Now is the Time: Seeker of the Lost

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and it’s exciting to be here today – Journey celebrated our 10 year anniversary last night and it was quite a night!  It really was a celebration of all that God has done in our church and through our church.

Before I begin I would like to take a moment to address a glaring error I made last night.  As I took time to thank our staff team I mentioned the spouses of our staff team as well and said a special thanks for all they do behind the scenes.

I was so worried that I would forget to mention someone that I just went down through the offices in my mind – and mentioned everyone – but I should have started with my own office – and so I in my efforts to make sure everyone got mentioned,  I somehow failed to thank my own sweet wife Jody.  And I’m sorry for that.  Because Jody has served and sacrificed in a thousand ways – she has given her life to the health of this church and she deserved to be mentioned.  And Jody is the kind of person who wasn’t upset by it, but I sure was once I realized what a bonehead mistake I had made.

We also used the occasion to talk about where we are going as a church over the next ten years – and more specifically – about our goal to raise enough money to be able to begin construction on a church building in 24 months time.  And in case you weren’t there – here’s the initial renderings of the building….

In your bulletin there’s a brochure with the details.  We are asking you to begin praying right now about what you think you can commit to the ministries of Journey Church over the next two years.  And on April 7th – we’re going to ask you to write a number on a piece of paper – in order for us to gauge just how doable this project will be.  But we’ll talk more about that in upcoming weeks.

For now I want us to talk about the why.  Why are we trying to raise enough money to build a church building?  And the answer is found in Luke 15.

Luke is one of four books in the Bible that detail the life and the teachings of Jesus.  Matthew Mark Luke and John are the first four books of the New Testament – and we call them Gospels which means Good news.

And the Bible over and over again tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh – and so when Jesus teaches us about what God is like, he’s teaching us about himself.  We should pay careful attention.  And here in Luke 15 we find three parables – three short stories in a row -all of which have the same punch line.   The moral of the story – if we want to call it that, is that God loves lost people.

So let’s jump in.  Luke 15.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

So Jesus told them this story: 

We learn from these verses that there are two types of people in the audience.  Notorious sinners.  Isn’t that a great title?  I just love that.  These aren’t just sinners, they have kicked their sins up a notch.  Jesus is hanging out with notorious sinners.  What kind of person comes to mind when you imagine the crowd?  the promiscuous?  The drunks?  The thieves?   Gang members?  All there in the crowd.

In the same room listening to Jesus are the most religious people in the world.  Awkward!  Pastors, priests – Bible college professors.  BSF Leaders –  People who only have Christian radio on their car radio.  Highly respected religious leaders.

Interesting crowd, right?  The notorious sinners and the moral majority. – both of whom are seeking out Jesus.  They came for a Bible study and Jesus is holding it in a biker bar.  What gives?  Who are these people?  They were indignant.

So Jesus tells them one story in three parts.  Here’s the first part…

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

So what do we learn so far?  We learn that Jesus acknowledges that there are lost people.  Some people are lost and they need to be found. 

Does that offend you?  Immediately, this might put some people off.  But Jesus relentlessly splits humanity into two groups.  There are people who are lost and there are people who are found.  People who walk in lightness or darkness.  Saved or not.  Jesus puts those options in an effort to make us ask ourselves – where do I fall?

Now the interesting thing in this story of course, is that you think you know who the lost ones are.  It’s the bikers, right?  the notorious sinners?

What else do we learn?  Well we learn from this passage what it means for a lost person to be found.  What does Jesus say?  When a sinful person repents, it is equal to a lost person being found.

So he tells us what it means to be found.  Now the term repent is a term that sounds extremely religious, but it’s just a word- and to repent means to change your thinking.

It might be the most difficult thing on earth for a person to say – you know what?  I was wrong.  I thought things worked this way.  And in fact – I was wrong about how things work – about how God works – I was wrong and I am therefore making changes that are in line with this new understanding about reality.

