Have you ever lost your child or as a kid been lost?
About a month ago, Cassie and I were waiting for Emma at the bus stop. It was one of the rare days she was riding the bus home from school so we went to the place where the bus was supposed to come by and just camped out in the car. Emma usually gets dropped off by Bus #6 right at 3:15 and since she is the only kid to get dropped off at that particular stop, I try and get there early just in case. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re abandoned and since the stop is next to the park, I think it’s better to play it safe. Don’t want any weird strangers to come up to my 8-year old daughter. So there we were, waiting for the bus. 3:15 came and went and now I’m starting to get worried. Where in the world could she be? 3:16. 3:17. Cassie and I start wondering if somehow we didn’t get there early enough and suddenly, at about 3:18 a big yellow #6 school bus goes driving by without stopping. Could that be it? Why wouldn’t it stop? We weigh our options. Stay and wait some more or go after the school bus. If we wait and Emma is actually on that bus, she might get dropped off somewhere in Visalia or who knows where! We certainly won’t be able to find it once it leaves our sight. But what if we go and for some reason she’s not on the #6 bus but a different one and then she’s left alone in the park? We take a risk and go after the bus. Cassie calls the school to see if maybe Emma never got on the bus. Then she calls our after school care place to see if she went there by accident. In the meantime, I’m trying to catch up to the bus like some suburban version of Mission: Impossible. I start honking at the bus, trying to get the bus driver’s attention, suddenly realizing how completely lame and ineffective my horn is. But somehow the bus driver notices us and pulls over. I jump out of the car and race to the door, and as it opens, there’s Emma’s smiling face as she hops out all safe and sound. I give her a big hug and I’m just smiling from ear to ear. The driver tells us he just completely forgot about Emma’s stop and while I would normally be freaking out, I was just so happy to have Emma I didn’t even care. Emma no longer takes the bus. But honestly for other reasons. She got tired of getting up early.
Still, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt when we found Emma.
The relief, the joy, the happiness all at once. Most of us would go to great lengths to recover something we lost that was important to us. Whether it’s a ring that belonged to your mother or grandmother that fell down a drain. Or maybe a watch that your wife gave you on your anniversary you accidentally left behind in the hotel room, or a favorite toy that got dropped out of the car. Whatever it is, we become anxious when we think it might be lost, and elated when we find it. Jesus understands these feelings we have and we’ll read about this morning in the Gospel of Luke, so if you have your Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Luke 15 beginning with verse 1. Luke 15:1. Jesus understands these feelings we have over lost and found things because has the same ones except he hasn’t lost a ring, a watch, or a toy. He’s lost us. And he’s come to find us. As it says in the Gospel of Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Jesus makes it very clear, over and over again, that his mission is not to affirm the religious leaders in their righteousness but instead to bring those far from God back into his home. That’s why Jesus is always eating with sinners. That’s why Jesus talks to people who are considered by society the least and the lost – tax collectors, women, children. Because it is for these that he came, for anyone who needs God in their life.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4″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? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
To Jesus, one lost sheep was more important than the ninety-nine who were found.
It’s not because Jesus didn’t care about the 99, but rather that the 99 could care for themselves. There’s 99 of them! They weren’t lost; they had each other; they were safe. But the one sheep didn’t have any protection, didn’t have any guidance about where to go, and was in constant danger from those who wanted to steal it and keep it away from the shepherd and his flock. So that’s why the shepherd would leave the flock to find the one. The pressing need was for the lost sheep, to protect it and bring it home. Does that mean that the 99 don’t have needs? Of course they do, but for the time being, they have all they need, while the one does not. Take that analogy to the church and Jesus’ message is a call for us to do the same, to focus not on the 99 who are present but the 1 who is lost. We want to avoid becoming like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who wouldn’t dream of associating with sinners. In their mind, sinners have chosen their lifestyle and to associate with them would make you unclean. So they let them be. They left it up to the sinners to come and make restitution with the temple. They left the doors open to them, but didn’t actively seek them out because they didn’t want to be uncomfortable. But Jesus never saw it that way. Instead, he saw them as people who just didn’t know what it meant to follow God and he came among them to show them that life could be better. It’s interesting because the Pharisees in particular were exceptionally good at following the law. They observed all the rites and rituals. They fed the hungry and the poor. But their heart was far from God. They simply observed the rules and regulations of their religion without understanding the true nature of it. And I don’t think the Pharisees were evil by nature. But rather, they got so caught up in their way of doing things that they forgot about the bigger picture. That to love others was to love God. Even from the earliest writings in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, we hear this theme. In Deuteronomy 10, God says through Moses to circumcise your hearts, to defend the fatherless and the widowed, and to love the foreigner. Not simply follow the rules and observe the high holy days, but to love, defend and open your hearts.
We need to remember that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. Too often churches and church folks get so wrapped up in their version of church that they begin defending that AS church and they lose sight of the bigger picture. When we stop doing the WORK of the church and instead worry about the walls of the church, we have become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law – observers but not believers. When we stop doing the WORK of the church and instead worry about the WALLS of the church, we have become like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law – observers but not believers. And that is far from the image of the hands and feet of Christ that is painted for us in the Bible.
In the past, a church simply needed to open its doors and people would come.
There wasn’t this great NEED to go out in search of the lost. We call this kind of church “invitational” meaning the church would host some dinner or some program and would open its doors and people would come. They would come and experience this community of Christians and hopefully many of them would join. But people today are looking for something different from church and are equally enticed by a great many other things OUTSIDE of church. The invitational model doesn’t work as effectively as it used to because the role that the church used to play has been taken by other places in the community – soccer games, Kiwanis club, afterschool programs, etc. The church is now only one of many options and usually not the best one. So we don’t often even get the chance to make an impact on people the way we used to because the entire paradigm of church is different. How can we show them the love of God if they don’t even come through the door? The answer is simple. We need to go to them.
During this Lenten season, I want to challenge you to think of how we can do that.
How can we serve them where they are? What are the greatest needs in our community and can we meet the challenge of filling that need? The most effective churches are those that come together and rally around a few key ministries that serve the needs of the community. Because when we begin meeting people’s needs, we show that we are caring, relevant, and vital, and these are characteristics people can connect with. These are the qualities that people are looking for in the church. But we have to be strategic about how we serve. We simply cannot be all things to all people. As Rev. Mariellen shared with us, we have to figure out who we are and match that to the needs of our community and then do THAT. And in that way we can reach those who are lost.
Our passage about the lost reminds me of a scene from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
If you haven’t guessed, the whole movie is about trying to search for Spock. The movie opens with his death and all of his friends believe they’ve seen the last of him, but when they discover there might be a chance to save his soul, they risk everything to do it. They risk their careers, their lives, and their ship on just the chance that they might bring him back. And they pretty much lose everything. At the end, Spock is made whole, but he still has some memory loss and he goes up to Kirk and asks him why he did it – why did he risk everything just for him? And Kirk says to him, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.” The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. On the surface it doesn’t make much sense. How can the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many? But as with the lost sheep, there are times when the needs of the one, the needs of those who have wandered away, are greater than our own. We must be willing to do what’s necessary to bring them home. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.