Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ten Bible Stories that Build Outgoing Disciples - Story 1

TEN BIBLE STORIES THAT BUILD OUTGOING DISCIPLES. A few months ago, I was impressed to develop a preaching/teaching series that will explore ten great stories of the Bible for their power to develop outgoing disciples. These are not my “favorite” Bible stories, but ten instances in which people are called to define their futures--and the futures of those they love--with actions of faith. This is a synopsis of the first installment – Lost and Found.

LOST AND FOUND PARABLES. In Luke 15, Jesus shares three linked parables. They come as a striking response to religious peoples’ concern that Jesus is spending inordinate time with sinners, outcasts, and undeserving characters. Thru these parables, Jesus makes crystal clear to his would-be followers: we must refocus our attention, priorities, and energies on the one who is wandering, wounded, and lost.

SEEKING, SEARCHING, CELEBRATING. In each parable, something is lost and found. One sheep out of 100 wanders way. The shepherd leaves 99 in the fold to seek until he finds the one—then calls for a celebration. A woman loses one coin out of 10; she searches diligently until she finds the one—then calls for a celebration. One of two sons demands his inheritance from his father. The son takes the money, goes far away, wastes it all, and ends up feeding pigs. Coming to his senses, he decides to return to his father, not as a son, but, hopefully, as a servant. The father, scanning the horizon, runs to meet his lost son, restores him and calls for a celebration.

THREE CHALLENGES. The insights to be found in these “lost and found” parables of Jesus are numerous. But looking at them from the perspective of building our capacity to become outgoing disciples, here are three that I see:

1. Embrace as valuable whatever, whomever God embraces as valuable--even if everybody else writes them off.

BAPTIZE YOUR PERCEPTION. The context of Luke 15 makes clear: we've got to shake ourselves loose from valuing people and things the way the world values people and things. Our way of perceiving must be baptized; our perspective on people in really vulnerable social, economic, and political situations must be sanctified. This transformation begins when we (1) recall our own lostness…and the joy of being found, healed, restored; and (2) when we begin to challenge the prevailing foregone conclusions about persons and groups of people.

IMPLICATIONS FOR LATINO NEIGHBORS. We must ask and answer: Who are some people or groups of people in our world today who are being “written off,” dismissed, criminalized, or treated carelessly? What do these parables of Jesus indicate of their value assessment in God’s eyes? I am convinced that many in the American public have crossed the line into blatant racism regarding Latinos in our communities. These are individuals and families we need to embrace--regardless of what the hate-mongers are saying, regardless of their documentation. Perhaps our friendship will be the only redeeming action in an uncertain future for these neighbors.

2. Focus on recovering something or someone wandering, wounded or lost with passionate actions of seeking, healing, and restoring.

REACHING OUT. While the self-righteous relgionists and the older brother think the focus should be on nice, rules-keeping, culturally-appropriate people like themselves, Jesus shines the light elsewhere. The shepherd leaves 99 for one, the woman seeks the one lost coin, and the father longs for his lost son. This runs counter to "leave them alone and they'll come home" thinking. Reaching out sets in motion a process of changed futures for all.

REVERSE UNHEALTHY INSULATION. “Saved” persons often develop a spiritually unhealthy pattern of distancing and insulating themselves from “unsaved” persons and unstable situations. Why do you think this happens? Whatever the reason or "excuse," Jesus shows us a radically different response in these parables. Write down three or four changes can you make that will help you keep seeing real lostness, looking outward and moving toward wandering, wounded people.

3. Rediscover the power of celebrating emergent breakthroughs and small victories.

CELEBRATION REFLECTS FAITH. There is a note of authentic celebration in each of these stories. When what is lost is found, it's time to celebrate. Why don’t we celebrate the good things that happen for--and in--other people more frequently and more robustly? Do we suspect it's not "real?" Do we not want to "waste" our time on such small things? What are we holding out for? Our lack of celebration not only reflects lack of belief and faith, its absence impacts those who have been found or brought near. Remember: what is “just a coin” to one person is a week’s wages to another. Keep focused on the value God places on people and the “day of new beginnings.” Now: How will you celebrate the next spiritual breakthrough of a loved one, friend, or neighbor?

THE PARTY WOULDN’T BE COMPLETE I love how Frederick Buechner puts a note of celebration in his description of grace: “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. . . . There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

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