3 Trinity 2009

Third Sunday After Trinity
June 28, 2009
Verses 1 & 2 of St. Luke 15:1-10
“It’s The Company You Keep”

‘We’re the Company you keep!’ – is the motto of the New York Life Insurance Company. Which rather begs the question we’re going to consider this morning, namely, what sort of company do we keep? And what sort of company ought we to keep? ‘One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.’ My mother occasionally quoted that to her boys to caution us not to associate with bad company and to keep away from bad influences.

When I was a junior in high school I remember telling my mother about a kid who was new to the school. He had an unusual last name, ‘Nurse,’ which in those days was a profession primarily filled by women – for which he took a lot of razzing from the other kids.

But it didn’t stop there! He made the mistake of informing anyone who’d listen that he sang regularly in the chorus of the Los Angeles Opera Company. Then to prove it to you he’d loudly break into singing an operatic selection in his deep, and somewhat strained basso voice. To no great surprise he would suddenly find himself standing by himself alone.

Too, the kid had a large head, a chunky body and had also an odd facial appearance. Amongst the student body he just didn’t fit in and stood out like a sore thumb. Most of the kids taunted him to his face and ridiculed and mocked him behind his back.

After telling all of this to my mother I said that I felt sorry for the guy, but I didn’t know what I might do to help him. She said that I should simply ignore the ridicule the others were heaping upon him and that I should befriend him – yes, that would be the right thing to do!

She also said that I should invite him to come to our house. So I did, affording my mother the opportunity to meet him. Well, after he left she surprised me by saying: “Have nothing to do with that young man! I don’t like him and don’t trust him!” “What? I thought you advised me to befriend him?” “Never mind what I said: I don’t want you to associate with him.”

She had sized him up as a bad apple; someone a person ought not to associate with, for fear of the association having a negative influence or bad effect on one’s life. I frankly rented her prohibition. I was after all 16 years of age and old enough to make up my own mind about whom I chose to associate with! But he was such an odd duck that finally I avoided him altogether.

She was simply in a motherly way, advising her ‘chick’ to steer clear of associating with potential ‘wolves.’ A caring parent gives all kind of warnings and advise to their kids as they’re growing up, until the time their children are old enough to leave the nest (or perhaps are ready to crawl the walls!).

As a youngster the first warnings were usually, “Don’t talk to strangers, don’t take candy from strangers and don’t get into a car with a stranger.” As we grew a little older the warnings grew to eventually include, “Don’t go too near the water, swim where you can see the lifeguard, never swim alone, never swim in a rip tide.” They so advised and warned us, not in order to put an intentional damper on our fun, but because they knew better than us that swimming, whether in a pool or in ocean, is fraught with danger. At the beach all too quickly one can get in over one’s head or get swept out to sea; well beyond one’s capability to save oneself, and quite possibly in the end drown in the sea.

Adults try to protect younger ones from things and people that could potentially harm them. A fairly good solution for keeping them safe is to keep kids occupied and if possible supervised. We know of the dangers inherent in kids getting involved with street gangs or getting involved with drugs. Parents hope, some even bother to pray, that their children will steer clear of such dangers. Parents have learned that for admission into some of the more violent street gangs, an Initiate must ‘prove’ himself by committing a violent crime, like robbing someone at gunpoint, and not excluding the chance or intentional killing of a policeman or unsuspecting citizen. Parents know that such association is to court disaster, retaliation by rival gangs, and that sooner or later potentially their youngsters may end up dead!

Hence various social agencies work in the ‘projects’ where much crime is bred, to keep kids away from harmful ways, not just in summertime but year round, with tutoring programs, sports, choral and even dance groups – anything and everything that will potentially provide them a ‘rung’ up so as to have a safe, normal and productive life span.

If a lot depends on ‘the company you keep,’ what sort of company should one try to keep? Well, good company, mature individuals, established people! Perhaps associating with the affluent: which of course carries no automatic guarantee that one will therefore avoid pitfalls that can lead to personal harm. Sometimes folks who are financially well off or socially connected or are used to public notoriety can turn out to be the worst influence upon a green and unsuspecting neophyte. Where there is affluence there is also no absence of illegal drugs available, or of ‘designer’ drugs to be gotten.

