If you think waaaay back. It might be further back than some of you can even remember; back to September and our first Wednesday youth night. We started a three week journey together talking about this human and God, Jesus Himself. We talked about how he embodies both grace and truth. The first week, we heard Jesus say to us, hopefully to you, “I know you.” The second week, Come Know Me. And the third week, Let’s Do This. I’d like to take us on that journey again. Tonight I want you to hear Jesus reiterate that he knows you, even when you may feel you are unknown. Tonight we are going to talk about this Jesus, who has a heart for the disconnected.
Now, I’ve been reading the Bible ever since I could read and before then I’m sure my parents were reading some kid’s version of it to me. I’ve grown up with this book. (holding up the Bible) So, I get it, if you’re like me. I’ve read parts of this text 100 times over and heard multiple messages on the same text. But here’s the amazing thing about the Bible, it is the LIVING Word of God. It isn’t like any other book of God, it is alive and the same stories can bring me life again and again. One section of these stories that has come alive to me again, that I’ve heard 100+ times and I’ve even seen theatrical productions of, are the parables Jesus tells of the lost sheep, coin and son. Maybe you’re like me, maybe you feel like you know these and right now you’re settling in to another message you have heard before and you’ve just done that finger memory thing with your phone that takes you to your goto boredom app because you’re bored already. My challenge, wake up! Listen. I think there is something new and alive for you tonight in these verses found in Luke 15. To make it a little more real, I’ve rewritten the verses as if Jesus showed up in the flesh today, and he was responding to a crowd we might be familiar with. Please don’t crucify me for rewriting Scripture. Here you go listen up to XXXX as she reads a rewritten version of Luke 15:
LUKE 15 REIMAGINED
Now those who were liberal in their politics, the gender fluid, the muslim and all those who were living their life on their own terms, were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the regimented weekly church attenders, and those with a clean-cut lifestyle were getting all upset and they said, “This guy hangs out and welcomes anybody!”
So he, Jesus, told them this story. “Let’s imagine for a moment that you had fifty good friends. They aren’t just on your Instagram or whatever social media you’re using. These are fifty people who you regularly hangout with online and most of them in person. If one of them stopped showing up, stopped commenting, didn’t seem to connect with you anymore, wouldn’t you text them? Wouldn’t you ask them how they’re doing, maybe even video call them or look around for them? When you find them and get to hangout with them again, you would probably call a bunch of your other friends. You might have a party and celebrate, because a friend that was disconnected is now reconnected. Someone who might have been lost forever, is now back. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one disconnected sinner, who chooses to follow me, than over forty-nine ‘perfect people’ who have no need for connection with me.”
And he told another story and said, “There was single mom who had two children in their late teens. She had built up a home business and had become popular for DIY projects online, so much so that she had to rent space for offices and then a warehouse and hired a number of employees to handle communication and product delivery. Her children were her world and she was glad she could provide for them and still have time to be with them. Often the older one, a guy, would help out with the business. The younger one spent a lot of time on her phone, but occasionally helped out too. One night, her daughter, after video calling one of her friends, came up to her Mom’s room and demanded that her Mom give her all the money that she would get for her inheritance after her Mom passed away. Even though her mother was shocked by the request, she did the math, borrowed money against business assets and the house, and transferred what she thought that number might be to her daughter’s account.
It’s as if as soon as the mother hit send on the transfer, the daughter was gone. She had already made plans to go to Europe with her friends and live life however she wanted. She found out soon, that living life however she wanted, saying ‘yes’ to every whim or desire, with no job and only one lump sum to live of off, ends pretty quickly. She was soon friendless, poor, beaten and broken from some wrong choices she made on the way and just messed up. Her trip also took her all the way across Europe to Asia.
She didn’t know what to do. She started begging and soon got into the sex industry in South East Asia. She felt trapped and although she was starting to make a little money, it always came with strings attached and the horrible feelings from what she was forced to do. She could only see her current life direction heading one way… to death. She remembered her mother’s business and she thought, maybe I could work there in the warehouse. Her mom treated all her employees with respect, no matter what level of the business. So, she snuck out of her living situation to find her way to the embassy for her home country. She managed to get deported back home.
