by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
For as long as we hold on to any pretense of having it all together we are prevented from deepening and maturing in the Christian faith. For as long as we avoid recognition of our lostness we are prevented from experiencing the elegant profundities of foundness. For as long as we insist on maintaining safe moral grids in which we always know where we stand (and where everyone else stands!), these poses of self-sufficiency, we disenfranchise ourselves from the company of the found sheep, the found coin, the two found brothers, and the celebrating angels. E. Peterson Tell It Slant p9
A Passion for the Lost
My trip over to the Holy Land was an amazing experience. One event that I remember was the first time we drove into Jerusalem. We had been in Jericho and drove up the highway toward the city. It is a hilly area, without many trees. As we got close to Jerusalem the bus driver played a song called “The Holy City.” We drove into a tunnel. Part way through the tunnel the chorus started. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing.” Right about then we came out of the tunnel and into the city of Jerusalem. It was a spectacular sight. We actually did it twice.
Later I told our group that I get to come out on a sight like that almost every day, driving through the Fort Pitt tunnel into Pittsburgh. Every time I go through the tunnel I am stunned by the beauty of the city. It is especially moving at night, with all the lights on. Part of what moves me is the realization that for every light that I see, I am aware that there are probably ten, twenty, or a hundred people who are lost, people who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, or people who have heard it yet somehow missed the truth of the gospel for their own lives. They have never experienced the grace of God. They don't know the love and support of the community of faith. It breaks my heart.
It also breaks Jesus’ heart. Jesus had a passionate love for people who are lost. It got him into trouble. He spent lots of time with people who were lost – tax collectors, sinners and outcasts. The religious leaders did not approve. In response to them Jesus told three parables about being lost. The third one we are going to look at next week, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Today I want us to look at the first two that I just read, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
The Greek word for lost is apolumy (apolumy). It can be translated two different ways. Sometimes it is translated as “lost.” Something can't be found. My suitcase got lost somewhere between Tel Aviv and Pittsburgh. The airlines couldn’t find it. It finally got home yesterday morning. At least several times a week I lose my glasses or my car keys. In Western Pensylvania it is easy to get lost. There are no street signs or the name of a street changes. You make a couple of turns, hoping you are supposed to go that way. After a while nothing looks familiar and you realize you have no idea where you are, or how to get where you’re going. You are lost.
Apolumy can also be translated “to destroy or to kill.” In the gospel of Mark there is a story of a father who brings his son to Jesus to be healed. The father describes his son as having an evil spirit that throws him into the fire, or into water so that the son might be destroyed, apolumy. Being lost is more than not knowing where you are. To be lost means being in danger of being destroyed or ruined.
Suzy, a seven year-old girl, went shopping with her mom. They went to a mall and started wandering through it, looking for a clothes, shampoo, hair color and a variety of other items. Suzy got bored and started wandering, looking at toys and coloring books. After about thirty minutes she looked around and didn’t see her mom anywhere. She panicked and started to cry. About the same time Mom realized that she has no idea where Suzy was. Suzy was lost. Mom forgot everything else she was shopping for and frantically looked for Suzy. Nothing else mattered.
In our parables the owner seeks out that which is lost. The shepherd went out and looked for the sheep until he found it. The woman thoroughly cleaned her house until she found her coin. In the same way, God seeks out those who are lost. Jesus has a passion for the lost. God desperately wants a relationship with all people. That is why Jesus came. Jesus became one of us so that we might be with God.
Notice what happened when that which is lost is found. There is a celebration. The shepherd and the woman both have a party to celebrate. The same thing happens in the story of the Prodigal Son. That father throws a party. Heaven celebrates every time someone who is lost is found.
I believe the message for us is very simple. Let me share with you two ideas. First, we are invited to have the same passion for the lost that Jesus has. We are invited to love people with the same love that God has, a love that desperately wants people to know God’s love in Jesus Christ. One of the characteristics of a healthy church is that it has the same passion that God has, a passion for people in our world who are lost. A healthy church is one that loves people enough to do everything it can to help them to know the good news of Jesus Christ and to live in God’s grace.
I’m not sure what the demographic numbers are for this community, how many people live within a ten mile radius and how many of those people have no church affiliation. Probably there are hundreds, if not thousands of people in our area who are spiritually hungry? They long to for something in their lives that gives them meaning, for some conection to God. They are lost and God has a passionate love for them. If we are to be a healthy church we must reach outside ourselves and try to help those who are lost so that they might be connected to God. We must do everything in our power to help people experience the love of God in Jesus Christ.
In the year and a half that I’ve been here I’ve heard many comments that people would like to see this church grow. They would like to see more people coming to worship, more children and youth participating in our programs, more people giving to support the ministries of the church. There is nothing wrong with that desire, but for the most part people in our world are not going to respond when we tell them that we want more people to participate in worship and programs and giving to the church. The primary goal must always be the desire for people to know the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our passion must be to help those who are lost to know God’s love, to experience the peace of Christ.
The second message for us is that we are invited to join in the heavenly celebration that happens when the lost are found. Our lives can be filled with joy when we help people become connected to God. When we help those who are lost to find God we will be able to join the heavenly celebration that happens whenever those who are lost are found. As Jesus said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” I wonder, how well do we celebrate? Do we truly celebrate when someone who is lost experiences God’s love in Christ?
Tony Campolo was a professor of sociology at Eastern University, near Philadelphia. Several years ago he wrote a book called "The Kingdom of God is a Party." He starts the book with a story of a time he was giving a talk in Honolulu. Pennsylvania and Hawaii are 6 hours different. At 3:00 AM Tony was wide awake, ready for breakfast. He went out to look for a restaurant that was open. He found a little greasy spoon on a side street. He sat on a stool and had coffee and a donut.
At 3:30 AM the door to the diner opened, and 8 or 9 prostitutes came in. The place was small, so they sat all around Tony. They were loud and crude. One of them, named Agnes, was sitting next to Tony, talking to her friend. Agnes told her friend that tomorrow was her birthday. Her friend was rather snide. "What do you want, a birthday party? Do you expect us to get you a cake and sing happy birthday." Agnes was obviously hurt. She said to her friend, "Be nice. I don't expect anything from you. I just wanted to tell someone. I never had a birthday party."
After a while all the ladies left. Tony asked Harry, the man behind the counter, if the ladies came in every night. "Ya, every night after they get off work they come in." Then Tony and Harry planned a surprise birthday party for Agnes. Harry made a cake. Tony bought crepe paper to decorate the place. They even made a big sign that said, "Happy Birthday Agnes!"
The word got out on the street what was going on. By 3:00 AM every prostitute in Honolulu was packed in this little diner. At 3:30 Agnes walked in. Everyone shouted "Happy Birthday." As they brought out the cake they sang to her. She was stunned. Tears streamed down her face. Harry had to blow out the candles. He told Agnes to cut the cake so that everyone could have some. Let me read to you what happened.
Read "The Kingdom of God is a Party" p 7-9.
You and I are called to have the same passion for the lost that Jesus has. We are called to have a passion that causes us to seek out those who are lost, to tell them about Jesus and to invite them to church. We are also invited to the heavenly party that happens whenever someone who is lost is found. We are invited to join the joyful celebration that happens every time someone experiences the love of God in Jesus Christ. It will change our lives It will change our church. When we do that, our lives and our church will be overflowing with joy.