Love Looks for the Lost

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Love Looks for the Lost

Text: Luke 15:1-10

It was one of the most horrible, awful, terrifying experiences of my life.  Not many things in this world could compare to the tragedy I experienced.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was completely devastated.  I had lost my Milwaukee Brewers Starter jacket.

This wasn’t any old coat.  This was a nice one.  It was made out of a durasheen material so it was nice and shiny.  It was warm and comfortable.  It was soft to the touch.  It was more expensive than a normal coat, not the kind of coat I would wear outside at school for recess.  And of course, it was a Milwaukee Brewers coat!

I couldn’t believe I lost it!  We searched high and low in the house.  Then we realized what happened.  I forgot it at the house of my great-grandmother who lived an hour away.  Great-grandma Wahl knew the urgency for an impressionable young kid.  Rather than wait for our next visit, she put the coat in a box and mailed it to us.

The joy of opening that box was perhaps even greater than receiving the coat in the first place.  My coat!  I had it back!  It was gone but now it was mine again!  It was lost but now it was found!  There was much rejoicing.

Losing a favorite coat or toy is a big deal to a kid, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that bad.  Certainly it wasn’t as bad as a different experience I had.  This was one of the most horrible, awful, terrifying experiences of my life.

It happened in a furniture store.  I don’t remember the name of the store.  But I remember well that it was huge, at least three stories to it.  The store visit was typical for any family.  My parents were looking around—trying to pick out something they liked, weighing the options, calculating the cost.  I got bored and started to wander in my own little world of adventure.

Suddenly I realized that mom and dad weren’t around.  I couldn’t see them.  I was worried for a moment.  I walked down the aisle quickly and glanced at each furniture display.  I still couldn’t see them.  The heart started beating a bit faster.

I jumped in the elevator and went to a different floor.  I weaved my way through the furniture on that floor.  Still nothing.  Where were they?  Why can’t I find them?  Did they leave me?  Did they forget me?  Would I be stuck in an endless maze of Lay-Z-boys the rest of my life?  Panic was setting in.

I hopped in the elevator once more.  I burst out of the doors.  I speed-walked around the corner . . . and there they were!  Oh!  Phew!  They didn’t leave me!  I wasn’t abandoned!  They hardly even knew I was gone because it really had only been a few minutes.  I was lost but now I was found.  Again, there was much rejoicing.

Another frightening experience.  Another narrow escape from immanent peril—at least in the mind of a child.  But in the grand scheme of things, again not too bad.

Neither story compares to something truly horrible, awful, and terrifying in my life.  It’s something I don’t even remember.  But I know it happened.  I was lost.  Completely and utterly lost.  I was buried under a pile of sinfulness and thus totally separated from a holy God.  I didn’t know it or understand it.  But the God I needed to be close to I was completely removed from.  Sinners can’t be close to a holy God.  But I didn’t know this because I was only a baby.  Nevertheless, I was a baby that had inherited an imperfection and sinfulness from my parents.  I was just born, but I was still lost.

So God sent out the search and rescue team to find me.  God organized the events of world history that I would be born in a country where there is religious freedom, and in the city of Saginaw, Michigan where there is a church on every corner.  God used my Christian parents who loved me and cared for me and wanted me to be a part of God’s kingdom.  They didn’t want me to be lost either.  They brought me to one of those churches they regularly attended called St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.  God used a pastor by the name of James Tiefel who poured water on my head and spoke God’s Word as the promised grace of God rushed upon me in Baptism.  Sin was washed away.  A spiritual adoption into God’s family took place.  God promised to love me.  Parents and parishioners at my Baptism promised to raise me in the ways of the Lord.  I once was lost, but now was found.  And again, there was great rejoicing—so much rejoicing that even the angels in heaven joined in the chorus of praises.  Another lost soul was found by the Lord!

Each of you has a story.  All of our stories are similar, yet all of our stories are so very different.

Some of you have a story like mine.  You don’t even remember what it was like to be lost and separated from God.  You were raised in a Christian household.  You were trained in the ways of the Lord from early on.  But nevertheless, God worked in his mercy through the events of this world and the people in your life to bring you into his family.  You were lost.

Most of you in this church have completely different stories than that.  Some of you grew up in a Christian family, but for a long time you strayed far away from the flock.  You were lost.

Some of you grew up in households that had absolutely nothing to do with God.  There was drug or alcohol abuse (or worse).  There were atheistic parents or adults raising you.  There was little care or desire for God or for church.  You were lost.

Some of you grew up in a household that called itself “religious.”  You maybe went to a church here and there.  You maybe attended a “religious” school.  You maybe said religious things now and then.  But in reality, you had hardly anything to do with God and knew very little about him.  You were lost.

Each of us has a different story.  But the common denominator is the same.  All of us are sinners.  That’s how we come into this world.  We have imperfect, sinful parents so we are born as imperfect, sinful people.  From there it only gets worse.

We grew up in a sinful world in a very sinful country.  Countless temptations and troubles surround us.  Along the way we fall and fail.  We stray so far from God’s flock that sometimes it’s not like we are in a different pasture, we are almost on a different planet.  Sin separates us from God.  We are sinners.  We were all at one point lost.

