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I don’t know how many sermons I’ve preached on the stories of the lost… especially the prodigal son… each time as is often true when you re-read a text… my mind and heart seem to be led to focus on something new. The focus for me this week—is the word – Rejoice…
Maybe it is choir dedication Sunday… I think of choirs and I often think of rejoicing… “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!”
You may not know this… but when I was in youth group and in campus ministry, I would often lead the singing with my guitar. I wasn’t very good but I was all they had… But I enjoyed it. One year my campus ministry friend, Linda, gave me a small plaque that read: “The Lord Respects me when I work, but he loves me when I sing.”
Singing must be one of the things that brings God joy… that makes the heavens rejoice and the angels sing.
What is it that makes the heavens rejoice and the angels sing?
Jesus knows what makes them rejoice as he tells some grumbling scribes and Pharisees three stories of rejoicing.
Of course, you have to wonder if they ever thought of God or the heavens rejoicing at all.
I mean, when I think of Pharisees and Scribes—the word “rejoice” doesn’t exactly come to mind. The picture I have in mind when I think of a Pharisee is sort of like the picture of that pastor in Gainesville, Florida—stern, serious. Unbending.
In other words, when I think of Scribes and Pharisees the word “rejoice” does not come to mind. Other words yes: faithful, obedient, serious, intent—desiring to please God in their own way… but rejoice? Not so much. Kind of like some Christians I know.
In the story today they are far from rejoicing… they are grumbling. They are grumbling about Jesus. I sense they have been grumbling for some time. Jesus has broken the Sabbath rules more than once. They are rule followers. They love policies. They would have loved living in Cary and would have made great Presbyterians!
So you might understand that they are upset with Jesus when they see him breaking all sorts of rules: they know Jesus eats with sinners… reaches out to them… Jesus doesn’t seem to know, or if he knows he doesn’t seem to obey the Scriptures very well…
For them, faith is about obedience…and purity and pleasing God… For them, if God rejoices at all, the heavens, angels and even God must rejoice when we obey the rules. God loves a good policy!
What do you think causes the heavens, the angels and God to rejoice? Jesus knows… he tells them… the heavens are rejoicing when something is found…
A man loses one sheep out of one hundred… he goes searching… worried about the sheep… where might it have wandered off to… what will happen to that sheep out there by himself? Lost and alone in the wilderness. So when the sheep is found… Jesus says, the shepherd puts the sheep on his shoulder and rejoices. Then he says, “Just so, I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons (who obey all the rules) who need no repentance…
What do you think causes the heavens, the angels and God to rejoice?
Jesus knows. A woman loses one of her ten silver coins. It is about to drive her crazy. She lights a lamp… sweeps the house (where could the coin be? I thought it was over there?) And when she has found it she calls her friends and neighbors, (texts and facebooks) “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I lost. ”Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
What do you think causes the heavens and angels and God to rejoice?
Jesus knows: when something—no someone—like a sinner who was lost is found… When the mercy and loving embrace of God is shared with someone who was lost… then you can bet there is rejoicing in heaven.
When the prodigal—a son lost to his selfishness, self indulgence and narcissism (he would have fit well into our culture) – when that lost son repents– is welcomed home… when mercy is extended and love received… there is the sound of rejoicing. A party. With music and dancing.
We know this kind of joy. Did you see and hear the joy of the families when those Chilean miners were found. The miners were singing!
After 9-11… I remember all the searching and seeking that went on… and when even one lost person was found… do you remember the rejoicing?
Jesus knows what brings God joy. He showed us in his own life what brought God joy… it was his reaching out in love searching for that which was lost. And finding them.
I want to share with you a story someone who felt lost and alone… but was found by an angel/messenger – an angel who brought kindness and mercy that must have brought joy not only to one lost soul… but to the heavens and the angels and God. This person was not lost to sin, any more than a sheep or a coin… but he was still lost… and God found him thanks to this angel.
