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Together for Joy

When I was a little girl, my best friend’s dad went on a hunting trip to Minnesota. I’m sketchy on the details because as I said, I was just a kid, but I remember that it was in the winter and there was snow on the ground. My parents got a call- the church phone tree had been alerted. While hunting, Eddie had gotten separated from the rest of the group. As the sun set on the cold night, the police and civil patrol and his family were alerted. Eddie was lost in the snowy wilderness. Everyone was asked to pray fervently that they would find him safe and alive. Of course, this was long before cell phones and satellite gear were the norm. The only way to find him would be to search.

Search parties trekked and scanned for him through the night, and sometime the next morning, he was found. He was dangerously cold, hungry, and tired of course. No doubt he had been scared, and of course his family and friends had been too. But Eddie was found! I can remember the palpable joy and relief when my parents got the call. Eddie has been found. He’s okay. He’ll be home in a couple of days.

There’s a special kind of fear and pain when something, someone is lost. Anyone who has ever lost their child can relate. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Being lost is no less scary or painful. So, when Jesus tells these parables about lost things here in Luke 15, most of us can relate in some ways. We have known the pain of someone being lost to us and of being lost ourselves.

The first of the “lost things” parables is the familiar story of the lost sheep. One sheep is lost; 99 are safely within the fold. But the shepherd leaves them all behind in pursuit of the one who is missing. The missing one is worth finding, saving, restoring. And there is tremendous joy when once again all 100 sheep are back together, reunited.

The second of the “lost things” is the woman’s coin. A coin which was likely worn around her neck and would have been necessary for her financial security. She turns her house upside down looking for it. She searches high and low. And when she finds it, she invites her friends and neighbors to join her in rejoicing, for there is tremendous joy in finding what was once lost.

The third lost thing is actually a person and not a thing. We did not read the words of the familiar “Prodigal Son” story, but you have likely heard it before. A young man asks his father for his inheritance, and upon receiving it, he goes and spends it all and ends up in the lowest of low situations. And there at rock bottom he decides to go home. And “while he was still far off” his father, who had never stopped looking for him, runs to him, clothes him once more in the items that signify he is his father’s son, and plans a great big party. Once more, there is an invitation to celebrate and rejoice, because what was lost is now found, what was once torn apart has been brought back together.

Joy, joy, joy. Each of these stories is about finding, seeking, waiting, being ready, and when things that were lost become found, there is tremendous joy.

Of course, anyone who has ever experienced the pain of loneliness or estrangement can talk to you about the joy of being reunited. There is joy in the community. Finding your people, returning to the people who love you and who create a space for you- that is where human flourishing begins. Sociologists and anthropologists will tell you humans were created to live in community. We need one another. We need to be cared for and to extend care to others. We need the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of a community. When it is lost, it is devastating. And when it is found, there is great joy. The church exists to worship God, to serve all the world, and to be a community that does life together. We exist for the sake of joy- God’s, our neighbor’s, and our own. We exist to be together for joy.

Of course, on this day when we remember All Saints Day and we think about the people who spoke truth and love into our lives, the idea of being reunited hits a little differently. It’s less like a son who went off in resentment and more like a coin that seems to have slipped away from our sight. Finding those who have become lost to us because of their deaths is not going to happen in this lifetime. And yet, we read with great hope and joy that there will come a day that “God will dwell [among mortals]; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” God will make all things new. And we will be found in that great cloud of witnesses. We will be part of the communion of the saints. And imagine the joy when God does make all things new, and all that has lost will be found, and we will all be together for joy once again. There is joy in knowing that we will be together with God.

A few months ago, I thought Ashe, my 6-year-old was lost, in our house. I realize how nuts that sounds. But I searched high and low. I was running up and down the stairs looking all over, I’d even recruited Zada to help. I was starting to cry, convinced that something had gone very, very wrong when I realized he was safely playing in my husband’s office while he worked. The relief and the joy of finding him was overwhelming. There is joy in salvation.

And that, Jesus says is how it is in heaven when someone who has been lost is once again found. The story of salvation is a story of joy. Ours, God’s, our communities. Salvation is the source of joy. We are brought back to one another, brought back into wholeness, peace, joy, love. We are found. Together for joy.

You may remember that on March 11, 2011 a terrible tsunami swept through the northern parts of Japan. Most people had fewer than 10 minutes to seek higher ground as waves up to 133 feet crashed into their towns. Nearly 20,000 people were killed, thousands more injured, and more than 2,500 were never found. Shortly after that event, I came across a news story that has stayed with me for the twelve years since then. A 9-year-old boy, Toshihito Aisawa, was ripped from his family during the tsunami. He was knocked out in the water, but reawakened and was found. In time he was reunited with his cousin, but his mother, father, and grandmother were nowhere to be found. And day after day after the tsunami, this 9-year-old would walk around the area where he expected he might find his family, holding a handwritten sign. On his sign, Toshihito wrote the names of his missing family members, and the words “I will come at 11 o’clock tomorrow, so please wait. I will come again tomorrow.”

You see, Toshihito wouldn’t give up on looking for his family. He wanted everyone to know that he would never stop hoping and looking for them. With the courage and conviction too often only found in children, Toshitito was never going to stop searching.

And the story of God is this: God never stops searching. God is the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, the woman who ransacks her house for the lost coin, the father who patiently awaits his child. God is the one who looks for you, me, us, even now. Grace is this: God never stops looking for us, bringing us back home, restoring us to who we were created to be, bringing us back together for joy. It is a story that shows up in small simple ways and a story that transcends time and place. It is the story of us being together in this moment and the story of us one day finally understanding the communion of the saints. God has brought us together for joy. Amen.

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