Part of the cel­e­bra­tion

The Covington News - - Religion - JONATHAN SCHARF COLUM­NIST 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 abid­ing­

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!

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