Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
1st Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
I have to admit, I’m not that great at keeping my house clean. It is a lot cleaner since we have a child, now, and have to keep our chaos under control or risk harm to our child. Still I struggle with keeping house. My mom vacuumed our house every morning and every night when I was growing up because she did daycare out of our home and needed to keep it up for her business. But it hasn’t always been my priority. A year after we moved into our house, we pulled up the carpets and refinished the wood floor. With carpet, you just don’t know that your house is clean, especially with three cats, as we had at the time. We were so happy to find a beautiful hardwood there, beautiful pecan floors in pretty good shape. So, I do a lot of sweeping, as you can imagine. That’s the way to get the dirt off of a wood floor along with an occasional scrub. Often I sweep when I get to sneezing—when there is so much dust and cat hair that it triggers my allergies, or when we are having company over, or when I’m mad. It helps me sort out my thoughts. An organized house, an organized mind. I can sort out my frustrations and I’ll have a wonderful result in the end.
These days, I can only sweep when Sterling is napping or after he’s gone to bed, otherwise I have a helper. The other day, my husband swept the kitchen and got distracted. He left the piles, and pretty soon, here was Sterling with the broom, sweeping those piles all over the kitchen again. The other thing that happens when I try to sweep when he’s awake, is that he sees something of value there and tries to eat all the Cheerios he’s rejected that end up in my pile.
Here’s God, who for all these years has been trying to tell the people how to keep their house in order and how to sweep, is now coming in to show people how it’s done. Jesus swept into this world, practically unnoticed. Some angels sang and some shepherds showed up. Maybe the stable he was born in could have used a sweeping. Maybe some people would have liked to sweep his mother under the rug—an unwed mother! He grew up knowing manual labor. He probably swept Joseph’s carpenter shop every day—not a very glamorous job for God our Creator.
When Jesus came on the scene, his cousin, John the Baptist, was ecstatic. Here’s the guy who is going to clear God’s threshing floor. Here is the one who will separate the grain from the chaff—get rid of everyone and everyone getting in the way of God’s rules and God’s reign. Next thing you know, Herod has swept John right out of existence.
When the Pharisees saw Jesus sweeping across the land, they were probably happy at first. Here’s a guy who likes to keep things nice and neat, they thought. He’s going to keep out the riff raff. He’s going to tidy up the temple and keep it the way we like it. He’s going to make sure the temple system that has gone on this long continues, promote the right kind of people to positions of power, make sure the poor stay that way.
Only God has a different idea of sweeping and of riff raff and of the value of people. Our systems don’t make sense to God. Since we are all God’s children, God sees value in all of us. When I sweep up my pile, I see different things of value than my little son sees. I’ve got to get those discarded Cheerios out of sight, and fast before they’re claimed again by little fingers. I’ve sometimes reflected that in some places in the world, those would be of value to people. But I can go get another box of cereal for $3 or so, which is pretty much meaningless to me. Many people in the world make $3 a day and have to support their families on that. I usually do take a quick look at my pile and make sure there isn’t something I do value. Sometimes I find a rubber band, or a straight pin for sewing, or a safety pin. Sometimes I find a dime or a penny. I usually sort that stuff out. I have a ton of rubber bands piling up, so I might be more inclined to throw that away. What has value and what doesn’t, is in the eye of the sweeper.
When God is the sweeper, all people are valued. We are all in that dirt pile of sin, of confusion, of compromises, of anger. That’s what the religious people didn’t see. They thought they were better than others, due to some accident of birth that gave them access to riches and education and position and power. But God was there when they were born, knew their dirt pile of greedy, fearful thoughts, and brought them into the fold. God only hoped they would do the same for others. Instead they used their position to keep others out. So God came among us as Jesus to show how to sweep up. Sweeping became a collection process for finding the value, not just a way of getting rid of unwanted dirt.
Paul, for one, was glad that Jesus did the sweeping. Under any kind of common sense, he should have paid for his crimes. Probably many others were suspicious of his confession that came so late. Was it sincere, or a result of finding himself blind and vulnerable in the hands of some Jewish followers of Jesus? Well Jesus swept him up all right. I’ll bet there were a lot people who would have been glad to see Paul thrown in the trash. But even in him, a blasphemer, a man of violence, and a persecutor, God saw value. God picked him up and showed him that there are better places to be than the dirt pile—that God had more in mind for him. God was going to put him to work in God’s service.
For the Israelites, God found the people in a heap of dirt, the Egyptians holding them in slavery. But God saw the value and potential in them and sorted them out of that dirt pile. Like little kids, they seemed to keep getting back in it, like we all do. At one, point, it seems God was ready to give up. That’s where this morning’s Old Testament reading comes in. God finds the Israelites worshiping other gods and being unfaithful and not following God’s rules. But Moses pleads with God to see the value in the people. We find that God isn’t willing to abandon people, even when they abandon God. God is completely faithful, although that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t occur to God to just forget the whole thing. God, by nature, is love, so no matter how many times God sweeps us up, God is happy to see us and let everyone know how glad God is that we are back in the purse or the fold or family.
So now that God has swept us up and polished us up, the question is whether we will then begrudge God for doing that for others. Or will we work to see the value in every other person. Maybe we don’t even need to see the evidence of their value, but can just trust that God values them, so they are of value. And then we get to learn what it means to treat every other person as having value. Can we value people with opinions that are different from ours, who live on the other side of the world, who think different than we do? And then the question is this, “What does it mean to value other people?” or “What does it mean to value God’s creation?”
It starts by cleaning our own house. We can sweep up the dirt of prejudice and ignorance right where we live. We examine that pile of dirt and recognize it for what it is. And we sort out from it what has value and what doesn’t and throw away the dirt and keep the rest.