I love a good story, and I love a good story teller. My favourite music through the years has been folk and country, because each song is a story.
That’s why Harry Chapin and Tom T Hall have been consistent favourites of mine, and why I love Gordy Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. And it’s why I love to read fiction, because I love a good story.
One of my favourite story tellers is Clive Cussler. His novels are great reads, and I’ve read everything that Clive has written. Now I don’t think Clive Cussler is a great writer, I sometimes find his writing clunky and over written. But I’m willing to overlook that, and apparently others feel the same since he’s had books on the best seller list more than 20 times,. Not because he’s a great writer but because he is a great story teller.
Interesting thing about Cussler is he doesn’t use coarse language in his writing. In an interview he said it was because he hoped that his grandchildren would eventually read his books.
This morning we are looking at one of the greatest stories told by the greatest story teller. Jesus.
This is week four of our “Asking for a Friend” series and we’ve been attempting to answer questions that people submitted online for us.
The question this week is: In a world that is so hostile to God and the church is it a good idea to talk to others about faith?
I guess a little bit depends on what we are thinking when we talk about talking to people about our faith.
If it simply means acknowledging that we are Christians then I would say the simple answer comes in the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
Wow. And we could end the message there. But some how I think that what they may be asking in more in lines with sharing our faith. What we would call, evangelism. And evangelism simply means sharing the good news, or as D. T. Niles said, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
And so this morning we find our answer in a story, let’s begin at the beginning of the story, which is always a good place to start a story.
If you have your bibles with you this morning, turn with me to Luke 15:1-3 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:
Two thousand years ago it was the same as it is today. Religion was sometime seen as a closed club, you came to God on the terms of established religion, you learned the language, you sang their songs and you understood the rules, both the written rules and the unwritten rules. And Jesus began to shake that up, instead of expecting those who needed God to take all the steps Jesus made it easier for them. He taught in fields and market places, in people’s homes and with simple stories that people could understand. And the religious establishment got a little cranky because they were feeling threatened.
I think that Jesus would have agreed with missionary C.T. Studd who wrote, “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”
So Jesus did what Jesus so often did, he told them a story, it wasn’t a theological dissertation, it wasn’t a sermon filled it religious terms and words, it was just a story. And I love a good story, and a good story teller.
When we lived in Australia, it is a beautiful country filled with wonderful people who are far from God, and I discovered that in most social settings if people asked me what I did for a living and I told them I was a pastor it became a very different conversation, they shut right down. So often when someone asked what I did I would tell them “I’m a story teller” and that would often move them in a direction where we could talk.
But back to the message, this chapter is one of the most loved chapters in the Bible; it contains the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Or as he is often referred to “The Prodigal Son.”
There are times that people will talk about these as three separate parables, but the reality is that there is only one parable, there are simply three parts to that parable. It is like a montage, three pictures in a single frame, brought together by a single overriding theme. In this case it would appear that Jesus was defining three types of lost.
So, let’s start at the beginning, Jesus looks at the religious leaders, don’t know if he was sad, frustrated or angry that they didn’t get it but he begins his parable by telling them. Luke 15:4 “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?
In the first instance The Sheep Was Lost Through Its Own Carelessness The story would be familiar to anyone who had ever tended sheep because they really weren’t the brightest of animals. Most of what I read this week about sheep would imply that they aren’t the sharpest knife in the animal drawer. If I wasn’t so sensitive and careful with my words, I’d probably say that The Sheep was lost through its own stupidity. But I won’t go there.
A sheep is driven by its appetites and the immediate, it has no long-term plans or desires, its main concern is simply to find food for right now. And so with its head down the wayward sheep eats and wanders and wanders and eats until it has wandered far from the safety of the flock.
The sheep’s wandering is not a conscious act, it doesn’t begin the day by saying “I think I will wander off and get eaten by a wolf today.” Instead it is simply satisfying its base needs, oblivious to the bigger picture.
