Tuesday, 30 August 2011

:: Finding your way home ::

I will be taking a service this Sunday in preparation for our 'Back to church service', where we welcome back the prodigals and bring home the lost sheep.

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

I can still clearly remember when I was lost and I regularly thank the Lord for the day that I was found and for the people who helped me to find my way home. I spent twenty years wandering in the wilderness, going round in circles, bumping into things, taking the wrong paths, seeing chinks of light but then turning away back into the shadows.
But during those twenty years when I was lost I now see that the Lord was faithful, he searched for me and he sent his people to help him. Looking back I can now see that he placed Christians in my life who guided me, who counselled me and encouraged me. These people, without knowing, all had a part to play in my journey, they all helped to show me the way home.
Sometimes I fought against them, I would argue with them, I even lost my temper on occasions. Sometimes I tired to reason and debate – but it took twenty years before I listened and heard the truth. It took twenty years before I finally heard a knock at the door, I heard a voice, I went to the door and my Lord stood there with a full heart to forgive me and open arms to welcome me home.
Just as it says in Revelations 3
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
I clearly remember that Monday evening as if it was yesterday and this painting by William Holman Hunt came to me that night when I was saved, I kept seeing it in my minds eye over and over again. The painting depicts Jesus, the light of the world, standing at a door which is overgrown with ivy and weeds. The door represented the door to my new life with Jesus. He standing and he was waiting at that door all the time, and for all that time ivy and weeds had tried to seal it and prevent it from being opened. But he was patient and he was faithful, he put his trust in his search party and he waited. He searched for me and he waited for me, for all those years, he heard me scorn him, turn away from him and follow a different path and yet he still waited and when I opened the door he forgave me, he held me in his arms, set me on his shoulders and took me home. When I think about it, it blows me away, how I wish I had listened earlier. Notice that there is no handle on the outside of the door; I had to open the door from the inside to let Jesus into my life. We have the freedom to choose. It took me twenty years to open the door and I can never put into words how grateful I am to those who directed me towards that door and encouraged me to open it and so it is fitting that I share this testimony with you today as we prepare for our back to church service, as we as a church family prepare to bring the lost sheep home for the Good Shepherd.
There is an exercise that I do in my drama lessons. It was developed by a Russian practitioner called Konstantin Stanislavski who trained actors to perform in the style of realism. It takes the form of two similar activities. The first is to ask for a volunteer who is then asked to search for a twenty pound note which has been previously hidden in the room. They are given two minutes to do so. The volunteer does a wonderful ‘performance’ and we – the audience discuss what techniques they used in their performance. They are then given new information, there actually is twenty pounds in the room and if they find it they can have it. ( I am always very anxious at this point in case they find it!) The ‘performance’ now becomes reality – the actor believes there is a twenty pound note and so what we the audience observe is completely different, there is a sense of urgency and passion, the actor has focus they are determined to find the twenty pound note and they leave no stone unturned. Even when the two minutes are up they still try to have one last look such is their desire to find the twenty pound note.
As I was preparing for this service I thought about this exercise, about my students dashing around my studio trying to find the twenty pounds, their faces when it is revealed, when they find it was there all the time, they just didn’t find it – this time. I think they would have kept looking all day if they could because they wanted to find it so much. This scripture tells us that Jesus’ desire is to find the lost sheep, he loves us so much that he came down from heaven, leaving his Father to save the lost. No one is outside his love, his desire is to seek and to save and to bring his lambs home.
I think that this scripture has three points to make. At face value the message is clear, the good shepherd will leave the 99 sheep in his flock while he goes in search for the lost sheep and he will rejoice when the sheep is found. We see the determination of the shepherd to find the sheep no matter what – just like my students looking for that twenty pound note. But he doesn’t rush around in a fury like my drama students, he is patient and enduring, but like them he will never give up. When he finds the sheep and brings him home His great compassion forgives the sheep for going off on their own, for not listening to his calls, for trying to find his own path for being disobedient. He is just happy that he has found the sheep and that the sheep has returned to the flock. I don’t believe that this sheep means more to him than the rest of the flock, he rejoices in the fact that the sheep has been saved. I am sure we have all had an experience of losing something. It’s a horrible feeling, especially when it is something precious, we search everywhere, turn the house upside down. When we finally find the object we are over the moon and it becomes all the more valuable because it was lost and has been found. We realise how important it was to us we are determined that we will be more careful with it in future. The value in the object is in the fact that it has been found, the rejoicing is in the finding and bringing it home.
If we look deeper into the scripture we too can have compassion for the lost sheep, alone and afraid in the dark not knowing what to do like the little sheep in our children’s talk. In a way we can understand the temptations that the world offers in order to turn us from Christ, just like the little sheep who just wants to win the game and gain some status amongst her peers. But how quickly can you become lost when you start to head in the wrong direction and soon it feels to late to turn back, you are too afraid of the repercussions you are too ashamed of your actions. But we know that Jesus will always forgive and it is this compassion that I want to focus on this morning. I want us to use our understanding and our compassion for the lost to drive us to become the Lords search party because I feel that there is also a commission in this scripture. From my own experience of being Lost I believe that God also uses his followers to take part in being in the bigger search party . As we prepare for the ‘Back to church service’ I want to focus on this element of the scripture as we at Trinity become part of that bigger search party.
