Year C;FB8AM.Proper 19;9.11.2022
Jesus often used parables to reveal the true character of God. And the two parables today reveal God’s relentless pursuit of all that is lost. It is God’s will that all shall be found, loved, restored and forgiven. The shepherd is a familiar metaphor for God. Shepherds search the lost lamb until it is found. When we are the lost soul, listening to this parable, we might lighten up a bit to hear that there is a Being that looks and looks and looks for each of us, for that one lost soul.
And how wonderful to have a metaphor of God be a woman! She loses a coin. She searches, sweeps and seeks nearly compulsively to find that lost coin. She doesn’t give up until she finds it.
Jesus told these two parables within earshot of the judging, complaining Pharisees and scribes. These particular officials were on the outside looking in at all the tax collectors and sinners coming to be near to Jesus. They grumbled within earshot of Jesus, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” He parties with them!
“Sinners” were coming to be near Jesus for a reason. They discovered that they meant something to Jesus! They were celebrated. Both parables describe the unbridled joy that the shepherd and the woman had when the lost item they cherished was found. And Jesus demonstrated that very joy for them.
One of my favorite Eucharistic Prayers reminds me of the saving character of Jesus. The priest says, “Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor. He yearned to draw all the world to himself…” “Living among them, he LOVED them.”
Jesus also told the parables for the judgers and “grumblers” to hear. “You, too, can rejoice in the nearness of God!” These are parables of being found AND of rejoicing! One theologian writes this about the joy in the parables of finding whatever is lost. “Every aspect of the story is laced with joy. As Jesus told the story, he must have been exhibiting that joy, or rejoicing as he invited the audience in. Jesus not only emphasizes joy; he expects REJOICING, an expression of the true joy when all are included.”
How many of us have experienced joy in our lives? Even in these difficult times, even in grief, even in the sorrow that the world is experiencing in Queen Elizabeth’s death, “The world’s parent has died,” some have said in grief – even in sorrow, times of joy erupt as people cheered what she meant to them.
Where does that joy come from? We’ve all heard the expression, and likely experienced “tears of joy.” Actual tears sometimes come to our eyes when we experience something profoundly joyful and deeply moving. Years ago, my high school friend Ralph described to me his experience in the delivery room when he witnessed his daughter’s birth. She is now nearly 40. He was gowned and masked and gloved in the delivery room at his wife’s side as Lindsey, his first child was born. He said he cried so hard that his mask filled with tears and snot…that was HIS word! “Tears of joy.”
The judgers in Luke’s story stand far off and wondered about “those marginal people” partying with Jesus. They tried to dismiss him. But they couldn’t get beyond his joy. I imagine that he called the neighbors, ran out into the streets and called friends and said, “Rejoice with me! Party with me! I have found what was lost! Come celebrate with me! Repent and return and rejoice in God’s magnificent love.”
Episcopal scholar of Christian ethics, Scott Bader-Sayre gives us the real meaning of this passage. He writes, “…for the sinners and tax collectors, doubters and skeptics, these parables are about being found…for the Pharisees and scribes they are stories about learning to rejoice. The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin both end by calling together friends and neighbors to join in the celebration. Indeed, the movement of joy pulses outward from the one to the many, from the earth to the heavens. The party takes on a cosmic scale.”
I love this idea of “learning to rejoice.” What does that take for us in troubled times to learn to rejoice in God’s love, in God’s relentless pursuit of the lost? Can we learn it, make a habit of it?
This morning, our 8 am congregation gathers with rejoicing as we finally have opened up Quiet Eucharist. We have come near to Jesus in this early morning and we rejoice.
Right here. Right now, we are a “cosmic calling together of friends and neighbors” joining the celebration of God’s never-ending love for every human being.
So, my friends, let’s rejoice and celebrate!