by Doug Marshall, Interim Pastor
The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin communicate with undeniable vividness that God is concerned about the lost, cares about individuals and is consumed with an active, seeking love for you and me.
Lloyd John Ogilvie, Autobiography of God p30
Lloyd Ogilvie is a Presbyterian pastor. At one point he was the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. He tells the story of the time he was in Ocean City, New Jersey. He was staying at a hotel right along the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is right along the beach and on a typical summer night there are huge crowds. This particular night it was beautiful outside and Lloyd was watching all the people walking up and down the Boardwalk. Some people rode their bikes. Others strolled in and out of shops. Some enjoyed the amusement parks that are there. An announcement came over the loudspeaker that changed everything for Lloyd. “A little girl about 5 years old, answering to the name of Wendy, has been lost. She is wearing a yellow dress and carrying a teddy bear. She has brown eyes and auburn hair. Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Wendy, please report to the Music Pier. Her parents are waiting for her there.”
Imagine the agony that Wendy's parents must have felt when they realized that she was lost. I expect every parent has had moments like that. It is that sheer terror of wondering what has happened to your child. Imagine also, what Wendy might have felt when she realized that she was lost. I can picture a little girl standing next to a light pole, clutching her teddy bear, tears streaming down her face, her heart bursting with fear and loneliness.
Being lost is a horrible feeling. I’m not talking about driving in downtown Pittsburgh or somewhere in western Pennsylvania and not being sure about where you are going. I’m talking about being so lost that you have no idea where you are or where you should go; in Baghdad, or Mexico City, or rural Egypt. Nothing is familiar – the streets make no sense, you don’t know anyone and can’t even speak the language.
The Greek word for lost in our passage is apolumi. It has two different meanings. Sometimes it is translated as lost, not knowing where you are. Sometimes apolumi is translated as to perish or to be destroyed. To be lost means being in danger of being destroyed.
Jesus tells two stories about being lost. The first story is about a sheep that has been separated from the rest of the herd. It is lost. In the Middle East, during the summer, shepherds lead their sheep up into the mountains where they could find good pastures. Sheep are not the most brilliant animals. They will wander and eat their way till they have no idea where they are. In this story one of the sheep had wandered far enough that the shepherd didn’t know where it was. He left the other 99 sheep and went to look for the one that was lost. When he found that one he celebrated.
The second story is about a woman who has lost a coin. In the homes that people lived in back then it would be easy to lose a coin. Houses were dark, with at most one small window. They had dirt floors covered with reeds and grass. Looking for a coin would not be easy. Yet the woman searched until she found the coin.
Part of the reason she worked so hard was probably because the coin was worth one day’s wages, at least an equivalent of $100 - $150. There was probably another reason she worked so hard. The mark of a married woman was a head-dress of 10 silver coins linked together by a silver chain. It was almost the equivalent of a wedding ring. These 10 coins could never be taken from her, even if she owed someone money. It’s possible that this woman lost one of the 10 coins and was looking for it like someone today might look for a wedding ring. When she found it she was so excited that she celebrated.
Lost is a metaphor that describes many of our lives. There are a variety of ways that a person can be lost. Let me mention a few. Some people are spiritually lost. They’ve never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. They don’t know God’s love and abiding presence. They’ve not had their sins forgiven and are cut off from the salvation that is found in Jesus. There may be some people here this morning who are lost spiritually. In every congregation there are people who come to church but who have never become Christians. There are certainly people in our communities who are spiritually lost – our friends, our neighbors, people we work with.
Another type of being lost is what I would call wandering in the wilderness. These people are Christians. At one point in time they believed in Jesus and experienced God’s love and presence, but for some reason, right now they feel spiritually dead. God is silent and maybe even feels absent from their lives. Many Christians go through a time like this, and it is very painful and disturbing.
Some people are lost because they have failed. Maybe it was a job, or a relationship, or a dream that was an important part of your life, but you failed. Your job didn’t work out. Your marriage fell apart. Your dream was shattered – and you feel lost.
Probably the most tragic type of lostness is not knowing you are lost. The Pharisees had that type of lostness. They thought they had it all together. They thought they were righteous. They were God’s chosen people. Their self-righteousness was truly nothing more than a cover-up for their actually being lost.
