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THE PROMISE OF JOYOUS REUNION
LUKE 15:1-32

16th June 2002

Sydney journalist and friend of Wesley Mission, Alan Gill, wrote a well researched book "Orphans Of the Empire." This work documents the experiences of child migrants to Australia, especially those 30,000 who were sent to Australia during the fifty year period from the twenties to the late sixties. The TV program "The Leaving of Liverpool" follows the experiences of children, especially the boys, who were sent to Bindoon in West Australia, where they toiled on building massive stone buildings. These child labourers lived under canvas, were paid no wages, were horribly treated and abused by some Roman Catholic Brothers. This is a shameful episode in Australian history researched by Alan Gill.

But Alan also reports some happier outcomes. One was Philip Simpson, whose mother was a single girl in England. He was brought up in the National Children's Home, an English Methodist child-care organisation. He lived there for seven years until asked if he would like to go to Australia. He thought it over and agreed and in 1950 arrived in Sydney. He was met Circular Quay by Mr Donald Stewart, Superintendent of Dalmar Children's Home at Carlingford, run by this Mission. He says, "We pulled up at Dalmar. There was a Union Jack flying. Everyone was very pleasant, but I had mixed emotions." There were about 100 children in Dalmar. That evening a bus took them into the Lyceum Theatre where they were welcomed by the Superintendent Dr Frank Rayward and the congregation. His life was extremely busy with school, sports, milking cows, camps, concerts and cubby houses. "The food was pretty good but not exciting. There were fresh vegetables from the gardens. I would call it wholesome."

Were they happy times? "I think so, yes, I would apply that to my entire childhood." Philip left Dalmar at 16, got a job, and lived with the sister of Sir Frederick Stewart, a member of this Mission. He worked for P&O Orient Line until 1986. Today, he and his wife of over thirty years live at Hornsby Heights where he is the Secretary of the local Baptist Church. While he was in Dalmar, Philip received a letter from a half-brother in England. Later he told Philip that their mother had given birth to another child, a daughter, again by a different father. Philip later went to England to meet his family, but his brother died a few days before he arrived. His mother had been committed to a mental institution. His sister had become a Jehovah's Witness and was unpleasant about his contact with her. Further he did not know the identity of his father.

I spoke with Philip this week. My heart went out to a man who has missed all that family life. How I wish that things had turned out differently - that Philip could have returned to England, found his brother and sister, and his parents, happily married! What a joyful reunion that would be! But there are no fairy tale endings in real life. I know so many people who would, more than anything else, long for a joyful reunion with an estranged child, a son who has rejected his parents and been lost to a drug culture, a husband who is still loved but who left for a younger woman, a sister who left in huff after a silly argument and who has never returned a message since. Please God - a joyful reunion! One of the great promises that Jesus gives concerns a joyful reunion that we can have with God. And to illustrate it, He told three memorable stories, each with the same ending of a joyful reunion. The first became a popular song.

Once in Chicago, U.S.A., I visited the famous Moody Bible Institute. It was established by the great evangelist, D.L Moody, 130 years ago. It trains missionaries and ministers of the gospel. I visited the Moody Museum. There, I cranked an old gramophone and from a cylinder shaped record listened to his song leader, Ira Sankey, singing his favourite song. In 1874, Moody and Sankey were travelling by train from Glasgow to Edinburgh for an evangelistic crusade. Moody was writing letters when Sankey said, "Listen, Dwight to this poem I found in a newspaper." He read it out. Later, Moody said, "I was so busy writing my letters and checking correspondence, that I really didn't hear what he was saying."

The next day, as the campaign began in Edinburgh, Moody was preaching about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who seeks for the lost. At the close of the sermon, Moody turned to his song leader and said, "I am going to ask Mr Sankey if he would sing an appropriate song for this message." Sankey had no appropriate solo ready. He felt in his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, the poem in the newspaper he read on the train. He sat at the organ and began to play and sing:

"There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away
Far from the gates of gold."

Sankey said, "By the time I got around to the second verse, it was a miracle that I remembered how the music went for the first verse." He sang that song for the first time that night. It caught on immediately. Quickly it flashed around the world and became the most popular hymn of its time. The last line is,
"Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own."

1. THE LOST
There are people just as lost in the streets of Sydney as a sheep on the Judean hills. Every time you walk in our great city, you can see the lost, men, women and teenagers, lost, away from family and home, wandering alone. We need to recapture an understanding of what it means to be lost. If I had to choose one of the most beautiful words in the English language, I think it would be "home." The word "home" means love, acceptance, security, warmth and tenderness. If I had to choose one of the most desolate words in our speech, I would choose "lost." There are many ways that people can be lost. They can be lost to God, lost to their family or spouse, lost to the church, lost to goodness and decency.

