When it comes to Emma, some might say I’m a little overprotective.
Now I’ve seen helicopter parents and I’m not quite there, but to say I’m…cautious would be fair. It’s also possible I’ve seen the movie Taken just one too many times. I’ve got that Liam Neeson speech at the ready. “I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.” Obviously, I hope I never have to use that speech, but the movie represents my biggest nightmare, especially when Emma was younger. So you can imagine the horror I felt watching her being taken away from me by a rogue school bus!
It was in third grade when Emma was coming home from Immanuel Elementary. We thought it would be fun for Emma to take the school bus once in a while. She was supposed to be dropped off at 3:15pm on the #6 bus. She had only taken the bus home a few times so we were still nervous about it. She was the only one getting off at her stop so we wanted to be sure to always be there for her. This one afternoon in particular Cassie and I both went to pick her up. 3:15 came and went. 3:16. 3:17. When 3:18 came around we started to wonder if we had the right stop. If maybe they got there early. But then to our relief, the #6 bus came…and WENT! It didn’t stop!!! All over again we wondered what to do. Did we get the wrong bus number? That bus wouldn’t stop until it hit the next town over which was more than 30 minutes away and we had no idea where it would drop the kids off. We decided to chase the bus. Driving like a mad man, speeding at 80mph in a 55mph zone, we honked and waved and tried everything we could to catch the bus driver’s attention. It was like a suburban version of Mission: Impossible. Cassie in the meantime is trying to call the school or anyone who might have answers, but to no avail. The bus driver finally noticed us about and pulled over. I jumped out of the car and raced to the door, and as it opened, there was Emma’s smiling face as she hopped out safe and sound. I gave her a big hug and I was smiling from ear to ear. The driver told 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. That was the last day Emma took the bus.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget what it was like to find Emma safe and sound.
The relief, the joy, the happiness all at once. When you’ve found something precious you thought was lost, it’s indescribable how amazing it feels. And it doesn’t have to be someone who is physically lost. It could be someone close to you who lost their way. Maybe they’re in a bad relationship or engaged in addictive behavior or seem to be meandering through life and then suddenly things change for the better. Some revelation helps them to turn their life around and this wave of relief and joy washes over you. It could be a precious object you found. A ring that belonged to your mother, a watch your wife gave you on your anniversary, a favorite toy that got left behind. But that feeling you get when something lost gets found is simply amazing. And that’s the joy Jesus shares with the disciples in our passage this morning.
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 instead he knew they were safe. A shepherd could leave the flock because together they would look out for each other, but the lost sheep was all on its own. It had no protection, it didn’t have any direction, and it was in constant danger from predators. A good shepherd felt safe leaving the flock behind and instead could focus on those who had wandered off. Now imagine applying the same thought process to God’s church and Jesus’ message is a call for us to do the same, to focus not on the found but on the lost. To help those who don’t know a life with Christ to embrace that life. When people refer to the “lost” it’s not a judgment on them, but an indictment on us. WE could have done more. WE should have done better. WE haven’t done OUR part. We want to avoid becoming like the Pharisees during Jesus’ time who wouldn’t dream of associating with sinners lest their reputations become tarnished or were afraid they might fall victim to that “sinful” crowd. In their mind, sinners chose their lifestyle and that’s their fault. They should have known better. So to associate with people like them would make you unclean. They left it up to the sinners to come and make peace with God. But Jesus never saw it that way. Instead, Jesus saw it as our responsibility to help others to know God and show them what a life with Christ could be like.
The problem with the Pharisees was they saw the church as a holy site to be preserved.
But that isn’t the case. The church is a field office for God. It’s the hub of action for God’s work in the world. Or to put it in more familiar terms, the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. The Pharisees and often many people today look at the church as a place that preserves their traditions and their way of worship. They see it as a relic where time often stands still. And the Pharisees were awesome at this. They obeyed every law. They knew them by heart. They studied them over and over, and in the process they forgot the spirit behind the law and instead stuck to the letter of it. But God meant for the church to be an ever-changing, ever-evolving dynamic community designed to adapt to the world around it to preserve the spirit of God’s intent – to love the world in a way that reflects the love of Christ. We are the center of operations for God, Inc.! And now more than ever it’s important to keep that in mind. Because when we stop doing the WORK of the church and instead worry about the WALLS of the church, we have become like the Pharisees – observers but not believers.
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, because the church was the social hub of the community. People would come to us, whether they believed in Jesus or not. All the church needed to do was host some dinner or some program and people would come. They would come and experience this community of Christians and hopefully many of them would stick around to find out more. But the paradigm has shifted. We cannot afford to be so isolated. People don’t NEED the church to be the social hub of the community. Instead they have cell phones and soccer games and Starbucks to fill that need. The church used to be the champion of social justice, but you don’t NEED the church to champion social justice because there are as many organizations as there are causes to do that for us. The church used to champion social welfare, but today there are tons of organizations who care for those in need. 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.
People see the church as self-centered.
Too self-involved. Too focused on itself and not on the concerns of the world. The perception of the church as a museum is one held on both sides of the walls. And it’s one of the reasons people have left the church. They just don’t see us as relevant any longer. How can we turn that around? Are we willing to serve people where they are and open the doors to the church in a new way? Can we leave our comfort zone and engage the world on the front lines instead of from the safety of our walls? It’s a tough thing to consider, but one that is important if we are to rethink church for the 21st century. But there is so much work to be done. As much now as there ever has been. And if we could do our part to help others know the love of God in a real and meaningful way, if we can impact the lives of the people around us by connecting people to Christ and to have the peace that comes from a deepening faith, think of how much rejoicing there would be! Think of how much of a difference we could make for God and for our little corner of the world. But it all starts with us.
Have you ever seen Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?
If you haven’t guessed, the whole movie is about the search for Spock. The movie opens with his death and 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 they might bring him back. And they pretty much lose everything. But at the end, Spock is made whole. He still has some memory loss, but he’s on the road to recovery and he approaches his friend, 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. There are times in this world where the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. There are times when we all must step out of our comfort zone and do what’s needed. Because the world is filled with busses that need to be chased, with sheep that need to be found, and Vulcans that need their friends.