Missing In Action
For many of us, November means Thanksgiving, or beginning the countdown until Christmas. But there is another holiday celebrated in November; Veterans Day. For most of America it’s not a big holiday so that basically means we posted a picture on Facebook and that was pretty much it. But for others of us, the day is very important because you rememberer those men and women that served along side of you. For those who grew up in a military household, it is a day pride and respect, because it is steeped in the culture of your home. And for those of you who have endured a great loss it’s a somber day where you reflect on how your life has changed and maybe what could have been.
You will notice on the screens today that I have put up a POW - MIA flag. This flag is an unfortunate symbol which reminds us that we are still involved in conflict, which is just a fancy name for war on foreign soil. While the internet is filled with wonderful videos of soldiers who are returning home, those are tempered by videos of men and women leaving to take their places. The sad reality of war is that some good people die and some good people never get home. Some good people enter into this war, and will forever be Missing In Action. While that’s a real physical problem, the Bible tells us that it’s a spiritual problem as well.
Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that we are in a spiritual battle every day. He reminds them to Wear the full armor of God. Wear God's armor so that you can fight against the devil's clever tricks. Our fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world's darkness. (Ephesians 6) If you have been clothed with Christ then you are a solder in this war. And just like in any war or battle there are some unfortunate consequences. In the Army of God today there are those who are Missing in Action.
It’s no secret that Luke 15 is one of my favorite passages. I want to set the tone for the sermon this morning by giving you a quick refresher on what is happening in these stories. Then, we will get into how they intersect with our idea today of Missing In Action.
The three parables are about something that is lost; a sheep, a coin, and a boy. As the stories continue the value of what is lost grows. Jesus tells these stories for the benefit of those who are struggling with the crowd that Jesus is attracting and interacting with. All three stories have the same theme, something of value is lost, someone finds them, and the result is that we throw a party. What I need for us to do today is understand how these stories speak to our stories; what’s happening today in the life of Central and in your life in particular.
It’s easy for us to admit that there are folks who are missing. But we need to do more than just acknowledge that there are folks who are gone. There are times we look around the building and we notice that folks are gone. We may mention that the building didn’t look as full as it usually does. We may even go as far as say this section used to be full, but it looked empty today.
We need to put faces and names to the folks who are missing. It’s far too easy to dismiss numbers, it’s much harder to dismiss actual people. Until we start to acknowledge the names we cannot truly feel the loss. For instance, when we think of a tragedy like the attack on 9/11 and hear that almost 3,000 people lost their lives it gives us cause for concern. But if you knew one or two of those people who lost their lives, it is devastating.
Jesus needs us to understand that one reason people are Missing In Action is because they are not connected. Luke 15:4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
Don’t ignore the fact that in these stories there was a relationship, a man had a sheep, a woman had a coin, a man had a son. But something happened and that relationship suffered loss. The result was that a relationship was severed and now someone who was loved and appreciated, someone who had value, is now missing.
Church families have a pretty unique dynamic. We would all agree that we are called to love all, accept all, and forgive all; but that’s not always the way that it goes. As a matter of fact when a church family gets together it more often than not resembles a family reunion. You have the folks who are normal and the folks who are …. well just bless their heart.
When I was younger my parents had a rule that I could dress any way I wanted and wear my hair any way I wanted as long as it was not profane, and I was clean. I took full advantage of the opportunity to express my individuality. When you factor in the fact that we were living in New Orleans, you could say there were times when I would get a little farther out than my family would have liked.
When we would go visit my grandparents and cousins, in a small farming community in north Mississippi, it was comical. What I have noticed is that the same things that happened to me when I was a teenager, sometimes happens in our churches.There are several things that we do as a church to let people know that they are different and we disconnect from them.
