Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fear Not, Faith Yes - Psalm 37

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Psalm 37

I love that word “fret.” 

I’m not sure I use that word very often.

I use the words like…
Cold feet and even

But fret – that is a good old fashioned term for fear.

I think the first time I remember being afraid was in October, 1962.  I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade.  The Soviet Union had been caught putting missiles in Cuba, and these missiles had nuclear weapons. 

Suddenly American cities were in immediate danger.  The world was on the brink of nuclear war and the extinction of all life on the planet. 

My next door neighbor built a fallout shelter and he was not the only one. 

In my school we were taught what to do when the bombs began to drop.  Looking back, these preparations are laughable.  After all, curling up under a wooden desk would not keep us from being disintegrated by a nuclear bomb. 

Now, we are still here. 

The missiles were removed from Cuba and America agreed to remove our missiles from Turkey – of course, it was decades before the Soviets knew those missiles had been declared obsolete by our submarine missiles and were going to be removed anyway.

So it all turned out well. 

But there were changes.

At the time, I lived in Greenville SC, which happened to be the home of the only American to die in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Rudolf Anderson was a 35 year old pilot of a U2 spy plane shot down during the 2 week crisis.  After the crisis, a memorial was erected in his honor.  It was put in a park where children played – a reminder to all 8 year olds like me to live in fear of our impending doom.

This thing about fear… 

We learn to fret about things in life early on.

According to a recent Gallop Poll, the top ten things people fear include spiders!  Makes sense.  Being alone.  The future.  Death.  Violence.  And the number one fear?  Terrorist attacks.

Oh for the days of a much earlier Gallop Poll when the number one fear was public speaking.

We are a people who fret.

We live in distress.

We are gripped by anxiety.

Americans are gripped with fear.

We are afraid.

We want to build a wall around this country – because we are gripped with fear.

We want buy a gun – because we are afraid at work and at home and in the car.

We want to buy security alarms and video cameras for our homes – because we are afraid of who might break in.

We want to keep our children away from the public parks – because we are afraid of strangers.

In this age of fear, what can we do to make sure that we and our families are safe?

(long pause)


The world is a dangerous place.

Get used to it.

Want to buy a gun?  No one will stop you, but understand we are a nation in which there are 88 guns for every 100 people, and it has not made us a safer place.

Want to put up an alarm system in your house?  Fine.  I’ve got one.  But burglars can still break in, steal your new TV set and be out the back door before the police arrive.

Do you put your seat belt on when you drive?  I do this every time.  But am I safe?  No.  I am certainly safer than I am without one – but I am not completely safe.  If I’m hit by a tanker truck going 70 mph and carrying a ton of gasoline – well, I’m pretty much doomed even with the seatbelt I insist on wearing and that keeps me safer – but not completely safe.

The world is a dangerous place.

And this has always been true.  ISIS and mass shootings have not introduced us to a sudden change – life has always been this way.

Now, yes - we can do some things to make the world around us safer for our selves and our children – wear that seat belt, take precautions, but understand that you will never be completely safe.

What you can do is deal with this fear that is taking over the lives of so many people in our country.

It is this fear that is the most dangerous enemy in our society.

It is fear more than anything else that will destroy our nation.

And that is – after all, what terrorist want.  Terrorists don’t want to bomb buildings or kill people – that is a means to an end, and their end, their primary goal is to cripple us with fear. 

And they are succeeding.

We are afraid.

We fret!

Now against this fear is the Scripture.

Our Old Testament lesson says,
Do not fret because of the wicked;
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Remember Psalm 23?

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

In a world that has always had evil, we do not have to fret.   

We can still have peace of mind.

Frederick Buechner, in his reflection of the 23rd Psalm, reminds us that this psalm does not pretend that evil and death do not exist.  He says, “Terrible things happen, and they happen to good people as well as to bad people. Even the paths of righteousness lead through the valley of the shadow. Death lies ahead for all of us, saints and sinners alike, and for all the ones we love. The psalmist doesn't try to explain evil. He doesn't try to minimize evil. He simply says he will not fear evil. For all the power that evil has, it doesn't have the power to make him afraid.”

