As a relatively young and new pastor, it is hard to not preach this morning on the subject of 9/11. We have already spent sometime on remembering, confessing and looking forward in hope, on this the 10th anniversary of 9/11… and it will more than likely come up in our time of prayer later. But this sermon is not about that. Neither is this sermon based on the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. The more I prayed, meditated and thought about this mornings sermon, the more my mind went back to a session at MoRanch’s annual Men’s Retreat. There I heard the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, Jim Singleton give a one hour talk on evangelism (or as some Presbyterians have called it: the ‘E word’) based on the 15th chapter of Luke.
Do not worry, I will not be up here for an hour! In fact I do not remember most of what he said. But one thing has stuck in my mind and came back every time I turned my heart and mind toward this mornings worship service: there are 4 kinds of Lost in Luke 15. We are going to briefly take a look at each of them.
Luke 15 is a collection of three parables told as a reaction to a group of Pharisees and religious leader’s grumbling about the presence and comfort that Jesus and his disciples had in eating with sinners and tax collectors. At this time in the Luke narrative the Pharisees where not yet enraged with Jesus… but they where more fascinated and maybe a little worried about him. We will start with the third parable (one of the most well known parables of Jesus), the Prodigal Son (or the Lost Son).
I will not pick apart this story, most (likely all) of us are beyond familiar with it. We find a rich upstanding family, with an ungrateful, petulant son. Who decides that he is tired of waiting for his father to pass, he wants his inheritance now. He goes to the Father and tells him so. The father gives him half of everything he has, the son goes and wastes it in a foreign land. When all his money is gone a famine hits the land and he is so hungry he finds himself eating the pigs food. Books have been written about how scandalous this entire story would have been to the original audience. This son personifies a kind of lost which comes from open and high handed, willful rebellion. Before he spent his last bit of money, he was lost but thinking everything was just fine.
The second kind of lost is seen in the parable of the Lost coin. Luke 15:8 says:
what woman, having ten silver coins/drachma; if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search diligently until she finds it. This is the only time where the word, “drachma,” occurs in the New Testament. Its value was equivalent to a denarius which was worth a day’s wage. This coin didn’t lose itself, it was merely misplaced or dropped. This second kind of lost is someone who was dropped through no real fault of their own. Some of the most adamant, outspoken people in my life, who do not have any use for the church or God are that way because of some neglect, or abuse they experienced at church, or from ‘church people’. Unfortunately Church’s sometimes can hurt people can’t they?
What do we do as a Church to reach out to those that we have dropped? What does the lady do when she realizes that she has lost her coin, She tears her house apart looking for it, until she finds it. In this way, the woman of the house is equivalent to the good shepherd in the previous parable (the one will examine next) who searches for the lost sheep. There is a focused diligence as both the woman householder and the good shepherd search for what is precious to them and lost.
Luke 15: 4 says: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness/desert and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? That was common sense for a shepherd: a sheep gets lost and the shepherd goes to find the one sheep that is lost. Normally, there would be several shepherds caring for a flock of sheep. One shepherd would go out to search for the lost sheep, while the other shepherds would watch the remaining flock. This passage has always been an invitation for the Church to go searching for that person who has become lost from the faith. This type of Lost is the third of the 4 kinds of Lost we are contemplating.
This third kind of lost is not a result of a belligerent, angry rebellion, nor is it the result of something being done to them and as a result they leave either in self defense or in a huff. This type of lost is show by a little sheep simply, innocently wandering off. How does a sheep wander off? It just “nibbles its way out of the pasture. Nibble over here… oh look that looks tasty over there, a little father away. Until the sheep looks up and it is all alone. What does it do then? Most likely nothing, maybe it starts nibbling some more.
This third kind of lost comes up in the life of a church when a faithful church member happens to miss a couple weeks in a row, maybe they were ill, visiting a grand child, or out on vacation… maybe they went of to college and for the first time their parents were not there to get them up. Upon missing a couple weeks, no one from the church ever tells them they where missed (even though they likely where), but they where never told. So there is another late Saturday night and they think I have missed a couple, no one noticed, and God didn’t hit me with any lightening bolts… I think I want to sleep in tomorrow (I’ll only fall asleep during the sermon anyway). Then it has been so long since they have come to church, it becomes an obstacle to going back. How would I explain being gone the last 3 months, 6 months, 2 years? What if someone in a loud obnoxious voice greats me with a: Where have you been (the Devil must be getting cold this morning)!
In each of these kinds of lost there is not only great rejoicing when the lost thing is found, there is an effort to find them. In the Prodigal Son the Father is looking for the Son on the Horizon, when he sees the son he runs out on the dirty dusty road to meet him (scandalous for that culture at that time). With the Lost Coin the Lady tore her house apart looking for the coin. In the lost sheep the Shepard leaves the flock to search and find the wandering sheep. What are we as members of this flock of sheep gathering at Hodge Presbyterian Church doing to find those who are lost? Evangelism is something that we as Presbyterians are a little uncomfortable with; we know we should be involved in it somehow… but we do not really know how. How can we seek those who have become lost to us?
I have been listening the last six weeks since I have become your Pastor. I have heard many of you saying that you wonder why so and so has not been to church in months or years. To be clear I am not suggesting that if someone is absent from Hodge Presbyterian Church they are lost to God, that is not my point. But there may be some who are these kinds of lost we have talked about from our congregation. Well, I have a suggestion for you, something simple to begin moving in this direction. Next Sunday is National Back to Church Sunday (check out the video on our Church’s Facebook page). Let us quietly observe this. I want you to pray about who you can ask to come to church with you next week. If there is someone you have noticed has not been coming to church in a while… or if there is someone that doesn’t go to any church, someone that God has put in your mind or on your heart. This is what you should do: call them up and simply say would you like to go to church with me, I’ll take you out to lunch afterwards. Sometime it can be as simple as that.
For those of you who really thrive on lists and numbers, you may be thinking: that is only 3 kinds of Lost, what about the fourth? The 4th kind of loss is found in the Older Son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This kind of lost is one that church people can really suffer from time to time in their lives. As we all know, when the lost son returns, the father joyously kills the fatted calf and throws a party. The Older Son is out working in the fields, hears the party, and when he discovers the reason for the party he refuses to come in. He never left the father’s household, always did what was right, but yet somehow misses the point. Might it be correct to say that the Father leaves the party to visit with his Presbyterian son? This fourth kind of loss depicts someone who is Lost at Church. They come every week. They are active in helping with everything, but occasionally they wonder what is the point? Members, Elders, even (maybe especially) Pastors are endanger of becoming this kind of lost from time to time. Where they lose sight of the life, of the party that church is supposed to be. Just like the other three kinds of lost, God through Jesus has already done everything that is necessary for the lost to be found, God is actively seeking all those who are lost (in any sense of the word), the Father went out from the party to meet with the son. Tony Campolo wrote a book called the Kingdom of God is a Party! Let us invite others, and ourselves to that party.
Blessing and Glory and Wisdom
and Thanksgiving and Honor
and Power and Might
be to our God Forever and ever!