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September 15, 2019, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 24, Proper 19

 

 

LectionAid 4th Quarter 2019

September 15, 2019, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 24, Proper 19

Jesus’s Shindig

Ps 14 or Ps 51:1-10, Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 or Exodus 32:7-14, 1Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

Theme: Joy and Celebration

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

“He’s a real party animal!” When we hear such a remark we usually think of a hard-drinking, flirtatious college fraternity member, as in movies such as Animal House. However, Luke tells us that this is the charge the leaders of the Jewish establishment made against Jesus of Nazareth because he was drawing the wrong crowd to hear him. When they charged him with welcoming and eating with sinners, they saw Jesus as violating all the traditional purity laws that had defined them as a people called to separate themselves from the unholy idolatrous nations. This seemed scandalous to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Surely a man is known by the company he keeps. No one aspiring to be a religious leader would behave in such a way that would cast a shadow over all those who teach Torah!
The three parables that constitute Ch. 15 of Luke are Jesus’ response to such a narrow, ungracious attitude. The theme of party runs through this chapter, and much of chapter 14 as well, where the kingdom of God is depicted as a wedding banquet. Sub-themes in the three parables in chapter 15 are lost and found, grace and joy–grace in that everyone is invited to the party, and joy in that being in the kingdom is certainly a joyful, not a somber, affair.
Although most readers pass quickly through the first two parables of ch. 15 in order to get at what is perhaps the most famous and beloved of Jesus’ parables, this time we are concentrating on the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. As we shall see, grace is of greater importance in these two parables than in that of the father and two sons. All feature lost and found, a party, and the expression of joy by throwing a party.
In the first parable Jesus describes a faithful shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep, presumably safely penned in a sheepfold made of stones forming a walled enclosure, and goes in search of the lost one. This same parable is told in less detail by Matthew, but Luke adds the touching details of the shepherd laying the stray on his shoulders, rejoicing, and then inviting the neighbors to rejoice with him. Any anger at the trouble the sheep has caused him is swallowed up by the joy in finding the creature and returning it safely.
The second parable is exclusive to Luke. The woman loses one of her silver coins, a drachma, said to be worth a laborer’s wages for a day, and thus for her no small matter. In those days a house, with either no window or at most a small one, was dark. So the woman lights her lamp, gets her broom, and sweeps the hard-packed dirt floor until she finds the coin. Her joy over finding the coin is so great that she invites her friends in to celebrate.
In both cases grace is basic to the story. Neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin came back to their owners. It was the owners who came to them. Even as in the situation of Jesus that gave rise to the criticism and hence his defense, it was Jesus who sought out “the tax collectors and sinners.” And when they are found, there is “joy in the presence of the angels of God.” Jesus elsewhere tells his disciples that he has come that their joy might be full. This is a joy resulting not just from the knowledge that they themselves are now found, and thus saved, but that the one whom they call the Good Shepherd continues to seek the lost by sending themselves out in his stead.
The church, Jewish and Christian, will always have around its nitpickers and rule and violation counters to criticize those who reach out to the “lost.” Many a minister has been criticized for spending too much time ministering to the needs of non-members. Some of the latter, when they dare to venture into a church, have been made to feel excluded, as if they do not belong there. All the more reason why the preacher will come back to this chapter and these two little parables with their emphasis upon joy and celebration because God would exclude no one from the sheepfold. Judging by the way the church is so often falsely depicted in novels and Hollywood films, joy is the last thing people associate with the church. Clearly, pastors who would recapture this Christ-based joy have their work cut out for them.