And too where there is affluence, there is often boredom! And we know what boredom can easily lead to. I believe an old expression was something like: Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Many a ‘bad apple’ is to be found among bored individuals! Truman Capote wrote a novel titled Compulsion, partially based in fact about two young affluent men who became bored with their lives, and the tragedy that ensued.

And, it is the company that you keep that causes you to be judged of others. Jesus was! Then drew near to Jesus all the publicans and sinners to hear him. And the Pharisees and the Scribes judging him murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners, and eats with them.” The Pharisees and Scribes believed that if you mingled with ‘bad’ people you were thereby contaminated by them as such association renders one ‘unclean.’

And they believed there were other things too which could render a person ‘unclean,’ such as the female ‘time of the month,’ which made her ‘untouchable’ – any person touching her would themselves become ‘unclean’ by doing so.

They even believed that a woman must never ever touch a rabbi. Yet recall how a woman who had an issue of blood for thirty years reached out to touch Jesus’ robe, that she might be healed. She tried not to be noticed for she knew she could have been stoned to death for being insubordinate to the law. For her exhibition of faith in him she received not condemnation but healing.

And there were other sorts of ‘mingling’ that were prohibited, such as a man must not talk in public with a woman. Yet remember how Jesus engaged the Syro Phonecian woman in conversation at the well? Recall too how his disciples were shocked when they saw it! And to mingle with tax collectors, being agents of the State: this kind of contact too made one ‘unclean’.

And to associate with prostitutes and sinners; well what further condemnation need the Scribes and Pharisees make of that kind of behavior. But remember the woman who was dragged before Jesus who had been caught in the very act of adultery. They had judged her act as worthy of death. Jesus believed her to be worthy to save!

‘Bad company.’ A wise person will not associate with such; or so we are told. Was Jesus defying the law and throwing caution to the wind? As he said elsewhere, he came not to call the righteous, but SINNERS to repentance. He came here to find the lost, to reconcile them and to bring them into communion with God.

And he believed, therefore, that can not be done avoiding them or refusing to associate with them! Therefore, he wasn’t afraid or reluctant to speak to them or be spoken to by them, to touch them or to be touched by them, to be invited or to invite himself to sup and even to feast with them, to be anointed by them or himself to wash them.

As a consequence, they (‘sinners,’ not the Scribes and Pharisees) sought to hear him speak. Which, we are told, is why in the gospel the publicans and sinners had ‘drawn near to him.’ Subsequent to his association and mingling with them many sinners BELIEVED and eventually many of them would become recognized as the early Saints of the Church!

Contamination? Jesus would have none of it! He came to SAVE sinners not to avoid or condemn them! It may have been more than okay for Jesus to mingle with sinners; but what should we do? What sort of company should we keep? Of course, we’re not in a position to judge others or to condemn others as being sinners are we: Considering the fact that we ourselves are sinners? As a matter of fact, we openly associate with other ‘sinners’ on a daily basis, but what is the intent behind our association with them? Is it simply to socialize with them, to work alongside them? Is it to save them from themselves: to show them a better way?

Is it to SAVE them for Jesus? Or is to join with them, engaging ourselves in bad and truly sinful behavior? We need to very sure about our motives and intent for associating. Yes, Jesus would mingle with prostitutes and even allow himself to be touched by them and engage them in conversation – but in the hope of SAVING them to eternal life!

But somewhere doesn’t St. Paul say we should separate ourselves from ‘sinners?’ He says in I Corinthians: ‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with Immoral men; not at all meaning the Immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. Rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of BROTHER (brother in Christ) if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the Church who we are to judge?’

Paul’s logic was, it is the unrepentant brother in Christ one is to disassociate from: and that, not to dismiss him, but to bring him to his senses! Paul knew about being brought to one’s senses. He says, ‘God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ Christ would appear to Saul to save him, and to create in him the greatest missionary the Church has ever known. Paul, who described his situation thusly: ‘The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners.’

Jesus goes out looking for the lost sheep until he finds it. Jesus, who sweeps with great diligence for that which was lost until he recovers it. And he came here to do it through his association with us: even us sinners! May we have our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus as we mingle amongst the sinners all around us, remembering all the while, we are but sinners ourselves. May we too, by personal example and by prayer, aid him in looking and searching the unrepentant and the lost, all those in need of the great physician, to bring them before him at the Throne of Grace.

Its about the company we keep – the company which in the end we may help bring to Jesus Christ. ‘This Man receives sinners and eateth with them!’ Of course he does!