We are secret keepers: We interrupt conversations so that we can whisper to people or pull them off in a room so we can talk in private. We are ignorers: there are two people standing there and we ask one person out to eat but not the other one. We are braggers: we go on and on about something we did with a group from church where other individuals weren’t invited. Or we make jokes, about age, or economics, or family situation to let people know they are not like us and not wanted.
Our intent might not be to disconnect, but that’s exactly what we are saying. The way we treat people, especially folks who are different than we are, tells the truth of whats really going on in our hearts. There are times we say with our actions that you don’t matter, you are not wanted, and you are definitely not connected. And folks who are not connected will leave.
The second reason some people are Missing In Action is because they were run off. Luke 15:8 "Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin,”
Some times we shoot our wounded. It’s a story that is told thousands of times; someone comes forward to confess a sin and we treat them as and outcast. While we would admit that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We also believe that your sin is worse than mine.
Buddy Bell tells the story about one of the most amazing days at the Landmark Church. During the invitation a man came forward to confess that he was struggling with Internet pornography. Buddy said as he took the confession he was troubled with how the congregation would handle this transparency. This man wanted prayers, but Buddy felt compelled to do something more. He stood before the church and expressed this man’s confession, but then he continued and said, I know that he is not alone. As a matter of fact I know that there are some more in this congregation today that struggle with the same things. And I beg you today that if you also have this same struggle that you come forward and hold this brother accountable.
It was a very uncomfortable silence for the next 50 seconds. He said it seemed like an eternity. But then one older man had the courage to step into the aisle and walked forward. What happened next was truly a work of God. Buddy says when it was all over 24 men and 2 women came forward.
Our first instinct is to hide our sinfulness and distance ourselves from visibly broken people. It would have been so easy for this church to shoot their wounded. I wonder how many folks I have run off from the kingdom, because I refused to show love and compassion during time in their lives when they were hurt and struggling. Sometimes folks are MIA because we shoot our wounded.
And some people are Missing in Action is because of the hardness of their hearts. Luke 15:12-13 and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country,”
Our relationship with God and His family depends on our heart. This young man wasn’t run off from home or asked to leave. It wasn’t so bad at home that he had to get away. The reason he left was because he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. No one could force him to stay where all of his needs could be met, where he could receive strength and encouragement. So he made the choice to leave.
Our God did not make us His slaves, He gave us the choice. We can love Him and be connected with His family or we can follow our own path. That’s the story told 100 times in scripture. Abel and Cain, David and Saul, Peter and Judas, and two boys living in the same house. God gives us the freedom to make our own choices. He does not force us to worship Him, follow Him, or even love Him. Salvation is freely offered, but it is a choice. Just as God will not force you to worship Him, We cannot force anyone to gather here at Central and worship either.
If someone wants to worship they are welcome to come, but if their desire is to be somewhere else there is no way we can force them to stay in the family. All we can do is what the Father does in our story and let them go. Honestly, there are times we are glad folks leave, we ran them off. But there are times when we understand their leaving is an inditement against us, we feel the loss, we feel unloveable, we feel the separation. And oftentimes we don’t know why.
We all know someone who is Missing In Action. Some of them were run off and some of them left because they had a heart problem. There is a temptation to get a little self righteous here and want to shake the dust off our sandals and move on; but that’s not what that passage in Luke 9 means. You see we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, so regardless of why folks are missing, we all have a responsibility to them.
We have a responsibility to the folks who at one time sat in this building and worshiped God with us, with you. In the same way that a soldier has a responsibility to leave no one behind; the same is true in our spiritual war. In these stories Jesus not only tells us why people are gone, He also tells us about our responsibility to them.
We have the responsibility to search for them.
Luke 15:4 leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture, and go after the one, which is lost, until he finds it? This is not easy. To be honest a lot of times we search for those Missing In Action like a teenager looks for their shoes. You know what that looks like right? They sit on the couch and if they cannot see them, they call their dad or mom, “I can’t find my shoes!”