On her flight back, with nothing in her pocket but her torn and damaged passport and the airplane tickets the embassy had provided her, she began to play out in her head what she might say to her mom, when she arrived back in the country. She thought through this script, “Mom, I hurt you, and what I did was totally inexcusable. I am so sorry. I am no longer fit to be called your daughter, I am such a disgrace to you.” And then she planned how she would stay at some old school friends’ places if they remembered her and would ask her mom to be one of her warehouse workers. She had planned how she would walk from the airport to her mom’s place and then to her friends.
When the plane landed, she had that sinking feeling. “How can I see my Mom? She is going to hate me forever.” She walked right through baggage because she didn’t have anything to pickup and customs was pretty quick with nothing to claim. When the doors opened to the reception area for arrivals, her head was down and she was replaying the script in her head for her Mom. All of a sudden her head jerked up because a loud voice of many voices said, ‘WELCOME HOME!’ ending the sentence with her name! Her Mom and a bunch of her extended family and friends surrounded her. She tried to get her script out to her Mom, but she stopped because of the hug and her welcome back and the party her Mom was telling her they were going to have when they get home. Everybody was there, except for her older brother.
When they got home, the place was decorated, the steaks were on the BBQ and the house was filled with laughter and joy. The mother got a text and she went outside the house to talk on the phone with her son. She said to him, “Come home and celebrate with your sister.” But he was angry. He said, “Look at all these years that have past now. I am not coming to your party. I have listened to everything you have said, I’ve studied hard in school, I got good marks, helped out with the business, but this daughter of yours, she is nothing like me. She’s gone off and spent the family wealth on whatever the heck she wants! She’s destroyed her life and now comes crawling back to mommy! She’ll destroy our family too. And you welcome her? You make a party for her? What about throwing a party for me? I haven’t hurt you at all, I’ve done everything for you. What gives?” The mother, said to him calmly in response, “My son, you have always been here, and everything I have, the business, the house, everything is yours. I had to welcome your sister back and party with her and for her because she was dead and is now alive, she was cut off from us and now she is reconnected.””
CHARACTERS AND SCRIPTURE BREAKDOWN
Sound like the parables you’ve heard before? Anything stick out to you as XXXX read the reimagined parables from Luke 15?
When I read parables, I like to figure out the characters and then I like to imagine which one is me in the story. I feel this helps give understanding to what Jesus is saying. So, both of those stories are one and the same. In the first story there are three characters and in the second story there is a very important fourth character. Here are the four characters.
- The one who has lost / disconnected from something (or someone)
- The lost / disconnected thing or person
- The party
And then there is this fourth person…
- The stick in the mud, judgmental, older brother
So help me out… who is the first character in this story? YES, the good kid’s church answer is “Jesus.”
Who is the second person? Not Jesus. This one is a little more difficult to answer. See, for years, whenever I read this, I thought those lost things or the lost person, were those people out there. People who have never heard about Jesus and have never been to church. I bought into the US and THEM view of spirituality. The US being those who are going to heaven and the THEM as everyone else. When I refer to “the lost” our church minds immediately go to people outside the walls of this building or even outside our country. That’s why I rephrased the lost to the disconnected.
What if I am this second character in the story? What if I was disconnected from Jesus and I am in a lifelong process of establishing that connection with Him? So often, I think I received the teaching, or maybe I just assumed that the lost or disconnected were out there. But what if, I am the disconnected then it’s not US and THEM, it’s just all US. We are in the process of being brought out of life on our own terms and being reconnected to the life that Jesus offers to us.
I think we can even be the second character and the third at the same time. We can be the party. Those who celebrate as others with us are reestablishing this connection to Jesus. We get God’s heart for the disconnected and we are celebrating as others grow in connection to Jesus. When baptisms happen, we applaud. When someone starts a connection with Jesus for the first time we scream with enthusiastic joy. When someone we know overcomes an addiction, or learns to be more selfless as they serve others with love, or hears from God in their own time with Him, we jump up and down in excitement and break out the non-alcoholic sparkly juice because we are part of this party that cheers on the disconnected becoming reconnected to Jesus.
