Sermon for 10-09-11: “Do You Want to Know a Secret? Part 4: The Lost Sheep”

The world lost a powerful and inspiring public figure in the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. In this sermon, I analyze the “gospel according to Steve Jobs,” especially as reflected in his 2005 commencement address to Stanford University. Millions of people who mourned Jobs’s death responded to that gospel. How does it compare with the true and complete gospel of Jesus Christ? What are we the church doing to help people hear and respond to that?

Sermon Text: Matthew 18:10-14

The following is my original manuscript.

The world lost a remarkable man last week in the death of Apple Computer co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. It’s no exaggeration to say that, directly or indirectly, my life is better because of his life, because if his creativity, because of his inspiration. I’m thankful to God for Steve Jobs. The company he founded played a formational role in my childhood development—not to mention my interest in computers and technology. Eventually my engineering career owed something to Steve Jobs. My earliest computer experience was playing educational games like “Lemonade Stand” and “Oregon Trail” on an Apple II at my elementary school library around 1979. We had exactly one computer at the school, mind you, so we could only use the computer as a group. We would take turns walking up to the computer and pressing a key or typing a command. That was a big deal back then.

Steve Jobs speaking at Stanford in 2005.

Many years later, when I discovered the Macintosh in college, I was hooked. I mean, I became a fanboy. I drank the Kool-Aid, O.K.? I remember those lean years before Steve Jobs came back to Apple when buying a Mac was an act of faith. In the mid-’90s, I was shopping for a new Mac, and friends would say, “Why are you buying a Mac? Don’t you know that Apple will be out of business within six months?” We Mac users had faith that it would somehow work out. We also had faith in our nearly religious devotion to our computers. This drove PC users crazy.

In the wake of Jobs’s death—and the huge outpouring of grief on the web—I watched, along with many of you, his powerful commencement address in 2005 at Stanford University. Did you see this? Don referred to it in his eNews article this week. It was strong, and I would recommend that all of you read it, because it rings true to me. It also catches my attention as a pastor because Jobs even made a couple of interesting religious statements during the speech. In describing, for example, how his life’s failures and setbacks had somehow worked out for good in his life, he said this:

[Y]ou can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

“You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future…” We have to trust in something or someone to connect those dots, Jobs said, and I wholeheartedly agree. I like the way Jobs lists the things we may trust in, ending his list with “whatever.” In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul was speaking to a group of Greek philosophers in Athens. He said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you.”

People of Alpharetta, this “whatever” in which Steve Jobs says we must trust, I now proclaim to you.

In the beginning of time, God created our universe and everything in it. Creation wasn’t a matter of God winding up the universe like a watchmaker and simply setting it in motion and letting it run on its own. Rather, everything that exists owes its continuing existence to God who is is actively enabling everything to exist right now. The crowning achievement of God’s creation is humanity. God created us in his image, which meant, among other things, that we were made to reflect God’s glory to the rest of creation. God gave us dignity, freedom, and responsibility. But we failed and chose to rebel against God. And this rebellion is called sin.

Steve Jobs said in his speech, “[H]ave the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” That’s almost right. The deepest desire of our hearts is God. What we need most is God—and our hearts and intuitions are like navigational instruments that want to guide us to God. But these instruments have been damaged by sin. Therefore we often confuse this built-in desire for our Creator with a desire for created things. We become idolators. We settle for something less than what we need most.

Of course, God knew in advance that this would happen, but God wasn’t going to let sin and evil have the last word. In fact, God’s plan from the beginning of time was to call a people, Israel, to bear witness to God and his love for the world. In the fullness of time, God came into the world as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s savior—as Israel’s scripture foretold. Through his suffering and death, God in Christ satisfied the demands of justice and bore the penalty that was due us because of our sin. Through the cross, we can now find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. And through Christ’s resurrection, we can have new and eternal life. All of this is God’s gift to humanity, offered without price, to those who place their faith in God’s Son Jesus.

In a way, Jobs was right when he said that our hearts “somehow already know” what we want to become: Because when we hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s as if our whole life falls into place. It all makes sense. This is what we really wanted all along: Not financial success, not material possessions, not power, not popularity, not sex—but to be reconciled to God, to be brought into a saving relationship with God, to become children of God. Being a child of God isn’t simply having the assurance of heaven after death—although it includes that. It also means that we experience a new and better quality of life now. It means working on behalf of God’s kingdom now—or, more accurately, letting God work through us on behalf of that kingdom.

