Never Left Behind

The other day, I was getting ready to take both my kids to school. Unfortunately, my son dawdles some mornings. He won’t come sit down and put on his shoes. He’ll sometimes complain that he doesn’t want to get in the car. There is always some excuse for not doing the work to get ready for the next part of the day. I must admit as much as I try to stay in control of my frustration, when you are running late and there are still fifteen other things that need to get done before getting out of the house, I am not always as patient as I would like to be. Well this week, I lost my patience and said, “Alright Isaac, well Mommy and Maddie are leaving without you”.

As expected, this elicited a certain response. He screamed, “No Mommy”. He then ran over picked up his shoes and sat down nicely to have help getting them on his feet. Then within minutes we were out the door, in the car, and on our way. Those of us who have used that line of argument with a toddler, know that there was no way we would leave that toddler home alone. We would always get them. I have told both my kids more than once that Mommy and Daddy will always come for them.

Today’s scriptures are about just that. It is a reminder that even when we refuse to do the right thing, even when we go astray thinking that our way is best, God never gives up on us and follows after us to retrieve us when we get lost. God never just throws up his hands in frustration leaving us to the devices of the world around us. God never abandons us leaving us alone wondering whether he will ever come back. Just like a parent, he will never stop trying to reach out to us.

This is what Christ was doing when he was eating with tax collectors. Tax collectors were amongst the most despised people in Jesus’ time because they did not work for the people of Israel but rather for their captors the Romans. Their job was to exact taxation from a people who already had much too little and very often they would profit by skimming off the top. They were seen as being immoral individuals. Many of these tax collectors viewed money as being the most important thing in their lives. They viewed prosperity as being more important than the well being of the people who fell into debt, lost their homes, and were starving to death because of what was taken from them on behalf of the Roman Empire.

Leaders expected Jesus to bring judgment upon these people, to turn his back on them because that is what they hoped God would do. But Jesus didn’t. These are the very people Jesus sought out. You may wonder why? The answer is simple. He sought them out because they were children of God. They were still loved though they made poor decisions. And isn’t this the type of God we want, a God who does not just turn and walk away when we make poor life choices or when we falter in our faith? Throughout the Bible, we see that God is ever present. He is not always happy with the choices of humanity, like when the people of Israel decided to make golden calves to worship. Yet he does not abandon them. He sends someone after those who have wandered off. In exodus, this person is Moses. In Luke, it is Jesus. And in our lives, he works through individuals who come into our lives and who take an interest in helping us to live good full lives. He works through our works and through the works of others to let us know that he has not left us behind.

Since God is so dedicated to us, we are asked to be dedicated to his path, to his work, to his lead in our lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian Theologian, wrote this from a Nazi prison camp, “God does not give us everything we want, but he does fulfill his promises, leading us along the best and straightest paths to himself”.1 We are asked to trust in God to take the lead. We are asked to not give up on others in our lives just as he has not given up on us. We are asked to trust that though we may not always get what we want, that God gives us his patience and journeys with us in life never giving up that we will turn back to him, never losing hope that we will see his forgiveness afforded us and in return afford that same forgiveness to others. We are asked to treat one another with patience, love, and compassion just as Jesus did the tax collectors and just as we might with our own children.

It should never be an option to leave people behind just because they have made poor decisions or because we disagree with their lives because God has not abandoned us in our times of faithlessness and selfishness. Those individuals who are living separated from God are the ones in the most need of our love and care because they are suffering the most. So, remember the words of Jesus from this morning when he said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”.2 So let us assess our own lives, and see whether we are living forgiving lives. Or have we written others off because we disagree with their choices. Then work on forgiveness, work on compassion, and recognize that though we may not get what we want, he will give us just what we need, so that together we can find our way to him. So that together we come to understand that no one is ever worth leaving behind. So that together we understand that with forgiveness, compassion, and love we all have just what we need to find our way back into faith.

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century theologian

2 Luke 15: 7, RSV.