Monday, August 19, 2013

Sermon 8/18- Be Loved and Be Love

Sermon Scripture -Luke 15:11-32 - New Living Translation (NLT)

Parable of the Lost Son11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’
This year our youth mission stayed right here in Portland. We joined with our youth from Skagway Alaska and from Oak Hills Church in Beaverton to serve here in our own hometown. It was an amazing week, which our youth will tell you about during worship on September 1st. Today I want to share something that God showed me on that trip, there was a lot, and it was a privilege to lead that adventure, but what really kept coming to me over and over again, was our value and our worth to God and how far he will go to show us that we are his beloved, and how awful it is when we can’t see that. Rembrandt painted the Return of the Prodigal, which has been made even more famous by Henry Nouwen’s book, of the same name. I could quote that book through this whole sermon by the way, but I won’t. It’s a very powerful book, I think I need to read once a year at least, so instead of hitting you with a bunch of quotes from an amazing book you might never read, let’s just say this, read it! This image, and this story that Jesus told, and this loving embrace of the father kept coming to me throughout the week.

We were exposed to a lot of people that have no idea how loved they are and it was painful to see. We saw it in the government housing project where we worked with kids who were so desperate to have love and attention because parents were missing, in jail or just so busy trying to survive and earn a living, they just didn’t have time to spend with their kids. We saw it in the faces of the homeless we worked with at Bridgetown Nightstrike. There they work very hard to treat people with dignity, and let them know they are loved. We saw it at Northwest Children’s Outreach where they had us sort and only keep the best clothes for the kids they distribute too, because they want them to feel their best when they go to school. The place that really hit me the hardest though was an organization called Door to Grace.

Door to Grace works with girls who have been part of the sex trafficking industry. These are girls who have been forced to have sex so someone else could profit. It was explained to us that unlike in international sex trafficking, these girls are usually not abducted. Some are runaways, but many are from bad foster care homes, or families with history of drug abuse, and they have been neglected. No one has told them that they were loved, no one has given them a sense of their value. The pimps prey on that, they promise them everlasting love and a new way of life, but then ask them to do “favors”. Soon these girls are trapped. They are threatened, they are abused, and they no longer see themselves as having any contribution to the world, or any skill set, but selling their body. They are lost. Door to Grace works with girls that fall into the average age range for prostitutes, that age range is thirteen to seventeen. That hurts me to hear, it hurt even more to know it was happening close to our house in Beaverton and all over the metro area, in the high schools, everywhere. They are lost girls, and they have no clue that there is a love for them like no other.

Before Jesus gives the parable of the prodigal or lost son, he tells two others, and Luke’s gospel shows us that he told these stories in reaction to the complaints of the Pharisees and religious teachers. They were upset that he was associating with sinners. The Pharisees didn’t see the value in these people, they had labeled them as unclean or lost. The religious leader’s thought themselves better than “those” people. Jesus saw them differently. And he told these stories in response to the Pharisees’ reaction. Let’s look at the first two:

Luke 15:3-10NLT

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Parable of the Lost Coin8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The sheep and the coin are so important to the one that lost them. They were significant and treasured before they were lost, and the one who lost them didn’t just sit around and wait for them to show up. They were searched for, and much rejoicing happened when they were found. Lost or not, they were significant. That love is what those lost girls at door to grace need to know. It’s what we all need to know. But I think we forget, I think we all get a little lost.
We want to be valued, we want to be treasured by someone. My generation is one of the first that was complimented and praised and presented with trophies just for participating. We crave feedback, good or bad. We need to know we made an impact and we base success on that. If you think my generation is bad you need to understand the ones behind me. They are used to instant feedback. They are growing up with social media that allows their words, ideas, pictures, stories to be instantly liked, shared, commented on, followed and more. I will often see kids posting pictures, screenshots really, of the amount of likes or followers they have received on their instagram pictures. Their value and their worth is starting to be defined by their social media presence, whether they realize it or not, and that is scary. While they can be encouraged by those things, social media is also rife with bullying, comparison, one up manship. I fear our kids are in danger of getting more and more lost, getting farther away from the unconditional love and grace that God wants so badly for them to experience. Many of us as adults get sucked into it as well. We see something so different in this story that Jesus told.

