January 21, 2007
"LOST? Finding Forgiveness"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Some of you have met my good friend John Heinz and most of you have heard me talk about his love for God and his love for inviting people to church. The other day John and I were talking and John talked about keeping his grandson for the weekend and how much fun that is, normally. I don't know what the boy did but what ever it was, since it was close to bed time, Grandma sent him to bed as his punishment.
Off he went, crying like all get out. John went in to make sure he was in bed. When he walked in to the room his grandson was still crying. John asked what's wrong? His grandson answered, "waa waa waa." To which John replied, "I'm sorry, I can't understand what you're saying."
Again the boy said, "waa waa waa." And again John said, "I can't understand you when you're crying. If you don't stop crying, I'm just going to leave."
His grandson managed to stop crying long enough to say, "I only got one chance."
To which John replied, "I'm sorry, there are no do-overs in Grandpa's house."
I just fell out laughing. For some reason, that just tickled my funny bone. Maybe it's because I was thinking about this series and this sermon in particular. Maybe it's because I'm so glad God doesn't answer us like John answered his grandson that night.
In the Kingdom of God, we do get Do-Overs. We do get second chances. God is in the redemption business and Jesus offers us the opportunity to start over.
Listen to the most famous parable about the love of God and starting over. Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)
 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons.
 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.
 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." '
 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.
 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
Lost and Found. That's the essence of this thing we call the Journey of Life. We took our inheritance and squandered it on an apple tree and forgot that meaning is found in loving God and loving our neighbors. In our disobedience we lost our innocence and we lost the security of our home in the garden. We no longer feel the complete embrace of God who created us to lavish His love upon. We are, in a very real sense, lost and trying to find our way back home.
A. Every journey has to have a destination. And with a destination, you have to know which direction to go. Mapquest has helped us to find businesses and each other's homes. But how do we find our way back home in the Spiritual Journey of Life?
That's simple. Through faith in Christ. Our faith is like magnetic north of a compass. But sometimes the compass of life gets off. It loses magnetic north. It loses direction. Maybe another magnet has gotten too close, something of the world that keeps calling us to follow it instead of the compass point of our faith, Jesus.
And when that happens, like the prodigal son, we get lost and we can't find our way home. And yet it is the call of home, the memories and recollections that keep us searching and moving and journeying.
Grandpa and his granddaughter were out for a walk one day when Grandpa realized they had walked a whole lot farther than their normal walks. He asked his granddaughter, "Do you know here we are?"
The girl said, "No!"
"Do you know how to get home?"
Again the girl said, "No!"
Then Grandpa asked, "If you don't know where you are or how to get home, does that mean your lost?"
The girl said, "No, Grandpa! How can I be lost if I'm with you?"
Talk about trust and faith. And talk about a great description of our relationship with God. God doesn't want us lost and wandering the streets of life alone and lonely. God doesn't want us wondering where we are. Or how we're going to make it. Or how we're going to get home.
God sent Jesus to lead us home. God sent Jesus to refocus the magnetic north of the compass of our faith.
B. One of the things that keeps us from taking his hand is that we don't feel worthy. And we don't feel worthy because of our past. We don't feel worthy because of those things that we've let build up. Those things that we've hidden, or tried to hide, even from ourselves.
When I was in the Coast Guard, I was stationed in Atlantic Beach, N.C. We lived in a 2 story house which had been turned into 2 apartments. Actually there were six of them on this little island between Morehead City and Beaufort. Off our island were a couple of fish houses and one of the Duke Marine Labs.
Anyway, we lived in this apartment for the better part of 2 years and had a string of not so great upstairs neighbors. One summer we had a weird couple move in that was always fighting. She finally left and that left him in the apartment by himself. It's not unusual around beaches and rent houses to have a few roaches. But all of a sudden we had not only our share but yours and everybody else's share of roaches, too. We got all kinds of spray and stuff and they'd go away for a week or so and then we'd be invaded again.