So the parent gives them a bit of direction, did you check under your bed? in your closet? Unmoved they call out I can’t find them. Can you help me. And so the parent stops what they are doing and goes to their closet and low and behold there they are.
We believe that it is important to seek and save those who are Missing In Action. And we believe that someone else would do a better job. That’s why we have a preacher and an oversight committee right? Wrong, the passage shows someone with true concern for the lost. He leaves the comfort of the 99 and goes wherever he needs to, to find the lost. I am sure it wasn’t a quick trip or even an easy one. There had to be thorn bushes to walk through, rivers to cross, and hills to climb. But it doesn’t matter love makes the trip worth it.
If we truly love those of our number who are missing in action then we will be willing to take the long trip and do the uncomfortable. We are willing to make the phone calls, write the cards, and leave the comfort of our homes to go visit. We are willing to listen to the complaints, and grumblings and in the end show them the love and grace that we have been shown so that we can bring the lost home where they belong.
We have a responsibility to show the Love of God
Luke 15:8 light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When Christ lives in us, we become the light of the world because of CHRIST IN US. People who are Missing In Action are often trapped by the darkness of this world looking for a little light.
When was the last time you shared the love of God with someone who was Missing in Action? When was the last time you prayed about the people that used to worship beside you but have not been here for quite some time? When was the last time that you allowed your light to shine in the darkness? We have friends, and family that have lost their way, and they desperately need someone to remind them of the Light.
When we show the Love of God to those who are lost we are showing them the way home. Brethren we may be the only light that the lost can see. Jesus is calling you to reflect His light so that someone who is Missing In Action can find their way home. We need to constantly practice love.
Thirdly, we must provide a place where people can feel connected and comfortable enough to come home.
Luke 15: 17 "But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! This boy has reached the end of his rope. He needed comfort and that brought back memories of his fathers house.
When I was younger and we worshiped at the DeGaulle Drive Church of Christ in New Orleans. I remember a story Bill Burchette told about a new family that just showed up one Sunday. When the wife was a little girl she was invited by her neighbor to a Vacation Bible School. She said all she remembered was friendly faces and warm cookies and the Bible that she was given on Friday. Her family had been going through turmoil for some time and now they had a 6 month old that wasn’t making it any better. They weren’t church folks but when she drove past the building she remembered the Bible and warm cookies. They were desperate and willing to try anything.
The next Sunday morning they showed up, and when we moved from New Orleans they were still there. We need to make every effort that this is a place of compassion and comfort. A place people can remember in times of turmoil so they will foster a desire to come home.
Finally we need to provide a real place where people can get forgiveness
Luke 15:22-24 "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' And they began to be merry.
The boy wasn’t ready for the outpouring of grace. The father gave him a robe, which shows that he was being restored to the protection of the family. He gave him a signet ring that represented authority. The father gave him shoes, to show that the boy was family, only family members were allowed to wear shoes. The father offered complete restoration. He didn’t hold the sins of the son over his head; he forgave him.
I wonder if someone could leave the church, struggle with alcohol and drug abuse for 20 years, then come home and lead public prayers, or preside over the Lord’s table the next week? Or do we want them to prove themselves first? Forgiveness should be done as quickly as possible. I know that it doesn’t happen immediately, but we cannot prolong the gracious gift of forgiveness until we feel like it’s deserved. When we try to make people earn forgiveness we throw grace out of the door.
There may be some of our family today that are Missing In Action that are just waiting for you to come. Are you committed to this family enough to go and get those who are missing? To encourage them, love them, and lift them up?
There are some today that need to come home. Who have not been the child of God they need to be. Maybe there are those here who need to be held accountable by this family to do more than warm a pew on Sunday mornings, and be a totally committed child of God.
And then there may be some here who have driven people from the family of God, or shot the wounded. Maybe you realize that your attitude has driven those away from God instead of encouraging them to be an active member of the family, and you now know that you need forgiveness of your sins. Today we offer you the invitation.