As all of you know, every year, our volunteer fire company – the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Company – hosts a fair on Labor Day weekend. Just a few weekends ago. There are rides for the kids; fireworks; a parade; a demolition derby (I’ve never been to the demolition derby); all kinds of food including their famous – world famous! – “Fireman’s Chowder.” I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah – and a beer tent. A beer tent.
Now I’ve been at this church 22 years – and I’ve lived here in Clarence Center for 20 of those years. And I want you to know – that I was at the beer tent a couple weekends ago for only the second time. I know – to some of you that may sound shocking – either number one, that I was there – or number two – that it was only my second time there. Even dragged my wife along – I mean – my beloved wife Nancy graciously came along with me when I suggested it would be a really fun way to spend a Saturday night.
And I saw a lot of our church family members there – at the beer tent. And I said to Nancy, “You know – I really like coming here. I get to see some of our members who I don’t see any other time of the year.” And she said – true story – she said “Yeah, that’s what you told me the last time we were here.”
Now I don’t know how any of you feel about your pastor going to the beer tent. You probably don’t care. After all we are Lutherans, you know! Hey! I had only one. And I did – I did see a lot of our members there. Some of you I saw from a distance. But I also had the chance to talk to a lot of you too – or just waved at some from a distance.
Now, as I said, I saw a lot of our church members who don’t often if ever show up here for worship. And you also know that more than one time I have heard people say to me, “Why is it that when I see you, I feel guilty.” I shared that much with you in a sermon a few months ago.
Let me tell you – sometimes there is great value in just showing up. Just to be seen. That perhaps maybe – just maybe – that by my presence it might get some of these – can I call them lost sheep? – it might get them to think about church – about God – or dare I hope – I always hope – perhaps even finding their way back to this place of worship and fellowship in Christ. Call it evangelism by just being there – or evangelism by just walking around.
And quite frankly – whether it’s at the beer tent – or at Wegman’s – or on the bike path – I have had many conversations where I hear – “I know pastor. I know I need to get back to church. We’ve been talking about it, and I want you to know we’ll be back.”
Our Gospel lesson for today is all about finding that which is lost. Two parables. Told by Jesus. One about a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep that has just kind of wandered away, while leaving 99 sheep to go in search of that one lost sheep. And a woman who sweeps the floors of her home looking for a lost coin. Jesus tells these parables in response to the religious leaders of his day who criticize him for eating with – well – they called them sinners. Those who perhaps didn’t obey the Jewish religious laws – or collected taxes for the Romans.
And as you listened to these two parables read to you – and perhaps followed along on the front screens – the first thing that I would hope you heard is that Jesus is telling us something about God – and about who God is. Because Jesus is not talking about sheep. He’s not talking about coins. He’s talking about people – he’s talking about people who need the Lord.
So let me tell you what I hear. I hear that God is interested in the lost. AND – what’s really great – is that God rejoices when a lost person comes home to Him. You know what that tells me? It tells me that people matter to God. It tells me that YOU matter to God. That God loves you. That God cares about you. In fact, He’s crazy about you. And that God rejoices – heck, even the angels in heaven rejoice – when those who have wandered away return to Him – or when those who are lost are found.
And since all of us – every single one of us – are or were – lost at one time or another – or perhaps just kind of wandered away – that God rejoiced – the angels in heaven rejoiced – when you and I were found. When you and I came home to God.
Now I know we live in a world of skeptics and skepticism – about God – about the church. One of the challenges we face in our society today is the growing number of agnostic and atheist voices who are writing books, becoming vocal, and quite frankly – evangelistic in getting people to agree with their world view – a world view that says the universe just kind of started and developed on its own – in spite of the evidence of what can be observed that the universe looks to be wonderfully designed and engineered by an intelligent being – a being that we know to be God.
And it is my intention to preach a sermon series – I’d love to tell you that I am targeting the weekends in Lent of next year for this – that’s my target – on why the atheists and the agnostics are wrong. I know that they are sincere in their beliefs – but I want to show why they are sincerely wrong. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in this area – and I want to preach a series on the evidence for God – the evidence for creation – the evidence for the resurrection. Anyway – stay tuned.
Because there is a lot of skepticism out there. Lost sheep who have wandered away for a variety of reasons. I can tell you that when I hear “Well, pastor, I just want you to know that I’m spiritual but not religious,” I think what they’re really saying is, “I believe in God – but I just don’t like the church.” Or “I don’t have anything against God. It’s His fans I can’t stand
There are many of us who have family members – husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters – who are in what we might call “lost sheep” status. Do not give up on them. I haven’t given up on the lost sheep in my family – and I can tell you that God does not – and will not – ever give up either.
How can I say that? Because Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Last week I told you that we here at Zion Lutheran Church are in the business of making disciples. This week let me tell you that Jesus is in the business of seeking and saving the lost. And quite frankly – you and I are the tools he uses to go looking for those lost sheep. If God cares about the lost – then so do we. If Jesus is like a good shepherd who goes after that one lost sheep – if he makes that one lost sheep his business – then that one lost sheep is our business too.
Norman Vincent Peale once told about addressing a Methodist conference in Atlanta, Georgia along with a fine preacher, Bishop Noah Moore, and Pierce Harris, a much-loved local pastor. In his message Peale said that he believed that Jesus Christ could come into a life and change it, no matter how hopeless it seemed.
After the service, when he and the other guest preachers were gathered in the minister's office, they were told that a man wanted to see them. A somewhat disreputable-looking man, they were warned; unshaven, unwashed, poorly dressed. When the man did come in, he was reeking of alcohol, but his mind was full of the message he had just heard. “‘Do you really believe that Jesus can help me?” he asked.
“Without a doubt,” Peale replied. Then the man asked if they would pray with him.
So the four ordained ministers prayed with the man. When he went out, Bishop Moore said, a bit wistfully, “If that man changes, we'll all be surprised, won't we?” There it was, a flicker of doubt from one of the clergy wondering if change is possible for some people.
Six months later, Peale said he was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Clearwater, Florida, when he saw a man coming toward him, leading two little girls by the hand. The man was immaculately dressed, and his daughters were exquisite children, attractive and well-behaved. At first Peale didn’t know who he was, but as he came closer, he recognized the former derelict from Atlanta. There was a smile on his face, and he was humming ‘Amazing Grace’ as he held out his hand in greeting. Peale said it was one of the most emotional and unforgettable encounters of his life.
How many of you believe that Jesus can and does make a difference – can bring about change in a person’s life? We know because our lives have been changed.
Let me share with you another story. There's an old story, about a little boy who cried out in the night. “Daddy, I'm scared!” Half awake his father said, “Don't be afraid, Daddy's right across the hall.”’
There was a brief pause and the little boy called out, “I'm still scared.” So his father said, You don't have to be afraid; God is with you. God loves you.
The pause was longer but the little boy called out again, “I don't care about God, Daddy; I want someone with skin on!”
Folks – people matter to God. And so God sent to earth a real live, flesh and blood Savior – His Son Jesus Christ. God in the flesh. God with skin on. In order to seek and to save the lost. It’s how we know that people matter to God.
Jesus is sometimes called the Good Shepherd. And when we know Jesus the Good Shepherd – the One who comes after us when we wander away – we know then just how much we are truly valued – how much we are truly wanted – how much we are truly loved.
And Jesus – the Good Shepherd – isn’t satisfied until all those who have been lost or who have wandered away – are safely back home. So no matter what you’ve done – no matter where you’ve been – no matter how long you’ve been away – there is a place for you here. Welcome home! Amen