United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


“Joy in Heaven”

 Sept. 11th, 2022

 Rev. Rebecca Migliore


       I will tell you up front that this a musing.  It doesn’t have delineated “points.”  It doesn’t have examples or stories.  It is my savoring such a well-known piece of Scripture, one that I have preached on for more than 30 years.  Chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel gathers three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable we have called the Prodigal Son, (although more recent scholarship has suggested it be called the Prodigal Father)—and others have suggested, in keeping with the other parables in this family of stories might rightly be called the parable of the “lost” son.

       The first two, the ones containing a sheep and a coin, are the ones we are centered on today.  At first glance, their lost-ness has seemed almost moot.  I mean, you can’t really fault a sheep for wandering away, probably looking for that choice piece of grass that is just over the hill.  You certainly can’t fault the coin for getting itself lost!  So the “lost” part of it is just a foil for what do you do when something you value becomes lost.

       And it is apparent that the sheep, although it is one of a hundred, and the coin, which is one of ten, are important to the shepherd and the woman.  We don’t come from an agricultural area, and so don’t fully comprehend what losing one of your flock might mean to your profit margins that year.  And Jesus makes sure that the coin that is lost is not something insignificant (like pennies are to us today), but a silver coin—something that would have been precious to almost anyone.

       Wouldn’t YOU search for something important?, Jesus queries those around him, particularly the scribes and Pharisees that are grumbling about his choice of tablemates and associates.


     Doesn’t the shepherd leave the 99 to go look for the 1?  Doesn’t the woman search diligently, turning the house upside down, until she finds the coin that has gone missing? 

       And don’t they rejoice when they find it?  So much so, that they invite friends and neighbors to celebrate with them!  And exalt with almost the same words, “Rejoice with me, for I have found …”

       All of us can imagine it—all of us understand the frustration/panic that sets in, the use of mind and body and anything else we can think of to search down the lost item, the relief and yes, rejoicing that comes when it is found.  I don’t know how many of us have gathered friends and neighbors when we’ve located our lost keys, or glasses, or … but certainly if a pet has been recovered, if a lost child has been located, if something of value is restored, it at least garners some media attention, if not a party.

       They are powerful images because we can all relate to the feelings, the actions, the situation.  But their relatable-ness might mask the point of the story—which is that God values us so much that God seeks us, pursues us, marching through heaven and earth to find us, and when we are found, there is joy, joy, joy.

       Joy in heaven, Jesus says.  Joy in the presence of the angels of God, Jesus says.  In other words, Joy in the highest, and Joy in the lowest, and Joy all around.  Why, Jesus insinuates, are you not participating in the joy when a sinner repents? (like those “unacceptable” people the scribes and Pharisees grumbled about at the front part of the lesson).  This point will be made ever more forcefully in the climactic third parable about a father and two sons.

       And that got me to thinking, where do we place ourselves when we imagine this reading?  Are we part of the religious establishment that has trouble with newness, with things that might not be decent and in order, with people who don’t look a certain way, or behave a certain way?

     Are we one of the lost—those tax collectors and sinners who somehow acknowledge the missing piece in their lives, and inch closer to the periphery of Jesus’s teaching, and find themselves pulled into the midst, offered food, and drink, and celebrated?  Are we the nameless, almost unseen disciples who must have been present, possibly caught in between the two camps.  I mean, they, the masses, the disciples, the ones already following Jesus, had become the “inner circle.”  They were the ones in the know.  They were the ones who had figured it out.  They were now the ones “right” with God, through this impressive preacher, and healer, and one they were now calling Messiah.

       And that is where the words of 1 Timothy inserted themselves into my musings.  “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”  Is that how we describe ourselves?  Do we think of ourselves as the foremost—the lowest of the low—as far as sinning?  I’m certain that we are not supposed to go out and try to achieve that title.  But for some reason it struck me that this was why our spiritual ancestors put a focus on both personal and corporate confession—we should never forget that we have come up short in who God has ordained us to be.  We must continue to remember that we were lost before we were found—all of us, even those of us who were baptized into the faith before we knew who it was who loved us.  We were “lost” because we didn’t know.  Or we were “lost” because we needed to explore all the options.  Or we were “lost” because we thought too highly of ourselves.  Or we were “lost” because we turned away from God. 

       In our lost-ness, we able to “walk humbly with our God.”  In our lost-ness, we feel only pity for those who need to grumble that God’s church, God’s kin-dom wouldn’t include this one, or that one, or certainly not THAT one.  In our lost-ness, we step out of the middle space, and choose a side—the side of the “lost,” the side of the least, the side of those who are ridiculed and looked down upon.


     That is where we should be when we come to our confessional time in worship.  Thinking: we are lost.  Lost like so many others.  And only by the grace of God can we say, In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, we are set free.  In other words, we are found.

       And here is where I think our spiritual ancestors, especially our direct ancestors the Puritans, made an error.  Yes, we are all lost, we have all sinned.  But that isn’t where we are supposed to stay, wallowing in our dirtiness, our unfitness, continually harping on our lost-ness.  Because we have been found.  And God has moved us from the lost column to the found column, and then God has sent out a decree that there shall be joy in heaven, joy in the presence of the angels of God, joy all around.

       That’s where the celebration of the shepherd and the woman (and eventually the father in the third parable) becomes a lesson for us as well.  Acknowledging our lost-ness is important—since it helps us recognize that none of us stands taller than another, but we need to participate in the joy of found-ness as well.  Not just our found-ness, but others’ found-ness.  And why wouldn’t we want to emulate God?  Why wouldn’t we want to do as the angels in heaven do?  And yet, I see precious little of this type of celebration in our world.  And, to be absolutely honest, I don’t know if I do enough of this type of celebration in my own life and ministry. 

       So I challenge us—all of us.

              Do we see ourselves as one of the lost? 

                     Do we know we are one of the found?

And how are we joining the great celebration, the joy in heaven, the joy in the presence of the angels of God, the joy that Jesus invites us to emulate?  “Come, friends, neighbors, even strangers, Rejoice with me…”  So let us come to God’s table.  Let us rejoice and be glad in the celebration.  And let us leave this place to bring God’s joy, joy, joy to the world.      Alleluia, Amen.