Friends in Christ —
God’s love for you is real. Know that this day.
Whether your the one who’s lost like a sheep or grumbling like a Pharisee that it’s not fair, God’s love for you is real.
We have a gospel text this morning that cuts through the static, gets back to the basics, and centers us on the most important thing: that Christ always comes looking for you, with arms full of mercy and forgiveness for you. Christ always makes the first move, and comes to find you.
Imagine a literal, lost sheep just for a moment: What is so unique about the lost sheep image is that she’s not this rebellious teenager (like the prodigal son). She didn’t make this conscious effort to reject it all and head off on her own. Rather, she just got lost somewhere, somehow. Maybe she got distracted by something momentarily and wandered off. Maybe a sound or a storm prevented her from hearing and following the rest of the herd. Or maybe she just couldn’t keep up.
And because that little sheep is lost and alone now, she is vulnerable. Wolves, vultures, rocky terrain, shortage of food. She is frightened, she is in danger.
Jesus plants this image deeply in the minds of both the tax collectors & sinners AND the pharisees & scribes. I’m not sure who he’s talking to, actually — we’re all lost sheep.
Somehow we just get off track. We lose the faithful, beloved community. We get distracted. Or maybe a storm in our lives prevents us from hearing and sticking with the community. Or maybe we just can’t keep up.
But Jesus comes to find you this day, whether you identify more with the grumbling Pharisees, the depressed tax collectors or hopeless sinners [pause]. Christ comes to find you, leaving the 99 just to find you — to lift you up and shoulder you, to bandage up your wounds and reconnect you to the community.
And just to drive the point home a little more —because sometimes we don’t believe or don’t hear that this God loves and seeks us out — Jesus gives another image. The image of a sweeping woman. How’s that for an image of God? (Sweeping Woman Lutheran Church? We have Good Shepherd.) Sweating, frantically searching for that one lost coin, even while she has nine others.
Franticness is something we know all too well, when we’ve lost something so very important. Have you been there? (cell phone) Tap into that franticness, as you imagine these stories.
God searches with that same franticness for you and for me, and for all who are lost or confused...or grumbly. (I’m not sure if Jesus was talking to the Pharisees or the tax collectors.) God’s care and concern for you, God’s single-mindedness — you know how when you lose something it’s all you care about until it’s found again? — is that great, God will not stop until you’re found. And when God finds you, there is forgiveness and mercy, and there’s something else.
In both stories today — both the lost coin and the lost sheep — and by the way the third of these stories is the parable of the two lost sons (the bitter son, and the reckless, prodigal son) — in all three of these vivid and varying stories, there is something in common, right?
Once the lost have been found, there is a party thrown in/for the community to celebrate. The Good Shepherd calls together friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me!” The Sweeping Woman calls together her friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me!” And do you remember what that loving father says to his seething and bitter son, who didn’t understand why he had just slaughtered the fatted calf for his reckless, stupid, selfish younger brother? “Come celebrate!”
“So it is with us,” Jesus says to us. That’s the kind of party we have when the lost are found.
And that’s actually what worship is, every Sunday! [pause]
It’s a mini-party for the lost being found. That’s what we celebrate every single Sunday — lost found, dead come to life...in Christ! It might not always feel or look like a party (sometimes not even a smile is cracked in a worship). I always chuckle at the irony of droning, even dignified, but passionless Lutheran worshipers: [non-emotive] “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.”
Difference in serving at St. Marks in South Chicago…
Moving to Bethel in suburban St. Louis...
This is the Gospel of the Lord: [un-phased] “Praise to you, O Christ.” :)
And that’s OK; we don’t have to force/fake it; we don’t have to force the smile. Sometimes life’s burdens are too great...or worship is too somber.
But the reality is, friends in Christ, that worship this day and every Sunday is a party, even if the world is falling apart around us. This is a place and a God who, no matter what, welcomes the lost, goes out to find hopeless, the frightened, the outsider, the lagger behind, the one who wandered of or slipped away — this is a place and a God who celebrates, and beckons us to do the same. “Mine is the church, where everybody’s welcome,” we’ve sung before: this is what God says to us.
We enact the story of God’s love come to find the lost, each time we worship, each time we gather around this holy book and this holy table, and this holy bath. We are the community of friends and neighbors that gathers together and responds to the invitation of God, “Rejoice with me!” This is a foretaste of the feast to come, where there is joy in all of heaven!
Christ’s love for you is real, God’s forgiveness for you is real...and here...and now. Let us rejoice together. Let us rejoice with God, who throws the party. Let us, sinner-saints, rejoice with each other...for We. Are. Found. AMEN.