Message Supplement for 11 September 2016–“Find Yourself”

Another powerful story from Jesus emerges, this one from the lectionary reading of Luke 15:1-10. Jesus is speaking with unpopular persons, a despised lot of tax collectors and “sinners” considered unworthy of Rabbi Jesus’ words. As usual, the controversy aroused a teachable moment wherein Jesus shared a parable.

Critics were upset with Jesus, but he responded with a story, beginning with a discussion of how someone who owns a hundred sheep will leave the ninety-nine and pursue the lost one. The point is about how we focus more on what we don’t have than on what remains. Jesus continued, saying that the shepherd found his stray animal and then celebrated with his friends and relatives. The lesson here is on how much joy comes from finding what was missing. Jesus provided a second illustration, this one about a woman who lost a silver coin. Like the example of the sheep owner, the woman rejoiced with her friends and neighbors over eventually finding the valuable possession.  

          Jesus’ parable reveals insights about human nature, much more than a casual tale of two people seeking lost items. People are zealous recovering what is missing, even if they already have a duplicate of what was lost. Peoples’ attention narrows to the absent thing rather than on the blessings that haven’t been lost. The added wisdom here is that we should never lose sight of what we have (which is far greater than what we’ve lost). Jesus shared how heaven rejoices when even one repentant sinner is found. The sense is that God is joyous when a lost soul is restored.  

          How can we translate Jesus’ story for today’s church? The process of discovering lost valuables still means something. We can understand how it is to look for lost possessions and how we rejoice after their discovery. So also can we partner with God to ensure that lost persons are renewed. All of this begs the question of how we must search for and recover our fellow humans. Along life’s highways and byways people get run-over, have accidents, and otherwise lose spiritual vitality. We are obligated to be the Good Samaritans who help people regain health and purpose. In partnering with God to rescue people we will also find new meaning for ourselves. Nothing is greater than the treasure we’ll uncover as we assist in the process of redemption. No amount of sheep, coins, or anything can substitute for finding lost souls.

          This is where the real work begins. We are God’s workers, and we must exert ourselves. There are many ways that we can assist, first and foremost in cultivating a desire to do so. We can think and act in a positive manner and utilize our time, talents and treasures to reach the estranged, discouraged and wounded. Outreach begins with you and me. Before we save the world we must first consider our spiritual health. No amount of outward striving and achievement can substitute for first getting our own house in order. Of course, we needn’t be near perfect before helping other people. However, it helps to be in a right relationship with God before we try to save the world.

          As a church we are a faith family called for God’s purposes. We must also be sensitive to how our church policies, politics and personalities either help or hinder our outreach. Everything from our physical facilities to our welcoming of visitors can make or break our connection with people. Our church will be more vital if we are vigilant in adjusting our styles and methods for optimal effectiveness. We are not here to simply serve ourselves. Let’s return for a moment to the inspiration from Jesus’ parable. Think about what you’d do if you lost a diamond ring in your house. Things could be turned upside-down in your quest, and you would feel wonderful if you recovered the valuable despite the mess in searching for it. Consider how much more valuable is a human being, and how important it is in God’s eyes to help with peoples’ redemption. Thinking about it in this manner can clarify our priorities amid many distractions.

          Spiritual vitality requires that we are continually searching, changing, adjusting ourselves to the task of bridging the gap between who we are and what God wants us to become. The ongoing mission of the church—that’s us!—is to help restore people, even if this process is messy and inconvenient. Yes, let’s admit that there are lost souls deserving of rescue. Let’s also step-up and do whatever it takes to make our church a refuge where what’s lost can be found and welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. Hallelujah!

  –Reverend Larry Hoxey.