It’s very difficult to repent.  It’s not hard to say I’m sorry.  That’s kind of easy.  And unfortunately many people equate repentance with saying I’m sorry – but there isn’t a fundamental change in the way we think about how God interacts with humanity.  And so we don’t change.  We just say sorry a lot.

So we learn that there is such a thing as a lost person.  And we learned that God is the kind of God who will run after the lost person.  That’s what he does.

We learn that Jesus is a determined shepherd.  He has 100 sheep – one of them wanders away.  I don’t know anything about shepherding sheep.  I would not be a good shepherd.  It might have taken me a week or two before I even noticed a sheep had gone astray.  I miss the big things!  So one little sheep?  Fuggedaboutit. One percent loss isn’t too bad, right?

But Jesus?   He’s like, I have a sheep missing?  Sound the alarm – talk to the neighbors – apparently.  Dingdong – have you seen a sheep walking around here anywhere?  No?  Okay –  I’ll let you know if I find it!   And the neighbors are like – that guy cares about his sheep!

And when he finds the sheep – ding dong – good news man!  I’ve found my sheep!  It was lost but now I found it.  It’s party time!

That’s another thing we learn from the story – God rejoices every time a person places their faith in Jesus.  All of heaven joins the party!  Crank up the music!

Now this parable seems clear enough, but Jesus wants to drive the point home by retelling the same story – but this time it’s not a shepherd with a lost sheep it’s a woman with a lost coin.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Have you ever lost your car keys – or your wallet – and you are like, tearing up the house over turning every couch cushion – and you keep looking at the garbage can and you know that it’s the last resort – if you can’t find it anywhere you know that’s waiting.

How does it feel after you find what was once lost?  Aren’t you over joyed!  Okay – now let me ask you – have you ever called up your neighbors to plan a party because you found your lost keys?  Party time! No.

What does it tell you about God?  He loves lost people and when they are found?  He is bursting with excitement when one person changes the way they think about God and moves toward him.

God loves lost people.  Now once again – remember Jesus is in a biker bar preaching to two groups of people – one side of the room calls the other side Notorious Sinners – that side of the room looks at the other and calls them religious freaks.

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ (Listen Dad, I’m tired of waiting around for you to die.  I’ve got some things I want to do with my life, how do you feel if we just pretend you are dead, you sell half your stuff and give the money to me so I can get on with my life.  So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

At this point some of you are like, “Hey – I found myself in the bible!  Been there – done that!  And others in here are like – that’s so notorious sinner of them.  Serves them right!”

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 

What else do we learn about God in this story?  That right there, is one the most beautiful descriptions of God in the Bible and it might be the opposite image you have of God.  Someone might have told you a long time ago that God was harsh or hard or angry or vengeful.  Will you let Jesus reshape your image of God our Father?

I came across this little image on a friends facebook page and I thought I’d use it- it’s the difference between religion – which always sucks the life out of everything – and what the bible teaches which is a relationship with God.

Prodigals – what awaits you is a compassionate father in heaven who deeply loves you.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.  (interesting, all three of these stories have a celebration scene when that which was lost is found.)

How encouraging would it have been for the notorious sinners to hear Jesus’ story.  The father accepts them back?  Throws a party?  What did he do to deserve that treatment?  Nothing!  But that’s the way the Father is – Such grace!  Such love!

How do you think the notorious sinners were feeling about this story?  Great, right?  You mean, my debauchery hasn’t disqualified me from the Kingdom of heaven?

No, Jesus says – God loves lost people!  He loves finding lost people!

And I will tell you – that those people in our community are lost and God loves them so deeply.  And the fact is the Journey exists for them.  Because this community is filled with people who have no idea that God is just over the horizon and making his way towards them.  There are people in our community who have no idea that in a year from now they will be signing up to get baptized because they have changed the way they think about God and how he operates.  They have come to think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with their lives.

They have no idea it’s coming.  But when it does come, we will be here for them – or for you – if I’m describing you.  It’s okay. Welcome.  We love telling notorious sinners that God loves lost people – that God is the kind of God who rowdily celebrates when notorious lost people are found.

