Summary: A sermon about the all-inclusive love of God.
"Join the Party"
Before Cody Huff joined a Church in Las Vegas, he was sleeping in an open field next to the church.
One day, some people from the church were handing out sandwiches where Cody slept, and they told him he could get a shower in the Church building.
The last place Cody wanted to go was a church, but he hadn't bathed in so long that even the other homeless people couldn't stand his smell anymore.
Cody says, "I walked into the church, and this lady named Michelle said, 'Good morning, Cody, how are you?'
Then she looked at me, and said, 'Cody you need a hug.'"
Cody goes on, "And I said, 'Honey, you don't want to touch me because I haven't had a shower in 3 months.'
If Michelle heard me, she didn't seem to care.
She walked up, and she looked in my eyes, and she gave me a big hug and told me that Jesus loved me.
In that split second, I was somebody.
She even remembered my name.
That was the point where I knew God was alive in this world.'"
Among young adults in the United States, sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity.
Recent studies have brought the trend to light.
Among the findings released in 2009 from the American Religious Identification Survey, one stood out.
The percentage of Americans claiming "no religion" almost doubled in about two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008.
The trend wasn't confined to one area of the country.
Those people claiming "no religion," who are called the "Nones,"--spelled N-o-n-e-s...
...made up the only group of people to have grown in every state, from the Northeast to the Bible belt.
The "Nones" were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18-29 year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990.
The study also found that 73 percent of "Nones" came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as "de-converts."
Other survey studies have been grimmer.
At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists reported that 30 to 40 percent of "young Americans" have no religion today.
Could it be that many of us have gotten away from what Jesus is truly about?
Some have said that many churches in America are taking on the part of the Pharisees and legal experts in the Bible.
Is that why some folks are so "turned off?"
Jesus tells the three parables in Luke 15 because the Pharisees and other religious leaders were "grumbling" about the "character" of the folks Jesus was eating with and hanging out with on a regular basis.
They were grumbling about the company Jesus keeps, or as the New Revised Standard puts it: They were grumbling about "The company Jesus seeks out or welcomes."
A couple of months ago I was having a conversation with a person who was telling me about something a pastor from another denomination had been boasting about to her.
Both of them had a common acquaintance.
The pastor of the church told the person that he had "kicked" the common acquaintance "out of his church" telling him not to come back unless "he changed his ways."
Each of the three parables in Luke 15 are told by Jesus to the religious leaders...the church-ey folks.
The scribes and the Pharisees were very pious people, strong believers, upstanding citizens--the sort of folks just about anyone would be honored to have move into the house next door.
They are not like the questionable characters that populate these parables.
Scribes and Pharisees don't usually make bad choices, or sink into self-destructive habits.
They don't wander off lost.
They don't lose track of precious coins.
They don't mouth off to the old man, go out drinking, and end up in the gutter.
No, these scribes and Pharisees fully imagine that when they arrive at heaven's gate, they will stroll over to the platinum frequent-flier check-in line, whip out their membership cards, and head right for first class.
Have you heard about the guy who died, went to heaven and met Peter at the Pearly gates?
Of course, everyone has...
Anyway, Peter greets the fellow and asks him to follow as he shows him to his room.
As they are walking down a certain corridor, suddenly Peter instructs the person to be very quiet: "SSSSHHH!!!" warns Peter, "Don't say a thing. We gotta tip-toe past this door."
Later when the man asks Peter why they had to do that, Peter tells him that they had just passed the room for the folks who think they are the only ones there.
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning, the crowds are pressing in around Jesus to hear His teachings.