Pokemon Go!

Scripture: Luke 15: 1-6
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
July 24, 2016

Is there anyone here playing Pokemon Go?  Pokemon Go has quickly become a cultural phenomenon.  In the first week of its release, there were 21 million users making it the most popular app in U.S. History.  In Pokemon Go, the whole world is a playground.  The game uses a phone’s GPS to determine the whereabouts of tiny virtual creatures called Pokemon –short for pocket monsters.  I have seen people in Redlands collect pokemon at Farmers Market, the Redlands Bowl, the library – even in 106 degree heat — and yes, some are even finding Pokemon at Redlands United Church of Christ. Ian and I collected Pokemon down in the garden and across the street.  Moreover, there are two Pokestops on our property – at our sign on the corner and on the labyrinth.  What happens at a Pokestop?  A player can collect a variety of items ranging from pokeballs (which are needed to capture Pokemon) , lucky eggs, healing potions, and incense.

Many churches who happen to be Pokestops, like ours, are trying to lure young people in their doors.  A UCC clergy friend of mine created a big sign to put out front in their church parking lot, “Our church is a pokestop.  Catch a pokemon and then stop in for worship at 10 a.m.”  Other churches are advertising on their websites and Facebook pages if they happen to be pokestops.  Still other churches have put on their billboards: “Looking for Pokemon or Jesus?  Both found here” and  “Jesus died to catch ‘em all”.  That is the name of the game in Pokemon Go – to travel across the land, searching far and wide, to catch ‘em all.

But let me remind you that Pokemon are imaginary creatures.  They are pocket monsters.  They are make believe.  They are not real.  While people are searching high and low, even over ocean cliffs for Pokemon, Jesus calls us to “Go!” with even greater intensity to look for the lost, the marginalized and the hurting – to spend our energy and time looking for real people in need.

If Jesus were around today, he would probably have created a Pokemon Go! parable – but since the Bible was written two thousand years ago, he spoke of a lost item of great value that was very important in his day.  A shepherd loses a sheep.  The shepherd has 100 sheep.  It’s evening and he begins to count them, “…95, 96, 97, 98, 99…Uh-oh, I’m missing one.  Hey, where Puffball?  I haven’t seen her all afternoon.”  And then he does something surprising, even a bit crazy, he leaves the 99 sheep in the open wilderness and sets off to find the single lost lamb.  We would say it is a bit ludicrous that the shepherd leaves the other 99 sheep to find the single lost lamb.  What is the big deal if Puffball is lost?  He still has 99 sheep.  It’s only a one percent loss – there is no need to lose sleep over a tick-infested, runny-nosed sheep that’s wandered out in the desert somewhere – Puffball should have stayed close to the flock.    But the shepherd  searches high and low, and when he finds it, he hoists up and sets it on his shoulders, hauling it all the way back home.  It’s no small thing to lug a 70 pound sheep over rocky, hilly terrain – and scripture says he does it with great joy!  And when he returns, he throws a big party and the party itself probably cost more than that one lost sheep.

No rational shepherd would do that.  The only kind of shepherd that would do such a thing is a shepherd with an irrational, out-of-bounds passion for the lonely, the weak, and the lost would do such a thing – which is the very point of the story.  God, our shepherd, seems to side with the oppressed, with the forgotten, with the excluded.   If someone is in need, God doesn’t look at their passport. God doesn’t ask whether they read the Bible or the Koran, but like a shepherd, God drops everything and goes to them.

“God wants everybody to be a somebody.  A parent who loses a child doesn’t say, ‘Oh well, I’ve got four more,’ no he or she seeks until all are found.  When one who is lost is found, heaven rejoices.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)  Everybody is a somebody to God.

God calls us to do the same, “Which one of you,’ asks Jesus, ‘having a hundred sheep…”.  He is inviting his listeners not to imagine themselves as lost sheep, but as the shepherd.  We are the ones who are to seek the lost.  We are the ones who manifest God’s passion for the weak, the oppressed, the hurting.  We are the ones to search.  Not a casual search – but an intense search – we get on our hands and knees, we get dirty, we look high and low diligently.  This is no longer Pokemon Go – this is to the Homeless – G0, to the Refugee – G0, to the Marginalized – Go; to the Hurting – G0, to the sick, dying, grieving – Go, Go, Go!

Unfortunately, rather than being the shepherd in this parable, I, too often, am the priest or the Levite in another popular parable – the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Do you remember the story of the Good Samaritan?  There was a man on the Jericho road who was abused, beaten, left half dead.  Two members of the religious community, the Priest and the Levite pass by on the other side.  They ignore the man’s plight in order to fulfill what they consider to be more important religious duties.  It is easier sometimes to ignore injustice, remain silent, pass by on the other side.  Ellie Wiesel calls such persons “spectators”.  Spectators shake their heads, but refuse to dirty their hands.  They see with their eyes, but do not see with their hearts.  

The stakes these days are too high to pass by on the other side.  Some of us who have been spectators need to get in the game.  The stakes are too high these days.  Too many sisters and brothers are dying.  

We are not only called to look for the hurting, to help the hurting with charitable acts (as did the Good Samaritan), but to go one step further and address the underlying conditions that produce systemic injustice.  We need to do more than just bandage him up and toss a few dollars his way.  We are to ask, “What is happening on the road to Jericho?  How did this man by the side of the road get into this situation in the first place?”  Yes, charity is good, but charity alone is not going to change the system.  Charity as a substitute for justice is neither charitable nor just  (Delman Coates, What The White Church Must Do sermon, Mt. Ennon Baptist Church).

Fred Craddock, a Disciples of Christ pastor, tells the story of visiting an old high school buddy of his in Tennessee, Buck.  Buck owned a restaurant.  And one day Fred and Buck and were sipping coffee at the restaurant, when Buck deep in thought suddenly said to Fred, “The curtain has to come down.”  The curtain that Buck was referring to was the curtain in his restaurant that separated the black patrons from the white patrons.  The white diners came in off the street and the black diners entered from the back alley, the Jericho Road so to speak.  A curtain across the center of the restaurant separated the black folks from the white folks.  It had always been that way; but now Buck was saying, “The curtain has to come down.”  

Fred said, “Good, bring it down.”

Buck said, “That’s easy for you to say.  Come in here from out of state and tell me how to run my business.”

Fred said, “Okay, leave it up.”

Buck said, “I can’t leave it up.”

Fred said, “Then, take it down.”

Buck was in anguish over this and he said, “I can’t take it down.  If I take that curtain down, I lose a lot of my customers.  If I leave that curtain up, I lose my soul.” (Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories).

Do we have “curtains” in our lives, curtains that separate and divide?  Curtains that shut people out?  Curtains that hurt and shun and exclude other human beings?  Curtains that perpetuate prejudice and discrimination and bigotry?  Curtains that poison our souls? (Moore, Jesus’ Parables of the Lost and Found).

Let us not forget that when Jesus breathed his last, the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn into two – there are no longer those who are holy and those who are profane, those who are clean and those who are unclean, those who are in and those who are out.  No, everyone belongs to God’s flock.  God wants everybody to be a somebody.

God challenges us to be the all inclusive shepherd too– seeking and finding that lives may be saved, that justice may be found. In the distance, we will hear the riotous sounds of angels rejoicing.