But wait!  The story that Jesus tells isn’t over, is it?

The story of the prodigal son – what an encouragement to every notorious sinner listening to Jesus. But Jesus is about to add a twist at the end that is going to turn this entire story on its head.  Sneaky Jesus!  He’s about to add a surprising twist that will cause the blood vessels to pop inside the heads of all the religious freaks in the room.

Because the religious Pharisees and teachers of the law – all along they thought they were tracking with Jesus – they thought they knew who the lost people in the room were.  Jesus is talking about them.  Jesus is talking about them.  But with this twist, it makes the religious leaders in the room wonder if he wasn’t talking about them all along.  Jesus is about to introduce the other brother – the older brother.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The surprising twist at the end of the sermon?  Both brothers are lost.  Both brothers are equally lost.  Both brothers need to be restored to right relationship with the father.

The younger brother is lost to unrighteousness.  The older brother is lost to self righteousness.  They are both roads that lead to the same place – a broken relationship to the father.

And now the biker bar where Jesus is preaching I quiet.  Two sons.  Both lost.  One is partying with the father.  The other is outside –

The younger brother lived in darkness and knew it.  The older brother lived in darkness but thought he was living in the light.  And in the end, who’s darkness is more terrifying?

About six months ago I received a nasty gram.  It was an email that was just dripping with contempt for me and for Journey.

I don’t get many nasty grams – but if I get one – it’s usually from someone who claims to be a Christian.  And this one wasn’t “nasty” per se but it was dripping with contempt.

This one was complaining about the worship – he called it our “Bar Band” – as far as bar bands go – it’s not bad – but we need to be singing hymns, like me, and my parents and my parents parents did before them.

And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without insinuating that I up my game in the preaching department.  And he concludes by asking, “What advice would you give me?”

Now that’s an invitation to sin.  And at first I wanted to respond with my own dose of contempt.  That’s what contempt does – it almost always produces more contempt.

But God challenges me to listen and respond differently and so I said – Hey – here’s the deal – we started Journey Church for cynics and you are definitely cynical.  Just not the kind we’re used to – let’s get together and talk.

And we had coffee and it was great.  And I learned from it, and at the end I said, I want you to be at Journey.  Because I think God wants something for you.

Now why am I sharing that story?  Because Jesus preaches in a biker bar to two different groups of people – but the bottom line is -the room was filled with people who were lost!

And this community is filled with lost people.  Some are anti-religious.  Some are over religious.  But neither has encountered the real Jesus.  And so both are unchanged.

And we’re going to be there for both kinds of people and all the kinds of lost people in between.

We are embarking on a journey that is nothing less than a defining moment in our church.  We are trying to build a building.  A building where for generations to come – it will be easy to discover the real Jesus for everyone who is ready to look for him.

We’re building a building- it’s cement and brick – and within that building – for generations to come – people who are starting, and restarting their spiritual adventure will know that Journey Church specializes in helping people like them learn how to think differently about God, and walk into a Kingdom where God himself will leads us – like a good shepherd.

For generations to come there will be a church in this community filled with followers of Jesus who love reaching the unreligious and the over religious and the irreligious – with the good news that they are loved beyond their wildest beliefs by a God who will go to any lengths to rescue them.

The reason we are building this church is because God loves lost people.

Can you imagine – imagine if Jesus finished that story and the spirit moved in that biker bar where Jesus preached – imagine people on both sides of the room standing up and walking across and hugging someone on the other side?

Imagine hearing people say – I was lost and now I’m found.  Me too brother.  Me too sister.  That’s the church.  That’s this church, if you continue to vigilantly guard against religion.   if we relentlessly depend on God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.

We were all lost beyond imagination.  Jesus our good shepherd has found us.  And as we come to the communion table, we rejoice.  We come grateful.  We come with hope that we might be that kind of church for generations to come.