March 03, 2013

March 03, 2013

March 03, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Title: “Ridiculous Rejoicing”
Text: Luke 15:1-10

Location, location, location! I hope that you are always hearing from this pulpit that context matters when it comes to the GodStory. That’s why we’re always trying to set the stage for whatever biblical text we are delving in. . . giving a sense of historical context, cultural reality, what those readers/hearers might have first been reading/hearing when they were reading/hearing these stories. . . and today is no different. . . and Luke does a very swift and pointed job of getting us contextualized…

Keep in mind that these stories from Luke 10 onward are sharing the stories of Jesus last few months of earthly ministry. . . so things are getting crazy, intense, like a pressure cooker. . . something’s gonna burst. . . you can feel the tension in the air!

Here’s how Luke locates us into today’s story: v. 1 “All the tax agents and the sinners were coming to hear him.” And by using the word “hear” Luke wasn’t just saying “audibly hear”. . . he’s implying that these outsiders were really coming to believe and repent.
And in the midst of this “being drawn in – – to the table and heart of Jesus” there are other character foils in today’s context.

We read: “BUT the Pharisees and scribes complained: “This person welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Imagine this scene. . . it’s likely at a home, because it seems that Jesus’ habit was not just to scurry across the outskirts of Jerusalem, but in his last months, he was in the city of Jerusalem, sitting in houses, sharing meals, sitting at tables.

So imagine Jesus at a large table, reclining after a meal, the tax agents, the prostitutes, the poor, the filthy, the lowly, sitting near, lingering so that they might hear more stories, longing to hear his voice, experience his healing touch, simply to “be” in his presence. . . .and then imagine the religious experts and keepers of the faith, they’re sitting on the edges of the room, smirking, frowning, waiting for Jesus to make a false or compromising move. . .

And he must have done it, or said it. . . we don’t get any insight of what happened between v. 1 & v. 2. . . .perhaps a tax agent asked for a piece of bread, and Jesus graciously shared it with him. . . or maybe a prostitute or a drug addict asked to touch the hem of his robe hoping that more healing power might go out from him as she tried to understand more of what it might mean for her heart to made whole by this one who was self-describing as “son of the most high.”

Whatever it was, it opened the door for religious complaint: “This person welcomes sinners and eats with them!”

And as we continue to dwell in the world of today’s text, we don’t hear a question or a rebuke or a rebuttal from Jesus. . . we hear another parable. Another story that Jesus “parabolas” (lays alongside) the lives of all who are listening.

4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’
Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

8-10 “Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”

2 stories with an identical pattern. . . a loss, a search, a find, a call. . . and both stories ending with rejoicing.

Now let’s not forget the context! Remember who’s in the room. . . maybe it looks like people who might even be found in this room? Tax agents. Government workers. White collar workers. Sinners. Outcasts. Misfits. Pharisees. Religious experts. Theologically trained students of the word. Scribes. Traditionalists. Keepers of the faith. Protectors of God’s image and reputation in the world. [Put yourself in this room alongside this diverse crew of have’s & have not’s ]

What comes to life for us as our Living Jesus [moving through the pews!],
lays this story alongside our lives?

Will we have ears to hear? Will we follow the command that we heard from the cloud on the mount of transfiguration a few weeks ago? Will we listen to Jesus?

And don’t forget it’s Lent! It’s a time of humility, repentance, and simplicity. So, like a couple of weeks ago, I want us to take the “low way” through this story.
WE ARE THE LOST SHEEP. [Prone to wander….lord we feel it… ]
WE ARE THE LOST COIN. [There’s nothing we can do to shine, to make ourselves stick out or stand out. . . we are dependent on the persevering heart of a searching mother]

THUS. . .
We are not the hero of this story, jumping through the bush, seeking out lost souls.
We are not the heroine of this story, stooping low, with brush/broom in hand, cleaning out the neglected nooks and crannies in search of a valued treasure.

That’s the heart of God! That’s the heart of Jesus!
God as good shepherd, seeking after us, loving us, longing to be with us even when we run away from the safety of the pack and get lost in wilderness of our life experiences.
OR: God as a peasant woman, getting on her hands and knees to look in the forsaken and forgotten places, hoping to find us in a cobwebbed corner of the room.

And what does God do when we are found?

God rejoices. In fact, at the end of each story we hear that the whole cosmos rejoices.

Because of what we’ve done? Because we’ve been bad enough, repentant enough, or good enough to merit God’s great search and rescue plan?

No, God rejoices because, in the end, God gets what God wants. And God doesn’t seem to give a rip of how easy or how hard it was for us to get found by him…whether it was us hearing his voice crying out to us in the wilderness or whether we simply got snatched up in the outstretched hands of a searching peasant woman.

And to make this rejoicing even more dramatic, it seems that these stories support “ridiculous rejoicing?”

You know what I mean? The lost sheep for instance. . . we can rejoice with the shepherd in finding the lost sheep (cuz it has monetary value) but what do we think of him hoisting it on his shoulders like it’s a hero…and then when he gets home calling up his buddies over and throwing a party. “This sheep made me waste a whole day’s wage, and some of my good sheep got away while I was looking for this lost one….let’s party!” [kind of reminds me of that one superbowl commercial where the guy laughs everytime a tragedy befalls him]

Or what about the lost coin? Peasant woman spends half the day scouring her tiny house looking for the crack where the coin fell into and then when she finds it, she invites all her girlfriends over and throws a party that probably cost 5 or 10 times more than the coin that she lost in the first place. Ridiculous!

And so. . . how do you handle the ridiculousness of these stories, of these parables that tell of the heart of God….and the heart of Jesus.

Do you say “ridiculous” with a smile of (relief) and incredulity?

Or do you mutter “ridiculous” with a smirk of disdain?

Jesus lays these stories beside our lives and invites us to listen.

“Let the one who has ears, hear.”

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And as we pause to listen….we also have an opportunity to be moved…

As you move towards the table of the Lord today – – Be found by the living Christ who invites you here, who has already prepared a place for you….whether you feel like a saint, or a sinner, there is a place for you.

“Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We’ve read this phrase and hear it, but do we really believe it?

Oh, Gracious God empower us to continue to live that tradition of welcome & “big table Christianity” here at FBC!

Remember that FBC bulletin cover that I talked about a couple of years ago? Dug up from the archives, circa 1910…. It reads: “Strangers made welcome.”

This is a big part of the Lukan perspective of the GodStory – – a gospel for outsiders written by an outsider himself…strangers made welcome….and I might add, religious experts made agitated….

And in the end, we all find ourselves in God’s good, gracious (outstretched) and generous hands – –

And the Shepherding heart of God. . . and the Mothering heart of God rejoice over us with lavish gladness…God throws a party and wastes his riches on us…

and it’s all pretty ridiculous.