Exod 32:7-14.  1 Tim 1:12-17.  Luke 15:1-10.

In the old days, children were brought up to expect frequent punishments. Starting with “if you don’t stop doing that, Mummy will smack you”, to “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll tell your Dad” and you knew what that meant – six of the best with his belt. That was how discipline was enforced at schools, in the armed forces and so on.

Nowadays people don’t do things like that. You hear parents reasoning with their children. You don’t hear the old answer to “Why?” No one now just says “Because I say so”. The church used to be a bit like that.

Why are there so many magnificent churches and cathedrals all over the world? Because people used to think you could pay the church to pray for you and then God would punish you much less and you’d get to heaven much much sooner. A good bargain. Down the hill at the Community of the Resurrection we’re appealing for money to bring our church up to date. How easy it would be if we could tell rich people, “if you give us money , we’ll pray for you and God will let you off. It’s a bargain”. However, we can’t do that. We just have to appeal to their generosity and hope for the best. We can still pray for them.

The three readings for today are all about punishment, about what God thinks about it, or rather, doesn’t think about it.

In Exodus, God pretends to plead with Moses; “Let me alone, just you see what I’ll do to them for not worshipping me but worshipping this golden calf instead.”  But what God is really saying, under his breath, is “Now Moses, if you ask me nicely, I’ll let them off.” 

Encouraged by this hidden, coded invitation Moses does plead and reminds God how he has promised to give the land to his children, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “You’re not going to break your promise to them all, are you?” God changes his mind. That is what God is like, if we pray for good, he will change his mind, because God only wants not just good but the best, for everyone

Then we have Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul holds himself up as the chief sinner of them all. You remember how everyone shuns him, because of the way he persecutes them. Yet God forgives him, because Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. For that very purpose.

Paul talks as if Jesus holds him up, like a hunter who holds up some dead vermin he’s just shot, as an example of the very worst sort of person. “This wretched Paul, look at him, this monster! Because he believes in me, even he will have eternal life.”

The truth is, God is just longing to give us this eternal life, to be with him in glory for ever.

How much he longs to do that is what we see in the gospel reading from St Luke. Some say these stories show how much trouble God takes to save sinners. That’s absolutely true of course. Yet I prefer the idea that Jesus tells them to us to show even more than that.

God loves us to bits, like the craziest of young lovers, loves us so much that’s he does these foolish crazy things. Like the shepherd who abandons the whole flock by themselves in the wilderness, because he can’t bear to lose just one of his sheep and has to go after it over hill and dale.

Or like the woman who ransacks her whole house, turning everything upside down, emptying out all the drawers and cupboards till she finds the one coin she’s lost, even though with nine more she will hardly miss it.

Taken together, what it all means is that no one, absolutely no one, however far we’ve strayed, is outside the limits of God’s mercy. It means that we don’t have to worry, we can embark joyfully and trustfully on Jesus’s own way of life, doing, saying, acting as he would.

Because everyone can and will be saved in the holy and joyful community of Jesus’s love; the whole of this chapter of Luke is full to the brim with  joy.

Together we find joy because we believe in him, the one and only true source of joy.

Our joy is in sharing God’s own joy in calling everyone in.

God’s own joy  -  what greater joy can there be than that? It is God’s own joy we are called to give to everyone.

Our call, as Christians, as church people, as members of All Saints Roberttown, is quite simply to enjoy the joy which comes to us in and through Jesus himself. Then to give his joy, now ours too, to everyone else we can – whoever they may be.

Joy, if it is real, has to spread, like an infection. Just like dancing:

“Dance, then, wherever you may be,

I am the Lord of the Dance said he

and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be

and I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.”*

* New English Hymnal 375                                                         

        Antony Grant CR