St. John’s Baptist Church

Worship | Sundays @ 10:30am

On Being Found

The St. John’s Pulpit

St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204 704.333.5428


Luke 15:1-32

Fourth Sunday during Lent, March 31, 2019

by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD

One Saturday afternoon at the North Carolina Zoo, a parent lost track of her five-year-old while tending to her three-year-old. She located him within a few minutes and scolded him for getting lost. He looked at her with surprise and said, “I wasn’t lost; you were lost.”

It’s one thing to be lost and know it; it’s another thing completely to be lost and unaware.

Some individuals are like the younger son; misusing their freedom and later realizing their lostness.

Others are like the older son; lost without ever leaving home.

The hearts of these persons are lost because they do not embody or relate the compassion of God.

Why did Jesus tell these three stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and lost sons. Look at verse 2:

“Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”

Jesus could have said, “Leave me alone; I am only doing what God does.”

But, instead, Jesus told them three stories on being found.

Next Sunday, in this sanctuary, hundreds of sinners will gather around the Lord’s Supper table.

Once again, we will practice what Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And, we will remember that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with us.

In Tolkien’s fictional Middle earth, the hobbits have an interesting practice.

On the birthday of a hobbit, she or he receives no party or gifts from relatives or friends.

Instead, the hobbit who is observing their birthday throws a party and presents gifts to others.

Imagine a world where you don’t receive gifts once a year; you receive gifts many times a year.

This sounds a little bit like living as a celebrated person in the family of God.

When the lost sheep was found, the shepherd asked his friends and neighbors to share his joy.

When the coin was found, the woman asked her friends and neighbors to share her joy.

When the son returned home, the father proclaimed the lost as found, celebrating with a joyful feast.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.

On the cover of today’s worship bulletin, you find Rembrandt’s, ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son.’

This oil painting was completed in the last two years of the masterful artist’s life.

Art critics propose this to be one of the greatest paintings ever completed.

Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote a short book interpreting the painting as ‘A Story of Homecoming.’

Nouwen comments that Rembrandt lived a life in which he had been both the younger and older sons.

It is easy to describe the younger son’s wasteful living as deplorable and damaging to the Father.

Yet, consider the anger, condemnation, resentment and bitterness which kept the older son estranged.

The older son had been actively faithful – or so it appeared on the outside.

Notice in the painting how the beard and clothing of the older son are similar to those of the Father.

By all external appearances, the older son could be compared to the Father.

Yet, his obedience and diligence were not motivated by compassion or faithfulness.

The younger son’s return with humility spawned by humiliation exposed the motives of the older brother.

The sound of music resulted in an outburst of resentment expressed as grumbling and complaining.

Again, I ask you to notice the ‘grumbling’ of the Pharisees and scribes in verse 2.

Jesus told these three stories on being found for the Pharisees and scribes.

The sinners they condemned were depicted in Jesus’ story by the lost sheep, lost coin and the younger son.

The Pharisees and scribes were the fundamentalists and legalists of Jesus’ ministry; the older son.

Jesus gave them an opportunity to consider the compassion of God’s nature seeking the lost.

But the legalists could only see the specks in the eyes of others missing the beams in themselves.

Henri Nouwen guides us in the pathway of confession by admitting his own inclination to complain.

“Often I catch myself complaining about little rejections…grumbling, lamenting, and griping…I become more and more lost until, in the end, I feel myself to be the most misunderstood, rejected, neglected, and despised person in the world.”

The older son prevented this ‘Once Upon a Time’ story from having a ‘Happily Ever After’ ending.

But, please notice, beloved, the Father who went out to meet the younger son also went out to the older.

The older son’s self-centeredness and resentment obstructed him from entering the joy of the celebration.

St. John’s, as followers of the Way of Jesus, we commit ourselves through our church covenant saying, “We will with God’s help, so live our lives that others, seeing the joy of Christian living, may seek to know Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We live in covenant proclaiming and living in the joy of the Lord, not judging and condemning others.

Jesus teaches us that God is most interested in reconciling the lost to a relationship through compassion.

This is why we are careful to sing and live this message:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.

But we CAN make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own.

Thus, confusing love for strictness with a zeal God will not show.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind.

And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

In his important book, God Has A Dream, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes:

“God says to you, ‘I have a dream. Please help me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts. When there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that my children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, my family.’” (pp 19-20)

May we always mature as a congregation refusing to use ‘us’ and ‘them’ language.

For we is all us learning what it means to be found by a God of compassion.

Amen and AMEN!