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Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.
I’m so glad you’re participating in worship today. When we gather here for worship, we’re joining the worship in heaven. Have you ever thought about that before?
Whenever we prepare for communion, as part of the Great Thanksgiving, I say a prayer that closes, “with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn” and you all jump in to sing “holy, holy, holy”- praise described in the book of Isaiah as the song being sung by the angels to God.
What we do here mirrors what’s going on up there.
What’s going on up there is joyful worship and celebration.
Today’s gospel helps us to see what’s got God celebrating.
There are two groups of people hanging out with Jesus. One group is those who think they have figured out how to live the way God wants. The other group is those that first religious group thinks aren’t living the way God wants. We might call them the righteous and the sinners. But if we do that we might be missing the point of Jesus’ stories.
Jesus tells them two stories, one for the men and one for the women, to be sure everyone can relate. A shepherd lost one of his sheep and then ran around looking for it. When he finally finds it, he calls together all his friends and family to celebrate with him. A woman lost one of her coins and sweeps the house looking for it. When she finally finds it, she calls together her friends and family to celebrate with her.
Jesus concludes by declaring there is more joy in heaven over the lost who are found than those who never needed to be found in the first place. That’s his answer to the religious grumbling, “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The religious people who are following Jesus are voicing their expectations that Jesus should allow only the right people to be with him. Especially in their time, with whom you spent time, with whom you ate, said a lot about who you were. Your company could put you to shame. In some way, their grumbling is a protective warning- “Jesus, if you want to be a respected leader, don’t go hanging out with the wrong people. That’s not what a good rabbi should do.”
We often reflect their concerns. We want to protect Jesus, to keep him holy. We come to think of ourselves as the ones who deserve to be in Jesus’ company, and bar the way for those we’ve decided are less deserving. We want everyone to prove themselves worthy of receiving Jesus. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t need our protecting. Worrying that too many people have been allowed into the party and focusing on all the reasons they don’t deserve to be there keeps us from enjoying the celebration. Can you imagine the dinners that must have happened- with Jesus sitting and laughing with the tax collectors and sinners while the Pharisees and scribes recline next to him, scowling the whole time because they are counting all the ways those other people aren’t worthy of Jesus? They’re closing themselves off to the celebration at hand!
So how do we move away from a mindset of righteous judgement and into an attitude of celebration? We realize that we actually need Jesus- we can’t be righteous on our own, and we give back to Jesus his job- to judge the living and the dead.
Ask yourself- Am I willing to admit that I’m the sheep that’s wandered off and the coin that’s found a cozy hiding spot with the dustbunnies in the darkness? Acknowledging my guilt reminds me I’m no better than anyone else.
Remember, the sheep and the coin aren’t things that have the power to make decisions to move themselves. The sheep is guided by instinct, try to eat enough to stay alive, and the coin has no mind of its own at all. Am I willing to admit I have no power on my own to choose God and keep from evil? Acknowledging my powerlessness turns me to rely on God.
That’s the key to the spirit of joy that makes celebration possible. We have to let go of our need to be the righteous. We have to let go of our power to judge people and keep them out. We have to let God be God and let God do the work God intends. Only Jesus is good. Only Jesus gets to decide who he’s going to go seeking and bringing back and celebrating. Those are both the so called righteous and sinners.
Jesus has decided that we’re worthy of being found. Our being found is worth celebrating.
I’m exploring Brene Brown’s work in preparation for our synodical church leader’s fall theological conference. She researches shame and vulnerability. Shame is what keeps us from living whole lives. What defeats shame is a sense of worthiness. In her famous TEDTalk, she says, “you know what- you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Worthiness is an ability to say, “yes, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve done things wrong, but I am worthy – worthy of love.” If there was ever a brilliant secular explanation of the gospel- this is it.
You and I have messed up- we’ve chosen to be lost- we’ve chosen to judge- we’ve chosen to break apart community. Jesus knows that all, and acts in reckless love. Jesus has made us worthy. Jesus has acted because he’s decided you’re worthy. You’re worth his life!
I’ve read plenty of commentaries about why this coin is worth so much to this woman, but honestly, when I read the gospel, all I can think is- who cares about a dropped penny?! If you open your wallet and a bill flies out of it into the wind, how much does it have to be worth for you to go wildly chasing after it? (I suppose it depends how much is left in your wallet.)
When I was little, one of my jobs was to clean my dad’s car. It wasn’t a hard and fast command, but an opportunity. If I cleaned the car, I was allowed to keep any coins that I found.
I would carefully sort out the mess of papers, fast food bags, and clothes, digging down under the seats to remove those receipts trapped there, all in hopes of finding a few quarters. Every coin counted! By the end of my time, I would be very happy to have a baggie full of change and my dad would be very happy to have a clean car.
Today, when I vacuum my van, sometimes I realize that chunk of crystallized fruit snack I just sucked up was attached to a quarter. When it’s time to empty my shop vac, and I look down into that pile of dirt, I remember that there is some money down there. I’m less attached to each quarter than I used to be. (Ok, I’ll be honest, I really do still stick my hands in there and dig out the quarters – the only difference now is that I soak them in bleach before putting them in my wallet.)
The thing about the gospel is, sometimes you might feel like you’re about as worthwhile as a penny. Pennies pretty much cost more to make than their actual value as currency. You might be that fruit snack and goldfish coated penny that’s lived on the floor mats through the entire winter, but Jesus has still decided to scrape you off, clean you up, and make you his.
When Jesus tells his story, he’s talking to people who know their values- some of them know the world sees them as pennies and the others $100 bills. Jesus welcomes – and values- all of them. He’s going to get down and dirty on the cross to show just how much each of them is worth to him.
As Jesus’ followers, we’re called to reflect what Jesus has done in valuing all people, through our loving action for their well-being.
As we celebrate “God’s Work our Hands” Sunday along with ELCA congregations across the country, we celebrate that God has called us to join God’s work in this world. God works through our hands to reach out in love, welcome, and healing. Today also marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country. This morning the Sunday School thanked our Ixonia Fire and EMS Department. Every day these servants go into the community to help those in need, without weighing the worth of the ones calling for help. On that tragic day 15 years ago, servants and strangers entered collapsing buildings because they believed that others were worthy of their help- even to the point of giving up their lives. As then, today emergency responders continue to serve and not one of them stops to say- maybe you’re not worth saving, if you hadn’t been speeding, or you hadn’t been drinking, you wouldn’t be in this problem. Their job is to serve without hesitation or judgment.
We’re freed to be God’s hands, reaching out to others without judging their worth, because we know that Jesus has made us- and them- worthy. We’re freed to worship in great joy because we know ourselves to be those once lost and now found- who are continually becoming lost and being found over and over again.
There’s a party going on in heaven because of you. God is so happy to have found and claimed you that God’s throwing a party. We’re invited. The party is happening right here- right now. That’s why we gather as a church. We’re here to celebrate that Jesus has come in love to find you- and you- and you- and all the world.
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