Welcome Home: Where the Lost are Found (September 1, 2019)
Welcome Home: Where the Lost are Found
Have you ever walked into a place and immediately felt like you don’t belong? Recently, I was going to a coffee shop that I’ve been to often. Walking through the parking lot, I locked the car with the remote, checked my bag to see that I had everything I needed and confidently swung the door open, only to look up and see that I was standing in a nail salon. This is definitely NOT where I belong. I sheepishly backpedaled, went out the door, and quickly found the correct door to the coffee shop about 10 feet to the left.
That’s a fairly trivial example. What if you’re in a place you think you need to be, but from the stares of the people there and the sinking in your gut you just feel like you don’t belong. Maybe it’s a classroom that you are entering for the first time at a new school or new school year. Maybe it’s a new place of work, or a new position at work. Maybe it’s your very own home? It’s tragic. It’s heart breaking. It’s damaging when we don’t feel welcomed in the very place we know we are supposed to be.
Sadly, that’s sometimes what the church has become. We see a sharp contrast between two groups of people in Luke 15. On the one hand, you have the tax collectors and sinners. And on the other hand, you have the Pharisees and teachers of the law. And the way that these two groups were perceived in those days was, you have those righteous people who make up the church and then the lost sinners who don’t belong there. And the very people in the church who should have been reaching out and embracing were actually shunning and slamming the door. The Pharisees strove to maintain a “righteous” life and to associate with only those as righteous as themselves that they slammed the door on those who really needed to be there. They made the church an unattainable goal. And if any sinner dared enter the church, they would immediately be made to feel unwelcomed.
Is that how you feel here? Do you feel like you don’t belong? Do you feel looked down upon as unworthy to be seated among this congregation? Do you look around and see people who are all more put together and righteous than yourself? I mean, lets be honest with ourselves. When you look around this room, do you see people who are here because they have their lives together, or people who need help and healing? If you are here feeling lost or helpless, and yet feel like you don’t belong, then look at the group that is drawn to Jesus in the Bible. It’s the tax collectors and sinners who were all gathering around to hear Jesus (Lk 15:1). And the Pharisees, although trying to criticize Jesus, state perfectly why he came, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:2).
Then Jesus tells a parable to show that he doesn’t just welcome sinners. No, he does much more than that. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4). Jesus tells it from the perspective of the shepherd, defending his actions to the Pharisees. But what if we think of it from the perspective of the lost sheep? Maybe there was a disagreement between you and some other sheep in the fold. Maybe you were looking for greener pastures somewhere else for a time. Maybe you just weren’t paying attention, life gets busy or whatever else and suddenly you look up to notice that you haven’t been to church in what, a couple months? A year? A decade? Well, what’s one who wandered away anyway? Will anyone really notice me missing from the flock? Will anyone care?
The parable talks about 99 sheep, and the shepherd does notice the one missing. But I’m going to zoom out to the entire flock of God. How many Christians do you think there are in the world? One billion? 2 billion? I’ve read that 1 billion grains of sand is about a cubic meter of sand. That might not sound like too much, but if you had a cubic meter of sand, 1 billion grains, and when you’re not looking I take one of them away, are you going to notice 1 missing? I wouldn’t. But Jesus does. Out of the 1 billion or 2 billion Christians in the world, Satan plucks one of them away. Even if you and I don’t notice, Jesus does. No matter how insignificant you may feel in the larger flock of God, no matter how easy you might think it would be to slip his notice, your absence is felt. You are missed. And your Savior is concerned about you. So concerned in fact that he goes after you, seeks you, calls for you until you are found! Because he wants you safe at home. He wants you to realize that he is the person who is most interested in your safety, your salvation, and your spiritual welfare.
That’s one great thing about this place as well. Your Shepherd doesn’t want you to feel like one in a billion – unnoticed and easily lost. So, he gathers his flock into smaller groupings, in congregations, in church homes, where you can feel loved, known, and at home – a place where you belong. When you are not here in this gathering of about 80 members, it’s felt by every one of us. We long to be with you. We long to have you home. We long to build you up and be built up by you! Because every single one of you has unique gifts to share. Every single one of you brings a unique aspect to this group that we all need.
The second parable that Jesus tells, about the lost coin, highlights all the care he puts into searching for you and finding you. “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” (Lk 15:8). Your Savior doesn’t simply do a quick visual sweep of the area and say, “Oh well” if you are not found. He goes after you, intentionally, carefully, and in a variety of ways because he wants you to be home!
And what happens when you are found? What happens when you walk through these doors after its been months… a year… or even more? “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10). The angels are rejoicing that you are home! Jesus rejoices that you are home! We, your brothers and sisters are overjoyed and ready to welcome you with open arms!
That’s the hope, at least. Every single one of us ought to rejoice any time a person is led in through those doors, to sit with us, to grow with us, to be welcomed by us and eat with us. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we, like the Pharisees, mutter indignant phrases like, “What brought him back?” or “What does she need this time?” If that’s our attitude, then shame on us. This place was never meant to be a hotel for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. It’s a place where the lost find healing. And if we need to be reminded of that, then we are lost ourselves even right within this very room. There is no such thing as a perfect person this side of heaven. There isn’t a one of us in here who has everything perfectly together. You and I come here for the healing, forgiveness, and peace we so desperately need. This place is made up of individuals who are all wrestling with our own sins, and yet redeemed by grace. So, any time a person walks through those doors, we ought to welcome them with open arms, because this is where they need to be. Because this is where they belong. Because that’s what Jesus does for every one of us.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:2). It was meant to be a derogatory slur, but it’s actually one of the most comforting statements anyone could say. Especially in times when I am struggling with sin, or overwhelmed by guilt. In times when I know I am not good enough, could never measure up, and the law is rightly condemning me as a miserable sinner. Times when I feel worthless compared to those surrounding me. These are exactly the words I need to hear, “This man welcomes sinners” (Lk 15:2). This is exactly the place I need to be. Even though I may feel like I don’t belong. Even though I may feel out of place. Even through I may feel unworthy. It’s just a feeling. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Lk 15:2). It’s one thing to be standing in a crowd next to someone. It’s another thing to have them sit down and eat with you – willingly be seen with you, associate with you, and welcome you. And that’s exactly what your Savior does here. He welcomes you, sinner, and eats with you, to give you the help and healing you so desperately need – along with all the rest of us.
Welcome home! Where the lost are found. And where the lost find healing.