesn’t or won’t work in the lives of those who have much but he delights to work in the lives of those who have little. He delights to be found in the ordinary, in the routine, in the simple because it is there that we least expect to find him, just as we least to expect to find him among the poor and the sick and the sorrowful.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
Samuel found God’s chosen not in Eliab, or Abinadab or Shammah or in any of the other sons of Jesse, but in David, the youngest, the smallest and the least accomplished. Jesus found someone who had faith enough to see not in the educated, or the powerful or the influential but in a man born blind; a man dependant, and rejected and probably despondent.
Most of us will never live the Dallas myth. Most of us will never appear on an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Most of us will never be on the cover of Hello! or People or Stars. It’s unlikely that we will ever appear in Maclean’s or Time or Newsweek. Because most of us are not that rich, or that famous, or dare I say it, that beautiful. But even those who do, I don’t recognize, I don’t relate, I don’t often know.
But I do know what it is like to be the last chosen for something. I do know what it is like to be rejected, and denied and refused because I wasn’t first or fastest or fittest. And I bet you do too. I do know what it is like to suddenly see, or comprehend, or understand when no one else seems to. And I bet you do too.
We may never appear in any of those magazines and I may never grow up to be Father Bob ministering to the fabulously rich, the enormously powerful and the incredibly beautiful, but that’s okay because I wouldn’t recognize myself even if I did. Where I do recognize myself is in the pages of Samuel and in the stories of Jesus; in the choice of David and the story of the man born blind. And I bet you can see yourself there as well: as someone not so rich, or powerful or beautiful but as one chosen, and touched and healed by God. And isn’t that a better life? Isn’t that where you would rather be?
It may be fun to imagine yourself as rich and powerful and beautiful but I would much rather be chosen, touched and healed by God. And God chooses the last. God touches the least. God heals the lost.
So when you are feeling lost, or know someone else to be lost, ask for God’s healing for them, and for you. So when you are feeling least, or know someone else to be the least, ask for God to touch them, and for you. So when you are feeling last, or know someone who is last, ask for God to choose them, and you.
It is not that God can’t or doesn’t or won’t work in the lives of those who have much but he delights to work in the lives of those who have little. So when you are feeling least, or last, or lost know that God longs to choose and touch and heal you, because God loves you. When you see a world that suffers because those in it are least and last and lost know that God longs to choose and touch and heal it, because God loves it.
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Br. James, this sermon is what I needed today. As I age, my opportunities to serve are somewhat diminished. I can easily identify with the least. But I know the presence of Jesus in my life more preciously than when I was young, running and doing. I see clearly that He ministered to those of my kind and the blind, the deaf, the children, the poor, with whom He himself became for us. He was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but came as the least of all, a helpless babe, homeless, treated as a common criminal; the paradox of paradoxes. Thanks for this homily.