Rather than struggling to find a safety that we will never completely have, we need to find courage.  We need to find that attitude of being at peace in an unsafe world. 

You know what Jesus said in the New Testament about how to be safe?

This is what he said – he said it in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 12.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight… Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Now – wait.  Jesus didn’t tell us here how to be safe.  What he did say was how to be free of fear in a world that was filled with people who, as he put it, could kill the body.

In a world of evil, we will not fear.  We will have peace.

One of the great quotations about fear comes from an American President, Franklin Roosevelt.  He said that great line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Great line.

Those words were spoken in his first inaugural speech in 1933.  The nation and the world was in the grip of the Great Depression.

One out of every four people was unemployed.

Homelessness was at an all time high.

Hitler had just been elected as chancellor of Germany and Nazism was rising.

The future looked bleak.

And it was bleak.

In the days before his inauguration while he and his speech writers were working on his speech, there was even an assassination attempt.  A gunman tried to kill Roosevelt.  FDR survived – unarmed.  But the mayor of Chicago died.

It was against this backdrop that he delivered his first inaugarual speech in which he said,“the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes.”

What good, after all, is it to live in fear?

Our Old Testament lesson says this:
“Fear leads only to evil.”

And an even greater weapon against fear is love.  1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

So those of us who are paralyzed by fear – let us remind ourselves of the Gospel. 

We do not have to fret and fear and be anxious!

We have a God who is greater than all of the evil in this world.

We may become victims of violence, or victims of disease, we may even know that we are at this very moment walking through that valley of the shadow of death.

But we can choose say no to fear, and yes to faith.

You see, the opposite of fear is not courage. 

It’s faith.

We can say Yes to trusting in God.

We can say Yes to being at peace in a dangerous world in which God is more powerful than anything we can fret over.

Fear?  No.

Faith?  Yes.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Face of Lazarus - Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”  Luke 16:19-31`

In our New Testament lesson today there is a rich man, who has no name, and there is Lazarus, who has a name, but apparently has no face as far as the rich man is concerned.  The rich man never pays Lazarus any attention at all, remaining completely blind to him until they both die.

I have seen the face of Lazarus many times.

After moving here to Orlando, one of the church members introduced me to Einstein’s Bagels on Kaley.  It became a place that I enjoyed from time to time, and for a while, I would see Lazarus sitting in the parking lot.  He was an old man with an untrimmed beard, looking thin and frail.  His hands rough.  His shirt torn, and his shoes well worn.

He’s not there anymore because the police started parking there and after a short time the homeless moved on to another place.

He had the face of Lazarus.

I saw the face of Lazarus a couple of weeks ago at our church party, Talk Like A Pirate Day.  We had invited a number of families from the Homeless Coalition to come and enjoy the free food and the recreation opportunities for their kids. 

I sat with a woman at a table in Conway Hall and I saw in her the face of Lazarus. 

She was grateful – so really, really grateful to this church for giving her son an opportunity to be a kid and to enjoy a bounce house and some cotton candy and a hot dog and the chance to laugh.  She told me how her husband had just gotten a job and that things were slowly getting better.  They were expecting to move into an apartment soon.  At one point she told me, “We’re homeless, but we are not bad people.”

She told me this three or four times, as if she had grown accustomed to people thinking that because she was homeless she was lazy, living off entitlements and stealing from hard working people.

I see the face of Lazarus on the television.  When I see the children of Allepo I see people half a planet away, living in a war zone, without homes, without food, without medicine.

I see the face of Lazarus every day.

And so do you.

The thing is, we see the face of Lazarus so often that we have trained ourselves to turn away.

We become blind to Lazarus.

Our New Testament lesson is a parable, a story that Jesus told.
It begins with a disturbing note:
 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

It is a graphic image of the contrast of wealth and poverty.