A friend of mine shared it with me. Paul and Dona Clark are active members of his church in Florida. He and his wife Dona had gone to Alabama—to finish some family business. Their son in law’s mother had died and they had gone to put the house on the market and to fix it up. Paul is handy about that. (kind of our Page Ott)
While there, Dona became sick—suddenly and unexpectedly. He took her to Lee County Hospital in Opelika. Do you get the scene? There they are—away from home… alone… and Paul writes this letter— a letter about mercy and kindness and being embraced by grace- being found, I would add.
“Dona was in the East Alabama Medical Center hospital in Opelika for eleven days. We did not know a soul in the entire area and Sundays especially are very lonely in a hospital as not much is going on with limited staffing and treatment. I could never have been more ready for a smiling face than when I went down to the cafeteria about 6:20 PM on Sunday May 23rd to get a bite to eat. The cafeteria closes at 6:30 so there was three people in the whole huge cafeteria. Two ladies behind the serving counter and another lady who was the cashier. As I chose a couple of vegetables the lady gave me huge servings as she said she was getting ready to throw everything away and I would be the last customer.
For some reason the other lady behind the counter started singing. It was a type of hymn and one unfamiliar to me but I thought she was somehow singing to me.
The other server then said: “She is a real good singer!”. “I agree,” I said and moved on toward the ice tea stand. Then, as she finished the song I turned back to them and said: “I’ll bet she could really sing Amazing Grace”.
With that, as I finished getting my tea, I saw that the lady had moved from behind the counter and out somewhat near me and started to sing Amazing Grace.
(Paul says) I am overwhelmed!! The cashier now comes out from her station and stands beside me and I put my arm around her and we both stood there and tears came to my eyes as this lady sang to us.
(Note that I have never seen any of these people before. They know nothing about me nor my circumstances as to why I am there, etc.)
When she finished I said: “That was just wonderful. How beautiful! My wife is here and has had to have emergency surgery and we are 400 miles from home and what a blessing this has been to me. In fact, it is a particular blessing in that tomorrow is my 80th birthday and this is about the best birthday present I could ever imagine”.
The lady said: “If you will come back tomorrow at closing I will sing for you again on your real birthday”. “I will be here without fail”, I said.
The next night (at 6:20-25pm) the same sparse crowd at closing and when she saw me coming she went to the sitting area and was waiting for me at a table. I introduced myself and she said that her name was Yolanda Madison. She asked about my wife- about Dona. She told me that she had come to Opelika eight years ago from Tennessee to assist an ailing mother who has since passed away and she stayed on. She told me a little of her life and gave her Christian “testimony”. She held my hand and said a prayer for Dona saying that she would fulfill God’s promise that where “three were joined together we may call on him and he will answer our prayers.” She said “I will be the third person for you.”
I recognized her as a wonderful person of simple, trusting faith……bursting with love and goodness. And then she sang again for me again right there at the table. She was off for a few days and I saw Yolanda again on Thursday the 27th.
She came out as I went through the line and said: “Tomorrow I will sing Amazing Grace for you again”.
Well, we were blessed with Dona being released the next morning to go home so I did not see Yolanda again. But I will be in touch with her. I want to most of all tell her how much her befriending me meant to me and how much her concern for Dona meant to me…(he could also have said ‘when I was lost and alone, she found me’)
I will remember her as someone who may have not achieved a whole lot in a worldly sense but who has, much more importantly, laid up treasures for an eternity which will be spent in the presence of her Savior. Some day I am certain she will hear the words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”
Jesus could have told that story as another story of someone who was lost and alone… but now is found. Found by the love and grace of a stranger.
The Lord knows the world is full of people who are lost. All of us have been lost now and then. Some lost to sin… to their willfulness and stubbornness… their narcissism… some lost to circumstances… lost for so many reasons. There are so many ways to get lost in our lives.
But when we seek the lost with the love and grace of Jesus Christ… when they are found, cared for or even welcomed home with open arms… then I can tell you this:
There won’t be any grumbling in heaven… there is no grumbling in heaven!… there will be rejoicing and singing. Only rejoicing and singing. Amen.
From John DeBevoise in text study group, shared via email