Sept 15, 2019 – Rejoice!
Since 2001, 9-11 is unfortunately, not a day we as a country associate with rejoicing and for good reason. Under the devastation and death of that day we could see little reason for rejoicing. Instead we were shocked, indignant, and angry. And now, even these 18 years later most of us still have that sense of outrage and anger well-up when we think back to that day.
And we’re still in the fight against those who would yet like to attack us and tear us down. We do not forget those who died and those who struggled against their captors. So why do I bring up the subject of rejoicing on this day? Because as we have remembered those who fell that day and continue to honor them, we also honor the words of the text of the scriptures today. We remember that we gather in the freedom we have in America to practice our religion and here, in church, we find comfort, peace, and yes, even joy in the words of the bible.
And those words do call us to the topic of rejoicing. Today’s scripture readings are what cause us to focus on rejoicing. So let me ask you…What causes you to rejoice? Name some things that spring to mind for you when I say the word ‘rejoice’? Those are good things aren’t they? They give us feelings of joy, and perhaps fun and excitement.
In the gospel lesson today that’s what Jesus is saying, ‘Rejoice with me. Rejoice with God’. And that ‘God rejoices over you!’ We do what the shepherd did over his lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin did – we go / and / seek. We bear fruit in keeping with the repentance Jesus speaks of regarding sinners. That’s so that we may spread the good news of Jesus Christ having died on the cross and risen again for our restoration to God. And when someone joins us in worship, we rejoice.
That’s where Jesus calls us to focus on; on the joy that comes from all whom Jesus calls and brings into His flock; that’s we and all those who were lost and have been found – by the love of Jesus.
Notice that this is in great contrast to the Old Testament lesson today where there is much said about how God was unhappy, ‘un’-joyful, if you will. He was un-joyful over the state of things with His lost, scattered and uncared for sheep and how He Himself will take care of them and bring about justice and salvation for them. In just those 13 verses in Ezekiel, 18 times God says, ‘I will’. It’s all about what God will do. Not the sheep.
By the way, notice that all that the sheep do is muddy the water, trample the grass and push and shove aside the weak, injured and lame. The sheep are not so good with the justice, mercy and care. That’s all in the hands of the shepherd, of God, who says what He will do. Listen to the list of things He will do, He will: search and look and rescue. He will: bring and gather and pasture the sheep. He will: tend the sheep and bind up the wounded and strengthen the weak. That is what He has promised to do.
And that is what God has accomplished, in the wounds, works and words of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. He has done the work of calling the lost and scattered. And through the innocent death of Jesus Christ on the cross and by His resurrection from the grave, God has done and accomplished all that He said He would do in the Old Testament lesson.
The Lord wants to draw all people to Himself – we know that. And He does that through His word / the bible / and through the sacraments He’s given us – baptism and communion. Through these He grants to us the sure promise of His grace and the fulfillment of the promises He made in Ezekiel. Those sacraments are His work of gathering and feeding, of caring for and binding up our wounds.
God, seeking out the lost and scattered is what we focus on here at Zion. We spend time in the Word so that we can give an accounting of the hope that is ours to anyone who asks us. We spend time building each other up here through, Sunday school, the LWML, the various groups that meet here, the Tuesday bible study, the preschool, the council and elders, and Worship on Wednesdays. All of these efforts are what we do to care for one another and to nourish each other ultimately on the word of God.
If we’re not here for the Word of God, then we’re really not ‘here.’ The Word of God is what gives us all that God has promised us – life and hope and faith through Jesus Christ. That Word is what we gather around and what we’re fed and watered by.
You’re like a water tower. If you keep opening the spigot at the bottom of the tower to give water, without filling the top of the tower with fresh water, you soon run dry. Then you can quench no one’s thirst for the love of God which you can share. We do well to take advantage of the classes and Bible studies and worship that refresh us with gospel so we, in turn, can supply that gospel in the dry and desert world around us.
Remember in the two stories Jesus told today there was much rejoicing. The rejoicing came because that which was lost had been found. That’s in keeping with the Old Testament lesson today, where God Himself said He will do all that’s necessary to seek and save the lost.
Let me close with a story of my own instance of rejoicing. Most you’ve never seen this ring. It was my father’s ring that he earned for many years of safe driving for the Frito-Lay Company. I used to wear it all the time. But then one day I lost it. In fact, when Dana I were packing-up to move from Albany Oregon where we’d been for a few years, I thought I’d find it but never did.
One day, about year or so after we’d left Albany, I got a call from the pastor I’d worked for there as his youth director. He said he found something that was mine and it turned out to be this ring. Pastor Anderson was mucking out the stalls where they kept the horses they raised. And there on the end of the pitchfork in a pile of fresh manure was this shiny object, my ring.
You see 2 years before, when they were on vacation, Dana and I looked after their horses. And that meant carrying heavy buckets of water. Well, I’d taken off my ring and put it in my jeans pocket as the bucket handles pinched my hand where the ring was. It turns out I’d missed my pants pocket and the ring apparently ended up on the stall floor where one of the horses ate it. You see it’s bent on one side and what with it having been found in the manure, and not on it, Pastor concluded that it had gone through the horse’s intestines over the 2 years.
So yes, I rejoiced to have that which I’d lost returned to me, even though it took some time for it to get through its ‘unique’ journey. I’d given it up for lost but when it was returned to me, I had such a sense of wholeness and peace and joy, which could only come from having what was missed, restored.
This ring is you and I. We’ve gone missing from God; we’ve been lost among the muck of our sin. And we know in our own hearts how dreadful or shameful is the sin we carry around, much of it silently. My terrible wrongs are nothing I want spoken aloud and it’s a safe bet you don’t want yours spoken either. Those are the things we’re most ashamed of, terrified of, and so very deeply troubled by. We feel that we should be saying, instead of Paul, that we are the chief of sinners. And yet /// Jesus has come and found us, He has called us to repent of our sin. And by His mercy we are separated from that sin and all the guilt that goes with it. And by His blood alone, Jesus has wiped away completely, all of our secret sins and wrongs and He has made us clean and whole and new, and He has restored us to God. He kept His promise in Ezekiel. He has saved us from our separation from God. As St Paul said today, Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And because of what Jesus has done to accomplish that, God rejoices over you and me. We are the sheep that God rejoices over because He has done for us what He said He would do: search and look and rescue: bring and gather and pasture: tend and bind-up and strengthen. All this He’s done for you and I through Jesus Christ; rejoice in His name, amen!
Sermon #1045 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Ezekiel 34:11-24
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
Second Reading 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Holy Gospel Luke 15:1-10
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”