Exodus 32, 7-14 + Psalm 51 + 1 Timothy 1, 12-17 + Luke 15, 1-32
September 11, 2016 on board MS Amsterdam
When I got on this ship last month, there was a lady quite distraught over the fact that she had lost her cell phone between the hotel and the ship. With my phone and that of another passenger, we made some calls to the hotel and to the shuttle company to no avail. Later when her luggage was delivered to the room, the phone was found in her luggage, and she was a happy lady. Then at the first of this week, I received an email from a passenger who had been on the ship the week before asking if I could check the lost and found on board to see if something left in her stateroom had been turned in. It was, and in Sitka I mailed the item back to her. In both cases there was great relief and a lot of joy.
The experience told to us in this Gospel is very real to everyone of us who lose things and find them again. Luke sets up this chapter of his Gospel in an ever more intense way. Sheep, coin, son is the progression as he leads us deeper into what he wants to reveal about God and to what he expects from disciples of Jesus Christ. What is constant in each of these parables is the emotion or the response of Joy. What he reveals about the nature of God is consistent in each parable: a patient and consistent seeking of what is lost. This is a God who, by our judgement, seems ridiculous. Leaving 99 at risk while searching for 1 is silly. Tearing up the house and burning more oil than the coin is worth makes no sense, but that’s the point. Waiting, watching, running outside with a ring and robe and then throwing an extravagant party for a kid who has treated you like you were dead makes you think that this dad has already spoiled this kid enough and ought to make him pay for his behavior. But then, that’s not the God Jesus has come to reveal. This is a God of Joy who is actually crazy with love for us. If you’ve ever been crazy in love with someone, you know very well that you don’t act predictably and are likely to do some wild and wonderful things.
Joy, in the end, is what these parables reveal about God, and Joy is what Jesus has come to bring and to proclaim. Joy must be the first and obvious sign of disciple of Jesus. To make the point, Luke gives us that other son who is anything but joyful. His problem is that he thinks he deserves everything, and the saddest thing we see about him is that he is without love. He does not love his brother, and is even without love for his father. We should notice that he never once speaks to his father respectfully nor lovingly. He refers to his father as “you” without a hint of respect or love. His resentment, his anger, and his jealousy make it impossible for him to enter into the joy and share the love the father has for them both.
Now in the morning we will all shortly head for home, and I hope that most of us will be welcomed there by people who love us, and in that love we shall again experience a kind of Joy that reveals something about our faith. I have begun to believe that Joy, like faith is something we must choose. Few of us have had any great or profound religious experience or been face to face with God. We have simply had to choose to believe or not believe. We all know people who have simply chosen not to believe. It is much the same with Joy. In the face of tragedy, sin, our own brokenness and the sadness we experience from time to time we have every opportunity and sometimes every reason to be angry, resentful, and jealous. We can choose to stay that way, or we can choose be joyful recognizing and choosing to share in a kind of Joy that is divine.
Fifteen years ago on this date something happened because of people who were resentful, angry, and jealous of us. Hate overwhelmed them and led them to choose violence and death rather than peace and life. Today we look back and we look ahead. Today we proclaim a Gospel of Joy because we believe in a a God of Mercy, renewing our faith through this Eucharist making sure that we shall not stand outside when the party has already begun. We choose Joy. We choose life. We choose peace. We choose Jesus Christ.