Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sunday Sermon: Joy in Heaven

Luke 15:1-10
16 Pentecost Year C
‘Joy in Heaven, Joy on Earth’

How do you know when you’re lost?
Our gospel reading today has got me pondering this question. ‘How do you know if you’re lost?

Perhaps the first picture I get in my mind now whenever I read these parables
– about lost sheep and lost coins – is from my first church.
The picture is a small flock of sheep — in the church parking lot of one of my churches.
And it wasn’t one of the country churches, but the ‘town’ church.
I remember that it was a Friday morning, which was not a very busy morning at the church.
I had been in the office for about an hour, and was getting ready to leave to go to a Pastor’s Bible study.
As soon as I stepped out the door, I saw them, standing in the parking lot, looking bewildered.
Or maybe they didn’t look bewildered.
Maybe that expression is just the way sheep ALWAYS look.
And looking back after all these years, I wonder if they really even knew that they were lost.

So, the question again: how do you know if you’re lost?
The parables we have before us today are about lost sheep and lost coins
– how do you know if you’re lost?

Sometimes I think it’s fear that clues us in: we’re driving down the highway and we take a turn
– and suddenly we do not recognize the landscape.
 And a feeling of fear grips us.
Or you are in a department store with your mom and you’re looking at toys very very intently, and when you look up, your mom is gone.
Or, you watch two planes slam into the tallest buildings in New York City. Fear.
What’s going on? What’s going to become of us? Are we lost?
Sometimes, not always, a feeling of fear can be a big clue that we are lost.
And that fear can lead us down some dark pathways: pathways of hate and intolerance and hard-heartedness.

Sometimes it’s loneliness – a feeling of being alone.
I remember the first time I drove through the badlands – I was driving with my family, and looking around at all of the beautiful scenery,
and I thought that if I was driving through here all alone, without all of the signs of civilization, without all the other people in the car with me,
I would not feel so much like it was beautiful.
There’s something about being alone that can make us feel lost – like the child I mentioned earlier at the department store.
She’s in the same spot, looking at the same toys as a moment ago, but something has changed. Suddenly she is alone.
And lost.

Sometimes it’s hopelessness that makes us feel lost.
There are so many reasons people feel hopeless – by which I mean, that they do not think they have a future
– if you are trapped in poverty, if you can’t get work, if you have a sense that you are not worth anything to anyone.
If you are surrounded by ugliness and not by beauty, it’s easy to feel hopeless about the present and the future.
If you are walled out of opportunity, walled out of prosperity, it’s easy to feel hopeless – and lost.

How do you know if you are lost?

The intriguing, and really amazing thing about the two parables, two very familiar parables we have before us today
is that they invite us to look at the experience of being lost from God’s point of view.
Not from our point of view (how do you know if you’re lost?)
But from God’s point of view.
We don’t know anything about how the sheep feels, right?
And lost coins, as far as I know, don’t have feelings.
But in the parable we get a glimpse of God, a wealthy shepherd with 100 sheep – by the way a huge number, four times larger than a normal flock in those days
– or a poor woman, with just ten coins – a day’s wage – to her name.
We’re invited to see how God the wealthy shepherd leaves the 99 to go in search of just one sheep.
And not only that – look very closely – leaves the 99 sheep not safely in the pen, but out in the wilderness!
Jesus begins the parable by saying, “Which one of you would not....”
but the truth is, no one would be foolhardy enough to leave most of his sheep in danger to go after one stupid sheep who had wandered off!
No one but God, who cares so much about one lost sheep, so foolishly about one sinner.
Or take a look at the poor woman, with ten coins, who loses one.
You can understand, perhaps, if you just have a little, why she would sweep and sweep, and look under the sofa cushion, and not give up until she has ten coins again.
It is her whole living.
She cannot get by without the one.
But then, read on: after she finds her coins, she invites her friends over and has a party!
She blows her whole living celebrating! “Which one of you would not spend all you have...?”
Well, maybe you wouldn’t.
But God would, God would risk everything, would give up everything to find you, and God would risk everything to celebrate your return.
“And there is joy in heaven... there is joy in heaven... whenever one lost sheep is found, whenever one sinner, one sinner is found...”
One sinner – one stupid sheep, one outcast, one hopeless, one despised person... from God’s perspective.... is beloved....

How do you know you are lost?

When I was a little girl, I loved to write: stories, poems, one act plays, everything.
I think I learned to write stories almost as soon as I learned to write.
But here’s another thing I would do periodically, I would re-read what I had written earlier, and I would be so embarrassed, so ashamed, because I would suddenly understand that it wasn’t very good.
And I would throw all of those stories, all of that poetry, all of those plays, into the wastebasket. It would go into the trash.
So periodically I got rid of everything I had written before, everything I now understood to be worthless junk.

Some years ago, I was rooting around in a closet somewhere, and I came across a box, a box I didn’t know about.
It was in my parents’ house, among my mother’s things.
When I opened the box I discovered many of those stories, poems, plays that I had thrown away – that my mother had taken out of the trash and saved them all.
It was a rare occurrence – I was looking at myself from my mother’s perspective – and I realized that she saved those writings not because they were so much better than I thought
– but because she loved me.
I looked at myself from my mother’s perspective – and realized that she loved me more than I imagined, more than I thought.
There was rejoicing, Rejoicing in heaven, rejoicing on earth.
My mother rejoiced in me, her child.

Today we are invited to look at ourselves from God’s perspective rather than our own.
Today we are invited to hear the sounds of rejoicing in heaven, to know a God who saves our trash, who seeks out lost sheep, who sweeps the whole house and spends everything to find us.
Today we are invited to hear the sounds of rejoicing in heaven over us – and over the whole world that God loves.
We’re invited to see that God loves children, adults, the shunned and the self-righteous, the haters and the hated, Lutherans, Muslims  – all this blessed lost world.
And we’re invited to rejoice as well – to sing our hearts out, to open our arms wide, and to look at the world, ourselves, from God’s perspective.

How do you know when you’re lost?
Brothers and sisters – sometimes I think we only really know we’ve been lost when God puts us on his shoulders,
when God lifts us up in her hands,
when God opens his arms to us in love.
We know that we’re lost every time God finds us, every time God finds us, however we are lost -- whether we are lost in our fear, or lost in our hopelessness, or lost in our hate.
Then hate turns into love and fear turns into hope and loneliness is swept up in community.
And there is rejoicing in heaven. And rejoicing on earth



Rev Nancy Fitz said...

Enjoyed the way you wove this together. thanks

caasen said...

Excellent, Diane. I especially loved the writings found that had been thrown away, but your vision from the perspective of your mother. Thank you!

Jennifer said...

Loved every word. Thank you!

Ann said...

Oh. My. Goodness. I am finally catching up on your blog, and I'm so glad. I love this. I needed to hear this, I guess. Lovely. Just lovely. Thank you.