The youngest son forgot the love and the life he had with the father. He wanted to get away from it. He valued the inheritance he would receive more than the life he had, so he did the unthinkable and asked for it early. He valued things that seemed to be better, that the culture, might have deemed more important. The father gives him the inheritance, he doesn’t hold it back. He allows the son to choose these other things, over the life he has for him. He gives him his freedom. Jesus tells us this story, he shows the Pharisees he shows all of us, that God is willing to give us freedom. The son squanders that blessing and that freedom and ends up with the pigs. He doesn’t see his value anymore, he doesn’t see himself as the beloved son. He sees himself as worthless. The son prepares a speech, to ask to not be in the family, but to be a hired worker.

In this painting by Rembrandt, we get such a beautiful glimpse of the father’s response. We see this very tender and loving embrace. What we don’t see is what Jesus talks about in the story, the father, running to his son, while he was a long way off. The father had been looking, watching, waiting hoping. Even though the son had so harshly rejected him, the father longed to have his son back. He ran to him. The father didn’t wait for the apology, he didn’t wait till the son had shown his repentance. He ran to him and embraced him with his love. The son tries to get that apology out there, says he is undeserving, but it’s as if the father doesn’t even hear, he tells his servants to bring the robes, and rings, and markings of the family, to put on the son and he plans a party. I love the way Rembrandt shows the embrace of the father. He doesn’t hold the son out at arms length, he draws him into himself. How much does he value his son, how much does he love him, even in the face of the rejection and the betrayal.

That is a love like no other. In the face of all of that pain, the father longs for and loves his son. He is quick to embrace him with his love and remind him of his value and his place in his family.

We have a place in God’s family. We have value simply because we are his. Each one of us is loved. Scripture says he knows all the hair on our heads. He loves us, he longs to be with us. He gave himself for us in the person and death of Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to reject and call others unclean, but Jesus says, nope, they are just lost, but now they are found with me.

Romans 8:31 says nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing. Not anything we do can make him stop loving us, that is so beautifully illustrated in this story. Yet all we can see too often are our short comings. How often do we trade our identity in God in for what we see reflected back by the world around us, or our own insecurities. Those girls at door to grace certainly have lost sight, or maybe they never got to see their value, their role as the beloved one, but I think a lot of us have forgotten too. I know I have. They are his beloved, we are his beloved, even those that sold them into their slavery are God’s beloved.

I tell the kids all the time that they are loved by God and created for amazing things, but I have trouble applying that to myself. I struggle to get past my own mistakes and short comings and see the gifts that God has given me, sometimes. I get swallowed up in the things my culture values, I compare myself to others, I feel worthless, I feel lost at times. Maybe you do too.

I think one of the reasons Door to Grace hit me so hard is that in high school I struggled with understanding my value outside of the worth that guys placed on me. At a young age I was involved with a much older guy and things got inappropriate very quickly. I didn’t know how I got myself to that place or how to get out. Suddenly as a young Christian girl, I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the height of the true love waits abstinence movement and I had failed as a high school freshmen. In my mind I was dirty, I was messed up, I was unclean. I forgot that I was loved no matter what, I forgot that I could find redemption and forgiveness and a second chance. I grew up knowing those things, hearing those things, seeing God’s love, but I got lost. My youth group didn’t help. I didn’t find much acceptance, and grace there, but more shame and condemnation. They only made me feel worse about the whole thing when I decided to end things with the guy. I felt alone and isolated, and when I think about that time now, and I think about those girls at Door to Grace, it breaks my heart. My pain is just a fraction of what they experience. My own family still valued me, I was in a place where if I paid attention I could hear of God’s grace. It wasn’t until I took a walk around a lake in our neighborhood one day, and spent some time crying out to God, in my head, that I could see past my failure and see what God saw in me. I can’t say he spoke audibly to me, there was no Morgan Freeman moment, but that day he spoke into my life, and these thoughts of the story of the prodigal son popped into my brain, and I knew I was loved. I knew I was valued and I knew my life had a purpose and meaning outside of any stupid thing I might have done. I found God’s forgiveness all over again. I understood that Jesus loved me enough to sacrifice himself for me. I experienced grace for the first time in a very long time.

