We are in week 2 of our Sermon Series, “Glimpses,” in which we are looking and learning to see God at work in our world, and we are continuing are journey through Luke 15. Last week, we looked at the Parable of the Lost Sheep, and celebrated that God loves you and me so much that he will not leave us lost- God in Christ comes looking for us, and brings you and me home into his family… We also were reminded of our call to share the Good News of Jesus- his presence with us- with people who are lost- who are searching, who are longing to see God in their lives…
We re-read that parable as our first reading today, both to refresh your memory and to remind us all of the context. Jesus told these stories because the Pharisees and the Scribes were complaining that tax collectors and sinners were flocking to Jesus, and he welcomed them. “How can this be?” they wondered out loud. “Why would a rabbi want to be with people he knows are not suitable for polite company? And how in the world can he share table fellowship with them???” (In those days, a good religious person did not share a meal with someone they knew to be a “sinner…”)
And permit me two language things before we go any further: let me remind you of the difference between “joy” and “happiness,” first. There is “joy” in the presence of the angels- the messengers of God, NOT “happiness…”
As I have told you before, it’s all too easy to confuse the two. It’s an interesting thing- in most polls, most interviews, when people are asked what they most want for themselves- their children, if they have them, the answer most frequently given is they want to be “happy;” they want their kids to be happy.
The Dictionary defines happy in this way: “Lucky, fortunate, favored by circumstance and the enjoyment of pleasure without pain…”
That’s why people search for happiness- in relationships, jobs, possessions, you name it! And because life is never entirely lucky, because you are never always favored by circumstance, and because there is never always enjoyment of pleasure without pain (Pain is a part of life!), happiness is always temporary- transitory!
When luck or fortune are not present and pain is, you’re unhappy- and it’s time to search again…
Joy is something altogether different. From the dictionary again: Joy is “a jewel, something in which you take great pleasure and delight…” The word translated ‘joy” in the Bible is even more profound! It means “the present and future possession of the good…” and this good is not just inward! It is also aimed at sharing with others!
For Luke, this good, this joy begins with the arrival- the presence of Christ, and because of his life- his death for you and me on the cross, and his resurrection, it lasts through everything- through life and through death for all of us- for you!
Happiness is external: it happens to you; it is circumstantial. Joy is internal- it belongs to you, and it is there through everything! That’s what I want for my wife and children- for me! That’s what God wants for you and for me!
When you have joy, you have a bridge between happy and unhappy times. You see them as part of life. You can face everything that life throws at you. Even in the midst of sorrow and sadness, you have something you can hold on to; you’re not left alone!
When you have joy, you have your priorities in order. You know you have value; it comes from belonging to God! It’s not about being lucky, or who you are, but whose you are! You are loved by the God who created the universe! You matter so much to God that God was willing to become one of us!
“For behold, I bring you good news of Great JOY!” is how the angels introduce the arrival of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem. So this joy which I have been describing, we really can attribute to the angels of God, as our parable says- joy is a heavenly gift. In fact, angels are NEVER happy; but they know the joy that comes from the presence of God!
Second, let’s take just a quick look at “repent…” It’s a word that has been damaged by bad preaching… “Repent, or you’re going to hell! Turn or burn! You’re gonna fry while we go to the sky…”
But what the word literally means is “change allegiance.” In the days of the Roman Empire, when an emperor died and a new one assumed his place, a message was sent out to all the Roman Legions- the Roman Army: “Caligula is dead; Claudius is now Caesar, Repent (change your allegiance to the new emperor), and believe in the Good News!”
In the context of following Jesus, you change from going your way to a new way of living- God’s way; you change your allegiance to Jesus. Repentance is a wonderful thing- and what’s more, we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit; it is not something we simply choose to do… The lost sheep was lost; it wasn’t headed home. And a coin certainly can’t “repent…” It is lost until it is found!
So first we get the parable of the lost sheep, and then today’s parable of the “Lost Coin…” Let me re-read it to you…
As I promised last week (or warned, I suppose- depends on how you feel about it…), I would like you to turn to a neighbor, and share two things: first- similarities and differences between the two stories… And then second, what is one thing that jumps out at you in the story of the Lost Coin… I’ll give you a few moments…
Now in keeping with this interactive moment, let me ask if anyone is willing to share with all of us… Similarities or differences between the lost sheep and coin, and/or one thing that jumps out at you…
Really good stuff; thanks so much…Clearly, you’re getting the idea…
(Did you catch) I heard that in both parables, there is an element of what you might call “counter intuitiveness,” that is, just as no shepherd would leave the flock to go looking for the one (but our Good Shepherd does!), nobody would take all day to clean the house looking for what is essentially a dime, in terms of today’s money, and then spend far more than the coin is worth to have a party with friends and neighbors to celebrate her finding of the coin…(but our God does!)
And in both parables, there is a party to celebrate the finding of the lost- not in heaven, although there is joy in heaven- friends and neighbors gather to rejoice… And who are the friends and neighbors? They are the friends and neighbors of the “finder…” Part of the family, if you will… Do you see where Jesus is going with this? Isn’t this an invitation to the scribes and the Pharisees do come to the party??? Why is it so hard for them?
Could you welcome someone you knew to be a traitor and a thief (that’s what tax collectors were) and celebrate with joy their part in the community of God’s people? Before you answer, let me tell you a story…
On June 6th, we remembered the 68th anniversary of D-day- it’s hard to believe that in just two years, it will be 70 years… The allies began the invasion of Fortress Europe to liberate the people from the horrors of one of the most evil regimes in human history, Nazi Germany.