Here was this man living high on the hog, as we used to say back in South Carolina

And there at his gate, every day, was the face of Lazarus.  Homeless.  Poor.  And sick.  He had all the scars on him.  And these dogs would come and lick the man’s wounds.

The man longed to eat the crumbs from this man’s table.

Now as if the licking of the wounds by the dogs is not bad enough, let me explain this business of eating bread crumbs.  I used to envision this as actual bread crumbs that might fall from the table, onto a nice clean floor – it was, after all, the floor of a rich man’s house so it must have been pretty clean.

No.  Not really.

This story takes place before forks and spoons were invented.  It was not until a little over 900 years later that someone came up with the idea of a fork.  Until then, polite, wealthy people well trained in the art of etiquette would eat with the only utensils they had available –fingers.

They would wash their fingers in small bowls placed on the table. Then, if you were among the wealthy, you would dry your hands on loaves of bread.  That bread would then be thrown out.

This bread, which had been discarded, and which was probably soggy with a few bits of meat or sauce, was what Lazarus hoped to eat.

He longed to eat the trash – the used napkins.

He lived day after day, never knowing how much food he might secure, or even if he would get any at all.  What little he got, he earned by fighting over the scraps with the stray dogs.

The rich man had to have seen Lazarus at his gate, day after day, night after night.

But like us, he had been able to ignore the face of Lazarus.

To him Lazarus was just an anonymous, homeless man hanging around out front. He was a man with no name. Eventually, he was a man with no face.

Like the children of Allepo.

Like the homeless man in the parking lot of our coffee shop.

Like the lady from the Homeless Coalition.

That can happen to all of us sometimes.

We are like the editors of the news videos.  We can edit out and block out unpleasant sights from our mind.

Poor people living in the streets – ignore them.

Homeless folks under bridges or begging at intersections – they become invisible.

The people struggling in war torn cities – we see them on the news and forget them very quickly.

The faces of Lazarus. We pretend we don’t see them.

Poor people are often forgotten people. No one cares much about them. The rich man never really noticed Lazarus. Lazarus was just someone who was there – part of the scenery.

But here is the thing – Jesus, when he tells these stories, always turns things unexpectedly upside down. 

In this story we see a reversal of fortunes. 

As Jesus tells it, “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.” The rich man however was not so fortunate. He was headed to a warmer climate, you might say. The rich man, who had the best in this life, goes straight to hell.  Lazarus, the often invisible person who had nothing, goes to paradise to be at the side of Abraham.

Jesus always turns the tables.  Remember how Jesus said, “the first will be last, and the last get to be first.”

At another time he said, “Whoever wants to be great must be the slave of all.”

And again, “Those who humble themselves will be exalted, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled.”

We know this – but it still goes against our nature. That’s not the way our human instinct says it should be. We admire the rich, don’t we? We are fascinated by wealthy people aren’t we? Perhaps it is because we dream and hope that one day we’d all like to join their company among the rich and powerful.

God turns the tables in this parable. God reverses what we think is important. God does things differently. Both men die and the rich man now discovers what life was like for Lazarus.

Sometimes we understand someone a little better when we are able to view life from their angle.

This parable teaches us that what’s important in life is not how much we have, but the way we treat other people.
The rich man was not necessarily a bad person. He doesn’t do anything wrong, he is a law-abiding citizen. His only sin was that he failed to notice Lazarus lying in his doorway.
He never put a name or a face to the poor man right under his nose.
The way we treat other people says something about our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Do we treat the people we come in contact with in ways that Jesus would want us to? Or, like the rich man, do we pretend they are not there?
Abraham answered the rich man saying, “remember that during your life, you received good things, and Lazarus didn’t. But no, he is comforted, and you are in agony.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You can’t take it with you.”
On Wednesdays at our 10am Bible Study we have been studying Ecclesiastes, and in chapter two the writer struggles with the realization that he might accumulate all these wonderful things, all this wealth, but he will someday die.  And it will be left for someone else to enjoy.
What can he take with him?  What can we take with us when we die?
One thing.
Just one.
Our relationships.
Our relationship with God, and Jesus, and each other.
That’s what survives.
That’s the only thing we can truly take with us.
Instead of trying to accumulate as many possessions as we can, our goal should be to strengthen those relationships – with family and friends, with the faceless poor at our own gate, and most of all, with Christ. Ultimately, of course, they are all part of the same package. Remember, Jesus said, “just as you do it for one of the least of these, you do it for me.” The rich man could have helped poor Lazarus, but he chose to ignore him. The rich man discovered the hard way, that what goes around, comes around.

