The Joy of (Re)Connecting

Luke 15:1-10

So this one time, some Pharisees and religion teachers were getting all cranky because Jesus was having way too much fun with the wrong crowd.  Tax collectors and known sinners—you know, those people who color outside the lines where the religious boundaries are concerned—these kinds of people kept coming to listen to him and he didn’t shoo them away or disrespect them or anything. On the contrary, he would welcome them and invite them to join the discussion!  Sometimes he would even break bread with them.  Basically, he treated them like they were all old friends at a reunion.

This didn’t sit well with the holier-than-thou guardians of propriety.  They didn’t think associating with “those people” was appropriate for a well-known rabbi, especially one with such a growing following.  They thought he should be setting an example for the rabble.  Well, he actually was setting an example, it just wasn’t the one they wanted him to set.   So they were grumbling about him.

Jesus overheard all their crabby comments, of course.  He thought about calling them out on their snooty attitude, but what good would that do?  It would just make them defensive and even more stand-offish when what he really wanted was for them to loosen up and join the party.  So he tried to reframe their thinking with a couple of hypothetical scenarios.

“Suppose a guy has a hundred sheep,” he said, “and one of them wanders off and gets lost.  “Won’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the wilderness to go search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.  And when he gets home, he will call all his friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep!’  It’s like that.  There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people.

“Or how about this—suppose a woman has ten silver coins on her necklace and she loses one.  Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and get down on her knees to sweep under furniture until she finds it?  And when she does find it, she’ll call all her neighbors and friends and say, ‘Rejoice with me!  I’ve found my lost drachma!  It’s just like that!” said Jesus.  “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents!”     

Now I am absolutely sure that some of the people listening to Jesus spin these hypotheticals were chuckling, and I am just as sure that some of them were scratching their heads because there is some obvious craziness in these little stories.  Leave ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness while you go off searching for one?  Who would do that?  And sheep don’t repent.  Coins don’t repent.  And is it really repentance?  The sheep didn’t do anything to help himself be found—he didn’t wander home all sheepish about being lost.  The silver coin didn’t roll itself over to rejoin the other nine coins on the necklace. 

Or are these stories allegories maybe?  Is the shepherd God?  But does God leave ninety-nine obedient sheep at risk in the wilderness to go find the one that’s lost?  Maybe.  But that does raise questions, especially if you’re one of the ninety-nine.  

So maybe God is like the reckless shepherd who puts everything at risk to find the one lost sheep. Maybe God is like the woman who drops everything and lights a lamp and cleans house until she finds that lost silver drachma.  Maybe.

Or maybe something else is going on here.  Sheep and coins don’t repent—at least not the way we usually understand repentance.  They don’t apologize.  They don’t have a change of mind or a change of heart.   

But what if Jesus is giving us a new definition of repentance?  What if repentance is not about clearing some kind of moral bar?  What if it’s not about moral rectitude or moral correction?  What if repentance is about being brought back to where you fit in God’s grand design, being brought back into the community and communion?  What if repentance is about crossing all those artificial barriers we put up between each other, those barriers that divide us into opposing camps?

Maybe repentance is about being brought back together.  Maybe it’s about reconnecting.[1]

That would explain this other thing.  Did you notice how many times Jesus mentions joy in these two little stories?  Five times!  The shepherd carries the sheep joyfully! He calls out to his neighbors to Rejoice with me!  Jesus says there is joy in heaven when a lost sinner is reconnected with the community.  The woman who finds her lost coin calls out to her neighbors Rejoice with me!  And once again, Jesus says there is joy in the presence of the angels when even one lost sinner is reunited with companions.  It’s all about the joy!

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand that they were missing out on the joy!  He wanted them to understand that there is joy in making connections with people you might ordinarily be reluctant to associate with.  There is joy when we step out of our clique or private club to go out and meet the wider world.  

Matt Harding is a guys who knows all about that.  

Matt was living the dream.  He was working as a Video Game Developer, creating new games for Activision, one of the biggest companies in the business.   He was kicking around ideas for a new game with his team one day, when somebody suggested, “Let’s do a ‘shoot ‘em up’ game.  Those are very popular.”  Matt said sarcastically, “Sure.  How about Destroy all Humans?[2]  Matt was being facetious, but the boss liked the idea and gave the game a green light. And that’s when Matt quit.  “I didn’t want to spend two years of my life writing a game about killing everyone,” he said.  

Now Matt had time on his hands, and a fair bit of savings, so he decided to see the world.  One day in Saigon, Matt was in kind of a goofy mood so he did this funny little dance in front of a restaurant, which his travel buddy caught on video.  It gave them a good laugh, so they decided that they would do this everywhere they were going on their trip around the world. 

When they got home, they cut together all these fun little clips to create a three minute video of Matt dancing in all kinds of interesting places all over the world.  And that would have been the end of it, except that Matt’s sister uploaded the video to this new thing called YouTube™.     

Dancing Matt became an internet phenomenon almost overnight.  So Matt decided to go out into the world and do it again, only this time he would invite people to dance with him.  And dance they did.  Over a period of about 15 years he recorded and posted six Dancing Matt videos which have brought joy to people all over the world.  (You can find all of them at www.wheretheheckismatt.com.) 

When NPR asked Matt what he had learned as he danced through the world, he said, “Here’s what I can report back: People want to feel connected to each other. They want to be heard and seen, and they’re curious to hear and see others from places far away. I share that impulse. It’s part of what drives me to travel.”

In her TED talk about Vulnerability, Brené Brown said, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people.  We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.  When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.  We break.  We fall apart.  We numb.  We ache.  We hurt others.  We get sick.”

Right now our country is in a grumbling mood…and so is much of the rest of the world.  We’re not functioning as we were meant to.  We have found too many ways to separate ourselves from each other.  We have turned too many people into “those people,” the ones we don’t want to be seen with. As a result, we’re missing the joy.  We’re missing the celebration.

We need to repent, not with apologies or penance, but by reconnecting.  We need to find our way back into where we fit in God’s grand design, into community and communion.  We need to bring ourselves back together.  And maybe even dance with strangers.  Because that’s where the joy is.


[1] Special Thanks to Prof. Matt Skinner and Sermon Brainwave for this perspective.

[2] Destroy All Humans is in its 7th version and is available on multiple platforms.  Clearly there’s money in nihilism.