Also, because of what God accomplished through Christ, our relationship with death changes, because we understand that Christ has won a decisive victory over death, and we share in that victory through faith. A beloved church member, Dan Fadgen, died on Friday, and I arrived at his bedside not long after he died, and I prayed and read scripture with the family, and I asked them to offer words of testimony about his life. And all of the people who had been with Dan the night before testified that he was happy, smiling, content, at peace. Because of his faith. Steve Jobs said in his speech that even those who want to go to heaven don’t want to have to die to get there, and I’m sure that’s true, but I also know that Dan was not an exception—that we Christians can face even death with confidence, conviction, and hope. “For I know whom I have believed,” the apostle said, “and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” [2 Timothy 1:12]

“Do you want to know a secret?” That’s it… This gospel is the secret of life. Once we unlock that secret by grace through faith in God’s Son, we can look back on our lives and see that God has been with us all along, connecting all the dots of our lives, as Steve Jobs said—even redeeming our mistakes, our failures, and our setbacks—to fulfill God’s purpose for us in the world.

Why does God do all of this for us? Today’s scripture, the parable of the Lost Sheep, answers that question for us. What motivates this shepherd in the parable to leave the 99 on hillside to go find the one sheep who wandered off? Why wouldn’t he simply cut his losses and be glad he still has 99? What’s one little sheep to the shepherd?

What’s one human life to God? Why is God so interested in rescuing each one of us from sin, death, and hell? Why does our salvation make God so happy? The answer must be… love. It’s all about love. What wouldn’t God do out of love?

Last weekend, our fellow Vinebrancher Edward Galaviz scored me a couple of free tickets to see Kansas, a band I loved when I was a teenager, at the Cobb Energy Center. After the show, the band greeted fans in the lobby and signed merchandise—so the lobby was crowded with people. Suddenly, a man shouted and whistled and waved his arms to get the crowd’s attention. He was obviously not afraid of making a scene! He explained in a loud voice that his son got separated from him and would everyone look around to find him. He told the crowd what the boy was wearing and what his name was. Can you imagine? I’m some of you parents can imagine. You know that fear that you experience when you’ve lost a child—even for a moment or two.

Fortunately the boy turned up almost immediately. But don’t you know that if it were possible, this father would move heaven and earth to find his boy—to make sure that his child was safe and secure once again. Do you believe—do you dare to believe—that God loves you like that? That God wants to find you and rescue you like that? I hope so. The good news is that Jesus is telling us right here that God loves us like that.

Listen, if you’re lost, and you need to be rescued by Jesus Christ the good shepherd, I want to tell you that I was once exactly where you are. And just as Christ was there to rescue me, so he’s here to rescue you, too. He’s reaching out for you. He’s ready to pick you up and carry you on his shoulders and bring you home. What’s stopping you from letting him do that?

For those of us who’ve already been rescued, the challenge from today’s scripture is a little different. We have something else to learn from this parable. If we the church are going to be faithful in doing the work of God’s kingdom—if we’re going to bear witness to God’s love and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ for the world—we ought to also share Christ’s passionate interest in saving a lost and dying world. We need to be a little bit like this shepherd. We shouldn’t be complacent about our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors who haven’t yet been rescued by Jesus the Good Shepherd, but who need to be. We need to do whatever we can to help people find God and enter into a saving relationship with God through Christ.

This is, in fact, what we promise to do when we become members of this church. It’s that part of our membership pledge known as witnessing. It’s true that the most important way that we witness is by loving people—through our actions. But a part of loving people means occasionally using words, too! Consider this: God has placed people in your life that he wants you to witness to. You have what it takes to be a witness to them. Pray for them. Pray that the Holy Spirit will make you aware of opportunities to be a witness. Be prepared to be a witness. Be deliberate. Ask yourself, regularly, “What does God want me to do right now to help this person understand the truth of the gospel?”

Lots of people in the world responded last week to the “gospel according to Steve Jobs,” especially to the powerful words of his commencement address. And I totally get it. I totally understand why. His gospel was good news, but it was incomplete and imperfect. His gospel pointed in the direction of the true and full and complete gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what people want and need to hear.

What will you do to help them hear it? Amen.

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