And there are folks like that today, perhaps some right here in this service. They are not far from God because that was their plan; they just didn’t have a plan. Their world is consumed with the immediate, earning a living, feeding their appetites, simply making it through life.
And some of those appetites and desires move them further and further from God, but it is carelessness and a lack of knowledge.
That’s where I was when I was 19. I remember talking to another pastor and the question came up about making church relevant to people who are far from God. And I commented that the relevancy of the church never crossed my mind before I chose to follow Christ. I didn’t deliberately not go to church; it was just something that never crossed my mind to do.
I didn’t go to church; I didn’t attend meetings at the Lions Club, and I wasn’t a Shriner simply because they weren’t a part of my life. I never stopped to think about the eternal, or about creation or about God. I was lost and like the sheep who had wandered away wasn’t even aware that I was lost. But that didn’t make me any less lost. And it wasn’t until a friend confronted me about my lostness that I even gave it any thought.
And if my friend hadn’t talked to me about my faith, I’d still be lost.
And I would venture that the vast majority of the folks in our community who don’t attend church just don’t think about it. And so for them we need to present both the church and the kingdom in such a way that they actually stop and consider what we have to offer. And in most cases that will happen when people who already follow Christ talk to their pre-Christian friends and family members about the difference that Jesus and Cornerstone has made in their lives. It’s really that simple no big plan just an acknowledgement that there is something else out there.
The second picture that Jesus draws is in Luke 15:8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it?
If the sheep was lost through its own carelessness The Coin Was Lost Through Someone Else’s Carelessness.
Culturally there is a lot going on in this story. With the sheep the shepherd had lost one in a hundred, but here the woman loses one of the ten silver coins that she has, not one percent of the total but 10 percent of the total. And the commentators say that the coins may have represented a couple of different things to the woman.
For some it was her household savings, her rainy-day fund, money set aside for a specific purpose and that makes sense. Maybe she was counting it wondering how much longer it would take her to have what she needed or maybe she had what she needed and now was taking it out to spend it on whatever it was that she had saved it for.
At least one commentator offers a more romantic spin and claims in that time and culture the mark of a married woman was a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. And if that was the case and that it was one of these coins that was lost, she would have searched for it like you would search for your lost wedding band.
But it was not the coin’s fault that it had been lost. It hadn’t jumped out of the woman’s hand, she dropped it, or she misplaced it, but it was her fault not the coin’s fault.
But the coin had certain characteristics that allowed it to be pre-disposed to being lost. It was heavy and so it fell, it was round so it rolled, and it was inanimate, so it just lay there hidden.
And there are people in our community today who are far from God because of the actions of other people. Parents who had no use for the church, I hear that from time to time, adults who from the time there were children heard nothing but criticism of the church and God, they were shaped from childhood to be lost.
Or maybe it was an incident where they were hurt or disappointed by a church or a believer; I’ve heard those stories as well. Or maybe today it is a result of the constant negative press the church seems to get in the national media.
In the question that was asked today, they began with this premise: In a world that is so hostile to God and the church . . .
And we do live in a world that seems hostile to what we believe, and that of course is relative seeing we live in a country that is infinitely more tolerant of the church and Christianity than a many other countries.
And that’s why, when we encounter that hostilely it is so jarring.
I’ve told this story before. Shortly after we moved into our building, we did the windshield wash thing at the Needs across the street.
One Saturday in February we washed people’s windshields and topped up their windshield washer fluids and gave them a magnet with information about the church on them. And this one guy when he found out I was from a church started yelling about priests and little boys and televangelists and churches stealing people’s money. And then he jumped in truck and drove away. Wow.
But hopefully, when he calmed down and understood the fact that we were willing to wash his windshield and top up his fluid it changed some of his perceptions of the church.
And for those people we need to prove ourselves, and we do that through our actions and through our authenticity. We not only say we care and can be trusted we prove it through our actions and the actions of those who call themselves Christ Followers. But remember even those that are lost because of the carelessness of others, are still lost and they still need to be found.
