This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Luke 15:1-10.
Today’s gospel is about being lost. Ever been lost in the woods? I used to hike a lot, and on occasion, I got lost. This was before smart phones, so the only things I had were maybe a map and a compass, if I was smart that day. But sometimes I’d just be in the woods with nothing more than the sun’s location to help me figure out which way I was going. Getting lost in the woods isn’t much fun. When I was lost, when I didn’t know where I was, where I was going, I would usually start thinking about survival. What if I can’t find my way out by sunset? What plants could I eat? Where could I sleep? What wild animals might be out here? I would start thinking about worst-case scenarios, and I could no longer enjoy the woods at all anymore. When I’m lost in the woods, all I can think about is survival.
There are a lot of lost people in the world. People who are confused and scared of what tomorrow will bring. People who don’t believe they have a purpose in life. People who are hungry, homeless, unemployed. When you’re lost, all you can focus on is survival. Not enjoying life, not finding any meaning in life, just finding a way to get through until tomorrow. And that can drive people to do desperate things.
But the good news is that Jesus is out there searching for everyone who is lost, right now. Listen to the stories Jesus tells. He tells a story of a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness, to search diligently for the one who got lost. He tells a story of a woman who drops everything and sweeps her house until she finds the coin that was lost. Jesus tells these stories in response to people who were grumbling that he ate with the wrong people. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. Perhaps in today’s world, he would eat with homeless people, drug addicts, illegal immigrants.
That’s what Jesus does. He goes to the lost, the desperate. And part of being a disciple is that we are called to follow him there. We’re called to go out, among the lost. In fact, here at Prince of Peace, we have a purpose statement that says that, in a way. Our purpose statement is: “We, the people of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, will actively seek and serve Christ in all people.”
That’s a bold statement, a very bold statement. We are committed to seeking and serving Christ not just in ourselves. Not just in our congregation. Not just in our friends. Not just in those who look like us, act like us, believe like us. Not just those who live in our neighborhood. But in all people. That is why we reach out to the Portland-Upper Mt. Bethel food pantry with peanut butter and other food items. Not because we are hungry, but because we are striving to seek and serve Christ in those who are. That is why we share with Lutheran Disaster Response in their work in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Not because we have been affected by the storm, but because we are striving to seek and serve Christ in those who were. That is why we visit the sick and the homebound. Not simply because they are our friends, but because we are striving to seek and serve Christ among them. That is why we considered becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation, because we are striving to seek and serve Christ among those who are in the LGBT community, a community the church has failed for a very long time. Our mission, our purpose, is to do these things and more. To follow our savior where he went, to the lost, to seek him there, and serve him there.
But it can be tough to stay focused on the mission. Sometimes it seems like we have to put the mission on hold, batten down the hatches, take care of ourselves first. Our Finance Committee and Congregation Council have been working hard at putting a budget plan together for next year, which you will have the chance to vote on at our annual congregational meeting in November. One thing that’s been weighing on us all as we do this is that we’ve been running deficit budgets for many years. We’ve been able to make it work each year through a combination of frugal spending, fundraisers, and slowly drawing down our investments. But the time is coming soon when those investments won’t be there. We, all of us, have some tough decisions to make, sooner rather than later. And in times like that, it is so tempting to focus on our survival rather than on our mission. It is so tempting to look at what we don’t have, and turn our focus inward, to try and protect and buttress ourselves. Surely God would understand if we ignored the mission for a while, in order to take care of ourselves.
Just discussing this today might make some of you a little nervous. Some of you might be feeling a twinge in your chest right now. Some of you might be wondering, “Wait, is our church in trouble?”
No, our church is not in trouble. For a few reasons. First off, the sky is not falling. Just from a financial standpoint, we have a few years left with our investments. We’re not going to lay off staff or close our doors anytime soon. Now is the time to make some good decisions to turn our financial ship around, but now is not the time to panic. And secondly, and more importantly, we are not in trouble because Christ is looking for us, even now.
Because when we lose track of the mission, it’s not the mission that’s lost, it’s us. And do you know what Christ does for those who are lost? He searches for them. And so if you feel lost right now, rejoice! Because only those who are lost can be found. Remember what we confessed together a few minutes ago. “We have not finished what we began. We have feasted with friends but ignored strangers. We have been captivated by our possessions.” And remember what I proclaimed in response: “You who were lost have been found. For the sake of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.”
And that’s why we gather here. Christ came to us a few minutes ago in the forgiveness of sins. Christ comes to us through the words of scripture. Christ comes to us in his body and blood. We gather to worship because it is here that we know Christ will find us. We’re lost every day. And every day God finds us. Not just in worship, but most assuredly in worship.
Christ will find you, and Christ will find this congregation. We don’t have to find ourselves. Christ is finding us. And when he does, there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God. Christ will find us, and provide for us not just what we need to survive, but what we need to thrive, and to find still others, and seek and serve Christ in them.