God’s Abiding Joy

Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

We live in a time of great grumbling. It was an observation I heard this week, specifically about the state of politics in the United States, but it stuck with me. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized the truth of it. And not just in American politics, but in our society writ large, even right here in Canada. We live in an era of grumbling hearts.

After all, we have collectively lived through a global pandemic these past two years. Aside from the initial bout of shock and fear that such a thing could happen in our modern world, it has been a time marked by lots of grumbling. Grumbling that initial restrictions were too much, and grumbling that we weren’t being cautious enough when those restrictions were lifted. We grumbled when asked to wear masks and at those who couldn’t seem to figure out how to wear a mask properly. When at last we had a vaccine, it unleashed new rounds of rancor at those who refused the shot, as well as at the vaccination requirements for gathering in public spaces and for travel. We all witnessed how far our grumbling can drive us as truckers blockaded our capital and caravans clogged our city and border crossings.

Perhaps there was no better example than this grumbling state of our hearts than when we received the news on Thursday of Queen Elizabeth’s death. Within hours of the news breaking across the world, grumbling could be heard between the monarchists and the republicans. Competing emotions swirled around within our communities, perhaps even within our own selves, mourning the death of a beloved figurehead, feeling anger towards the legacy of empire, and weighing the value of this particular tradition in a profoundly changing world. All one needs to do to witness this grumbling first hand is listen to the radio or log in to social media.

After hearing the news, Matt and I checked in with one another and compared notes as we prepared to write pastoral letters to our respective communities. We knew it would be a thin line to walk, acknowledging the grief of the moment as well as the sentiments of those dedicated to the monarchy and the sentiments of those who would just as soon as see it disbanded. To do it as foreigners, and even worse, as Americans, with all the baggage that entails—well let’s just say there were very few ways it could go right and a great many ways it could go wrong. Sure enough, Matt woke up yesterday morning to a grumbling email, taking umbrage with a particular choice of words in the pastoral letter.

If you still doubt that we live in a time of great grumbling, then consider that we even have a saying for it: no good deed goes unpunished.

We are quick to critique, quick to find fault, quick to tear down and criticize. We delight in judging those who try to do good, proclaiming ways that it should have been done better, more authentically, and with greater justice.

A few months ago, I was here at the church during the week. A stranger came in and demanded to know what we were doing for reconciliation. So, I spoke of the workshops and study groups we have offered, of the programs with Indigenous artists and herbalists, and finally, pointing to the hangings that adorn our walls, I spoke of the work of reconciliation engaged through the Feather Dance project. I was then promptly informed of all the ways what we were doing was terrible, insufficient, and generally not enough. With that, the conversation promptly ended, leaving me to ponder such a peculiar interaction with a stranger.

No good deed goes unpunished indeed. If I’m being honest, I know my own heart grumbles within me. But here’s the kicker, my friends, it grumbles at me. Just as we are quick to judge and criticize the world, our grumbling hearts also turn inward. I don’t know about you, but I am my own best critic. I am all too aware of the ways I can do better, the ways I should do more. My own grumbling heart is quick to point out my failings for not accomplishing enough. Perhaps you know of which I speak.

On Friday evening, Matt and I were walking the dog around the neighbourhood and talking about our respective days. I was reflecting on the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary of starting at St. Faith’s. I questioned whether I had accomplished enough in those two years, whether I was doing enough, feeling frustrated at my progress on some of my own goals, and was generally just a bit down in the mouth. Responding like the good husband that he is, Matt said that he was sorry that it sounded like I had a rough day.

I stopped in my tracks, surprised. Why no, it had been quite a lovely day, I assured him. But I realized right then and there that my own grumbling heart snuck up on me and betrayed me.

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The religious leaders watched as Jesus met and ate with sinners and tax collectors. Their hearts grumbled within them and their mouths grumbled around them, for Jesus was spending entirely too much time with the wrong sorts of people. And Jesus was spending entirely too little time with the right sorts of people, namely them. And because he refused to show them the deeds of power that they demanded of him. And because he kept performing miracles and healings in the wrong ways, on the wrong days, and for the wrong people.

Jesus heard the grumbling of their lips, and he heard the grumbling of their hearts. So, he told them of lost sheep and misplaced coins. And he told them of intrepid shepherds and dedicated women. And then he pressed them why God would risk everything for the repentance of even a single sinner. It’s not because God needs it—there is no divine quote for the number of sinners that have repented. God isn’t trying to make the quarterly numbers or prove detractors wrong. No, it is because God takes joy in it. It is because God takes deep, abiding joy in the repentance of even a single sinner that God would risk it all.

This should not be a surprise to us. The God who created the great monsters of the deep for no other reason than the joy of it, finds profound joy in the acts of creation and restoration. It brings God joy to heal the wounded. It is God’s abiding joy to make whole what is broken. It is God’s great joy to find what was lost, to free what had been bound, and to break open our grumbling hearts of stone.

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Please do not leave here this morning thinking that my message is that in the face of our grumbling hearts, we simply need to offer people the benefit of the doubt. No, it is not that at all. Rather, in the face of our grumbling hearts my friends, choose joy.

Our grumbling hearts dull our senses and wits to God’s joy shining through the world all around us. God’s divine music of the spheres, the rhythmic heartbeat of creation itself is playing before us, and we’re busy fussing with the sound system. God sets a banquet before us, a sumptuous feast from which no one can ever leave hungry, but we are checking the ingredients labels.

Our grumbling hearts hide God’s abiding joy from our sight behind a smoky and hazy fog. Our grumbling hearts drown out the sound of divine joy with a bland and uninspired roar. Until one day we realize that we can no longer hear the sound of the shepherd’s voice. Until one day we realize that we no longer see the light of the woman’s lamp shining upon us. And we realize that we are lost. And we long to be found.

Do not listen to your grumbling hearts anymore my friends. God loves you just as you are, you are enough just as you are. God delighted in your creation and wants nothing more than for you to share in that delight. Silence your grumbling hearts. Choose joy. Let yourself be found. God is seeking you out and takes more joy in finding you than you can possibly imagine. And God wants you to know the deep, abiding joy of being found.

Preached by Adam Yates

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