Searching for the lost

Matthew 9:35-10:8

One night back in the 80’s I was sound asleep in my warm and comfortable bed.  I heard the phone ring and then I think it was my Mum came in and said that a crayfish boat had called in a Mayday and our State Emergency Service crew were needed to go out and conduct a search for the missing boat.  When we were on our way we discovered that a report had come in that the boat had run aground on some rocks and they were unsure of their exact position.

When we arrived at the search area, a rugged stretch of coastline with high limestone cliffs, we split up into small groups. I was given a Dolphin® torch and told to walk along in front of the police car so that it didn’t get driven over a cliff!  It was a slightly scary experience.  We did eventually find the boat and the crew and helped them up the cliff to safety.  They were only a little bit off course, but it meant that they ran aground at full speed on a headland that jutted out into the sea and put a nice size hole in the hull of their boat.

Sometimes in life people get a bit lost, maybe just a little bit, maybe a lot, maybe just for a short time, or it can be for a lifetime.  People even disappear off of the face of the earth, never to be seen again.  There are several TV shows on the go that deal with this very issue; it’s more common than most of us think.  I’m certain that there are people out there who are lost and don’t even realise it, both from a physical perspective and a spiritual one.

Jesus had been walking around lots of cities and villages, he’d been teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news.  He’d been spending time with the people and he had compassion for them because they were wandering around like sheep without a shepherd, looking a bit lost.  So he told the disciples that they were to go to them and proclaim the good news too, he wanted to multiply the numbers who were out there sharing the message of the good news.  It was time to call out the rescue party to search them out and bring them to safety, even if they hadn’t sent out a mayday asking for help.

Where did Jesus send the search party (the disciples) on their search?  He wanted them to go first, to the lost sheep of Israel.  My first reaction every time I’ve read that instruction is to say, “hang on, how come just to them, what about everyone else in the world”, but just like our search that night back in the 80’s the search began where the people were most likely to be found. 

When you think about it, there are a couple of obvious reasons for going to them first.  They were expecting a Messiah to come, they had been looking forward to a time when God would send them their saviour, and yet they weren’t getting it, they couldn’t comprehend that Jesus was the one that God had promised them. 

If the disciples went to them proclaiming the good news that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and that by his authority they were able to perform miracles, surely these people would believe and return from their lost and confused state and worship Jesus.

They were also the people who already knew Scripture and the traditions of the Jewish faith, Jesus and the disciples were speaking to an audience who should have been able to hear and understand what they were being told, they weren’t speaking into a vacuum.

Later on when Jesus gave the disciples the great commission to go and make disciples of all nations, the emphasis would shift, but for now, they were to go out to the lost sheep of Israel and tell them that the kingdom of God was at hand.  For now it was by doing miracles, healing the sick and raising the dead, later the switch would be to making disciples and through preaching teaching and baptising.

I’ve been doing a bit of looking around lately and listening to reports in the media and reading surveys and stuff and I think we’re in a similar situation now to what was going on when Jesus sent out his disciples.  There are people walking around everywhere, confused, harassed and helpless.  They are lost, and many of them don’t even know it.  They are wandering around in the darkness, looking for a glimpse of light in their lives.  Many of those people are actually lost from the Christian church.

They are people who for some reason have drifted away from the church.  Some have drifted because they were bored, others because someone didn’t agree with their opinion or scolded them for doing something that they thought wasn’t quite right.  There are those who have used situations in their lives as excuses to take a week or two off of church and then slowly stayed away more and more.  There are even people who have decided that because there are people who come across as hypocrites in the church that they don’t want to be a part of it any more.  Then there are the ones who’ve moved to a new area and haven’t made a connection with a new congregation yet.

We often hear that there aren’t as many people in the church as there used to be, that they’ve drifted away.

I reckon we can learn from Jesus’ command to his disciples and make a bit of an effort in the same way, by going to the ones that we know, the people who know the church and its people, who know God’s Word but have become lost.  We need to shine Christ’s light out into the darkness and use it to guide them in, to restore them to the safe harbour.

This is no easy task, we need to be guided along the way too.  Depending on the people involved, the process might have to start with forgiveness, maybe there are some underlying hurts that need to be forgiven both ways in order for the lost to feel comfortable returning.  Maybe we have to help them get through some huge struggle in their life outside of the church so that they can appreciate the love and compassion that Jesus feels for them and that we can share with them through him.

If you are looking around you now and realise there is a face or a name that is missing, start with prayer, ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in reaching out to the lost, what’s the best method of rescue, do you need to reach out a hand, throw a rope, walk alongside them, or call in a rescue helicopter? 

Many of us would love for our brothers and sisters, children or grandchildren to be here worshipping with us, receiving God’s gifts to us through worship, but what’s the cause of them being lost, maybe it’s time to find out and to carefully and compassionately help them to steer their way through the darkness and return safely to the harbour, where they can receive God’s forgiveness, our forgiveness, and the love and compassion that they are probably longing for, even though they might not know it or admit it.

So as you go about your week, remember that you have the good news, live in it daily and be prepared to prayerfully and tactfully share that news with those who are lost.

Amen.