In today's passage from Deuteronomy, a phrase from Moses' sermon to the Israelites about their call to live in fidelity (jealous fidelity!) to God sticks out. He is warning the people about falling away from devotion to another god. When someone, even those closest to you, comes to you with an invitation to worship a god that you have not experienced, he says, don't do it. That is the test. You (Israel) have known God. God has done great things in order to bring you up out of slavery in the land of Egypt. God has sustained you in the desert. God is giving you the Promised Land. God is giving you a promise of victory over those who oppose you. God is granting you bounty in harvest and commerce. Our experience of God? It is a primary connection given vital form by Israel having the experience of God active in their midst. God is not an idea. God is not a feeling. God is not an object. God is not an ideal. God is One whom we have experienced, and the rest of our life-if it is to be lived in faith-is going to be a channeled reflection of that experience.
For Moses, and for Israel, that means deep and dramatic fidelity to God. Small wonder that the next passages center on two immediate and ever-present concerns we have for ourselves: food and money. Moses tells Israel to remember the poor, to keep jubilee, to forgive debts and free servants from bondage at the appropriate times and to never forget to maintain a just practice toward the dispensation of wealth in order to ensure the health of the whole economy and the even distribution of God's blessings. Moses reminds the people as well to watch what they eat, to "keep kosher." There are certain foods that are accepted, and others are prohibited. In other words, the most basic elements of personal maintenance require us to think first of our response to our experience of God, and then to take action.
In the Gospel today, Jesus continues to grapple with the Pharisees and the venue of today's skirmish is at another dinner wherein he sits down to eat with tax collectors and sinners, again. The grumbling commences again, and Jesus again begins to teach. First, we hear the parable of the lost sheep, and then of the lost coin. In both instances, Jesus models a response that offers a challenge to us, those who have experienced God: when someone who is lost is restored, then rejoice and don't hold back. When someone comes back to the fold, receive them and give thanks.
Our problem is that we get twisted up on this teaching, in two ways: the first is to use this teaching to lament that those we want around us, and who have departed the fellowship, should be chased after and convinced to return; and the second is to use that previous focus in order to not see the folks who have taken their place in the pews as perhaps the lost sheep whose restoration Jesus is inviting us to celebrate. The God, in Christ that we have experienced, continues to model an invitation to offer a radical embrace to the lost, to the wandering, to the rejected...not to maintain at all expense a closed community where everyone knows everyone else to the exclusion of the stranger.
This is the God whom we have experienced...a God who is desperate to be in relationship with us, and for us to be in relationship, in God, with each other. Our daunting task is to remember that call and to continue to proffer it to everyone we meet. When we are radically embraced and forgiven by a loving God, can we do any less than to offer that radical welcome to everyone we meet?