Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joy in heaven

1 Timothy 1:12-17; Psalm 51:1-10; Luke 15:1-10

A few weeks ago, Mike and I went to dinner at Chili’s in Crystal River. We frequently consult our phones to check the TV Guide app to see what was on TV that night. I remembered looking at my phone at Chili’s and then putting the phone down on the bench when my food arrived. We enjoyed our meal, had some laughs with the servers, and drove home.
Once we got home, I reached for my phone and it wasn’t in my pocket or purse. I looked everywhere, and I was worried that someone else had found my phone. Finally, I checked the car again. There it was, on the floor, almost under the front seat. Apparently, it slid out of the pocket of my purse. Time to celebrate!
Today’s texts are all about being lost and found and the joy we feel when the lost has been found. What is lost may be us, or it may be something we own. When we realize God has found us, when we find something we are looking for, we have a reason to be happy, even joyful.
Luke often pairs stories, one about a man and another, similar story, about a woman. In this case, the first story is about a shepherd who discovers a lamb is missing. Every animal is worth something, and the shepherd goes looking for it. He searches high and low, behind rocks and in ditches. Finally, the lamb is discovered and brought home. He and the other shepherds celebrate because the lost lamb has been found and returned to safety. 
In the second story, a woman has lost a coin. Let’s imagine she lost a $100 bill. This is worth looking for, and she searched the house thoroughly. She got out the broom and swept. She got the lamp and checked little cubby holes and dark corners. When she finally found the missing money, she called the girls and they had a party.
Jesus comments about these stories. As there is joy on earth when we find what has been lost, there is even more joy in heaven when a sinner repents.
The other Biblical texts are about just that, sinners who repent. Psalm 51 is traditionally interpreted as David’s lament after he has been caught using dirty tricks to cover up his affair with Bathsheba. You probably know the story, but here’s a refresher.
King David sees Bathsheba and decides he has to have her. Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is away at the Front in a war. She gets pregnant and tells David, who arranges for Uriah to be killed in battle. The court prophet Nathan discovers the truth and exposes David, and he confesses and repents. He has been lost in a world of lies and deceptions and sin. Finally, brought to his knees, he actually feels free to rejoice in God’s forgiveness.
In his letter to Timothy Paul recounts Paul his feeling of being lost after his vision of the risen Jesus. He confesses to persecuting Christians for believing in the heresy of Jesus as the messiah. He admits that what he was doing was against the will of God, and describes his joy once he receives God’s mercy and forgiveness.
His joy in God’s grace is present in all that he does after that moment and he wants others to experience the same joy that he has by believing in Jesus and accepting God’s love, even for sinners such as he was.
When have you felt lost? When have you been found? Have you experienced joy in being found? … Fifteen years ago, we all felt lost. We know we have been found, and indeed, never left alone. But the worry and fear of daily living seem to rob us of the joy we wish we could feel. So, today we will remember, and pray. And keep on believing and praying for peace.
When have you felt lost? When have you been found? Have you experienced joy in being found? … We all have stories, most of them too personal and too long to tell here. Instead let me share one from Lutheran World Relief that is already public, and filled with joy at being found.
[ ] It’s a short video about a woman named Maxima, with English subtitles. Let me tell you the basics, then we’ll watch the video. Maxima’s story begins with her husband disappearing during a war in her region. Then, terrorists forced her and her community to farm coca, which becomes cocaine. Years later, the military entered the area and assumed they were all terrorists, so they killed many of the villagers.
Eventually, Lutheran World Relief came, and taught the villagers many things, including how to farm cocoa for chocolate and how to prevent disease through cleanliness. As you watch the video, pay attention to Maxima’s face. Notice the times when she felt lost, and how she now feels found. She uses the word alegria, which means joy.
(Watch video)
So, we humans feel joy when we know we have been found, when our lives are better because of the presence and grace of God. Jesus assures us that there is even more joy in heaven when we are filled with joy. We don’t have to work hard to be found, we simply have to look around for Jesus, who is always looking for us.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the lost and found cycle seems to happen over and over again in our lives. We think we have it all together, we are filled with joy, and suddenly realize that we are actually lost and need to be found again. And Jesus just keeps on looking for us.
This is good news we can use today, for ourselves, if we are feeling lost. And it is news we can share with a friend who is feeling lost. Each time someone who has been lost becomes someone who is found, they and heaven are filled with joy. God wants joy for us all.

Please pray with me: God, you search for us, over and over again. Help us to allow ourselves to be found and changed, and filled with joy. Help us find others who need you just as we do, and lead them to God grace and joy. Amen