APC 20th Jan 2021 “Stories Jesus told…The Lost things”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Midweek worship. Over the next few weeks we’re going to listen to some of the greatest short stories containing some of the most important life lessons. All of them written by our Lord Jesus Christ. The title of today’s story is, “Lost Things”. But before we hear it, let’s take a moment to talk to God, let’s pray…
Almighty God, we thank you for your great gift of love – the love that we are able to share with those around us, which gives us a sense of self-worth and belonging, which enriches our lives in so many ways. You have opened your heart to us - help us to do the same to you.
We thank you for your love which defies all expression, constant, total, inexhaustible, flowing out to us like a never-ending stream. You have opened your heart to us - help us to do the same to you.
Almighty God, we thank you for loving us before we ever loved you and for continuing to love us even when we fail to love you in return. Forgive us when we have proudly felt we are somehow better than other people. Forgive us when we have not loved other people and when we have refused to forgive them. Lord, You have opened your heart to us - help us to do the same to other people.
Deepen our love for you and for one another. Help us to be faithful and true in all our relationships, and most especially in our relationship with you. You have opened your heart to us - help us to do the same to you.
Let us join together in the words of the Lord’s Prayer…
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Stories Jesus Told... “The Lost Things”
All of us wear masks at times. We pretend or portray an image that we think people will like. We do our best to hide who we really are, what we really think or how we’re actually feeling. Sometimes this can be a necessary, protective mechanism. But it can also put us under a lot of internal pressure which can affect us physically and emotionally.
We often do the same in our relationship with God. We may think of God as an angry Spirit, watching and waiting for us to make a mistake. We may view Him as a merciless judge ready to punish us for failing to reach his impossible standards. As a result, we often try to hide what we’re really like from Him. We’re afraid to talk to him with sheer honesty because we think He will condemn and reject us rather than welcome and love us.
This is one of the reasons why the stories Jesus told are so important because, in them, we get a better understanding of what God is really like. In them we find out how God actually feels about us.
In the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, Jesus tries to show the religious leaders of his day that their view of God is distorted and as a result their attitude towards other people needs to change.
To their credit the Pharisees had many positive qualities. Many of them had a sincere faith and wanted to live in ways that were perfectly pleasing to God. The problem was that in their desire to be perfect, they had made up an endless list of rules and regulations which went far beyond the ten guiding principles of living that God had advised in His Commandments. Religion for the Pharisees had become a complicated system of nit-picking regulations rather than a life of joyful freedom within the boundaries of a few guiding principles. Over time this harsh system must have left many of these men feeling guilty. I’m sure it also caused some of them to view God as a ‘Big Brother’ figure, scrutinising everything they said and did, ready to punish them for every minor offence or evict them from His house altogether.
Sadly this belief system also seems to have created in the Pharisees an attitude of self-righteousness. As a result, they despised anything or anyone that might in any way cause them to become contaminated. For example, the Pharisees called people who did not keep the law, ‘People of the Land.’ They also made up laws to maintain complete separation from these people. Listen to some of these laws: “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 a guest of such a person or to have them as his guest. The Pharisees deliberately tried to avoid any contact with people who did not keep the petty details of the law. That’s why they were so shocked to see Jesus eating, drinking, talking and joking with people who were not only rank outsiders but the worst of sinners! Their attitude was 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.”
To help change their mind set and attitude to others, Jesus told the Pharisees 3 stories about things that were lost…the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Let’s listen to them know as described in Luke Chapter 15.
Bible Reading Luke 15 v 1-24
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
In each of these stories, Jesus paints a picture of how God sees people, all people. Because at the end of the day we’re all the same- we’re all sinners. We all have a tendency to wander off like the sheep rather than listening to the advice of God. We all have a capacity like the coin to end up lost in life, away from the God who made us and to whom we belong. We all have an ability like the son to demand our rights, make foolish choices, squander opportunities and end up having to go back and apologise.
But the amazing thing in these stories, is not the fact that God sees us all as sinners. No, the amazing thing in these stories is how God responds to sinners.
In contrast to the Pharisees, Jesus’ stories capture an image of God who goes out of His way to bring the lost sheep back to the fold. A God who never gives up searching until He is reunited with the coin that he’s lost. A God who forgives without any strings attached and treats the sorry child as if they’d never done anything wrong. In all of these pictures, God is revealed as someone with a heart that is bursting with love for every person that He has made.
That’s how God sees us this morning. Sure he knows that we are sinners. Sure our disobedience grieves His heart like a child’s disobedience grieves the heart of any parent. But overshadowing all of this is the deep sense that God loves us, not because of anything we do or don’t do, but simply because He made us and we are the most precious things He owns.
As we read these stories we also get the feeling that because God loves us and knows what is best for us, His heart bursts with pleasure when we are close to Him and walking in His ways. You see, the finding of the sheep, the discovery of the coin and the return of the lost son are all pictures of repentance - They are all pictures of our need to change the attitudes of our minds and heart so that we are going God’s way.
