15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Evangelism has always been a four-letter-word to me even though there are more than four-letters. When I was a Jr. High kid growing up in school it seemed that a lot of my friends, were very concerned about my soul and my final resting place. Many believed it would be in a place like we have experienced this past week with 100+ temps. As I look back on many of those conversations, I am amused that they even occurred. I attended youth group regularly. I went to Sunday church most weeks and I was fully intent on joining the church when I was finished with confirmation/new member classes.
Yet there was some major concern that I had not been properly saved. I had not gone to the alter and professed my love for Jesus. I was baptized as a baby so it really didn’t count. I had never spoken the magic words of the sinner prayer. I had not had a mountain top experience which would have been very difficult growing up in the plains and had only visited the mountains a few times. Today it is known as the “turn or burn” philosophy. You know, turn to God or else burn in hell for eternity.
The craziest part of this time was that all of the people telling me I was not a proper Christian were my really good friends that I played football and baseball with and wrestled with. They were genuinely concerned for my future and my salvation and they were going to literally evangelize the hell right out of me. The good news for me is that I had some great mentors in the church who helped me navigate these troubling times, because I don’t always do well in the heat.
The church and I mean global not our congregation nor PCUSA so much, has become very evangelistic in nature and only one way to become a Christian. I am sure we all still have friends who wrinkle their noses and wonder about how true we really are to our faith. Evangelism is important to have church growth, but if it is not done well, it can drive many people away. The adage we attract more flies with honey that with vinegar is never truer when it comes to inviting people to church. Jesus had a very unique way of inviting disciples to follow him.
The reading in Luke is right after last week’s passage where Jesus says if you want to follow me you need to take up your cross to follow me. In other words, make sure you know what you are all getting into. The people who followed Jesus were not the desirables. Luke calls them tax collectors and sinners. It is a clue right away that Jesus is hanging with the wrong crowd. The social hierarchy is being threatened according to the lens of the Pharisees and scribes. Tax collectors were the scum of the earth because they were Jewish people who had betrayed their brothers and sisters by going to work for the Roman soldiers. It was like a teacher becoming an administrator they were going to the dark side and the force was growing strong inside them.
Sinners could have truly been any of us. But we know deep inside it is usually the other people we disagree with. In today’s world those sinners would have been Democrats, Republicans, Muslims, immigrants, poor people, homeless people, panhandlers, people of other races, liberals, conservatives, progressives, fundamentalists, advocates of gay marriage and critics of gay marriage. The thing is we always find other sinners because they are the ones we grumble about the most. The reason for disapproval is not ritual purity, but identity and personal beliefs. Just like I had not been saved because I did not go to a real church when the reality was, I didn’t go to their church and subscribe to their beliefs. The question is who are the real Christians/ the real Americans? Who belongs? Who should be allowed to live in the United States? Who is worthy of health care benefits? Who gets to decide the answers to these questions?
Jesus’ answer was to include and not exclude. The players in the parables are God as the shepherd and the woman. We are both the lost and the other 99 or the other 9. The shepherd and the woman could just write them off. Coyote food, or it’s just a measly coin. But God does not do that. God goes and finds the lost. God wanders in the wilderness and lights the lamp to sweep the floors. When the lost are returned to the community there is a major party that is thrown. Angles are dancing at the halftime show of the Superbowl. There is pure joy because the sinner has repented.
How do we reconcile all of this? When the question is asked of us, “is Jesus Christ your personal Savior?” The answer is, “no, because I prefer to share him.” In a world that is filled with anger and walls the last thing we need to do is tell someone else what to do. The way we evangelize is with our actions.
First, we try to live a lifestyle that is worthy of our calling. We are never going to be perfect. But if we live in a way that includes instead of excludes, we are on the right path. If we seek to be helpers and doers then the minutiae of life of sort itself out. Same in the church. I learned a $5-word last week, it is called adiaphora. It is a Greek word that means indifference. In Christian theology it is the opinion that certain doctrines or practices in morals or religion are matters of indifference because they are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible. It is not necessary to fight over how we came to know God. God called us all and seeks us all out, we call it election. Some call it putting the Lord on my heart, either way we know God and God loves us. So instead of pointing out the differences, we should be throwing a party and dancing with the angels in joy.
Next is relational evangelism. Being willing to have personal relationship with people who are not of the same tribe that we run with. Getting to know the neighbor and the refugee, the farmer and the banker, the teacher and the parent. We can all expand our circle of friends.
Finally invitational evangelism. Invite your friends to do things at church. Maybe it is to a potluck, a bible study, a worship service. If you have pride in the things that happen in church don’t be afraid to share it. If you are not proud and don’t want to share because you are embarrassed then maybe you need to evaluate why you’re coming.
We gather to worship God. We worship the God who was willing to leave everything behind in order to find us. We are filled with gratitude because of that seeking, so we live a life worthy of being found as best we can. That’s the good news of being a disciple. Amen.