In the Mel Brooks movie, Life Stinks, Brooks plays wealthy businessman Goddard Bolt. Goddard Bolt has the best of everything money could buy. He’s wealthy, but his sights are set on making even more. He plans to tear down some old downtown buildings and construct a modern complex with luxury condos and a shopping mall.

“What about all the people living down there?” asks one of his employees.

“What people?” asks Bolt. “There are only old deserted buildings down there.” He never even thinks about all the homeless people just scrapping by in those deserted buildings and back alleys.

So a wager is made that Goddard Bolt can’t live among the street people for 30 days. Bolt takes the bet.

And that becomes the plot of the movie, “Life Stinks.”

While he is living on the streets, he learns firsthand what it’s like to be homeless. He makes friends with the people living on the street and he discovers that they are not bad people – just people down on their luck.

One rainy night, one of his new friends, Sailor, dies on the street and the next morning is found on the sidewalk. No one cares. No one even stops to check to see if he is alive or dead.

At the end of the thirty days, Goddard Bolt is a changed man. No longer is making money his only goal in life. Now he wants to build homeless shelters where he once planned luxury condos.

Like the wealthy man in our parable, Goddard Bolt was always too busy or too preoccupied to notice the poor and homeless people living right outside his gate. The difference is Bolt realized his error and was able to change his ways and his attitude before it was too late.

“Life Stinks” is a comedy – after all, Mel Brooks is in it.  But it does tell a powerful story of the Rich Man who, before he died, saw the face of Lazarus.

We should all open our eyes and see the face of Lazarus.

By now everyone knows the face of Omar Daqneesh, the five year old boy who was photograph sitting quiet and alone in an ambulance, covered from head to toe in dust, blood splattered on his face, a refugee in Syria whose home had just been destroyed.

Since August, that picture has haunted us.

This week, the White House released the text of a letter written to the President by a 6 year old named Alex.  Obama read his letter at a United Nations meeting of world leaders dealing with the refugee crisis.

Alex had this to say to the President:

"Dear President Obama,
"Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too.
"Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won't bring toys and doesn't have toys Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine's lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn't let anyone touch it.
"Thank you very much! I can't wait for you to come!

Alex is 6 years old and has seen the face of Lazarus.

We should all be so fortunate. For there is a bit of the rich man in all of us. There is a lot we are tempted to overlook, ignore or block out. There are faceless, nameless people like Lazarus, suffering in some way all around us.

Some are at the Daily Bread program this Wednesday and this Friday.  They are waiting for us to come and feed them.
Some are in the parking lot of our favorite bagel shop.
Some are in Allepo.
And some may be sitting on the pew next to you.
God has given us so much. 
Let’s open our eyes, see the face of Lazarus, and reach out.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Welcome Back -- Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

There are some movies I love to watch over and over and over and over.  My wife often wonders just how many times can a man watch “Shawshank Redemption,” or “Casablanca.”  Or “Star Wars.’ Or any of the “Star Trek” movies – well, at least the ones that have even numbers.  Or is it the ones that are odd numbers?
Whatever.  I like to hear stories over and over.
But once in a while, even I watch a movie and think, “I’ve seen this one enough.”
Having worn out a video tape of the old movie, “Wizard of Oz,” there came a moment when I thought – I’m done.  I’ve been down that yellow brick road one too many times.
I think the New Testament lesson is at risk of becoming such an experience.
The prodigal son – becomes like one of those movies that is on every channel for weeks on end. 
Yes – we know all about it. 
Like watching the Star Wars movies over and over, at some point there is no surprise at hearing the evil Darth Vader tell the young hero, Luke Skywalker, “I am your father.”
And at some point, the words become not just expected, but boring.
The shock value has worn off. Just say the opening line, "There was a man who had two sons," and we know where this one is going.
The story has all the bland predictability of an old black and white movie that is shown every single Christmas Eve. 
There is, in this story, a horrible moment in which the son says to his loving father, "Give me my share of the inheritance.”
But those words, that essentially mean, “I’m tired of waiting for you to die, I want your money now” leave us unruffled because we’ve heard the story soooo many times.
Fear not; the boy is coming home. He always does. The road back from the far country is paved and well lit, and we have traveled it many times.

