Saturday, September 15, 2007

PARTY TIME!

Luke 15:1-10

There’s the "in crowd" and the "not-so-in crowd." Everybody wants to be part of the in-crowd, but it’s often difficult to crack that circle. In the wonderful new movie Hairspray, which stars John Travolta as Edna Turnblad, the obese mother to an overweight but determined daughter named Tracy, we see one person’s determination to break down those walls.

Tracy Turnblad has a dream and nothing will stand in her way. That dream is to dance on the Corny Collins Show – a kind of local American Bandstand. She’s a good dancer, but because she doesn’t fit the image of a dancer, she finds it difficult to break in. Only a slip of fate lets her inside, but still her detractors are merciless. Fortunately her determination and spunk make her a hit and she breaks down the walls for others.
There is much to appreciate about this movie, which calls into question our stereotypes and our prejudices, but one of the most important points of this movie is that everyone has value. Edna, Tracy, her somewhat oblivious father Wilbur, and her friend, Seaweed, a young African American dancer, are just as valuable as Velma Von Tussle, a former Miss Baltimore and the station manager, and her daughter Amber. Societal rules may exclude, but in this version of the story, no one is left behind!
1. No One’s Left Behind.

It’s no fun being left behind or left standing on the outside looking in. This is especially true when you have a stigma attached, a stigma or stain you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try. It’s like a scarlet letter that marks you as undesirable.

Jesus knew what it meant to be an outsider. He was a Galilean and he was fatherless. He was poor and he hung around with the wrong crowd. The better sort of folk didn’t appreciate his work with the other undesirables, because who you hang around with is indicative of your character. If you spend your time with the riffraff, then you must be riffraff yourself. Image, as we know, means everything.

Jesus, of course understands the world differently. Like Tracy he wasn’t afraid to identify with the lost and the ostracized, because he was committed to bringing them back inside the circle. And to do that meant leaving the circle and going where the lost sheep had gone. In fact, Jesus was willing to leave the 99 behind to find the one that was lost. And if someone was misplaced, like the woman’s coin, he would do whatever necessary to find them.
The message of Jesus and the message of Paul is one of reconciliation – of bringing people together with God and with one another. Jesus believed in second chances and third chances and . . . . Well you know!
The religious establishment didn’t appreciate Jesus’ ministry and they let him know about it. They grumbled about his work with sinners and tax collectors – the ones they had decided weren’t worth reclaiming.

In the course of three parables, two of which we’ve heard this morning, and the other one we should all know well because it’s the parable of the Prodigal, Jesus celebrates God’s dedication to bringing everyone into relationship, leaving no one behind.
One parable concerns a lamb that wanders off and the shepherd that risks everything to find that one lamb. The other parable describes a woman who has ten coins, but loses one coin. That one coin is so valuable to her that she frantically searches for it, turning the house upside-down to find it. It’s just a coin, but to her it’s invaluable.
Each of these parables – even the parable of the prodigal – ends with a party to celebrate the return of that which was lost. Indeed, in the parable of the coin, the woman is so excited about finding it that she spends most of the other coins to throw a party.

2. The Seeking God
I don’t know about you, but I find these two parables a bit odd and a great deal enlightening. For instance, why would you risk the 99 to find one lost sheep? You could easily lose a lot more. And, why would you get in a tizzy about one little coin and then spend much more than what was lost to throw a party? Just what is Jesus getting at?

I think Jesus is talking about God’s identity. In each of these two stories, God is the actor behind the parable. God is the shepherd who risks the 99 because God won’t leave anyone behind. God is the woman who isn’t concerned about her dignity as she frantically looks for the coin and then throws a party when she finds it.
I want you to stop and think for a moment about how you picture God’s nature and character. There may be only one God, but there are many different views and pictures of God, even among Christians. Some of these views of God are represented by the religious leaders in this story.

There are those Christians who focus on who is in and who is not, and often God is seen choosing who gets in and who gets left out. The kingdom of God, for them, is an exclusive club. For others, God is a tribal God, a God of nation and race, who blesses some and curses others. If you think that you’re among the chosen, you can take comfort in your blessings. And if you’re not chosen – well that’s just too bad – you get a nice reservation for a hot spot in hell. Very often this God is described in terms of judgment and wrath, a God who guards his honor very closely, and who might even enjoy inflicting pain.

I don’t think that’s the God who is revealed in and by Jesus. I’m pretty sure that’s not the God pictured in these parables, because if I understand these parables and take them seriously, it looks as if God will do everything necessary to find us and bring us home. The God I see revealed in these parables takes risks and isn’t worried about his honor. This is a God who pursues us and engages us with grace and love. The God who is incarnate in Jesus, is a God who will not be satisfied in leaving anyone behind.

3. The Partying God
There’s one more thing we need to remember – this God we worship likes to party. God likes to party whenever anyone is restored to fellowship. God doesn’t just attend the party, God is the host of the party. Cost is of no account!

This means that whenever we come together as God’s people, we come to a party. We come to celebrate God’s presence among us and God’s desire to be in fellowship with us. And you can’t crash the party, because everyone is invited to attend. In just a few minutes we will gather at the Table of the Lord. We will celebrate the feast of God’s presence in Jesus. Yes, we’ll remember that Jesus died on a cross, but we’ll also anticipate the grand feast that awaits us when the kingdom comes in its fulness.
So, let’s dance!!
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2007

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