Sunday, September 12, 2010

“Success/Failure, Lost/Found”

Luke 15:1-10
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this parable: Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

A Message from the Pastor
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” That’s how Jesus was identified. But let’s put that in contemporary language. “This fellow welcomes the low life and eats with them.” That would not exactly be called an identification that was connected to success. And, let’s use another contextual example. The people who said that were the religious business leaders of the community and the lawyers. That is what the Pharisees and the scribes were.

And since we are disciples – followers of Jesus – is that how we would be identified? Would we like that comment made on our tombstone or the plaque where our ashes reside? I think people would see that comment and say, “He/She certainly was a failure.”

But why does this classification of Jesus surprise us? After all, just read scripture and see how God and Jesus act. Abel’s offering to God pleased God. Yet, when Cain killed Abel, God put a mark on Cain so that he could not be killed as he wandered the earth. I don’t think God would be called successful by the world’s standards. God selected a mama’s boy to be the father of God’s nation. This boy was a twin. He conned his brother out of his birthright and then did the same to his father so that he would get his brother’s blessing. The people of God were named after him. I don’t think God would be called successful by the world’s standards. Then, when God’s people were enslaved, he selected a person to lead them to freedom who had killed an Egyptian. And when God approached him, he argued with him that he was not capable. And who were these people of God? God called them “stiff-necked” and they constantly rebelled against God. I don’t think God would be called successful by the world’s standards. God selected the youngest of seven brothers to be king of his people. He united all of the twelve tribes and brought them together as one nation. They were prosperous and wealthy. What did this king do to say “thank you?” He murdered the husband of the woman with whom he committed adultery. I don’t think God would be called successful by the world’s standards.

And if that isn’t enough, God sent his son to be “low life.” He sent him to be a human. And how did he end up? He was hanged naked from a cross in a garbage dump, shamed and humiliated. The world would certainly call that a failure. And, he had a three year ministry, cleansing, healing and curing. He demonstrated this incredible power. After his resurrection, he visited people to show he was alive. How many people were there? At the most there were two hundred. He sent the twelve out to proclaim the gospel and we only heard from several of them. Again, it’s a worldly failure.

Jesus had Plan B. He found an evangelist to spread the gospel. Who was he? He was a person who had been heretical and violent towards this new faith. He wanted to kill all the Christians. God chalked up another failure.

Let me provide a few examples. I participated in UTO, Urban Training Organization of Atlanta. I toured the under belly of Atlanta during my spring break in 1993. One of the places we visited was a non-profit organization that was developed because of the work of several communities of faith. Their purpose was to bring people back into the mainstream of society. The organization coached them, helped them with resumes, and provided other services. They told us the percentage of success. Someone asked what happened to those who weren’t part of that percentage. We were told by our leader that they fell through the cracks. However, when communities of faith were performing this service, the faith community kept connected with all. However, the world deals in numbers to determine success.

When I was a transition pastor in Hartsville, SC, we went on initial calls one Saturday each month. During a couple of council meetings, the President said that he couldn’t understand why we did it. No one ever responded. The program was a failure. At another meeting, another council member reminded us that, at the same time, the number of first time worshippers increased. She also said that we are supposed to do what God calls us to do. God does what God does. Sometimes the dots don’t connect.

Let’s get closer to home. Since April 16, 2009, Cross of Grace has made close to 2,000 initial calls. The results are that eleven people have become worshippers. Statistically, in the eyes of the world, the program is a failure. Yet, in the eyes of the church, we are joyful and celebrate.

God calls us to be faithful, not successful. God looks at each one of us, one at a time. Each one is special. Each one is unique. Each one has the full attention of God.

I have one other thought. There are the ninety-nine and the one. Who do we identify with? The ninety-nine? Or, the one? Personally, I identify with the ninety-nine. I consider myself to be in the flock, and my concern is for the one who is lost. Well, that’s true. But, when I think about it, I am also the one. I am lost every day. Every time I forget that the world is about God and not about me, I’m lost. Every time I think about what I want, I am lost. Every time I do not pray, I am lost. Every time I do not worship, I am lost. Every time I don’t read scripture, I am lost. Every time I fail to joyously serve out of my love for Christ, I am lost. Every time I do not generously give, I am lost. Every time I do not seek friendships that spiritually strengthen me, I am lost. And, every time I return to Christ, there is joy and celebration in heaven, because Christ has found me. And so it is with each of us.

It’s a little confusing. Last week Jesus told us the challenges we have in order to be his disciple. This week we find out that he accepts us just the way we are as he welcomes and eats with us. Jesus loves us; however, he loves us too much to let us stay the way we are.

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