First United Methodist Church
September 11 , 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
The Day the Angels Danced
"Can you recall being lost in such a way that the only way you could 'get found' was by someone else's action?
On August 5, 2010, 33 miners became trapped when Chile's San Jose mine collapsed. Over the next 69 days, the miners battled starvation and hopelessness as the world watched and waited until all were brought to safety.
Even though these miners endured an extremely traumatic ordeal, they share something in common with the lost coin and the lost sheep – without outside intervention, they would remain lost.
Most of us have never been lost, at least not in the way that Jesus is talking about. So like the Pharisees, we may initially miss the point that Jesus is trying to make. Usually when we explore the Gospels I encourage you to read the scriptures that come before and after the text in order to get the context of the passage, but for the moment, I want to focus solely on the text that is before us.
Let’s begin by playing the role of the person who is searching for the lost item. Have you ever lost anything? Your keys? Your glasses? Your car? These are things that I lose all the time. And because I need them to drive places, I will frantically search until I locate the missing item. When I find it, I experience an overwhelming calmness that most of us call “relief.” There is definitely some joy in there also, but for the most part, ending the search is my goal, and so I don’t necessarily relate to the joy in heaven that Jesus describes. And I think the Pharisees thought Jesus was a little over the top also.
Think of it this way: Imagine that you have lost $100. You search your entire house looking under the beds and in the deep dark crevasses of your closets. After searching for several hours, you give up, and redo your budget, accepting the fact that you can live without that $100 for now. And then you open the freezer, and there it is sitting on the top shelf next to the ice cubes. Happy? Yes. But are you going to invite all of your friends over and throw a party that might cost you much more than the $100 you found? Because that’s the joy that Jesus is describing. The angels throw a party in heaven every time a sinner is “found.”
A few years ago, Geico developed a commercial that featured the Exploration Team that discovered the South Pole and Dora the Explorer. As you initially see the commercial, your attention is drawn to the Exploration Team. They have traveled for miles. They have encountered extreme conditions. And now they have arrived. They made it to the South Pole. They should be overwhelmed with joy. But what happens?
Dora steals their moment of glory. So they march away, disappointed and frustrated.
See video clip by following this link:
But there are two story lines here. If we were to view this commercial through the eyes of Dora, we might experience a different perspective.
Dora and Boots have arrived at the South Pole. They know another group is coming. They know that this moment is important. They watch. They wait. And finally the explorers arrive.
“Welcome to the South Pole!” Dora exclaims. Joy! Excitement! “What took you so long?” Dora is ready to celebrate with them.
And that’s how God feels anytime anyone is drawn back into relationship with God, or chooses life, or lives into his or her potential, or helps out another, and in all these ways is found. Joy. Pure joy!
The Pharisees and scribes don’t get that. They don’t realize that God is primarily about love, rather than rules, and therefore about joy, rather than anger or fear or impatience, or all the other things it’s easy to imagine God is about.
And so, as we read our scripture for today, we discover that Jesus had two purposes in telling these parables. He wanted to show his listeners that God is committed to revealing who God is to humanity, so committed that God will search in the thickets and behind the refrigerator. In Luke, Jesus goes out into the margins and beyond. He goes places where no one would even suspect that God might be, in the darkest places of the city, to the places where life is crucifyingly harsh, and no revelation seems possible. Jesus doesn’t want to overlook anyone.
And that brings us to Jesus’ second message, which is that everybody matters, even the Pharisees. It may seem that Jesus spends an awful lot of time confronting every practice and understanding that the Pharisees hold sacred. But in reality, Jesus is working on their salvation also.
Our passage begins by telling us that the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” For the most part, the Pharisees were a pretty good group of people. They loved God and they served God. But they didn’t know what to do about sinners, so their best option was to avoid them. They also believed that the Messiah’s place was with them, so when Jesus hung out with everybody but them, they weren’t entirely convinced that he was the messiah.
And so Jesus responds to their grumbling by telling them stories that he hopes will wake them up to a new way of understanding what God is like. And Jesus tells them that what makes God really, really joyful is not righteousness alone, but awakening, that moment when a person experiences a change of heart and says, “Whoa, I never thought about that before. Tell me more about that idea of God.” And then as they head home they are still thinking about this God who is determined to set them and everybody else into a community that will celebrate their presence and inclusion.
Celebration! That’s the God that the Pharisees were supposed to be leading the people to. And that’s the God that Jesus commissioned us to bring to the people too. Too often, in the church, we tend to show people the angry face of God – the one that is judgmental, stern and unwelcoming. Religious people are often prone to the assumption that they are found and that the non-religious are lost, and at times, that may be true, but more often than not, I’ve discovered “lostness” in myself and as I encounter different situations in my life, and as I slowly overcome the various obstacles placed in my path, I eventually run into Dora at the South Pole.
I remember the first few months after my divorce – my feelings of vengeance, fear and bitterness prevented me from even considering forgiveness and as I immersed myself into a dark hole of despair, God broke through my darkness, surrounded me with grace and forgiveness and equipped me with the confidence to carry on. Over time, I stopped identifying myself as a divorced woman, which for me was a victimizing label and focused on what I had lost. I instead embraced the title, “single mom,” which focused more on my strengths and what I had found and served to empower rather than restrict.
How I got there is a story for another day, but what I’ve learned through these journeys is that it is God’s action that saves us and not our own.
Like the lost sheep and the lost coin you and I simply cannot 'get found' all on our own.
But when we do “get found” God is there to greet us and celebrate. These stories speak vividly to God's intent always to rescue the lost. They offer a marvelous picture of heaven --- all those angels dancing in heaven when the one who was lost is found again.
In Jesus, God says to all of us, whether we are the coin that is lost, or whether we are sitting comfortably in the purse with the other ninety-nine, “You matter. I am out here with you and I believe in you. I created you from great stuff and there is nothing you can do that will affect my love for you. And what I live for is that moment when you become willing to let me change your heart and then I see that change in the way that you live your life. That’s the day that we celebrate. That’s the day that we dance!”
Therefore, when you encounter Dora at the South Pole, remember that her presence isn’t a letdown, because she got there first. She got there first because when you arrive, she wants to celebrate with you.
These stories are not told so that we can think about how people are really to blame for their lost lives. It’s not primarily a picture of us (simple sheep and inert coins) as much as it is a picture of what God is like and what God likes. And what God likes, what God seems to just love, is creating that moment of turning, of revelation. That moment when we realize that we, too, are lost. Then to you and to me, God says, “Eureka! I found you! Let’s DO this thing! Come with me! Let me show you purpose and joy! Let’s create a relationship of meaning and service! I choose to create, with your help, the possibility of faith in other people! Because when you experience that, when you taste what it is like to see faith created in someone else, you will find it hard to go back, or to keep doing this stuff that is destructive and death-dealing!” And that, my friends, is the day that the angels dance. It. is. amazing.
And so, when the Pharisees and scribes complain that Jesus welcomes sinners and even eats with them, Jesus says, “Of course I do. And so should you.” Let’s pray…
Loving God, remind us that we are here because you invite us, seek us, come to us, and embrace us. We are here because as a shepherd seeks a lost sheep, you seek us when we are lost. As a woman searches for a lost coin, you rejoice when we are found. Teach us to give thanks. Amen.