Everybody loves a party, right? I write this article a few days after being on a college campus on game day, about an hour before kickoff. And as I walked, people were mingling and mixing, drinking and dancing, eating, smiling and just having a good time. One guy took it upon himself to run from party to party and start shouting team cheers - and people were happy to join in. It was a celebration.
That's probably the biggest reason people pay such big bucks for tickets to games. They want to be part of the party, where all the people are celebrating something important to them, their team.
In Luke 15, Jesus shows us the celebration going on in heaven and in God's heart. In the parables, both the shepherd who finds his lost sheep and the woman who finds her lost coin call together friends and neighbors and celebrate.
Then Jesus blows our minds when he says that that's how God feels about us. God rejoices over us. You know it is not because we are so valuable, but because he loves us that much. God was willing to give up his son, to lay down his life for us as a prize. He gave up everything, suffered everything, used every tool and every ounce of effort. Imagine his celebration when he gets us.
I know it is mind boggling to think that God cares that much about me, about you...but he does. Let that boggle your mind, and realize what kind of celebration is going on at God's throne when he hears you confess your faith, when he sees you come to his house to worship him.
Paint that picture in your mind - God giving his friends high-fives about you. And now, realize that God wants to find those others he has placed that same value on. And you are the one he wants to invite to the party to celebrate it. So you are the one he wants to use to go seek that lost sheep. And your church is a tool God wants to use to bring his sheep back. Our worship is to be the celebration we're inviting that sheep to.
So what does that say about how you'll speak in worship? Are you going to recite the prayers and creeds and responses just going through the motions? Will you let God's house look like you're not really all that interested in giving a good impression to the "lost" you're inviting? Not a chance! There's no way we'll leave a weed in the yard, some trash sitting on the ground, tables and chairs out of place - if we realize that our church, this gathering, is really one of the tools we're using to seek the lost.
Now, of course, if this were just a place for the 99 to gather and serve ourselves, fine, we could put up with some things out of place, we could let it look like we've settled. But when our passion is for those we don't know yet - it will show. We will be rolling out the red carpet to welcome them and removing any possible obstacle that keeps them away, even if that's just us looking like we don't care.
And the same goes for our lives when we're not at church. Love speaks. It is so passionate that it won't take "no" for an answer. It is so passionate, it so wants that celebration that all the obstacles to that speech are quickly knocked out of the way. Love speaks, even to those who have no apparent value, in fact, especially to those who have no apparent value.
Sure, sometimes it takes a while to find, but I celebrate the fact that you keep trying, that your love is passionate. I think of those of you that are reaching out to those in prison through various pen pal programs and prison ministries. I think of you that are sharing Jesus' love with your family members who have fallen away. And I can't help but think of all the guests so many of God's people have invited to join them in worship. And I celebrate.
Then, I think of my parents, who loved me when I brought nothing to the table - when I was totally dependent on them for everything. They loved me so much that they brought me to God's house and gave me the gift of baptism, and throughout my life, their love was so passionate that they spoke to me about my Savior and made sure I was constantly listening. Are you willing to love your children like that? Are you willing to love your neighbors, your coworkers, your enemies like that?
I know you are. That's what love does. It speaks passionately, and then it has every reason to celebrate. Let's party!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.