“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4, NIV)
One of my favorite neckties was a gift to me not long ago. Some of you may have seen it at church. It is a bright red background with the pictures of many white sheep scattered over it. In the middle of the tie there is a single black sheep. These words are printed near the bottom of the tie: “He left the ninety-nine to come find me.” Maybe now you can understand why this is my favorite necktie. Surely, the black sheep on the tie is me and God took the time to leave the ninety-nine to come get me. Thank you, Lord!
As I am writing this article we are in the middle of our sermon series: “Celebrate!” The idea for this series is taken from our junior and senior high school district camp curriculum from this summer. It was my honor to serve as a small group leader for the senior high camp. During my time there I had the privilege of hearing a dear friend of mine preach every day for a week. Rev. Barry Bennett, Associate Pastor of Victory Memorial UMC in Guymon, brought wonderful messages to the campers and to the adult volunteers. Barry’s enthusiasm and insight inspired me to bring this theme to our church. “Celebrate!” is truly a word we need to use more often. God has invited all of us to a big party and we have much to celebrate as we seek to respond to this invitation as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
It is important for us to recognize that God’s invitation is really to a party, a huge eternal party where everyone is invited to come and celebrate God’s great love, forgiveness, healing, and grace. All anyone needs to do is accept the invitation and come to the party. During this series we have encountered parables about banquets where people were invited and didn’t bother to show up; parties where people tried to take the best seats in the house; lunches where the host was cautioned not to invite those who could reciprocate. We’ve looked at the salvation stories that start in the Old Testament and follow God’s people through to the coming of Christ; we’ve seen how God is at work throughout history and how God uses the most unlikely people to carry the salvation news to the world. We re-visited the familiar story of The Prodigal Son and recognized ourselves in the story as we celebrated God’s extraordinary reception of those who turn to God for forgiveness and grace. We took some time to celebrate the fellowship of our own congregation with a time of worship and singing, followed with a delicious lunch. (By the way, I still maintain that food consumed in church is low-cal!) Still to come in our celebration is a reminder of how Holy Communion brings us face-to-face with the Living God every time we celebrate it and then we will see the final victory that Jesus Christ won over sin and death; a victory that he shares with each one of us. That is some great stuff to celebrate! Don’t you agree?
Sometimes I think we are way too solemn about coming to church. Yes, we need to come with a certain level of reverence for the One True God; that does not mean we cannot also come with smiles and glad hearts that celebrate all God has done for each one of us personally. When we gather we should gather to share the love of Christ with one another. When we sing we should hold our heads high, smile, and sing with gusto. God is not interested in hearing only the best singers; God wants to hear all the people raise their voices in a joyful noise unto the Lord. Don’t be afraid to clap your hands, shout amen, or raise your hands in praise. Expect the presence of God to be enjoyable. Our sanctuary is a beautiful and holy space; so is the Kingdom of Heaven. I dare say that the residents of heaven are not quiet about their celebration of the glory of God’s presence; I believe they sing loud Hosannas and Glorias. I think the angels dance, sing, and play harps and lyres. The Bible talks a lot about joy; we need more joy in our lives and in our worship. Celebrate all that God has done, all that God has given, and all that God will do. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…Amen! Hallelujah!