          What would have happened if he had not come back home?
          Have you noticed that in recent years movie DVDs have offered alternative endings?
          Many studios now produce and film more than one ending to a movie because they don’t want the word to leak out and for the movie to be spoiled by everyone knowing the ending before the movie is released.  For example, a murder mystery that has 4 or 5 suspects in which it is not revealed until the end who done it, the studio might film 4 or 5 alternative endings and only one will be shown in the theaters.  That way, no one who works in the studio can reveal the ending. But when the DVD comes out, those alternate endings become one of the extra scenes you can watch.

          What would it have been like if the Prodigal Son story had ended differently?

          Actually, I saw that alternative ending lived out once.

          Before coming to Grace Covenant, I was the pastor of a church that did a lot of work with the homeless.  Every day they would come to the church where they could get a breakfast and a bag lunch.   There were showers, and hair cuts, and doctors and nurses.  We offered occasional job training and drug and alcohol recovery. 

          Occasionally, I would do funerals for these folks.
          Tin Man was one such fellow.  Most of these guys had street names like Tin Man, Kick Stand, Cowboy, and such.  Tin Man walked the streets picking up aluminum cans and bottles which he would then sell for a few pennies at a recycling center. 

          In the 4 or 5 years I knew Tin Man, I don’t think he ever held any other job.  Unlike others who would sometimes work on fishing boats in season, or do yard work, collecting trash was about all he could handle. 

          From time to time he would show up drunk, which meant we would ban him from the program for a few days.  He’d get sober, and then not too many weeks, get drunk.

          In December, Tin Man would come to the church for our Christmas party and the church would give him and everyone else a gift.  One year it was a pair of shoes.  Brand new shoes.  He kept his for a day or two and then sold them for a bottle of booze.

          Tin Man was a man who wasted his life away. 
          And that is actually what the word prodigal means – something that is of value that is wasted.  We think of it as repentant or someone who returns or restores a relationship – no prodigal means wasted.
          And Tin Man wasted his life.

          Every opportunity that came along that might have offered a hope of something better, he wasted.

          On the day I did his funeral, the church was full of humble looking folks – mostly homeless men and women, or at best, fishermen and part time motel workers struggling with poor paying jobs.         

          There were two people who seemed out of character with the rest of the group.  A man and a woman.  They were both dressed very stylishly. 
          This was Tin Man’s family.

          His Mom and Dad.

          At most funerals, you might have one or two friends get up and share some stories about the deceased, and usually they were funny stories or heart warming stories.  And at these funerals I did for the homeless, pretty much everyone would get up and speak.  And the stories were great.  People would laugh and smile as they remembered the deceased. 

          And Tin Man’s funeral was no different.  People stood up to remember his jokes, or how he often helped others. 


          Then his mother got up.

          She called Tin Man by a different name.  One we had never heard before.


          Keith was a straight A student.  He was the quarterback for his football team in high school.  He was a student at Purdue University

          Who would have thought.

          We had no idea.

          Mom shared her experience the first time her son came home drunk.  She talked about how he would go through her purse to steal money for drugs.  She shared about having to hide her credit cards and money. 

          She talked about bailing him out of jail. 

          And about bailing him out again.

          And again.

          She told us how hard it was to eventually leave him in jail overnight so he could wake up sober behind bars instead of in his own bed, and by the time she got to this part, she was in tears.