Exegetical Comments

There is no chapter of the New Testament so well-known and so dearly loved as the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. It has been called ‘the gospel in the gospel’, as if it contained the very distilled essence of the good news which Jesus came to tell.
These parables arose out of definite situations. It was an offence to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus associated with men and women who, by the orthodox, were labelled as sinners. The Pharisees gave to people who did not keep the law a general classification. They called them the People of the Land; and there was a complete barrier between the Pharisees and the People of the Land. The Pharisaic regulations laid it down, ‘When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him, trust him with no secret, do not appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey.’ A Pharisee was forbidden to be the guest of any such man or to have him as his guest. He was even forbidden, so far as it was possible, to have any business dealings with him. It was the deliberate Pharisaic aim to avoid every contact with the people who did not observe the petty details of the law. Obviously, they would be shocked to the core at the way in which Jesus kept company with people who were not only rank outsiders but sinners, contact with whom would necessarily defile. We will understand these parables more fully if we remember that the strict Jews said, not ‘There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’, but, ‘There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.’ They looked forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner.
So Jesus told them the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd’s joy. The shepherd in Judaea had a hard and dangerous task. Pasture was scarce. The narrow central plateau was only a few miles wide, and then it plunged down to the wild cliffs and the terrible devastation of the desert. There were no restraining walls and the sheep would wander. George Adam Smith, an Old Testament scholar who travelled extensively in Palestine, wrote of the shepherd, ‘On some high moor across which at night the hyaenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to the king and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.’
The shepherd was personally responsible for the sheep. If a sheep was lost the shepherd must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died. These shepherds were experts at tracking and could follow the straying sheep’s footprints for miles across the hills. There was not a shepherd for whom it was not all in the day’s work to risk his life for his sheep.
Many of the flocks were communal flocks, belonging, not to individuals, but to villages. There would be two or three shepherds in charge. Those whose flocks were safe would arrive home on time and bring news that one shepherd was still out on the mountainside searching for a sheep which was lost. The whole village would be upon the watch, and when, in the distance, they saw the shepherd striding home with the lost sheep across his shoulders there would rise from the whole community a shout of joy and of thanksgiving.
That is the picture Jesus drew of God; that, said Jesus, is what God is like. God is as glad when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd is when a strayed sheep is brought home. As a great saint said, ‘God, too, knows the joy of finding things that have gone lost.’
There is a wondrous thought here. It is the truly tremendous truth that God is kinder than men and women. The orthodox would write off the tax-collectors and the sinners as beyond the pale and as deserving of nothing but destruction; not so God. We may give up hope of a sinner; not so God. God loves those who never stray away; but in his heart there is the joy of joys when a lost one is found and comes home. It is 1,000 times easier to come back to God than to come home to the bleak criticism of our fellow human beings. F. W. Faber’s hymn expresses this admirably:

