Saturday, October 4, 2003

9/16/07 - 19C - A Party in Heaven

Proper 19C-2007
Text: Luke 15:10 – “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The little girl’s eyes were quite wide. About six yrs old, she looked fairly close to tears. Even though the hour was late, the store was full of shoppers. The girl approached a stranger – an older woman - something her mother had probably told her never, ever to do . “I can’t find my sister, she said.” Her face was clouded with anxiety. “What is your sister’s name?” The woman asked. “Tay” came the response. “Let’s go up to the front desk…they will know how to find your sister” and off they went. At the front desk, one of the sales clerks said, “Right, the sister was here looking for her just a little while ago…she might be outside…I’ll see if I can spot her.” She returned but no sister. The little girl went behind the big desk and sat down. A few minutes later, the sister came down the aisle – practically running. Her face was filled with acute worry. “Don’t worry,” said the sales clerk, “She’s right here.” The smaller girl ran out. The sisters embraced, and there was a burst of joy. Lost and so joyfully found!
Today we continue our journey through the gospel of Luke, or as a friend puts it, we are visiting Luke’s house and listening to his stories. During this time of the year, we are listening to the teachings of Jesus - in particular, his parables and we have two little ones this morning – the lost sheep and the lost coin. The parable that follows these is the parable of the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son which usually overshadows these two that come right before it. It might be helpful to know a little bit about what has just happened in Luke right before Jesus told these stories – to ask what prompted Jesus to come up with these little gems.
His ministry had been going well, and it was becoming obvious that many of the folks who were coming to hear him were not exactly respectable. Known sinners and tax collectors (these were known collaborators with the Romans and thieves in their own right – truly considered, the scum of the earth). The text tells us, the Scribes and the Pharisees – that is, the church people - were starting to grumble. They said, “ This fellow welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” For a parallel, we might think about having supper with an Islamic terrorist or person who deals drugs to children, or a street person who hasn’t washed in a month. I wonder, would you invite them to your nicely laid table with your mother’s crystal and silver? Probably not.
Jesus heard this grumbling and, in response told these twin parables - the shepherd who looks and looks until the lost sheep is found, and the woman who sweeps and cleans her house until a single lost coin was found. And, he tells how each one calls neighbors and friends and says --- rejoice with me….that is, I’m throwing a party, come on over…for what was lost is found…and then Jesus says…” By the way, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…” Think about that…joy in heaven and God throwing a party….over just one person who lets themselves be found.

There are some things to notice…both about God and us.

1. …I am not sure how much cognitive awareness the sheep had of its condition of lostness and the coin was inanimate object. If we think about human beings, equally we may not realize that we are lost… the track. The little girl certainly knew she was lost.
A good example of those who did not think they were lost were the Hebrew people we read about in the first lesson for today. They were out in the desert after having been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt –with mighty signs and wonders. Seemingly about 20 minutes after their marvelous rescue, Moses turned his back for a moment and went up on the mountain for a chat with God. They decided, “to heck with this God and this Moses. We need a god we can see..” They were probably thinking about the gods left behind in Egypt.
Talk about a short attention span! God said to Moses, and forgive my paraphrase, “This was obviously a mistake – they are a stiff necked people. I’m just going to destroy them.”
I like that word – stiff necked. It comes from the world of farming with animals when, say, an ox would not let itself be directed. It would not turn its head, but stiffened its neck and shoulders to continue in the direction it wished to go rather than letting itself be directed. To be stiff-necked is a combination of rebelliousness, stubbornness, and being unteachable.
And, being unteachable, as any teacher, employer, or parent knows is a formula for disaster. The Hebrew Children had gotten badly off the track and were so stiff necked, they didn’t even realize it. It took Moses’ passionate intercession for God to relent.
Let me ask you, when you get off the track, how long does it take you to realize it? And, what does it take for you to listen – the pleas of family or friends, the loss of precious people and things in your life. Do you have to go all the way and hit bottom before you realize you are lost? How stiff-necked are you? Are you teachable? Have a look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. To have a teachable spirit is the key.

2. Here is something wonderful to notice. In each case - the sheep, the coin, the Hebrew people - God is already actively at work. The shepherd is combing the mountain side, the woman is sweeping, and God is keeping an eagle eye on his people. They were not aware of him in the least. They were not aware of how focused, how intent the seeker was on finding what had been lost. So, too with us.

3. Notice…Jesus keeps using the word “repent.” The Greek word is metanoia which literally means meta (a change or turn, or transformation – think about the word metamorphosis) and noia (the Greek word for mind… a turn or change of mind). In these two parables – all the sheep and coin had to do was to let themselves be found..
If we think ahead to the parable of the lost or prodigal son.. What was necessary was for the son to realize that he was lost…to have a change of mind and to head in the direction of home…
Look at today’s psalm – Ps 51 – it was written by King David as he poured out his heart to God in repentance after his sin of adultery and, then, the murder he committed to try to cover it up We use this on Ash Wednesday. It is the consummate prayer of repentance in the Bible.

So, here is the bottom line --- are you lost in some way? Gotten off the track? So stubborn that you don’t realize it? Take a read over the Ten Commandments or some of Jesus teachings. How about, “Love one another as I have loved you” or “Forgive one another.” We really don’t have to look very far. Have you been lost or living in a hell of some sort (Maybe its even gotten a bit comfortable). Here is some wonderful news. God is looking for you, seeking you. He has left behind the saints in light, the angels and archangels and the company of heaven and is out looking for you…not to yell at you but to embrace you . So, let yourself be found and, then, get ready for a great big party! AMEN.