The good news that Jesus teaches us is that God is so madly in love with us that he will do everything in his power to search for us and to find us. Notice that the parable does not say “if the shepherd finds the sheep.” It says “when the shepherd finds the sheep.” It doesn’t say “if the woman finds the coin.” It says “when she finds the coin.” God searches for us until we are found. Jesus came to find us. No matter how lost we may be, we are never beyond God’s ability to find us. And when we are found, God rejoices. Heaven celebrates when someone who has been lost is found.
That truly is good news. If you are lost, in any way, know that God is searching for you. God loves you and wants you to join in the celebration of being found.
However, there is also a challenge in this passage. God has a passion for reaching the lost. God is so madly in love with all people that God will do everything he can to reach them. The primary way God reaches the lost is through other people who have been lost and are now found.
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 people be connected to God. We are invited to have the same passion for the lost that Jesus has. We are to tell people the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, to love them with the same love that God has, a love that desperately wants everyone to be found.
There is a word that describes this. It is not a word that Presbyterians like very much – evangelism. Unfortunately, we have seen too many bad examples of evangelism. Here is one on the screen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcYmRPtqpQ4&feature=player_embedded.
That is not a healthy example of evangelism. Let me see if I can give you a different image of evangelism.
If you need to get somewhere and you have lost your car keys, how hard will you work at finding them? If you are desperate to get wherever you are going you will put every ounce of energy into looking for your keys. You might even recruit others to help you. If you lose a contact lens how hard will you work at searching for it? If they are disposable lenses you might not work very hard, but if it’s the only one you have and will cost $1500 to get a new pair, you are likely to search as hard as you can. You might take apart a bathroom sink or the chair in your living room. If you lose one seven-year-old blue sock that was starting to get a hole in it anyway, how hard will you search for it? The value of the lost item will determine how hard you search for something.
In God’s eyes people are valuable. From God’s perspective each person is precious. To God, everyone is a treasure. It is worth it to leave behind the ninety nine sheep to find the one that is lost. It is worth it to search the house carefully to find the one coin that is lost. You, and every other human being, are valuable enough for God to send his only son, Jesus Christ, into the world, that we might be found. Should we not value people just as much as God does?
I am convinced that a healthy church will make evangelism a central part of its ministry. This is not the time or the place to do a full training on evangelism. So let me share with you five things you can do to help people who are lost.
First, make a list of people that you think need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Two or three people, maybe five. Friends, family, acquaintances – people who are lost.
Second, pray for those people. You are not the one who has to save them or find them. That’s God’s job. So ask God to work in their lives.
Third, build a friendship with those people. Listen to them. Play with them. Serve with them. Love them. Through building a relationship of love you earn the right to tell them about God’s love in Jesus.
Fourth, invite them to church. Last week Joe and Shanna invited their friends to come to worship to celebrate Leighann’s baptism. If we invite people they may choose not to come. However, if we don’t invite them they are far less likely to come. I don’t remember the statistics, but a significant percentage of people are willing to come to worship if they are invited. I hear people say that they want to grow this church, so that more people are part of Sharon. The way to grow a church is not to build more programs. Programs aren’t bad, but they don’t bring people. People bring people. Invite your friends to church.
Fifth, tell your friends something of what God is doing in your life. If you have truly built a friendship they will want to know what is happening in your life. So say to them something like “I’d like to tell you about the most important thing in my life.” Or, “May I share with you an experience that has made all the difference in my life.”
When we experience something that is truly beautiful there are usually two reactions. First, we stop. We are so stunned by whatever it is that we focus our entire attention on whatever the thing of beauty is. The rest of the world fades away. I read one time that the first white explorers who came upon the Grand Canyon were so stunned that they stood in silence for an hour and a half.
The second reaction is that we want to share it with someone else. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, along with Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and the mountains in Colorado. If you want to get me excited ask me any of those. I’ll be happy to tell you. Or ask any grandparent about their grandchildren. They will probably be more than happy to share with you their pictures and their stories.
We have received the most amazing message of all time, the most beautiful good news – God, the Lord of the universe, the holy one beyond our wildest imagination, loves us so much that he came to live with us, to die for us, and was raised from the dead that we might live with God, so that we might not be lost. Let us stop and celebrate that amazing good news. And let us share it with all who are lost.