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?
Was there ever kindest shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather round his feet?
For the love of God is broader
Then the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind. (Barclay, W. The Gospel of Luke [2001, Louisville, KY] p236–239)
We had just moved to a new house, to a dream location: quiet, secluded, at the end of a road near a lake. Everything seemed peaceful. Then, on the first Saturday night we were there, all chaos broke loose. Loud music, amplified voices making announcements, cheers, fireworks—all going on well into the small hours, keeping our young children awake. We were appalled. Was this going to happen every weekend? Where was the noise coming from? Why had nobody told us about this before we bought the house?
In the morning, the explanations came. No, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. It would only happen once a year. It was the local Yacht Club’s annual party, celebrating some great event in the sailing calendar. We returned to tranquility. But it left me thinking about how one person’s celebration can be really annoying for someone else, especially if they don’t understand the reason for the party.
The three parables in Luke 15 are told because Jesus was making a habit of having celebration parties with all the ‘wrong’ people, and some others thought it was a nightmare. All three stories are ways of saying: ‘This is why we’re celebrating! Wouldn’t you have a party if it was you? How could we not?’ In and through them all we get a wide-open window on what Jesus thought he was doing—and, perhaps, on what we ourselves should be doing.
At the heart of the trouble was the character of the people Jesus was eating with on a regular basis. The tax-collectors were disliked not just because they were tax-collectors—nobody much likes them in any culture—but because they were collecting money for either Herod or the Romans, or both, and nobody cared for them at all. And if they were in regular contact with Gentiles, some might have considered them unclean.
The ‘sinners’ are a more general category, and people disagree as to who precisely they were. They may just have been people who were too poor to know the law properly or to try to keep it (see John 7:49). Certainly they were people who were regarded by the self-appointed experts as hopelessly irreligious, out of touch with the demands that God had made on Israel through the law.
Throughout the chapter Jesus is not saying that such people were simply to be accepted as they stand. Sinners must repent. The lost sheep and lost coin are found. The prodigal son comes to his senses and returns home. But Jesus has a different idea to his critics of what ‘repentance’ means. For them, nothing short of adopting their standards of purity and law-observance would do. For Jesus, when people follow him and his way, that is the true repentance. And—he doesn’t say so in so many words, but I think it’s there by implication—the Pharisees and legal experts themselves need to repent in that way. ‘Righteous persons who don’t need to repent’ indeed (verse 7)! Try saying the sentence with a smile and a question-mark in your voice and you will, I think, hear what Jesus intended.
The point of the parables is then clear. This is why there’s a party going on: all heaven is having a party, the angels are joining in, and if we don’t have one as well, we’ll be out of tune with God’s reality.
In the stories of the sheep and the coin, the punch line in each case depends on the Jewish belief that the two halves of God’s creation, heaven and earth, were meant to fit together and be in harmony with each other. If you discover what’s going on in heaven, you’ll discover how things were meant to be on earth. That, after all, is the point of praying that God’s kingdom will come ‘on earth as in heaven’. As far as the legal experts and Pharisees were concerned, the closest you could get to heaven was in the Temple; the Temple required strict purity from the priests; and the closest that non-priests could get to copying heaven was to maintain a similarly strict purity in every aspect of life. But now Jesus was declaring that heaven was having a great, noisy party every time a single sinner saw the light and began to follow God’s way. If earth-dwellers wanted to copy the life of heaven, they’d have a party, too. That’s what Jesus was doing.
The particular sheep, and the particular coin, weren’t themselves special. (The coins, by the way, may well have been the woman’s savings, possibly her dowry. Losing one would be a personal as well as a financial disaster.) In one of the late, corrupt versions of Jesus’ teaching which were circulated in subsequent centuries, Jesus is made to say to the lost sheep, ‘I love you more than the others.’ But the whole point of the parable is that the only thing different about this sheep is that it was lost. Imagine the impact of this on the repentant sinners who heard the stories. They didn’t have to earn God’s love or Jesus’ respect. He loved coming looking for them and celebrated finding them.
And what Jesus did—this is the deepest point of these parables, and the ultimate reason why the Pharisees objected to them—was what God was doing. Jesus’ actions on earth corresponded exactly to God’s love in the heavenly realm.
The real challenge of these parables for today’s church is: what would we have to do, in the visible, public world, if we were to make people ask the questions to which stories like these are the answer? What might today’s Christians do that would make people ask, ‘Why are you doing something like that?’, and give us the chance to tell stories about finding something that was lost? (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] p183–185)
When we approach this parable, the first order of the day is to rid ourselves of all the twelve or more titles that have been given to it. Most preachers will want to give a title to the sermon (although we may want to ask why), but the sermon title should not be given to the text. This parable cannot be contained in any one sermon. If every sermon should expose an intended meaning of a text, this parable has too many intended meanings to limit it to one title or sermon.
How refreshing, then, to come across Bernard Brandon Scott’s title for this parable. In his book Hear Then the Parable (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), he has renamed all the parables the way the church has named most hymns: by words from their first lines. He has thereby neutralized the interpretative titles that have accrued to the parables. He calls this parable A Man Had Two Sons. That is an exegetically sound way to enter this parable. It leaves all the options open for discovering its teachings and for choosing the most edifying way to preach from it. From that opening line, a walk through the parable will yield a sermon appropriate for the present context. (Van Harn, R. E. The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] vol 3 p 407–11)

Preaching Possibilities

How do we make these parables suddenly new and surprising as when they were first heard? How do we suddenly see the party atmosphere that these words stirred inside the first hearers of this parable? We need to escape the image that the world puts upon the church. We are not a bunch of curmudgeons who are persecuted by the world. Maybe just maybe instead we are the noisy happy house in the neighborhood. Maybe just maybe our vision of God brings about not only happiness to our world but to those around us. As a church we have plenty of reasons to “party”.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Dear Amy: My wife and I recently bought a beautiful new house that we are very happy with. We moved here in the winter and now that it’s summertime, we are all spending more time out on our decks.
We hesitate to say anything because we don’t want to start out on the wrong foot and create bad blood.
It was so loud until so late the other night that I wanted to call the police, but my wife asked me not to. I just can’t believe people would be so inconsiderate. How can we politely get our point across without creating warfare? Should I just put up and shut up? An Avid Reader
Dear Avid: If your house is brand new (and not just new to you), your neighbors have never had to think about anyone living where you live.
You should start by assuming that they aren’t aware of how much the sound travels on these otherwise quiet summer nights. Consider the idea that you are simply letting them know.
Don’t use words like “warfare” or “bad blood.” That kind of thinking is needlessly inflaming a situation that might be easily handled.
The next time this happens, if you feel it is safe to do so (I assume it is), you should knock on your neighbor’s door (or call them if you have their number), introduce yourself and say, “Hey, it’s late and the sound really carries. Could your group take it inside, or could you ask your guests to be quieter?”
Check for the sound ordinances where you live. Many places restrict loud noises and music after 10 p.m. on a weekday and 11 or 12 on a weekend.
If you communicate clearly and respectfully and your neighbors repeatedly party into the night, your next step would be to call the police. (https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/07/21/ask-amy-how-do-i-stop-new-neighbors-loud-late-parties-without-creating-bad-blood/)

Well, it is amazing. When you look at Scripture and you see all these passages in the Old Testament about the parties, the feasts, and that is what feasts were, they were parties. They would often involve sacrifices, but most of the time was spent eating and drinking and basically having fun and taking time off. You see in Leviticus 23:40 God says, “You shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.” This is a seven-day party of rejoicing in God and the Old Testament is full of God-ordained celebrations for the Israelites. How much different it would be if people looked at the church less as a group of always critical, always complaining, always feeling persecuted bunch of curmudgeons — and sometimes we can project that image to the world, no doubt. And we can also project it even to our children growing up in Christian homes. They hear what mom and dad are saying and the critical spirit and the complaining and the ingratitude and all that sort of thing. But what if we as believers were known as the people of celebration and gladness, the place of feasting? How much different it would be if people looked at the church less as a group of always critical, always complaining, always feeling persecuted bunch of curmudgeons — and sometimes we can project that image to the world, no doubt. And we can also project it even to our children growing up in Christian homes. They hear what mom and dad are saying and the critical spirit and the complaining and the ingratitude and all that sort of thing. But what if we as believers were known as the people of celebration and gladness, the place of feasting? (https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/christian-joy-and-feasting)

“I once was lost, but now am found…” These words are from one of the most beloved of Christian hymns, Amazing Grace. Old John Newton’s hymn is so well known that a whole documentary film traced the many ways in which it has been used through the centuries. It is often the filmmaker’s hymn of choice when a spiritual mood is evoked in a film—even barmaid Diane sang it in one episode of “Cheers” when Sam and his gang were starting up the stairs to wreak vengeance on someone who had offended them. The sound of the melody and the import of the words of grace defused the situation, and the men quietly turned around and returned to the bar. John Newton, as is well known by now, counted himself among “the lost,” having once captained a slave ship. Even when he converted to Christianity he continued in the evil trade until at last his conscience overcame his desire to make money.

In Sydney Carter’s great hymn Lord of the Dance, dance becomes the symbol for the joy expressed in the two parables. Christ is the Dancer whose dance was an expression of the joy that began with creation and continues through the ages. However, there are those who “would not dance and they would not follow Me,” so he danced for those who would—fisherman and such. The hymn chronicles the story of “the holy” people gathering their forces to torture and kill and then bury him, after which they’d thought he was gone. But Christ is “the dance and I still go on,” he is “the Lord of the Dance,” who “will never, never die.” This would be a fit hymn to sing on the Sundays that Luke 15 is the gospel text!

Two hymns that invite the singers to join the Good Shepherd in seeking the lost are Frances Ridley Havergal’s Lord, Speak to Me and William Walsham How’s We Give Thee But Thine Own.
Miss Havergal was an evangelical Anglican whose clergy father was a leader in reviving the quality of church music in the first half of the 19th century. She herself became a gifted musician and poet who dedicated her talents to the winning of the lost, as can be seen in the first stanza of her hymn, “Lord, speak to me, that I may speak/In living echoes of Thy tone/As Thou hast sought, so let me seek/Thine own erring children lost and lone.” The rest of this very personal, intimate prayer is a plea for complete transformation that will make her a fit instrument for God’s grace.
Bishop How was also an Anglican in 19th century England, a leader of the “modernist” wing of the church working to incorporate the findings of science into the theology of the church. He was called “the poor man’s bishop” not only because he ministered to so many slum dwellers, but also because he twice turned down appointments to rich dioceses, in one of which he would have earned twice his present salary. He wrote this hymn as an Offertory, but it does not follow the usual pattern of giving as a duty owed to God. Instead, the last three verses express the desire to give through faithful ministry to others: “To comfort and to bless,” and in the 4th stanza, “The captive to release, To God the lost to bring…”

When I first saw the children’s animated film Finding Nemo, the 15th chapter of Luke came to mind. This delightful story of a little clown fish that becomes lost from his father could be seen as a delightful Midrash on the parable of the Shepherd and the Lost Sheep. The shepherd in this underwater story, set off the coast of Australia, is Marlin, the worrywart single father of Nemo who warns his son, when he sets off for his first day of school, to be wary of the deep water. Of course, Nemo is snatched away, and almost before he knows it winds up in a large aquarium tank of a dentist’s office in far off Sydney. Back home Marlin determines to set forth to find his son. Unlike the shepherd in the parable, Marlin has a companion in Dory, who is handicapped by not having a short-term memory. They meet many amusing fish along the way who prove helpful, including three vegetarian sharks who belong to Fish-Eaters Anonymous, and at the end of the quest, a vegetarian pelican, without whom Marlin’s desperate quest might not have succeeded. This is a fish parable that adults can enjoy as much as children.

For those wanting to compare the shepherd of the parable with a searcher who is almost the opposite of him there is John Ford’s great Western The Searchers. The “lost sheep” is Debbie, who is kidnapped by Indians after they slaughter her family. In one of his greatest roles John Wayne plays her uncle Ethan Edwards, who has been obsessively searching for five years for the Comanche’s that stole his niece. His racist views, common among whites of those days, leads him to decide that he will shoot her when he finds her because he assumes that she has been ruined by some buck. His companion is young Mark, an orphan with Indian blood whom he has raised but treated like a tainted outcast. It is Mark who argues along the way for Debbie’s life, an advocacy that causes frequent clashes with the older man. After many adventures, Ethan does catch up with Debbie. We are very anxious as to what will happen next. But then, when he is face to face with her, he raises her in his powerful arms, drops her down into his embrace, and tells her, “Let’s go home, Debbie.”

