Christ Lutheran Community Church
September 15, 2019 Worship Sermon - "The Prodigal God"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Rejoice with me!
Imagine this: you come home one evening and look through your mail, and there, among the bills and the junk mail is what looks like an invitation. It’s printed on expensive vellum and addressed to you with beautiful calligraphy, so you assume it’s for something important like a wedding or a baby shower. You see that it’s from one of your neighbors, who is just a little eccentric. You open the invitation and read: “The honor of your presence is requested at a gala dinner and dance to celebrate the recovery of a $100 bill that had been lost. Please come and rejoice with me.” If you thought your neighbor was a little eccentric before receiving this invitation, you would probably be convinced of it afterwards, because the fact is, nobody throws a party to celebrate the finding of a lost $100 bill.
So when Jesus begins his story of the lost coin with the question, "What woman with ten silver coins, if she loses one, does not search the whole house to find it, and when she finds it she calls her friends together and says, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost!'?" When Jesus asks that question, I want to answer, "No woman I know would do that." The searching for the lost coin part of the story, I get that; but the celebration afterwards seems just a bit... over the top.
The same goes for the story of the lost sheep. My uncles were dairy farmers. If a cow broke through a fence and got lost, they would certainly go searching for it, and they would definitely be happy when they found it, but I really doubt they would call all their neighbors to a party to celebrate the finding of the lost heifer. It's just not that big a deal.
These two parables in our gospel reading this morning tell us about a God who is desperate to recover what has been lost. And that's really good news for all of us, because all of us become lost again and again in the journey of our lives. Sometimes our lostness takes a very dramatic form, like addiction, or depression, or a life of crime. More often, our lostness is subtle: like we just don't feel that close to God; we wonder whether our prayers are just evaporating into the void unheard. Whatever kind of lostness you have experienced in your life, Jesus' message to you is that God is tireless in pursuing that which is lost. God will never, ever give up on you.
Thank you, God, for this promise! Thank you, God, for seeking us out when we are lost.
But these parables are about more than the fact that God searches for the lost. These parables are about the rejoicing that God does when what was lost is found. The most insignificant events - like the recovery of a lost coin - are cause for celebration. And God doesn’t just rejoice all by Godself. When God rejoices, God throws a big party, because God wants others to rejoice as well. This Gospel reading is an invitation to join that celebration… to experience the joy that God experiences when the lost is found. The word joy appears five times in these parables.
Jesus didn't tell these parables to the people who considered themselves lost. He told the parables to the Pharisees and scribes, who were the religious insiders of his day. They were the ones who obeyed the rules and they were grouchy about the fact that Jesus was partying with the rule breakers. Compare the joy of the woman who found the lost coin to the grumbling of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are actually lost, too, because of their resentment. So, Jesus tells them these parables hoping they will experience the same joy that the angels experience when the lost is found.
It’s so easy for us religious people to become dour and cranky like the Pharisees. We get caught up in our own petty concerns. Are the worship leaders wearing the proper shoes? Do they bow properly when they came down the aisle? We forget that this is a celebration!
Or we get caught up in the problems of the world. We look around and conclude that the world and everything in it is a lost cause. Every new mass shooting, every new report on the climate crisis, has us crying out, “Lord have mercy!”
Certainly, the church has a mission to empathize with the sorrows of the world. We don't want to be blind to suffering. But that sorrow is balanced by the joy of knowing that in God there is no such thing as a lost cause. The "Lord have mercy!" at the beginning of our worship yields to the "Glory to God in the Highest!" The penitence of Lent gives way to the joy of Easter. And remember, Lent has 40 days while Easter has 50 days. Perhaps that is a reminder that rejoicing is even more important than contrition.
I’ve always been impressed with how twelve step groups celebrate the victories of their members. When someone has an anniversary of sobriety, the group celebrates with them. If someone has a year of being sober, they get a medallion and everyone claps. If someone has a week of being sober, they still clap, because for someone who is seeking freedom from addition, that is a great cause for celebration.
"Rejoice with me!" "Rejoice with me!" Jesus says again and again in our gospel reading.
We gather this morning to celebrate God’s gifts. This gathering and sharing is God's gift. The support and the forgiveness we offer each other... that's God's gift. The hope that we remind each other about is God's gift. And the most precious gift of all? Jesus here among us, the host of our party.
Christ Lutheran Community Church