When I was lost for all that time, I knew there was something else out there, I knew that there had to be more to life than the life I was leading and my search took me to many different faiths and religions. It’s a dark place, you can’t see things straight, life can become distorted and what you think is the right path doesn’t bring the light or the peace that the journey with Jesus does. But God will always send out a search party, his angels who hold lanterns up on our path, who guide us, who show us the way and lead us towards him. I know this because I can remember each and every one of those angels and the lanterns that they held up. I am ashamed to say that I also remember thinking I knew best, turning from them and taking a different route. But those lanterns still shone brightly and their light was never wasted.
I think of them as gardeners and like gardeners each and every one of them had a different job in order to bring me back into the Lords garden. Some of them were there at the beginning of my journey preparing the ground, others were there along the way planting seeds. Tiny seeds as small as a mustard seed and they grew, those that didn’t were planted again and again and as new gardeners’ came along and they in turn tended and nurtured the seeds, they watered them, pulled out the weeds, cut out the dead leaves, poured the love and light of Jesus onto the seeds and finally when the time was right a gardener came and harvested the seedling and brought it home to the garden. We never know whether we are a gardener who prepares the soil or who plants the seed, who nurtures and cares for it or harvests it. But without all those gardeners the seed can never grow.
My dearest friend prayed faithfully for 8 years for me to meet the lord and come to faith. An impossible prayer you would think at the time … I was a senior Buddhist Leader, I had a strong faith I had been practicing this religion for 16 years, I had brought people to faith and I was responsible for the faith and practice of members in the North of England. But her faith, her determination and her obedience were bigger than that. She continued to pray and she drew her church around her and together they prayed me back home. She and her church tended the seeds that had been slowly planted for twenty years, she took out the dead leaves and poured the light of Jesus into my life through scripture and testimonies and yet it was someone else who finally reaped the harvest, another member of the search party who took me on the final part of my journey to the door of salvation and which I opened finally bringing me home to Jesus.
So as we prepare for the return to church service, we mustn’t be precious about what kind of gardener we are. It must have been so hard for Helen, after all those years to find it was someone else who was with me in those final steps, but she rejoiced in my salvation and she was content with the vital part that she played in my journey, and now continues to make, by my side. It doesn’t matter which role we take, the important part is being obedient to God and being part of the search party which brings home those lost sheep who he patiently and lovingly waits for at the other side of the door to salvation.
Never limit God, Helen didn’t, she made the impossible possible through faith and constant prayer, never limit God, he can work miracles he brought me home and he will bring home all those lost sheep out there waiting to be found. We have such a wonderful opportunity as a church to pull together and pray together and work together to fulfil Gods commission. We must leave no stone unturned, we must be open to Gods word because He will guide us and He will show us how we can guide and bring the lost home again, so that they might know His love and salvation. God will never stop looking for those lost sheep, He will never give up on them, He will always pursue them and He will bring them home. But the good shepherd also asks us to help in the search for those lost sheep, He asks us to be faithful and strong in leading them home. To be brave enough to plant those seeds, to be consistent and faithful enough to say those prayers day after day. We never know what that passing word can mean to the lost, that phone call made just at the right time, or a conversation during a chance meeting, those lost lambs are out there in the dark lost and alone needing us to bring them back to God. Needing us to bring them home to the good shepherd who waits for them to welcome them home and restore them.
Years ago when I started to come to Trinity God gave me a very, very clear picture. I was stood over there near Neil’s piano, I was looking at the alter and then I turned round to see that the church was full – every pew was filled and I was so happy, I can’t tell you how happy I felt and I heard God say ‘you will be a part of this Helen’. It is my prayer that this picture will become a reality at the ‘back to church service’ that Zoe is organising. It is my prayer that the church will be full and that we as a family will all be part of the filling of those pews. I pray that together we will listen to the Lord and we will bring home those lost sheep who are crying out in the dark. Lets stand together and make that picture that God gave me a reality and as a church family lets have obedient hearts burning to serve the lord and bring the lost home.

Let us pray
Lord Jesus, give us thankful hearts for those who helped us on our journey and helped us to know you and follow you, give us obedient hearts to serve you and courage to step out in faith to bring those lost sheep home. As we listen to the words of this song speak to us, guide us and show us who we can bring home.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you are well, and I hope your service did not exhaust you..it can take a huge amount of energy to prepare for but then you have your training from school, I had forgotten! Sometimes too when things don't tun out as we expect there is usually a bigger picture...and all works ok


It is my prayer that my words may be of some comfort or may bless you in some way...I love to hear from you and your journeys...every blessing H