But like the shepherd who left the 99 to find the one lost sheep in Jesus’ story—or like the woman who lost her coin turned over her house to find it in Jesus’ other story—Jesus sent out the search and rescue team for us.

Some of you had a traumatic life event happen—like cancer, or a family member dying, or 9/11, or some other disaster.  Some of you had a random person knock on your door and offer you information.  Some of you received a postcard from our church.  Some of you attended our annual kids carnival.  Some of you came to church with a friend.  Many of you were interested in what exactly your kids were hearing in this school and why they came home so happy and singing songs about Jesus every day.  Some of you knew you were missing something, so you had been trying out churches for quite some time hoping you would find an answer.

Each of us has a different story.  But this common denominator is also the same:  We all were lost, but now we are found.  God worked through the events of all of world history.  He knew just what to do for you, one of seven billion people in the world.  He used people.  He used postcards.  He used a school.  He used a church.  Our mighty God used many things to bring you into contact with his Word so that you could hear this one message:  Jesus Christ is your Savior from sin.  He has washed away your wrongs.  You are forgiven.  You are welcomed into his family.  You will go to heaven.

We all were lost, but now we are found.  And there was much rejoicing.  Whether you were found when you were a toddler or a teen, when you were young or when you were old, right away or after a long time—no matter when it happened, there was great rejoicing.  There was so much rejoicing that even the angels in heaven joined in the chorus of praises.  Another lost soul was found by the Lord!

The Pharisees we heard about today couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  Jesus was doing something incredible.  Listen to the first two verses of the Gospel again:  Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”  How could this miracle-man Jesus, who claimed to be something special, welcome sinners?  He hangs out with tax collectors—the scum of the earth who cheated their own people out of money.  He hangs out with adulterers and prostitutes and liars and thieves and poor people and needy people.  Yuck!  He doesn’t only talk with them.  He hangs out with them and eats with them.  Yuck!

That’s when Jesus told them the two parables.  A shepherd who loses a sheep will leave his 99 other sheep behind to go and find that one lost sheep because he loves it so much.  When he finds it, he is so happy he even calls his neighbors to celebrate.  So Jesus says in verse seven, I 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.”  Even the angels in heaven join in the rejoicing and praising over one lost sinner who repents, compared to 99 people who are already part of God’s flock.

In the same way Jesus told them of an old woman who had ten valuable coins and lost one.  That woman combs over the whole house until she finds it because she loves and treasures that valuable coin.  And when she does find it, she also calls her friends and neighbors to celebrate.  So Jesus says in verse 10, In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Pharisees thought they were so righteous.  They lived upright lives compared to those “sinners” (or so they thought).  They followed their own set of extra religious rules.  They had nicer chariots parked in their garage.  They had nicer clothes than the poor and the needy.  But they were so obsessed with themselves and their own achievements, they didn’t realize the most fundamental truth—they were lost and they needed Jesus!  And since they were lost, they had zero love or concern for other people who were lost.

But we are not.  By God’s grace and wonderful working, we once were lost but now we are found.  God’s love looked for us, the lost, and found us.  We are part of his flock and family.  The angels of heaven already join us in rejoicing over God’s work in our lives.

So now that love of Jesus that sought us out and found us, spills over and does the same thing Jesus did for us.  Love Looks for the Lost.

Love leads us to put offerings in the offering plate that go toward mission work around the world and that does mission work here with our own congregation.  We don’t give offerings because we want to keep the lights on or pay the pastor.  We give offerings because we want to do God’s work and tell others about their Savior Jesus.

Love leads us to volunteer at events like the November kids carnival.  Four thousand people are going to come face to face with our congregation on November 16.  How many of them do you think are completely lost right now?  How many of them won’t ever have a chance like that again to have a Christian invite them to church in a friendly atmosphere like you could do that day?

Love leads us to support a Christian school that in six school years has taught nearly 1,000 students and been in contact with several thousand parents and other family members.  We support a school not just for the sake of a good education.  Jesus wants the little children to come to him, and he wants their parents to do the same.

Love leads us to talk to other people about Jesus.  It encourages us to recognize people that are struggling in life and to tell them where they can find true peace.  Love encourages us to recognize people that are lost and not yet found.  Love encourages us to invite people to church.  So what if they say, “NO”?  So what if they don’t listen to you?  So what if they don’t believe in Jesus right away?  They are lost and need to know they can be found in Christ.

Love Looks for the Lost.  It does anything and everything.  It works consistently and persistently.  It tries different strategies and methods.  It tries without giving up.  It associates with the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the big sinners and the bad sinners.  And then, when someone is found—when someone repents, when someone confesses Christ, when someone joins our church—then there is great rejoicing here and in heaven.

This is what love does.  Love Looks for the Lost at all times and at all costs.  Why?  Because we were lost but now are found.  We were blind and now we see.  And there was great rejoicing.  Christ’s love found you.  Now be a part of Christ’s love finding others.  And then rejoice when they too are found.

AMEN

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About Pastor Phil Huebner

Pastor. Missionary. Principal. Husband. Father. Serving in love as each. http://www.ctkpalmcoast.com

Posted on September 15, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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