And that brings us to the third picture in the frame and probably the most familiar one, everyone knows the term the Prodigal Son, even people who have never set foot inside a church. Little side lesson here, often we think that Prodigal is a description of someone who knew God and wandered away. Prodigal was actually a description of the life style that he was living and had nothing to do with his past life style or his future life style.
And so Jesus continues with his lesson Luke 15:11-13 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”
The Son Was Lost Through His Deliberate Actions This is what sets this story apart from the other two, it wasn’t carelessness that resulted in his being lost, it was a conscious thought and action, he deliberately walked away from his father and away from his father’s home. Have you seen the progression? One sheep out of a hundred, one coin out of ten, but here it is one son out of two.
We’ve gone from a loss of 1% to 10% to 50%. From a relatively insignificant loss to one of incredible significance, the loss of a son.
It wasn’t his carelessness that led the boy into his wilderness, he knew exactly what he was doing. And it wasn’t someone else’s fault, as far as we can tell the boy had a good home and a loving family. And he decided to walk away from his home and his family. This was a conscious decision that he made, nobody else made it for him.
And there are people out there today who have consciously decided to not follow Jesus, or they were part of the family and decided that they didn’t want to be part of the family any more. They are spiritually homeless.
But regardless of why the son was lost, the reality is that he was lost. He no longer had any of the privileges of being part of that family, he no longer slept under their roof no longer shared their meals.
I think it is interesting that the shepherd went looking for the sheep, and the woman swept her house in order to find the coin, but the father simply waited for his son to return. Because there wasn’t anything else he could do.
Once the boy had decided to go there were only two options that remained 1) Let him go 2) Take away his free will. And as effective as shackles and a small room in the barn would have been it was outside the scope of the father’s love. As much as the father loved his child, he wasn’t about to take away his free will. Sound familiar?
Two weeks ago, marked 25 years since I became your pastor, and in that same 25 years Angela and I have owned four cats, and I have discovered that pastoring people is like owning cats. If they get out, you can’t run and catch them.
You ever try to catch a cat? Not going to happen not until it wants to be caught. Oh you do the right things you call for the cat, and you rattle the treat bag but they come home when they want to come home. All you can do is be prepared when they come back to let them back in.
And I have discovered that when someone decides to leave the church or worse turn their back on their faith there’s not a lot you or me or God can do to prevent that from happening, shy of locking them in a small room in chains and that goes back to the free will issue again.
And so we call them and rattle the treat bag but we need to be prepared when they come home. In the story we read this Luke 15:20 “So he (the lost son) returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”
Sometimes we are better at tracking down lost sheep and lost coins then we are at welcoming back lost sons. Just saying.
But all three stories ended the same way listen again to the words of Jesus.
Luke 15:6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
Luke 15:9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbours and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’
Luke 15:22-24 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
And then Jesus ties it all together with a bow when he said Luke 15:10 “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
But let’s go back to a scripture that I preached on in May, Romans 10:13-14 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
And maybe the someone one who is supposed to tell them is you. And maybe you are wondering, “But what if they don’t want to hear about my faith?” Well, don’t give up. I didn’t want to hear about my best friend’s faith the first 312 times he talked to me about it.
Are we serious about our mission, about God’s mission? About reaching the spiritually homeless? It cost God his son, it cost Jesus his life and be assured it will cost you something.
There are those in this group today because others were willing to pay that something, the cost of this building, stepping outside their comfort zone to talk to you about God and Cornerstone or in giving up their preferences in order to have a church that you would feel comfortable in.
What will it cost you? Being a part of the 9 a.m. service or eventually moving to another service? As more people come home to Cornerstone there will be need for more volunteers to provide for more ministries and you might be thinking but I don’t want to miss Sunday morning worship. Do you think our other volunteers want to miss the service?
Plus we have the great opportunity to work in one service and worship in the other one. And ultimately there will be a need for more finances and eventually for a bigger facility.
So the question isn’t should we talk about our faith, the only question that remains is: Do we love lost people enough to pay the price?