This went on for a couple of months. The landlord tried to help by sending an exterminator but the guy upstairs was never home when the exterminator came. And when this guy finally moved out. Actually his was arrested and thrown out, but that's another story. Anyway, what we found was one of the spare bedrooms had been turned into a garbage room. Rather that take out the trash, they simply set it in this empty bedroom and had been doing so for the entire time they had lived there. The room reeked and was crawling with roaches. It was horrible, it still creeps me out to think about it.The reason I tell that story wasn't creep you out, too. I believe that inside all of us, deep in our hearts, we have that place that we're too embarrassed to show anybody else. It may only be cabinet sized, or closet sized in your life but in many lives it's bedroom sized room and it's filled to the brim with all the junk and filth and past hurts and anger and jealousy and the sins of our youth. And the sins of our adulthood. Especially those sins that we don't want ourselves to even know about or remember. And like the roaches in that apartment, the odor and other effects keep creeping back into our lives. And there's only one way to deal with it. We have to open the door and let the Savior in.
Last week I talked about God's "Anyway Love" and God's "As Is" Love. Basically what I said was that no matter what we've done or how bad we've been, God loves us "Anyway." And we don't have to be anything special or have done anything special for God to love us. God loves us "As Is," with all of our faults, both visible and hidden. That's God's Unconditional Love.
But in order to experience the fullness of that Unconditional Love, which comes in the form of forgiveness through Christ, we have to open that door. We have to open that door because that's the only way that God's "Anyway Love" and "As Is" love can begin their work of cleaning up our lives through the Redemptive Love of Christ.
Now, opening the door may sound like a contradiction and condition in the whole idea of God's Unconditional love, but it's not. God IS going to continue to love us "Anyway" and "As Is" because that's God's nature. God is love as John said.
But if we leave the door shut and locked then we won't reap the fullness of God's love. We won't experience the benefits of that Unconditional Love or even the reason Jesus came. And that would be a shame. It would be like going to an 12 course dinner and leaving after the soup and salad. You'd experience some of it but not the main course or the dessert. You'd experience some of it, but you'd miss out on the best parts.
Not unlocking the door, not opening our hearts to Christ keeps the compass out of whack, too. You see, all that garbage in our lives weighs us down. The stink and the corruption leak over into every other aspect of our lives, even when we don't want it to.We have to get rid of it.
But thanks be to God that God uses so many ways and so many people to help us not only hear of God's love for us, but who also can help us accept that love. The Bible is God's Love Letter to us reminding us of how wonderful it was at home, telling us God loves us "Anyway" and "As Is". And all God really wants is for us to return home.
And Jesus was that Love Letter made flesh. That Love Letter dressed in the rags of our brokenness and sin. Jesus came to lead us back home.
Ernest Hemingway understood this and understood the search home in our lives. He wrote a short story titled, "The Capital of the World," which was first published in 1936. The story is set in Madrid, Spain. A father and a teenage son, named Paco, have had a falling out and the son has run away to the big city to make it in the world. He's currently working as a waiter but the boy dreams of being a great matador some day.
Although their relationship was strained, the father can't stand the thought of not knowing where his son is or how he is. Worries fill his mind. And so the father begins a long search for the boy. He searches in town after town. And finally his searching leads him to Madrid. But Madrid is so big he can't figure out where to being. And then it hits him.
In one last desperate attempt to find the boy, the father put an ad in the local newspaper. The ad read:
"Dear Paco, Meet me in front of the newspaper office Tuesday at noon. All is forgiven. I love you." Signed, "Your father."
When Tuesday came, there in front of the newspaper office, 800 Pacos showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness. They were all seeking the love of their father. They all wanted to return home.
The Good News is that unlike my friend John said to his grandson, in God's house there are Do-overs. That's why Jesus came. Today, through Jesus and the help of Michelle Glasco's family, God has a very special message for you. It's in the form of the letter you were handed at the beginning of worship. Please open those now.
Just in case you didn't get the message. "God loves you. All is forgiven. It's time to come home." Put the label on to remind you what God really thinks of you. Let it be a visible reminder today to remind you of the relationship you have with God through Christ. And later on today when you look in the mirror or tomorrow when you head out to work, remember what that name tag says.
YOU ARE FORGIVEN. Open the door locked in your soul and let Chirst clean out that room, so you can experience the fullness of God's Forgiven ss and Unconditional Love.
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