Here’s the big problem that Jesus speaks to in his parables. The big problem is the fourth character. Luke highlights the fourth character even before we talk about him in the parable of the lost son (or as I wrote, daughter). He says, right at the beginning, in Luke chapter 15:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Who is the fourth character? It’s the grumbling pharisees and scribes. Those who don’t like that Jesus is inviting tax collectors and sinners, “outsiders,” to connect with Him. They are the stick in the mud, judgmental, older brother. They, like me, and maybe you at times, have bought into the US and THEM idea.
How can I say this stronger? STOP IT! DON’T DO THAT! DON’T BE THAT WAY! Shut off the voice that says, “I’ve arrived.They haven’t. I am a good Christian. What are those people doing here? They don’t behave the way they should at church!”
You need to STOP that. And START this. START hearing God’s voice saying to you. “I know you. I know where you feel disconnected from me. I see you when you’ve felt far from me.” Hear his invitation to reconnect or maybe even connect for the first time. The God of this universe is welcoming you to have a connection with Him. Be reminded by Scripture that there is nothing, “…death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, no height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from…” Jesus’ heart of love to see you connect with Him. Romans 8:38-39. You may feel disconnected, like you’ve messed up so badly or even just faded away from connection. He knows you and wants you back, nothing can stop that.
Be the second character in the parable and reconnect. Be the third character too, and cheer on others as they grow in their connection to Jesus. Start that. He meant for us to party together, to celebrate and share with each other the great things that God is doing. Talk about your faith with your small group and leaders, share the struggles and share the wins as Jesus draws you into deeper and deeper connection with Him.
It is my prayer for our youth ministry, that we would always be character 2 and 3 of these parables and never character 4. Who else wants to see that? Who is in for that?
If this is all new to you, you’ve never had a connection to Jesus in a significant way, I want to be in the party and cheer you on, so do many of us here who are leaders as well as other youth. I want you to hear, you have as much right to be here as the rest of us. You are welcome and we want to invite you, like us to start that connection. Do you want to do that? It is a simple choice. A simple choice that will radically change the rest of your life. You can go from being disconnected to connected with the God of this Universe who created you and is cheering you on. You can have connection with Jesus. Do you want that for your life? Right now, making that choice is as simple as ABC. You need to A, admit your disconnection, that your life has been on your own terms and because of that, you’ve done stuff that doesn’t fall in line with God’s intention for your life. You admit your need for Jesus. That’s A. Move on to B, Believe. Believe that Jesus is God’s Son and accept God’s gift of forgiveness for past, present and future mistakes. Believe that because Jesus came and died on a cross and left all your mistakes there, and then rose again to life, that you can have connection with Him. And the C, Communicate. Communicate that Jesus is the new leader and rescuer of your life, bringing you from disconnection to connection with God. Do you want to do that? Cool, simple way to do that, is to pray with me. If that resonates with you, right here, right now, I will pray and you can repeat after me and start that connection with Jesus.
PRAYER – ABC
If you prayed that for the first time tonight, please, please, come tell me, tell your leader in your group, tell those in your group tonight. Now, others of you here, have already done that, and it’s my hope that as you listened tonight to the message, you realized one or two things. It’s my hope that you heard Jesus say, “I know you. I see how you feel disconnected from me. Come and get reconnected to me.” If that’s you, awesome, let’s pray together about that, I am with you. Maybe you heard another message tonight, maybe you heard me when I said, “STOP IT.” Stop being that older judgmental brother who looks at others and in their heart positions others below them and wonders why they would ever come to church or youth. If that’s you, I’m hoping you’ll pray with me tonight that God would change our hearts. Would you do that? We’re going to pray together and then we’re going to sing and maybe jump together and party it up with our non-alcoholic beverages, just kidding, I don’t have anything for you to drink. There are water fountains everywhere here and Jones Soda in the vending machine. That is not permission to leave right now. Let’s pray, party and then head to our small groups.
PRAYER – RECONNECTION AND HEART CHANGE