Parties in Heaven
It would not have been an unusual scene among the shepherds of first century Palestine. A shepherd has 100 sheep, but then one wanders off and islets. And the shepherds leaves the 99 sheep in the open field to go search for the one that was lost, and then when we found the one, he would rejoice. It was a big deal. In fact, when the shepherd came home he’d call over his friends and family to rejoice with him. He lost his sheep but then he found it! And so he was glad!
Jesus tells this story in Luke 15, and then says in verse 7:
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
And so here we are into our fourth year as a church, by God’s grace. We’re still here; we’re still a church. And one of the things that can naturally happen around this time, especially for those of us who have been here a while, is that we can begin to crystallize this image in our minds of how we wished our church looked. Bonhoeffer calls this the wish-dream. It’s an image of your local church that is most ideal and that would make us most happy. We’re aware of areas that we wished were different, whether it’s more of this or less of that — we all could draw up some up some ideal in our mind, and if it were reality, we’d be very happy with it. It would give us joy.
But would it cause joy in heaven?
There’s no doubt that we have good and holy things we want for our church, and they are things that God would delight in. But the parties in heaven are over sinners who repent.
According to what Jesus says three different times in Luke Chapter 15, the heavenly celebrations happen when people believe the gospel. And so my exhortation to us this morning is that: whatever you wish were true about our church, above it all, wish that God would throw more parties in heaven.
Prayer of Confession
Father in heaven, we confess that we have a value problem. We esteem and applaud the things that serve our needs more than the things that glorify your name. We would rather have our questions answered, and our backs scratched, and our preferences made common than search for a lost sheep. We love our 99, Father, and you know it. You see it. You know that in our flesh we’d rather have our comfort on earth than you have your parties in heaven. And this morning, we confess this sin, and we ask for your mercy. This a great sin, Father, our self-centeredness, our stingyness. Too often we are like the servant who is forgiven his incredible debt but then wants everyone else to pay for theirs. Have mercy on us in this moment, and bring our sins to our minds, even as we confess them to you in silence.
Now, Father, make your light to overcome our darkness. Make the sun of your mercy overcome the clouds of our shame. Because now, after we have acknowledged our sins, we remember the good news of Jesus. We remember the truth of who we are. We are not dead, but alive; we are not lost, but found; we are not your enemies, we are your sons and daughters — all because Jesus lived and died for us in our place, and because he is raised from dead, reigning for us now and coming for us soon. In his name we pray, amen.