Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

Join the Search Party
July 27, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

LUKE 15:1-10

Last week, the Niford family worshiped with us for the first time and they are here today. They moved in a few weeks ago. They were strangers getting acquainted with a community, coming to church,  identifying the church for their faith as the foundation of their family. Tuesday night, their 11 year old Sharon was hit by a car while riding her bicycle. The police called me. The family, the parents and I went to the hospital all that evening, all the next day and Thursday, she died. 

I believe God has placed every life here on this earth for a reason. Every life has meaning regardless of how short and I believe that every experience, even tragedies have great lessons to teach all of us. As I reflected on this past week, I would like to share some of the insights I gained and some of the some of the beliefs I had that were reinforced. I believe God has a message for us all through this tragic event. 

Number one. Learn how to drive carefully and ride our bicycle safely. I remember my father when he taught me how to drive. That was in the days before driver's training. I passed a bicyclist kind of fast and he said, “Slow down. If you ever hit anyone, you will never forget it.” We need to learn how to drive more carefully and slowly and  children need to learn how to ride their bicycles safely. We made some rules in Sunday School this morning about riding bicycles and I'd like to share them with all of you who ride bicycles. Learn the lessons from a book. Don't ride your bike across the street, walk it across. Don't ride in the middle of the street. After dark, have reflectors. Look both ways before crossing a street. Don't ride against the traffic, but with it. Don't fight and crash your bike with others. Don’t give rides. It's dangerous to ride after dark. And don't carry a dog in your basket. When you see someone fooling around on the bike or running in the street, stop, get out of your car and talk to them. Those are good rules and you who ride bikes, don’t forget them. It only takes one mistake. Riding a bike is not something you can do only when you think about it. These rules cannot be forgotten. 

Number one, let's drive carefully and ride safely. Number two, this experience teaches me to be aware of and grateful for what I have. Live each day as if it were the last. Jesus said, “Don't let the sun go down on your anger.” Meaning that it's okay to get angry. It's okay to have difficulties with one another but don't let the day end with the relationship strained. Keep the relationship alive, vibrant and loving. When there are tensions, when there is difficulty, deal with them so at the end of the day you're all right. 

Parents be grateful for your kids and tell them you love them. Richard Avery and Donald Marsh have written a song called “Love Them Now”. I think it's very appropriate. “Love them now. Don't wait till they're gone away. Love them now while they're around. Touch them, hold them, laugh and cry with them. Show them. Tell them, don't deny with them. Honor them, give birth and die with them now. Love them now before they're just a guilty memory. Love them now.” Don't take anything you have for granted. But be aware and grateful. 

Number three. Sharon’s life can teach us all to reach out and care. She was a tremendous example of what this sermon was going to be about originally where Jesus told the story of the shepherd who counted his 99 sheep, and knew there was one missing. He left the 99 and went out to look for the one who was lost. God's love is like that. Each person is so important to God, the godly will leave the righteous to fend for themselves and go out to search for the lost. God's love is searching and sacrificial for all of us. And not only does God love you and me like that—we lost ones—but God calls us also to be the searchers, to join the search party and to look for those that are lost in the brambles and the thickets and the bushes. This little 11 year old girl expressed that kind of love and care. She took care of animals. She cared for the snakes, she protected the snakes. She took care of the dogs. When I visited in their home, she had just found a stray dog and she was caring for that dog. They held a family conference and decided to call the pound to see if the original owners could be found. She was content only to do that when she was assured that the dog would be taken care of. 

This little girl was very generous with her love. When her fifth and sixth grade classes were going on a science camp week and didn't have a cook, she volunteered her father. And he went and cooked for 55 kids for a whole week. And this little girl was a missionary. She brought her family to the Lord. She brought them to church. 

God calls us all to be searchers, to care about the people around us and bring them out of the brambles and the thickets. That's the call this morning. Will you join the search party, reach out and care? How the world, how people around us need us to care! Don't leave it to the minister because it'll be very poorly done. Dr. Winfield Arn of the American Church Growth Institute, interviewed and polled new converts, new church members and asked them how did you happen to come to the church. Those who said because of the minister were only 8% to 12%. That's all power the minister has. So churches that leave the caring and the reaching out up to the minister are dying churches. Those who responded to city wide evangelistic campaigns, 1/10 of 1%. Those who responded to TV evangelists were not even mentioned, it was so negligible. TV evangelists are great at bringing in money but not great in bringing people into the church. Those who responded to the church's programs, 2% to 3%. And those who were invited by relatives and friends, 70% to 80%. That's how people come into the church. That's how people come to faith when someone in their family cares and invites them or some of their friends or some of their neighbors. 

Don't leave the task to the minister to reach out and care. Don't leave it to a committee. God does not necessarily send a committee to your family or to your friends or to your neighbors. God doesn't send a committee to the people down the street.  We do not have to send out people two-by-two like Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons and other churches, because every neighborhood in Manteca already has a member of St. Paul's. I imagine there are very few neighborhoods in this town that does not have a member of St. Paul’s. We don't have to send anybody out, you are already there. And God sends you! Do you know your neighbors? Do they know you're a member here? Do your neighbors know you're a Christian? Have you invited children to our Bible School? Have you invited your neighbors to our church? Have you found out what their church is? 

The responsibility to search is yours. The responsibility to be a shepherd is yours. God has placed you in your neighborhood. God has given you your friends for you to reach out to. It's not a matter of shyness, for you can overcome shyness. It's not a matter of fearing whether to impose or harass. Those are excuses. It's a matter of caring about people. We care when the need is obvious, when the tragedy is great. We all respond to tragedy. But what about the people who are hurting inside? What about your acquaintances and your neighbors who are hurting inside, who ache, are frustrated and tense, the people whose situations almost overwhelm them, the people who don't have a faith to hang on to sustain them, the people who do not know Jesus as a friend or as a Savior? Do you care about them? 

It's a matter of caring whether you will reach out and join the search party. It's a very rewarding and fulfilling task to do the Lord's work for the Lord gives you the Holy Spirit to do it. Be brave and bold because God gives you the words and God gives you the love. That would be a great lesson to learn from the tragic events of this week. 

Drive carefully and ride safely. Be aware of what you have. Be grateful. Reach out and care.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris