Lost and Now Found
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Today’s Gospel reading opened up setting a scene…”Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and say, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
In response to this grumbling of the righteous, Jesus shares three parables where something or someone was lost and then faithfully found. Today’s parable of the Lost Son or Sibling proclaims to us that God created purpose for us is to be in loving relationship with God and with one another. The parable of the lost sibling and his older brother also reminds us that God’s created purpose for us is for us to have free will of decisions that impact our life and the lives of others.
As the parable unfolds we are reminded once again that some of our decisions will be faithful to God and faithful to God’s created order, and then sometimes our choices of our own God given free will disrupts and harms the same created community that God has blessed us with.
Everything about the lost son’s decisions would be scandalous and insulting to those in the parable and those who were hearing Jesus tell the parable. In our American eyes we might see the poor choices the younger son made as one centered around money and temptation. Money and how it was spent was just the surface of the insult and scandal. To ask for your inheritance before your parent had died was consider insulting to your family, especially your parent who owned the land. Yet, the ripple effects of pain did not stop with just the parent. The loss of land that the son carelessly sold would have upset any other family members and the nearby community. You see, Jewish families saw land as the core of their economy and their communal identity, and this led them to hold onto their ancestral lands. They also viewed land as a gift from God to their families and their community. To seek to sell land for ones own gain would have caused a ripple of heartache throughout the nearby community because it meant losing a part of the identity of the community.
The parable says the son asks for his share of property, and the father faithfully divides the land between his two sons. One son faithfully stays and serves his father and cares for his community even though he could have left like his brother. The younger sibling uses his God given free will and makes terrible decisions with the gift he had been given, and it leads to a defining moment of contemplation.
He has no more money and no more food. He finds himself working hard feeding pigs, and in a moment of contemplation he looks back at the decisions he made using his own free will and to paraphrase he cries out, “what am I doing with my life, I am lost! I need to turn back my life, and seek out all of those I hurt and neglected to care for.”
Lent is a season in the life of the church when we contemplate our current position in life. Lent is a season in the life of the church when we contemplate the things in our life that are getting in the way and making us feel lost from God and lost from those in the community we are called to love. During lent we reflect on our discipleship towards Christ and ask tough questions of ourselves, questions like “what am doing that is making me lost and disconnected from my created purpose to love God and to love others?
We read this text and we might reflect where our own God given gift of free will has wasted our other God given gifts, or maybe our free will has caused us to be isolated from others, or hurt those in our community. Our human nature can lead us to be lost in many ways and from many people. Lent is a season where we remember like the younger son we repent and turn back from the ways of life that are causing us to be lost from God and lost from our created purpose to love and care for one another.
As we contemplate this lesson we might relate to the lost son or maybe we relate to righteous sibling. The younger son is lost from wasting gifts and selfishly choosing a way of life that has insulted and hurt those in his life. The righteous and faithful sibling is lost because he can not relate to the joy one should feel when restoration to the community occurs.
No matter how we might feel lost today, may we all remember this important truth about today’s parable…this parable is more about God’s amazing and infinite grace and compassion than about God’s lost children. This parable is a proclamation about God’s amazing grace that offers new creation to all. God intends to salvage what is lost and offer love and grace in all situations so all may experience restoration in their created purpose to love God and love another. May this good news of God’s faithful diligence to restore our brokenness and guide us back to our created purpose bring us hope when we feel lost and disconnected from God and lost from God’s created purpose for us.
Earlier this week I saw this headline in the latest edition of Christianity Today, “America’s Return to Church Has Plateaued: Two years in, more congregations are open without COVID-19 precautions, but Americans aren’t more likely to show up.” In the article you could read about the latest church trend research from Pew Research Center. This is one of those realities of the ways we might feel lost as we strive to return back to “normal church life”. One positive mentioned in this article is that while there has been a large drop in physical attendance during the pandemic, virtual worship attendance has been high during the pandemic. Yet there is no doubt that the upheaval of the last two years has change the way people relate to church. Some might even feel lost. In fact only around two thirds of people who before the pandemic usually attended church at least monthly, said they were back in the pews in March 2022. That is roughly the same number in September of 2021.
The pastors of this church have said that as we reawaken we will learn that everyone has different comfort levels with gathering. Some will feel comfortable meeting in person, some will feel comfortable faithfully joining worship virtually to tend to their well being until they feel it is safe to be around others. Then there is this reality about comfort levels…according to PEW research it is believed 12% of formerly regular church goers say they’re comfortable doing other things on Sunday not related to church worship.
As we navigate this issue of a lost church in a post pandemic world, may the truth being proclaimed in this parable be our hopeful guide. God’s amazing and infinite compassion and grace will always be abundantly present to restore what is lost! Let us cling tight to this truth!
There was a quote in the Christianity Today article that stood out to me. It was quote by author Collin Hansen who wrote the book Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential. He told Christianity Today, “We have to retrain people from the beginning about why you should bother to assemble.” For a church that might still feel lost, this is a great question. For a church that is faithfully and anxiously waiting for the 12% our siblings in Christ to return we should ask ourselves why do we gather as a church?…We gather not just for ourselves, but more importantly we gather together because of God.
While sometimes we might think church is a place that is about us, in reality it is a place that puts God first, and us second. Church is full of lost children and full of righteous children. Church is about coming together, sinners and righteous, lost and found, standing together in God’s amazing grace and worshiping together and praising God together. Church is a time and place we come together and celebrate God’s created purpose for us to be in relationship with one another.
While we faithfully wait and long for 12% of our siblings in Christ to return to church and hope to meet them down the road welcoming them home, may we all remember this truth about God’s church…Church is a place where God’s gifts of love, grace, and fellowship restores the community.
Jesus was gathered around a table having a meal with outcasts and people seen as lost when the righteous asked that question, “why does this man eat with sinners?”. He was eating with those seen as lost because Jesus knew that love, grace, and fellowship restores the community.
Why did the father throw a party with a meal with all the neighbors when his lost son returned home? The father knew that love, grace, and fellowship would reconnect his lost son with the neighbors who were so upset and insulted that he sold the ancestral land and a piece of their communal identity.
So how do we navigate a lost church in a post pandemic world?…We assemble together for worship and let our worship of God ground us to our created purpose. Our worship of God grounds us because it is a special time of fellowship when we celebrate and remember God’s redeeming love and grace that claims us no matter how lost we all feel are from God and and one another. We gather together (whether it is in pews, watching on a screen, or listening to the radio) to worship God and allow this special time of fellowship to reconnect us with our created purpose to love God and love one another.
As we reawaken ourselves in a post pandemic world as a church may we lean on God’s gift of love, grace, and fellowship that we are experiencing in our worship of God. May we focus on God’s amazing love and grace when we feel lost and disconnected from God and from our community of faith. May our worship of God ground us and return us to our created purpose to love God and love and care for one another. As we worship may we give God all glory and praise and celebrate together the Good News that what is lost will always be restored by God. Amen