September 11, 2022
Several years ago when my grandma on my mom’s side was still around, she had a medical scare that sent her to the hospital. Now, one thing that’s true of my mom’s entire family is that when someone ends up the hospital, the whole extended family somehow finds its way into the waiting room for them. In this hospital waiting room, there were my grandma’s family, and my pawpaw’s side of the family. And the difference in how these two families acted was really something to see. My pawpaw's side were loud and boisterous and joking about things, swapping stories; and meanwhile my grandma's side were trying to one-up each other on who had the worst medical condition—while my grandma was in the hospital, mind you.
Complaints, for some people and in some situations, come very easily. It might be that the anonymous nature of a survey really brings out the griper in all of us. Or maybe we see no purpose for the customer service line except to complain about a product not working the way we want it to. If we took the time to think about it, how often do we find ourselves complaining about political leaders, the weather being too hot or too cold, “kids these days,” or the price of cheese in the grocery store? I’ll admit, I’m very guilty of being quick to complain, even if no one is going to listen.
So in today’s gospel reading we should be pretty familiar with the way that the Pharisees and the scribes are quick to complain about Jesus. After all his amazing work, his gracious lessons, his descriptions of how the kingdom of God was arriving in their midst, they found something to complain about. He spends time with the wrong people! A holy man should spend time with holy people, keeping company with the best sort to keep up that polished image, and lying with dogs will only get you fleas. Jesus was a great rabbi, sure, but in the face of all that the Pharisees and scribes needed to find something to nitpick.
Well, it is curious then how Jesus found himself surrounded by tax collectors and sinners when this passage comes right after what Jesus said last week—“you must give up everything if you want to be my disciple.” Clearly something he was saying was resonating with these “wrong sorts.” But just to drive the point home, Jesus gave the Pharisees and scribes some parables to digest. Parables we all know. A shepherd, noticing that one of his sheep was missing, left the 99 to find the one that was lost, and didn’t return until he had it. A woman with ten drachmas burned precious oil and cleaned out her whole house to find one missing coin rather than waiting to search later. It’s not included in the reading this morning, but the capstone parable of this lesson is the parable of the prodigal son—the indulgent father who doesn’t hesitate to welcome his deadbeat son home again. Over and over the parables that Jesus tells them repeats the theme that the lost will be found, and the ones who end up on the outside are the ones who will receive the biggest welcome back.
And even more, the common thread through each of these parables is not just the lost being found, but how they end. Each and every one ends with the character in the parable instructing those around them to rejoice with them! “Rejoice with me! For the sheep that was lost has been found” “Rejoice with me! For the coin that was lost has been found” “Rejoice with me! For my son, who was dead, is alive!” Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. When the Pharisees and the scribes want to gripe and complain about how grace is being extended in the wrong way, to the wrong people, Jesus reminds them that rejoicing happens when the lost are found—no matter who they are or how they are returned.
Jesus invites us to see joy in the world. It’s not that there’s nothing to complain about, but what if our first reflex was to rejoice at all the good instead of complain and pick at the bad? Where have things gone right? What is worth rejoicing about? How has the kingdom shown up, even imperfectly, to make the world a better place for you and those around you? How has forgiveness freed you? How has mercy and reconciliation healed you? How has the kingdom work for justice shown its fruits? What can we rejoice about together?
Because today, we are rejoicing. We’re rejoicing as we give thanks for all those who serve others. We rejoice for the people who serve as EMTs and respond to medical emergencies. We rejoice for the people who serve as police officers who protect our community. We rejoice for the people who deliver our mail, and put out fires, who get our kids to school and ensure we are healthy. The fact that there are people willing to serve others in these ways, even with all the barriers thrown up by complaints and griping and nitpicking about how it ought to be done or how their service should look different—we rejoice first, that these people serve their communities.
And as we rejoice in them, so we rejoice in all that God does for us. Let’s rejoice first when the lost are found. Let’s rejoice first when a strange but hopeful new ministry is introduced. Let’s rejoice first when we learn something new about our neighbors that will lead us to love them more deeply. Let’s rejoice first, because there is rejoicing in heaven. There is rejoicing among the angels. There is rejoicing because there is goodness, and goodness ought to be celebrated, and lifted up, and given a torch to shine across the whole world.
So, people of God, what do you want to rejoice about today?
Thanks be to God. Amen.