We Had to Celebrate
Posted on 17 March 2010
Sermon for March 14, 2010
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
This sermon would get off to a lot better start if we were all enjoying hors d’oeuvres. I’m afraid that as host I was stumped by trying figure out what to serve you at this hour of the morning to get you in the mood. So I am going to have to rely on you to be forgiving guests and for now to just imagine that it is already bunch time you have your favorite beverage or appetizer in hand. Now we can start.
Most Christians know that before Easter comes a season of preparation, the season of Lent, a 40 day period of getting ourselves ready for Easter, many people think of a time of repentance. But it is a little complicated. If you take your calendar and start on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and start counting 40 days you only get to Palm Sunday, not Easter. So what’s up with that?
The reason is that when you are counting the days of Lent, you don’t count the Sundays. And the reason you don’t count the Sundays is because of what the father told the elder son in the reading from Luke this morning, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice.” Christian gatherings and especially Sunday worship have always been times to celebrate and rejoice. We don’t usually think of Christians as such party animals, but that is a big part of our heritage. What we learn from Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth is that it was sometimes taken too far, but they weren’t altogether on the wrong track, and let me tell you, those Corinthians knew how to party.
In the story Jesus told, the son who had turned his back on his family and squandered his half of their wealth was received back with joy and celebration. The father explained to the elder, respectful, dutiful son, But we had to celebrate and rejoice.
Well, the father said it, but you know the elder son was thinking, No we don’t! We don’t have to celebrate this irresponsible, ignorant low-life, just because he figured out he could come home and get a meal. There’s nothing to celebrate here.
But in this story Luke shows us Jesus teaching the church to find joy in the lost being found, in the dead coming alive. Jesus calls the church to celebrate God’s work in the world. That is a big part of our worship and that is the reason Sundays could never be counted as days of repentance. Sunday is the day we rejoice in what God has done. First, Sunday is the day we celebrate God raising Jesus from the dead. Then Sunday is the day we celebrate what God has been doing in our lives and in the world around us. Our liberating, creative God has been at work and we honor God by celebrating. We continue the ministry of Jesus by inviting people to celebrate with us.
Now, not everyone is on board with this. For sure there are people who want to put off any celebrating until there is a little more of a track record for this young man. Certainly some would want to see some data showing what impact any church outreach ministry might have had in bringing him to make such a positive decision. And in the story we haven’t heard how he is going to be accountable for how he lives from now on. We haven’t really even heard his testimony so that we know what we did right and who to congratulate. And shouldn’t this young man have to play by the rules we follow for a while to show that he has made a serious commitment? Shouldn’t he have to live a life that contributes to the church as we have conceived it and built it and practiced it and supported it and sacrificed for it before we throw him a party? As I said, not everyone is on board with this celebrate thing.
There are lots of church ministries and a wide variety of social service agencies which do commendable work building up the community as they help people in a wide variety of ways to be more whole and healthy. Lots of Christians find a calling in this work both as professionals and as volunteers. Christians respond to what God has done by being the best human being we can be, mourning with those who mourn and sharing one another’s burdens. It isn’t that we do this better than others, but we do make it our religious duty to be the best human beings we know how, we mourn with those who mourn and share one another’s burdens.
But Jesus invites his followers to the specific work of celebrating what God has done and is doing The church is on the lookout for God raising the dead, finding the lost, healing, restoring, reconciling, redeeming. (We aren’t looking for the inexplicable, but the work that is God’s and God’s alone, the impact of the whole on the part, the ultimate on the temporal.) And we celebrate that wherever it appears. In this state the torture of young Black men by police under Jon Burge has resulted in an astounding number of instances when our community has welcomed back men who have spent years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. For the church this is an opportunity to celebrate God at work slowly healing our community. In a nation suffering from an irrationally high rate of incarceration it is all too common for a young man to find himself in prison and have to work through the death of who he has been and find in God liberation and healing in the life he will have behind bars. The church’s job is to be there to celebrate life with him. In a society where violence toward women is far too common many women have to struggle for wholeness and health after being victimized. The church has the opportunity to be with them and to celebrate all the victories of re-establishing a sense of self and empowerment. When people who have died to the community because of drug use or any other addiction find that God has freed them from such their addicted behavior and they are alive again, and the church celebrates. When in the passing of a loved one, family, friends, and even the church itself finds an affirmation of the love that God gives us in life and death, then we throw a dinner celebration. When any of us finds that God gives us new freedom from the bonds and stresses that restrain us from loving freely, then the church celebrates. That’s a lot of parties.
We celebrate because the church is where we value the journey to God. We encourage one another in the journey. We value and pay attention to God in our lives and at work in the world. No one else is going to do this. This is the church’s work, we value the God we know God in Jesus. We claim the reality of God. We make this who we are.
We are formed around taking the time to know joy. Setting aside the distractions and tasks of the day for a moment, to let joy in. Deciding to be shaped by the joy more that the problems.
We support the church because we want to celebrate what God is doing (we love a good party and this is the best kind). We support the church because we think it is important to be with people on their journey to God (not because we are better at fixing them. ) It is the church’s job to put together the party for the one who was dead and now is alive and a ring on their finger.
Enjoy, we just have to celebrate and rejoice.