The following is an abridged version of a sermon I gave this morning at First Church in Winthrop, United Methodist.
Let us reflect on today’s Gospel, in which Jesus teaches us how to welcome others who want to enter the kingdom of God: “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.”
Last Saturday I went to Chelmsford to help a young Walmart worker named David Coulombe. Organizers alleged that David’s manager illegally retaliated against him for going on strike to protest Walmart’s unfair treatment of workers. So we held a demonstration outside the store in the parking lot. Almost a hundred people were there. Let’s say it was 99. Then we sent a group to the store to ask the manager to remove the disciplinary action from David’s record.
I was part of the delegation, and before we headed off, I asked the demonstrators, what is the name of the manager? People shook their heads. Nobody knew. One fellow said, “I don’t know his name. We’ll call him ‘Mister Manager.’ ” I didn’t like this answer. I thought it dehumanized the manager and demonized him, making him inferior to us, making him a monster.
Finally, we asked David Coulombe, and he told us. [Out of respect for the manager’s privacy, I will keep his name offline.]
And I said to myself: Everybody knows David. They know what a great guy he is. They know his story, his struggle, his hopes. They shook his hand, talked to him, prayed with him. They met his mother, who was also at the rally. They passed around a bucket and collected $400 for him to make up for the hours of work he lost. They loved David. He was a saint. And they hated the manager. He was a sinner.
At the rally the people compared David Coulombe to King David of Israel, taking up his slingshot to fight Goliath, Walmart. I wonder what the manager was thinking. Did he think that he himself was Goliath, and we were out to destroy him? I said to myself, it would hurt our cause to make the manager the enemy. Walmart was the problem, not the manager. The manager was a soul who could be won over. It would do David no good to surround him with 99 allies if we could not persuade his one opponent to cross the divide between them. What if, instead of awakening a feeling of compassion for David, our presence turned the manager away, the one person who could change David’s situation with the right decision, the one person we came to make peace with through the work of justice?
We would lose, and David would lose, if we lost sight of the manager’s humanity, and his capacity for good. If we lost him, we would lose David. And we would lose ourselves.
Fortunately, the delegation was a success. We left the group of 99 on the edge of the parking lot and crossed over the lot to the other side, to the sidewalk of the store. There, the manager was waiting for us. He had been watching the demonstration the whole time. We introduced ourselves and stated our concerns. I handed a letter from the community to the manager. Now the manager and David came face to face and spoke to each other. The manager said he had an open-door policy, and the next time David was at work he could meet with him to discuss the disciplinary action. This was what we were looking for. David agreed to see the manager the next day.
At that moment, salvation became possible. The manager acknowledged David’s grievance and David met his employer as an equal.
When we crossed back over to the side where the 99 were standing and told them the good news, the cheers went up. I know the cheers were only for David Coulombe, but in my heart I said a prayer for his manager, too. For although they were not yet one in brotherhood, the manager took a step closer to David and his supporters.
Jesus says, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.”
The story of David and his manager is not an “Amazing Grace” story. It’s not about God saving you and me; it’s about God telling us to seek salvation for our neighbors. To sweep every corner for every lost coin and go the extra mile to bring every sheep home. Our sinning neighbors and our suffering neighbors.
The kingdom of heaven is good because every person God has made has a place in it. The tax collectors and the Pharisees. The guilty and the innocent. The murderers and the martyrs. The manager and David. They all belong, and they all belong together, and they all belong to each other.
We refuse to let any person, the sinner or the victim, be “lost.” We will shine the light and bring them to light, out of the earth, up from the dirt and the shadows. We value the lost coins, the David Coulombes in our community. We will allow no one to treat them as worthless. But we must also value the lost sheep, like David’s manager. We should not rest until all hundred sheep are back in the fold. Because when one sheep goes astray, the 99 suffer.
And so we pray for David Coulombe and his manager. And we pray our church will rejoice and be glad when they come into the kingdom. Amen.