In the face of a crushing defeat, Japan’s emperor Hirohito said, “We have resolved to endure the unendurable and suffer what is insufferable.” As difficult as that defeat was for the Japanese people, it called from them a strength of character seldom seen in the modern world. Hirohito’s willingness to guide his people through the darkest days in Japan’s history is as much a lesson in leadership as any manager who is suddenly confronted with overwhelming success.

We see a similar sentiment about the transformation of character through embracing the reality of a great loss in the words of Robert E. Lee. General Lee commented to his troops, “We have fought this fight as long, and as well as we know how. We have been defeated. For us as a Christian people, there is now but one course to pursue. We must accept the situation.”

If you’ve lost something and want to get help finding it, or found something and want to return it to its owner, check out the website “lostandfound.com.” You can search for the item by country or by category. Of course the more serious lost and found searches are now done with Amber Alerts broadcast as soon as there is credible evidence a child has been abducted. The good news: God is as relentless in looking for us and counting the hairs on our head as we are in searching for a lost cockatoo in Bangkok or a stolen child in Timbuktu. He never gives up.

Daniel Boone, noted American frontiersman, was known to say that while he ‘Never got lost, I got mighty confused a time or two.’ With today’s Global Positioning System
that can give us our position right down to three meters of accuracy, you have to really try to get yourself lost. Assuming you have a GPS device and know how to use one. But even knowing where you are may be only the starting point if ‘where you are’ is deadly ground. The good news is this: Christ doesn’t just tell us where we are. Christ joins us where we are and leads us to safety, even when we are blithely unaware of our true danger.

“I remember you telling me how to use a compass,” he said after completing a rigorous Combined Arms Exercise with the Marines. “It came in handy on our last operation.” He was six years old and we’d spent the prior day hiking in a terrible rain storm. So on the next day, while our gear was drying out, I sat him down on a stump to show him the finer points of land navigation. That one little lecture has now saved his life twice – once in the Pinot National Forest in a blizzard and on that last ‘operation’ he spoke briefly about. Teaching someone how to find their way when the weather is clear comes in handy when darkness falls upon their path, the water is rising fast and the sky is raining fire.

I am convinced that all the cab drivers in major cities are immigrants. Every time I’ve traveled in the last four years, when I’ve taken a cab from the airport to the hotel or from the hotel to anywhere else, I’ve encountered someone not ‘from here.’ Sometimes it is amusing – if I have plenty of time and lots of cash. But time and cash are usually in short supply, especially when I’ve just finished a four-hour continent-spanning flight. The last thing I want to hear from my cab driver, in response to my telling him the hotel I’m headed for, is “Where’s that?” Sometimes they call their dispatcher. But I’ve learned that if that isn’t the next step, I need to leave the cab before the fare reaches the same level as what you might pay a loan shark. Here’s the good news: Jesus knows where we’re going and he stays with us, even when the road is long and the route twisty.
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In the comic strip Dilbert, the main character is an engineer whose eternal optimism leads him to always trust the character Dogbert, the strip’s personification of evil. In one strip, Dogbert is portrayed as a real estate agent. As Dilbert describes his home, Dogbert translates this into real estate lingo. So “when it rains, the sewer backs up and the covers the driveway” becomes in Dogbert-lingo “lake view.” An environment where “every spring, rabid squirrels rip off huge chunks of the room to look for food” gets translated as “seasonal skylight.” Dilbert’s eternal optimism never gives up on transforming Dogbert into something with a more humane – if not human heart. The culture views such optimism as goofy. No one ever said the gospel would be received with applause.

One of the saddest responses I have heard to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq by American soldiers came in countless interviews with both people on the street and powerful people in government who all said, essentially, “Hey, these people were in prison because they probably committed a crime against one of our soldiers. They had blood on their hands. What difference does it make how they are treated?” The theory here is that someone who has gone astray has forever lost any right to be treated as a human being. God does not so abandon the lost.