One of the most important Nazis was already dead- his name was Reynard Heydrich, and he was one of the worst. He was tall and handsome, blond, the very picture of what it meant to be Aryan. He was brilliant, and he was evil. He was the one who invented the Nazi version of Concentration Camps. He was in on the creation of the “Final Solution,” the systematic extermination of Jews. After Czechoslovakia became a part of Germany, Hitler packed Heydrich off to Prague to be Governor, (I’m thinking because he was afraid of him!), where he ruled ruthlessly and violently.
The Brits sent two Czech partisans to Prague with instructions to kill him. They successfully ambushed his motorcade, but impossibly, both their machine guns jammed. So as the car passed, in desperation, one of them threw a hand grenade. It exploded under the car, shattered Heydrich’s spine, and actually injected horse hairs from the seat into the wound. He died in agony, and it took six hours.
Good, right? If anyone ever deserved a miserable death, it was Heydrich. And he had worse waiting for him after he died, too, right?
Except… he had been brought up as a Roman Catholic. And as he lay dying, he apparently contemplated all the evil he had done, and how he had wasted his life. Heydrich asked for a priest. He confessed of all his sins. The priest announced the forgiveness we all receive in Christ Jesus and then gave him communion- the first time he had received the sacrament in decades- and the last… Then he died, a sheep, a coin who had been lost, and was found, part of God’s own family.
God wants you and me to celebrate that? To come to a party in his honor? When we come into the fullness of God’s presence, we could run into him? Are you serious?
And the answer, of course, is “Yes…” And Jesus calls us to rejoice in the fact that he was found, and tells us that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God, even, as I am sure, there was weeping for all the victims, for all the damage he had done with his wasted life.
We’re invited to the party, because we are a part of the family of God; we KNOW the finder of the lost, because we know he found us! I wonder if the longer we’re in the family tempts us to forget that we’re forgiven sinners, too, and in God’s economy, sinners are sinners, there aren’t degrees of sinners- we all need forgiveness. Because if God’s grace isn’t real- isn’t big enough for someone like Heydrich- someone as lost as there has ever been, it might not be big enough for you and for me…
The question we face is do we take the joy we have been given in that relationship with Jesus, and share it with others- the newcomers, and the ones we KNOW aren’t deserving- the “tax collectors and sinners of our own time…?”
When we don’t, our joy departs- and we wind up as heartless, rigid and as self-righteous as the original hearers of the parables. We all know people who claim to follow Christ who are like that, and the damage done in Christ’s name is incalculable… We wind up driving people even further away from God, and that makes the angels- it makes Jesus weep.
So I have some difficult homework for you this week.
I want you to think of the biggest sinner you know personally- preferably one who drives you just nuts- whose presence you can barely stand. (They must be sinners, right, otherwise they wouldn’t make you so crazy, whether they go to church, or not!)
First I want you to pray for them- that God would open their heart to the presence of the Holy Spirit. (You can pray it just like that!) And then, that God would find them, no matter how long it takes. In fact, I would have you pray that God uses YOU to help find them! And finally, that you will delight in coming to the party that will happen- NOT begrudgingly, but joyfully- with the joy of the angels! Because that is the promise Jesus makes- in the finding of the lost there is great joy- radical joy- and it comes from heaven right into your heart.
I know it won’t be easy- you might use the image from the parable today- see the person as a lost coin, an inanimate object- it helps take the initial emotions out of it…But as you pray, God will open your eyes and help you know that the one for whom you are praying is more than just a sinner who makes you crazy. He or she is a human being, created in God’s own image, and one for whom Christ came- for whom Christ lived, died and was raised from the dead- in short, someone not all that different than you…
Jesus was wise to use sheep and coins in the first two parables. He got the Pharisees’ and scribes’ attention that way, and began to let the message begin to sink in, without it being too personal, without it raising their defenses so high that they would be unable to hear his message. Then he told the last parable- the one we call “The Prodigal Son.” But that is for next week…
Will you bow your heads and pray with me: In the finding and the welcoming of those who have been lost, you offer us the joy of the angels. Help us to celebrate with them and with you. And then send us out, to see you at work in our world, and to share in the joy of people experiencing your love through us, whether it’s the first or 500th time! We ask in the name of the one who found us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Following Watergate, several key members of Nixon’s administration were accused and convicted of crimes relating to the break-in at Democratic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Charles Colson was among those who spent time in prison for his crime. Before his conviction he was known as “Richard Nixon's hard man, the 'evil genius' of an evil administration.” He himself had stated, “I was willing ... to be ruthless in getting things done.” It is easy to say that he was not a nice man!
Before entering prison, a close friend gave Colson a copy of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. After reading it, Colson became a Christian. While he was in prison he was visited by members of a bipartisan prayer group that included then Congressman Al Quie. His faith grew, and after he completed his sentence he devoted the rest of his life to reaching out to those in prison through his program of Prison Ministries. As Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell stated at his funeral in April of this year, “His famous redemption story and tireless advocacy on behalf of the marginalized and the outcast have called all of us to a deeper reflection on our lives and priorities. He lives on as a modern model of redemption and a permanent rebuttal to the cynical claim that there are no second chances in life.”
The Theme of this sermon series is “Glimpses.” Each week we are looking to see God at work in our world as we continue to explore Luke 15.
Theme: “Radical Joy”
The glimpse of today’s sermon is the “Radical Joy” that God has in bringing the sinner back into the embrace of God’s love and redemption—welcoming the lost back into family of believers.
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav’n, to earth come down!
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter ev’ry trembling heart.