Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Joy of Salvation

 Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."  

And He told them this parable, saying, "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'  I tell you that in the same way, 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, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!'  In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Sermon for 3rd Sunday After Trinity                                06/16/24

The Joy of Salvation

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Most of my life I have heard about the joy of salvation.  Of course, it is only natural since I sang about it almost every Sunday in the words of the offertory, drawn from Psalm 51.  I remember the popular slogans of my youth, "J is for Jesus, J is for Joy!"  There was a great emphasis on the joy the Christian life.  It was the first real challenge to my life in faith because, frankly, I didn't feel all that much joy.  I still don't.

Some people do, or at least they seem to.  They smile a lot and talk about the joy of the Christian life.  I used to feel cheated, when I heard about all that joy and felt so little of it.

  Then I read.  I read the Bible.  I read Luther.  I read the Confessions, and slowly it all began to make sense to me.  Our life in Christ is not about joy right now - not the "tickles your fancy and makes you want to dance a jig" kind of joy.  Our life in Christ is promised to be a life of suffering like Christ, of the hatred of the world, and of our being faithful in all circumstances, good or difficult.

Jesus talks in our text about joy over salvation.  He tells the parable of the Sheep that was lost and found, and the Coin that was lost and found.  It is a lesson about salvation and tells us about that joy.  Our theme, this morning, is the joy of salvation.

Before I go any farther, I want to be clear on this "feeling the joy" thing.  I have felt some joy, pure joy in my life over the faith..  For me, it is not a continuous experience.  It is not even a frequent thing.  Some people seem to have this on-going sense of wonder and joy of which they are conscious.  I want to do nothing to diminish that.  I don't want to be understood as discouraging it or judging it in any way negatively.  If you feel excitement and joy about your salvation, go with it and have a good time.  There is nothing even remotely wrong with feeling it.

According to all that I have been able to learn, however, most people don't have an ongoing sense of joy in faith.  There is often peace, comfort in times of distress and fear, and a pleasant hope for blessings and life beyond death - but not too many people report joy as their constant companion in faith.  But some people tell us that we are supposed to feel it, and they (and others, at times) make many people think that they should be feeling it, and cause many people to wonder what they are lacking, and where they are deficient in faith because they don't have this constant awareness of joy.

One of the messages I want to deliver this morning is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with those who do not have that sense of joy.  The Bible does not promise it or command it, and Jesus tells us that we will have sorrow, suffering, and pain as our part in the Christian life.  What can be so very dangerous here is the expectation of that joy, the idea that we should be feeling it and if we are not, something is missing and we need to go out and find (or generate) those feelings.  If mean, if you got ‘em, enjoy ‘em, but don't depend on them, and don't expect them, or make them the measure of true faith.  That expectation will betray you.  

The joy we will often possess is the quiet joy of the confidence that death is not the end, that we will see our loved ones, who also believed, again, and that our troubles are not outside of God's control or awareness, but we have a loving Father who will care for us, and that when the worst happens in this world, we have eternal life and peace and joy to look forward to, awaiting us at the end.  Not Yahoo! joy, but Ahhhhhh! joy.

The other message this Gospel lesson speaks of is the joy of salvation which has nothing to do with how we feel, but is the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.  The joy spoken of in our Gospel is the joy of God, and those who are His heavenly host, over the rescue of the individual sinner.

You might ask yourself at times, "How could God send His only-begotten Son to become one of us, to suffer and die in such an awful way?"  Yet, He did it for us, and, yes, He did it for our salvation.  The cross is the sign of the love of God for us and of the payment Christ made for sins we have committed that we might be forgiven.  But how could anyone do such a huge and horrific thing?  This text begins to open the door to understanding, when we see the joy which God has over each and every one who repents.

We can understand the nature and the depth of that joy by thinking about the parable.  Imagine being a shepherd.  The sheep were not merely the job of the shepherd - not if he was a good shepherd.  They were his passion.  Sheep can be pets, as you get to know them, and they get to know you, and they are a form of wealth.  Sheep provided milk, and therefore cheese, and wool for clothing, and the very occasional meal of meat.  The more sheep you had, the richer man you were.  The man in the parable had one hundred sheep, and one of them was lost - a significant portion of his wealth and future earnings potential.  

When Jesus asked, "What man among you . . . ?", He indicated that this was not an unusual thing to do - probably not an unusual occurrence among shepherds.  He expected them to understand and maybe even feel the urgency of the search and the joy of finding the lost sheep.  We have each misplaced things of value and searched for them, and we know the relief and delight in finding them at last.  That delight and joy is the response of all of heaven over every single sinner who repents.  It is heaven's response because it is the joy of the Lord.

Generally, shepherds were men.  Jesus told the next parable to make the point clear even to a woman.  A woman would often be in charge of the family resources around the home.  A woman without a man, in that society, would be absolutely without a provider, so her resources would be far more important to preserve.  The value of the coin is not particularly important, but it was one tenth of what she had.  Losing it, she sweeps and cleans and does not cease to search until the coin is found, and when she recovers it, it is a cause of joy and relief and celebration.  That is what the joy of your salvation is, for God in heaven.

"God loved the world in this way", says John in chapter 3, verse 16 of his Gospel, "He gave His only-begotten Son that anyone that believes in His should not perish, but have life everlasting."  And having loved us with such a love, He delights and rejoices, as does all of heaven, when His love bears such fruit that any man or any woman repents and believes, and fulfills the goal and purpose of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Scholars debate whether the parables should be called the Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, or the Parable of the Found Sheep and the Found Coin.  It really doesn't make any difference.  It is the explanation of Jesus for His taking the time to sit and fellowship with the sinners, the really unsavory people of His day.  It is the explanation of the great love of God for us that each of us, insignificant and weak and sinful as we are, bring such joy to all of heaven when we hear the Gospel, turn from our sins, and call upon God for grace and forgiveness.

We are the weak and unsavory, over whom there is joy in heaven.  Each one of us was brought – one at a time – each in our own order and way – into the presence of God with joy.  The joy of salvation will one day be shared with us in a fullness we cannot comprehend right now, but today, we have reality of life here and now.  We have aches and pains.  We have sicknesses and troubles.  We have people telling us ‘it doesn't matter', that ‘we are too picky about truth', that ‘there is no difference between the various religions because we all want to go to heaven, and we all believe in God in some way, and it is just a matter of insignificant particulars of doctrine'.  Besides, who knows which of us is right?

These are the tribulations and persecutions that we face today.  It could be better.  And it could be worse.  Our calling is not ‘to know all the answers to every question someone can dream up'.  We are not commanded to win every battle, or even understand why it is worth fighting for.  Our call is to trust God, to take Him at His Word, and to be faithful.  We are to confess the truth we have been taught to believe, and know that when we do, and stand faithfully in His grace, God will do what needs to be done so that the joy of heaven will increase as one by one, as sinners repent and find peace and forgiveness and life everlasting in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Don't look for the giddy ‘joy of salvation' that we hear much about in our society.  If you have it, enjoy it, but don't depend on it.  Depend on Jesus, and trust the Word of God even when life doesn't feel so good, and we are not having such a fun time.  No one said it was going to be easy, or that we would enjoy the ride.  God has only promised that He would make the journey down that narrow and difficult road that leads to salvation with us, and that when we arrive at our destination, we will find that it was well worth it to have remained faithful.

Jesus explained in our Gospel His willingness to spend time with sinners by telling His critics of the joy of God over each one that repented.  He has that same joy over each one of us.  As we confess the faith day by day, we search with Jesus for the lost, and, God willing, now and then we are the tools of causing even more of God's great joy in saving us, poor miserable sinners.

To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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