In our cities there are many who may feel like shouting, "Is there anyone there? Does anybody care? Does anybody know my name?" Those who are at the phones of our Life Line Counselling Service in the early hours of the morning hear again and again someone at the other end saying, "Nobody cares! No one would worry whether I lived or died." They are lost! Jesus gives us the promise that even if we are lost, He searches. He seeks us. He wants to bring us home. He promises a joyful reunion. When Jesus told the story of the lost sheep, recorded in Luke 15, He was speaking to a group of people who felt that there was no way they were lost, but the rest of society knew they were lost. They were the tax collectors, alienated and rejected by society. They were the outcasts, those who had been pushed to the fringe of the community - they were lost. But the Pharisees, lawyers, and scribes, however, did not think of themselves as lost. Yet they were also lost, as far from God as the outcasts, the sinners, and prostitutes.

They may not have known it, but they were also lost. vv 1-4 They grumbled because Jesus was a friend to the lost. The common people heard Him gladly. He sat, spoke, and ate with them. Isn't there a wonderful truth here? There is somebody who cares. There is somebody who knows your name. There is someone who is a friend of the lost. His name is "Jesus"! While driving in the White Bay Terminal area I saw some graffiti on a wall: "Life stinks!" Imagine the mind of the person who has nothing to do but go at night and spray the words, "Life stinks!"

That person is lost. There are different ways of getting lost. We don't blame a sheep for it. Sheep are stupid. They wander around anywhere to get food. If there is a creek bed which marks the boundary and they see brown grass on the other side, to the other side they will go - and in Australia, the grass is always browner on the other side of the fence! If there is a hole in a fence and there is more brown grass there, then through the hole they will go. There are many who are lost because of their own stupidity. It is no one else's fault. They just wander away. The Bible says we are often like sheep who have gone astray. Some are lost because they become separated from others. Jesus told parables about four kinds of separation. One concerned the sheep which through foolishness wandered away and got lost. Another was of a women who wore a piece of jewellery with ten small coins upon a chain. She realised suddenly that one was lost. It was not the coin's fault. It was not the woman's fault. It was an accidental separation. She got a light and swept the floor and searched until she found the lost coin. The lost coin was recovered.

Jesus told a third story about a young man who said, "Father, give me my share of the property now." He wanted to chase the life of the big city. He was lost by his own stubbornness. Many of us have done that, have become lost because we have gone our own way, stubbornly, wickedly, foolishly, sinfully - and we were lost. There is a fourth way of getting lost in that same story. The young man's older brother was at home and he was just as lost as the one who went away. He was apart from his father. He was apart from God. He had resentment and bitterness in his heart and because of that, he, too, was lost! Whatever the reason - stubbornness or separation, sulkiness or stupidity - you, too, can be lost! But here is the good news! Jesus is the friend of the lost. He cares for those who have lost real meaning in life.

2. THE SEEKING GOD
There is good news. We have a God who is seeking us. If a shepherd had 100 sheep and 99 of them were safe and only one was lost, he would search for it. Our God is like that. Wrongly we talk about searching after God. In Scripture it is God searching for us. Luke 15:4-5 God seeks you wherever you are. Why? He is motivated by love. "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." Luke 19:10 If you have been away from your Heavenly Father in a far country, in a way of life that brings you no credit, know that He still loves you and is searching for you. John, at the beginning of his gospel, said, "The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us." Why? Because He was seeking the lost. Notice His persistence! He seeks until He finds. You can never sink so far that God is unable to reach you. You are valuable and important. God cares for you. There's no one else who loves you like that.

3. THE JOYFUL REUNION
If the story were to end with being found after being lost, it would miss the exhilaration of the great reunion. This is the way Jesus concludes the parable: "When he finds the sheep he is so happy that he puts it on his shoulders and carries it back home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says "Let us celebrate!" Luke 15:5,6 When God finds us, His heart is happy. There is joy because we have been found, and there is our joy because He has found us. In the vast concrete city there are those who are safe, but God in Christ is walking the streets looking for the lost that they, too, might be found. He calls us by name and all we have to do is stop running.

There are only forty words in the parable of the lost sheep, but it tells us all about heaven and earth, about God's creation and man's fall, about God's love and redemption, about a seeking God and a joyful reunion, and about the hope of heaven. In those forty words there is the picture of our relationship with God. We may be lost, but God seeks us until He finds us, then there is celebration. Joy! For the lost has been found. A joyful reunion awaits anyone who is brought back home. The lost sheep is returned to the fold. The lost coin has been recovered. The lost son is reunited with His father. There is a joyful reunion awaiting you. But be careful! You may be like the elder son .. so near to the Father but still lost. Instead, repent and come back to the Father and hear His words, "Celebrate and be happy! Your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found." V32 No joy is like the joyful reunion. Your father and family awaits. Repent of your sin and stubbornness and come home to the Father and find the promise of a joyful reunion!

Wesley Mission, Sydney.