          She had become the father in the Parable who had to let his son go his way – for nothing he could do, or she could do, would change the lost son.

          She was telling the story almost in a whisper when she got to the point about seeing Keith leave home for the last time.

          For the next16 years she waited for him to return. 

But he never did. 

          From time to time she would get a note or a phone call from Keith, letting his parents know where he was living, and that he was working, making money collecting cans and bottles for recycling.  He talked about the great friendships he had at the church where he ate breakfast.

          Mom would often look out the window, waiting, hoping, for Keith to come home.

          And he never did.

          And one day, it was too late. 

          Keith Ingle, AKA Tin Man, got drunk on September 28th, 2012, and fell asleep on the beach.  The tide came in, and Keith was too drunk to realize he was being drowned.  He died at the age of 44.

The alternative ending of the Prodigal Son is not a happy ending.

We know how it ends in the Bible, but this is how it so often ends in real life.

The lost all too often stay lost, while we are the righteous children. Here we are - safe in our Father’s house, singing our familiar hymns, greeting our friends in church, enjoying our cookies in fellowship hall.

And outside this church are the brothers and sisters who have wasted the love of God and traded it for something less.  They are lost and they are hurting.

And what do we do?

We keep gathering here, safe in our Father’s house, singing our familiar hymns, greeting our friends in church, enjoying our cookies in fellowship hall.

I grew up at a time when everyone went to church.  It was expected.  On Sunday it was not just Chick Fil A that was closed.  The library, the grocery stores, the gas stations, they were all closed. 

If you needed a prescription filed, you had to call the pharmacist at home and he or she would meet you at the drug store.

Everyone was at church.

Now, look around your neighborhoods.  People are staying home.  They are not seeking God.

Our brothers and sisters have asked for their inheritance early, and they have left for a far country.

This parable may have become so familiar that we are bored by it, but stop and think about the context in which it is found.  Luke chapter 15 tells three parables.  Not one, but three.

There is the parable of the lost sheep.  The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in order to look for the lost sheep.  I’m not shepherd, but that always struck me as a sign of a dumb shepherd.  You have 99 good sheep right there --- stick with them.  Don’t lose them.  But no.  In the parable, the shepherd leaves the 99 all alone, while he searches for the one lost lamb.

Then there is the story of the lost coin.  The woman turns the house upside down looking high and low for the lost coin. Look, I’ve lost coins in my house.  I’ve lost my car keys, wallet, credit cards, shoes!  50% a a pair of socks!  Big deal.  It’ll show up.  But no – this woman turns the house upside down until she finds it.

Then there is this story of the lost son who comes back and is found.

In each story, there is joy when the lost is found.

You know how we react when the lost is found?  Do you know how we react when a sinner comes back to God?

It’s hard to say.

It doesn’t happen often enough.  In fact, when was the last time someone who was not raised in the church came for a baptism?

Regina joined my church many years ago.  She was homeless and jobless.  When she did work, it was at a local strip club.  She had been arrested for prostitution.  Then one day, she came to the church and few Sundays later, she was baptized. 

She is now employed as an assistant manager in a restaurant.  Been doing that for several years now.  And -- she is now an ordained elder.

Do you know how people responded the day she was baptized and joined the church?

People whispered.  They murmured.  She’s immoral.  We can’t have her near our children – and certainly not near our men!

Hardly anyone rejoiced. 

Like the older son who looks at the returning son with contempt, we think – who is she who does not speak our language, eat the kind of foods we eat, who is she who is so different?  We are the “righteous.” 

It’s time for us to welcome those who are out there.  It’s time for us to go out and find them.  Not just the ones who look like us, talk like us, smell like us. 

It’s time for us to become reckless with our love for the lost.

We’ve been too stingy with our invitations to others to come back to God.  Let’s get reckless.  Let’s invite to the point of abundance.

And when people come into this church who look like they don’t belong, let’s say to them, “Thank God, you’ve come back. We’ve been waiting for you!  We have to celebrate and rejoice, because you were lost, and now you have been found.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.