Although the lectionary compilers did not pair these parables of Jesus with the book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible, it would be a natural match. Jonah did not have any desire for the lost people of Nineveh to be found; he felt God should be happy with the faithful people already in existence and simply abandon the foolish to their own self-destruction. God might have said to Jonah, “You would search everywhere for a coin you lost or a sheep that was missing; why would not I work to recover a whole city?”

About seven years before he wrote his widely popular The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren authored The Purpose Driven Church. In that volume, he attempted to divulge some of the “secrets” of his church’s rather immense numerical growth. Yet while he readily admits that God welcomes all kinds of people into God’s kingdom, if a particular congregation is to grow significantly in size, Warren suggests that homogeneity is the key. He summarizes that contention when he writes, “Whatever type of people you already have in your congregation is the same type you are likely to attract more of. It is unlikely that your church will attract and keep many people who are very different from those who already attend.” For instance, Warren predicts that a church that is primarily made up of senior citizens will not likely succeed in attracting teenagers. Likewise, he contends that an essentially blue-collar congregation will not often be able to grow by drawing in white-collar workers. The parables in Luke, however, seem to call into question that principle of homogeneity. While homogeneity may indeed be what “works,” is such a narrow focus consistent with Jesus’ teaching? The parables illustrate how God desires to reach out and welcome all people, even if they are outside the boundaries that we believe define our community of faith.

Many parents feel that they are losing touch with their teenagers. Some researchers in Britain, though, suggest that there is a sometimes overlooked way to find them again and reconnect, particularly when it comes to teenage daughters. According to Reuters (4/19/04), a study at Cambridge University found that instead of arguments between parents and their children being bad things, many teen girls use arguments with their parents as a communication tool. The findings indicated that mothers and their teenage daughters had a fight lasting at least 15 minutes every two and a half days. In comparison, adolescent boys fought with their mothers for an average of only six minutes every four days. The study found, though, that fathers often get left out. Daughters tend to get frustrated with their fathers and simply give them the cold shoulder.

The Roman Catholic Church is pursuing a high-tech avenue of reaching out to the lost. According to Newsweek (4/19/04), for 30 cents a message, Verizon Wireless offers subscribers a “Thought of the Day” from the pope. The pope, of course, does not personally type and send out the messages. Rather the messages are excerpts from some of his speeches and sermons. People in Ireland, Great Britain, and Italy have been able to subscribe to the service since last year. A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told reporters, “Why would this not work? Young people are tech-savvy and they are looking for a deeper relationship with their spirituality.” Enrolling in the service is almost as easy as praying. All a person has to do is send a text message reading “Pope On” to the address 24444. As early as the following day, the person would then start receiving daily inspirational messages. For those who might not find the service quite what they want, all it takes is another text message reading “Pope Off.”

Religious publishing house Thomas Nelson has launched a new Bible that is especially designed to reach out to teen boys. According to Reuters (3/18/04), Transit Books, which is the teen division of Thomas Nelson, launched Refuel. The glossy, eye-popping volume began hitting book stores around Easter of this year. Refuel for boys is in response to the wild popularity of Revolve, a magazine-like Bible that was first published for teen girls last year.

When you seek and discover something that has been lost, you never know what kind of a payoff there might be. According to Reuters (12/8/03), a landscape painting that had been painted by the American romantic painter Martin Johnson Heade was sold at an auction lat year for over $1 million. The painting had previously been stashed in an attic for more than 60 years. The piece of artwork, measuring 12 inches by 26 inches, was completely unknown to art experts until it was found in a home near Boston by antique experts Leigh and Leslie Keno as they taped an episode of the new PBS television series Find! At first, appraisers thought the piece would sell for $500,000, but when the bidding ended, it sold for $1,006,250. While he was alive, Heade’s work did not receive much attention, but now he is considered to be one of the best American romantic painters. In 1999, the Museum of Fine Art in Houston bought one of his paintings for $1.25 million. At the time it was being used to cover the hole in a wall in a house in Indiana.