These internal changes will eventually show themselves in different outward behaviours towards ourselves, towards God and towards other people.
The truth is, we begin the Christian life by stepping through the door of repentance but as we enter into the world of God’s Kingdom we are surrounded by a series of different mirrors. As we walk with God along life’s path, from time to time he invites us to stop and gaze in these mirrors. Each one reveals something else about us that God wants to help us to change. It might be a renewed commitment to our wives or children. A fresh endeavor to care about our physical health. Letting go of a grudge or the bitterness that has consumed us for so long. Viewing someone or a section of society in a different light and changing our behavior towards them. Becoming less judgmental and growing in compassion. That’s a picture of repentance, that’s a picture of our journey of faith. It is a life of continual adaptation, a life of continual change. Each of the lost stories that Jesus told was a reminder to the Pharisees and to us that following God is about a life of repentance, a life of change.
But what is the greatest motivation for this change? Is it, as the Pharisees seemed to see it, the fear that God is looking down on us and is ready to punish us for every mistake? Is it the feeling that we are separated from God and from God’s people and that any association with ‘non believers’ would make us unclean?
No, the greatest motivation for change in these stories is the understanding that no matter what, we are deeply and infinitely loved by God. It is the love of the shepherd that causes him to risk his life to find his sheep. It is the love that the woman has for her wedding coin that causes her to keep sweeping and searching until she finds it. It is the love of the Father for his wayward son that causes him to forgive him instantly and restore him to his rightful place in the family. All these restorations are pictures of repentance and each of them is motivated not by law but by love.
That’s a lesson for us all- God’s love for the world, demonstrated in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, is the greatest motivation for wanting to change. That’s what the Christian life is all about. It’s not about frantically trying to be perfect, all the time fearing that somehow we don’t measure up and that in the end the hammer of God’s wrath will come down on us! It’s about realising that the wrath of God’s hammer has already come down- on Himself, through the person of Christ. And because of that, God loves us more than we can ever fully grasp. Understanding that we are deeply, deeply loved by our father in heaven is what motivates us to live a life of change - not as a way of making ourselves acceptable to God- but as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for His immeasurable love.
The greatest motivation for change is the knowledge that we are loved and loved by God. Let’s apply that to every aspect of our lives. Our attitudes towards ourselves. Our attitudes towards our spouses and family. Our attitudes towards our children. Our attitudes towards people who view life through a different lens. Our attitude towards people whom we view as sinners.
What’s your image of God? How do the lost stories of the coin, sheep and the wealthy farmer’s son represent Him?
How does that make you feel?
May God help us to see Him as He sees us and to view other people as he views them, Amen. Let us pray…
God of love, we pray for the many people in our world who have been deprived of love, who feel unloved, or for whom love has been painful. Touch their hearts with the love of Christ.
We pray for those for whom love has involved pain- those who have faced the trauma of breakdown in their marriage, or experienced the collapse of friendships or romantic engagements; those who have come from broken homes, or who have been estranged from family or friends, those whose children have moved away to begin new lives of their own, or whose parents have become frail, confused and infirm; those whose loved ones have been taken from them by death, or those who have been forced to leave those they count most dear. May the knowledge of your unending love be a constant source of comfort and inspiration. Touch their hearts with the love of Christ.
We pray for those who find it hard to love – those whose love has been betrayed, those who are scarred by bitter and painful experience, those who have been subjected to abuse, those afraid of showing their true feelings, those oppressed by mental illness. Touch their hearts with the love of Christ.
Loving God we bring before you the complex world of human relationships, capable of bringing much joy but such sorrow, so much pleasure yet also so much pain. We thank you for your gift of love and all the love that surrounds us, but help us never to forget those who have lost love or been hurt through it. Restore their faith in what love can do and help them both to find love and share it. Touch their hearts with the love of Christ.
Take a moment now to remember a few people or circumstances to pray for…
Grant to us all the knowledge that your love will never fail and never let us go. Thanks be to God, in Jesus name, Amen.
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s reflection. Please do spend some time in quiet over the next couple of days reflecting on the parable of the lost things.
Let me encourage you to tune in again on Sunday as we continue our journey following the ministry of Jesus. This weekend we’ll reflect on how Jesus spent most of His time – preaching, teaching and healing.
If you are feeling particularly low, then please do reach out and let me know. I’ll be more than happy to meet and pray with you in a safe way. Let’s keep a special eye out for each other by picking up the phone to see how someone is, maybe arranging a zoom coffee with a few friends and keep one another in your prayers.
To close, let me lead you in a Benediction after which I invite you as always, to say the grace together…
To God who is always forgiving, always loving, always offering a new beginning, be honour and glory, praise and thanks, today and always. And…
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
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