Today’s sermon was inspired by the memory of the first book I was required to read in seminary.
But before I get to that—I need to remind us all of another memory.
It was on this date—September 11th—in the year of Our Lord 2001—that Islamic militants hijacked three airliners—and attacked the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
A fourth plane was probably intended for the White House or the Capitol building—but crashed before it was able to get there—apparently due to resistance by the passengers.
Almost three thousand died that day—and the world-as-we-know-it was forever changed.
Today—on the 15th anniversary of that event—I ask us each to renew our commitment--not to getting revenge—but to proclaiming the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—to all people.
Let us re-dedicate ourselves to working and praying and giving for Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation—in this community—in our state and nation—and around the world.
As I was saying—this sermon was inspired by the first book I was required to read in seminary—called Hunting the Divine Fox—by Robert Farrar Capon.
Perhaps some of you have read it.
As you might guess—“Hunting the Divine Fox” is about the search for God.
Father Capon suggests that—throughout our history—human beings have always been searching for God.
He portrays mankind as a relentless hunter—who is constantly engaged in tracking down his prey.
This human “hunter” is always searching for meaning—always trying to unravel the mysteries of Creation--always “Hunting the Divine Fox.”
God—on the other hand—is portrayed as the wily fox—the unwilling prey—who is always eluding mankind.
God has hidden himself from our view—only leaving obscure clues to his existence.
Try as we may to track God down—he cleverly foils our every effort.
Pursue him as we might—“The Divine Fox” always remains just beyond our grasp.
According to this way of looking at things—life is a game of Divine Hide-and-Seek—with God doing the hiding—and us doing the seeking.
“Hunting the Divine Fox” is a flattering metaphor.
It makes the human race sound noble and good.
That’s the way we like to think of ourselves—isn’t it?
That’s the way we like to portray ourselves—in our own minds—and in our history books:
As pilgrims on a Great Spiritual Quest;
Explorers who are always seeking out new frontiers;
Philosophers who are always searching for the Truth.
It all fits in with Capon’s thesis that human beings are restless hunters—always in pursuit of an elusive God.
But there is a twist.
At the end of the book—Capon turns the tables on the reader.
It turns out that we have it all wrong.
We are not the ones who are pursuing God.
The truth is just the opposite.
God is the One who is pursuing us!
“The Divine Fox” is the Relentless Hunter—and we are the unwilling prey.
The truth is that—throughout human history—and throughout our individual lives—it is God who has always come in search of us—and not vice versa.
We human beings—for our part—are always running away from God—running away as fast and as hard as we can!
This view of the “Divine Hunt” is much more in line with Scripture—and with the rest of the Christian literary tradition.
An earlier work that is based on the same idea is The Hound of Heaven—by English poet Francis Thompson.
Thompson portrays God—not as the hunter—but as the “Hound”—the relentless hunting dog.
God is the “Hound of Heaven”—and God’s prey is the human Soul.
The Hound never gives up—but always runs its prey to exhaustion--and always catches it in the end!
The Hound of Heaven is autobiographical in nature—based on Francis Thompson’s own struggle to evade God.
But as he learned—there is no escaping the “Hound of Heaven.”
Thompson’s story—like all genuine spiritual autobiographies—is the story of God’s unrelenting “pursuit of the human Soul.”
All of this brings us to our Gospel reading for today.
The Scribes and the Pharisees—the religious leaders of Jesus’ day—are upset with Jesus once again.
They are “grumbling” and complaining about his unorthodox behavior.
Jesus was attracting crowds of people—made up of “tax collectors” and other low-lifes—who were regarded by good religious folk as “sinners.”
But Jesus had no problem associating with these outcasts.
He was even willing to sit at table—and eat with them.
When the Pharisees “grumbled” about this—Jesus told them two short parables.
One is about a shepherd who has a hundred sheep.
When one is lost—the shepherd leaves the rest and goes looking for it—until he finds it and brings it home.
The other is about a woman who has ten silver coins.
When one is lost—she turns the house upside down until she finds it.
In both parables the emphasis is on searching for the one that is lost—and rejoicing greatly when it is found.
Jesus says that God is like that.
God always goes searching for the one that is lost.
God never gives up until the lost one is found.
God always makes sure that the lost one is brought safely home.
And then—there is great rejoicing!
God is the shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.
God is the woman who goes looking for the lost coin.
God is the “Hound of Heaven” who goes looking for every human soul.
God is relentless in his pursuit of every soul that is lost!
One of the points I want to make today is this:
God always takes the initiative to save us.
Despite what we like to think—it is not we who go looking for God.
It is God who comes looking for us.
God is the One who always takes the initiative in saving us.
That is why the Church has always practiced infant baptism—and why Episcopalians continue to practice it.
Some Christians say that a person needs to accept Christ as Savior and Lord before they can be baptized—and an infant is incapable of doing that.
But that is precisely the point!
Jesus once said “You have not chosen me.
“Rather, I have chosen you.”
Infants are incapable of choosing to accept Christ--and that is precisely the point of baptizing them.
We baptize infants to show that it is Christ who chooses us—and not we who choose him.
Even if we are adults when we are baptized—it’s the same thing.
Christ has already chosen us—long before we could ever choose him.
A careful reading of the Acts of the Apostles shows that infant baptism has always been practiced by the Church—because it proclaims an important truth:
It is God who always takes the initiative in our salvation.
The other point I would like to make today is this:
God never gives up on us—even when we give up on God.
God will “hound” us till the end of our days.
God will be relentless in tracking us down.
God will never give up the pursuit—until our souls are safely in his possession.
And yet—how difficult it is for us to believe that!
Most of you are aware that—several summers ago, at about this time—my
younger brother John took his own life.
It was an event our family will never forget—and never get over.
It’s ironic that the name “John” is Hebrew for “God is Gracious.”
“God is Gracious” was the name my parents gave him--and yet my brother couldn’t really believe that.
He thought that God was punishing him.
He said that God didn’t answer his prayers.
He told me that even God couldn’t help him straighten out his life.
My brother couldn’t see how many people were trying to help him in God’s Name.
He couldn’t see how many were reaching out to him with God’s Love.
And in the end—he gave up on God.
Even so—I believe that God never gave up on John.
God never gives up on any of us—even when we give up on God!
Like the “Divine Fox”—God is indeed elusive.
God’s ways are hidden and mysterious.
Sometimes it seems that God must not care.
But the truth is that “God is Gracious.”
God is the Good Shepherd—who goes looking for every lost sheep.
God is the woman—who turns the house upside down looking for every lost coin.
God is the “Hound of Heaven”—who relentlessly pursues every human soul.
And when God finds even one of us—and brings us home—there is great rejoicing!