We are never truly found until we find our home with God. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren refers to a story of a retired missionary who was returning home to the United States following many years of overseas service. As it turned out, the president of the United States was on the same boat. As they came into the port, there were cheering crowds, a military band, a red carpet, banners, and a multitude of reporters to greet the president. Yet as the missionary walked down the gangplank, no one took any notice of him. Feeling bitter and resentful, the missionary complained to God. But God gently reminded him, “My child, you’re not home yet.”

When preaching on the parable of the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep, one of the many settings of the 23rd Psalm is suitable for the worship service. Presbyterians have six versions to choose from. Most people will be familiar with the paraphrase from the 1650 Scottish Psalter, its stately words and meter hallowed by over three and a half centuries of use. Next in terms of long use is Isaac Watts’ great paraphrase of 1719 “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” Like a coda, he adds to the familiar words about dwelling forever in God’s house the touching assurance, “There would I find a settled rest, While others go and come;/No more a stranger, or a guest, But like a child at home.” Henry Williams Baker in 1868 tried his hand at paraphrasing the Psalm in his familiar “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” Three 20th Century authors are also represented in the Presbyterian HYMNAL, Robert J. Moore’s version in 1984; Christopher L. Webber’s “The Lord’s My Shepherd, All My Need” in 1986; and prolific Jane Parker Huber’s in 1988. The major difference among them are the tunes to which they are set.

“Grace is unconquerable love…waits not for merit to call it forth, but flows out to the guiltiest, is the sinner’s only hope.” (William Ellery Channing)

“It is grace alone that separates the redeemed from the lost, all having been involved in one common perdition through their common origin.” (St. Augustine)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Praise be to you, O God, our King and Deliverer! As we come into your presence, fill us with your Spirit, that we might be lifted out of the routine and humdrum, thus feeling your love and power. May our songs and words be acceptable in your sight, so that our worship will truly glorify your name and inspire us to live up to our calling to serve you in the love that makes us forget ourselves in service to you and our neighbor. Amen

Prayer of Confession

Gracious God, whom we have long called Shepherd, we confess that we are indeed like the lost sheep about whom your Son spoke in parable. He would keep us close to your side, but we prefer to follow our own paths because they seem easier to traverse and more appealing to our desires for material wealth and public approval. But, by following our own ways, we make a mess of our lives, and harm our relationships with others. Thus, we pray for your forgiveness. Renew our lives through your Spirit, that we might rejoice at your goodness and mercy. In the name of the Good Shepherd we pray, Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Dear God, what could we possibly bring you in payment for your mercy and redemption obtained for us by your Son on the cross? Small and unworthy though they are, we bring to your table these gifts, symbolic of our work and lives. Please accept them so that they will enrich the ministry of this church, the Body of Christ located in this particular place, yet serving you though its ministries throughout the world. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

O God, who rescued the children of Israel time after time, and who sent our Lord Jesus to rescue the whole world, we have gathered and listened to your word. We pray that we do not become overly familiar with that word, but that we still might consider your redemptive works as “amazing grace.” May their sound still be “sweet,” opening our eyes, blinded by our sin, that we might see that though once we were lost, now we are found. We pray for those who are sick; who are lonely and downhearted; for those trapped in poverty or places of warfare and hatred; for those who are homeless, as well as for those who have homes yet dwell in conflict and hostility. In those places to which you send us this week may we become your ambassadors, channels of your mercy and love to those in need. We thank you that when we stood in need you came to us through fellow church members and neighbors. Bring peace and justice to our troubled land, as well as to the world, so divided by prejudices and long-held grudges. May our leaders seek ways to mediate disputes, and may they be saved from self-righteous attitudes caused by thinking too highly of ourselves. Continue, by your indwelling Spirit, to enlarge our vision and our circle of concern, that we might act for Christ locally, and through our church and other organizations, might reach out to the whole world. This, and more, we ask in the strong name of Jesus Christ, who died for the whole world. Amen.