Later that summer we went to a huge national youth conference, and the speaker at one of the sessions told the arena of 8000 teens that those who had sex were like dogs in heat, out of control, unclean, and dirty. I was enraged in that moment. I knew how horrible I felt when I was doing those things. I didn’t need anyone to add to my misery, and I knew there were other kids out there like me. I also knew that Jesus didn’t speak into my life that way. The speaker didn’t know my circumstances, or anyone else’s, he had no right to deny us the dignity that God had given us. He was the Pharisee, and we may have gotten lost, but we were in God’s embrace. I asked the organizers if I could respond. If I could tell all those teens like me who had struggled, and felt alone in their mistakes, that Jesus loved them, that they were important, that they could find love and forgiveness. Amazingly, I was given that opportunity to share that message in front of all of those people. In that moment I felt a calling to continue to share with teens that they were loved, and worthy because Jesus saw them as worthy, because they were loved unconditionally. I felt loved, and it gave me the courage to share with others my story of God’s grace and forgiveness, it helped me share his love.

I saw it then, I understood it then, and I try to communicate that with our students now, but when I look in the mirror I forget. I am more like the elder brother in the story. I can’t see that I am still loved with that same grace and mercy. I forget to apply it to myself. I see the debt I have, I see the mistakes I have made. I see other people having more success or an easier time with something and all I can think about are my flaws, my short comings, my failures. I curse myself. I deny that I am worthy of Gods love, I feel like a hired hand instead of a member of the family. I don’t see God’s grace everyday, I get lost sometimes. Do you ever get lost?

We are called to love the lost as Jesus did. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, but how can we do that if we can’t see the love ourselves. We have to be loved to love. We have to be able to connect with Christ’s all consuming, all forgiving running toward us with excitement love.

Door to Grace’s day time facility is all about teaching the girls how to accept healthy love, to see that they have other skills and talents and to learn how to use them. They have to learn to accept the love and admiration from the healthy mentors around them. That is hard for those girls to do, it’s hard for us to do.

We always end our mission trips with an affirmation circle. We go around and take a few moments to speak words of encouragement and appreciation to each team member. This year because our team was so large, we only allowed the leader’s to speak about the students. It’s such an awesome, powerful time, to allow each of our teens to get publicly praised in front of their peers. We try and speak the love of God into their lives. It’s hard for them to receive it too. Some get very uncomfortable at first. In those moments in the affirmation circle, they hear it, not through a digital screen, but in person. They are affirmed for who they are, and how God has worked through them all week. What was so powerful too, was that after we affirmed the kids, they affirmed each of us as leaders. What was poured into them, when they allowed themselves to experience that love, came flowing right back out. Kids that had not talked all week in a group setting, spoke freely about their love and appreciation, how they saw God working in us. They were loved, so they could be love.

Do you know that love today, have you realized yet this week, this month, this year, that the father is running to you. God is ready to embrace you with his love. Or have you forgotten? Have you connected with that love, when you read the Bible, or are you just reading another story. Do you feel connected to that love when you come to church, or are you sitting on the sidelines and feeling disconnected? Do you understand your value to God, that he sees you as worthy, or are you letting your mistaken view of yourself get in the way?

Are you the older son, so bored by it all because you have forgotten how amazing grace is? You see him in the painting too, standing off to the side, looking frustrated, an outsider, even though he really is an insider. He has taken for granted the love that has been there for him all along. I feel like I am that son a lot. I forget that this love is for me too. I trade it in for lies about myself and those around me.

Are you the Pharisee, upset to see God lavishing his grace on the lost, wherever he finds them? Do you have trouble embracing those around you? Can you see your enemy as the beloved one?

I hope wherever you are at, you take some time this week to connect with that love, to try and see that love, to seek him out as he is seeking you. I know life is hard, and sometimes we just feel lost and desperate, and alone. Or sometimes things are going a long fine and we forget the grace of God that we once knew. Ask God to show it to you this week. Ask a friend to help you see.

If you are doing just fine, if you are all filled up with God’s love, then please, share that with the rest of us. I have lots of kids in our Sunday School program that would love to hear it from Sunday School teachers. I have teens that need to know it in youth group too. There are amazing organizations all over Portland like Door to Grace, Bridgetown Nightstrike, Northwest Children’s Outreach and so many more where you can be love, be the love of God to the lost.

We look at the world at times and we just see a mess. We need to see that God is running toward that mess, with arms wide open, waiting to embrace us, to redeem us, to renew us, to call us his beloved. We need to be loved and then be that love for others.

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