Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Makes Angels Do Cartwheels

Faith Lutheran Church, Pelican Rapids, MN
March 10, 2013
Celebration Sunday for “Build on Faith” Campaign
Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32

In the fifteenth chapter of St Luke’s gospel we find three of our most favorite parables--three parables of Jesus that are bound together by two red threads.

First, these are all three parables of lost things:  a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. 

It’s terrible to misplace precious things or to lose people that are near and dear to us.   We get frantic, we become sad, we feel bewildered.   Something or someone we were counting on—simply disappears.

But how awesome it is when the lost is found!   Life can begin again, we get back on track, we get unstuck and start moving forward once more.

Which leads me to the second red thread binding these three parables together.  

They aren’t merely parables of lost things.

They are also stories about finding the lost—and the celebration that erupts whenever that happens.

These are three parables of lostness, but they’re also three parables of celebration—that the lost has been found.

In each of these homespun tales, a party breaks out.    The jubilant shepherd, carrying home the wandering lamb, invites his neighbors to join him for a feast.   The frazzled woman, after turning her house upside down, invites her friends over to rejoice with her.   And the father, the patient waiting father—no sooner does he wrap his old arms around his wandering son—but he’s barking out orders for a feast to end all feasts….complete with rich food, flowing wine, dress-up clothes (starting with the lost son himself).

Somehow I don’t think the waiting father had in mind a quiet little party at home.  

No—he flings wide the doors, asks the whole neighborhood to come over, spares no expense, goes a little crazy in celebrating because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24)

Three parables of lostness.  Three parables of celebration.

And, as is true of all of Jesus’ best stories, these parables of life here on earth reflect conditions that simultaneously prevail in the kingdom of heaven.   What these parables describe as happening here below reflect something that is playing itself out in the heavenly throne room, before almighty God.

Have you ever wondered what it takes for an angel to do a  cartwheel?   What makes the members of the heavenly host “break out the bubbly?”   What transforms heaven into “Party Central?”  

Just one thing:  just one sinner who is lost, finding her way back home.

Just that.  That’s all it takes.  One wandering soul regaining the GPS coordinates for “home.”   One miserable sinner saying:  I can’t take it any more.  I can’t do it on my own.  God, help me, rescue me, save me.  

There….something as small as that, makes the “whole company of heaven” enter a state of ecstasy.  It’s what God longs for most.

The words God pines for more than anything else go like this:  “I’m tired of wandering.  I want to come home.”

Say those words with me now, if you would:  “I’m tired of wandering. I want to come home.”

There—did you hear it?   An angel just let out a little squeal of delight.   One of the cherubim—or was it one of the seraphim?—uncorked a champagne bottle.   And God—God just about split a gut, laughing with tears rolling down his cheeks at the prospect of just one more sinner coming home.

So, things that happen here on earth can reflect what’s also going on in heaven….

…and—here’s the kicker—what’s going on in heaven “bounces back” here to earth.

Which leads us to the purpose of this day here at Faith Lutheran Church.   For you belong to the God who rejoices in just one lost soul turning up found….and the joy that God gets out of that regularly echoes here in the community God has established, the Body of Christ in this place.

For we too, find our greatest joy—do we not?—in being a community that specializes in finding lost things, rescuing lost souls.

That is, when all is said and done, what goes on here and in every Christian community.  

We all take turns being lost and being found, wandering and seeking out….and when that happens, how can we not throw a big, big, big party?

We’re gathered for such a party this morning! 

You have completed a marvelous building project here at Faith.  After saying goodbye to your old fellowship hall, you constructed a new one—a place for gathering as God’s people, teaching the faith, doing the “business” of this congregation, and welcoming under your roof so many fine organizations here in Pelican Rapids.

By putting up this new fellowship hall, by opening your doors to your congregation and your community, you have announced that Faith Lutheran Church intends to be known as one of God’s lost-and-found places here in Pelican Rapids.  

You have created space that is free, inviting, accessible…a place where God our waiting father runs out to meet us, embrace us, restore us and make us new.

And that is no small thing in today’s world!

It is not a foregone conclusion, shared by all, that all the lost should necessarily be found…or that we should rejoice when every single wanderer returns home.

There are attitudes and realities in today’s world that are nasty and brutish, unwelcoming and inhospitable.

If someone is lost, we wonder:  “What did this person think or say or do to get in such a pickle?   How did this person contribute to his ‘lostness?’”

Such questions are nothing new.   They’re here in this gospel lesson, voiced by the elder son—the older brother of the prodigal son.

The elder son was the responsible child.  He stayed close to home—no wandering off.  He did his duty—to a fault.   He served his father—day and night.

The elder son was in no mood for rejoicing when his good-for-nothing brother finally dragged his sorry carcass back home.

This part of the story comes to a head when the celebration begins—and isn’t that interesting?  It’s the celebration that smokes out the deep, deep resentment of the elder son.   Everyone is having a good time—the father, the wayward younger son, the servants, the neighbors who came over to see what all the fuss was about.

But the elder son is out in the backyard, away from the celebration, seething in anger, stewing in his own juices, unable to fathom what his worthless little brother ever did to deserve such a homecoming.

But you see that was the wrong question!  It’s never about “deserving” to be found.

The younger son did nothing to deserve the party that was thrown for him.   It wasn’t about “deserving,” but it was about having a waiting, watching Father who ran out to meet him before he had come all the way home, before he could deliver his little “repentance speech,” —the father had already started to wrap the prodigal son in lavish mercy…

I wonder if the Apostle Paul was offering his own commentary on this parable when in Romans chapter 5 Paul writes:  “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

If we’re lost, we don’t really deserve to be found.   The elder son got that part right.

But what he failed to see is that “being found” has nothing to do with “deserving.”

Being found just happens—like a gift out of the clear blue yonder.  Being found is the result of belong to a searching shepherd, a persistent house-sweeper, a fiercely determined waiting Father.

Being found, you see, is always a “God thing.”   It’s what God in Jesus Christ does, what God loves to do more than anything else.  It gives God joy—to find just one wanderer, to restore just one lost soul.

That’s what makes the heavenly rafters shake.

That’s what makes Faith Lutheran Church a lost-and-found place.

That why we’re celebrating today—celebrating so unabashedly that we even dig down deep into our pockets to give ourselves away--all to be part of God’s great party in heaven above and right here below, in this place, in this moment.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

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