September 10, 2023, Praying For the Adoption of  Lost Sheep, Pentecost 15

Image by Chil Vera from Pixabay

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

Lord, I believe: Help my unbelief. Help me to see my world as You see it.
Lord, I obey; Help my disobedience. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow;  Help me to stay on the path. Thank you for the path, for guidance, for providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation. 
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine, as a means of grace, as a person through whom your Holy Spirit flows. Amen.

HYMN Bringing In The Sheaves
Marshall Hall & Friends – Bringing in the Sheaves

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − Dear Lord, This morning as I contemplate a new day, I ask you to help me. I want to be aware of and filled with your Spirit—leading me in the decisions I take, the conversations I have, and the work I do. I want to be more like you, Jesus, as I relate to the people I meet today—friends or strangers. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 399 Take My Life and Let It Be
Take My Life and Let It Be – Chris Tomlin [with lyrics]

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Praying For the Adoption of  Lost Sheep
Text: Luke 15:1-7, Matthew 9:35-38, 28:18-20
Series: You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio


Matthew 9:35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”


HYMN 572 Pass It On
Pass It On – The N Crew

BENEDICTION The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!


We’ve been talking the last few weeks about how our prayers can be more powerful, how we can pray in such a way that God answers our prayers, not just for ourselves, but for people we care about. Today, following on last week, I want to talk about how we can pray for the adoption of lost sheep.

Last week, we talked about this reality, which is that in a lot of churches, the pews are emptier than they used to be. Everybody has their own particular place to sit. This particular week, I’m not sure where everybody was, but if the room around you for more people bothers you, what I suggested last week is that the smart thing for us to do is to pray for God to bring more people to us. Because as James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” But I’m quite sure in all the various prayers that you pray, it hasn’t occurred to you, on a typical week, to pray for more people to come to church. And we should do that. I hope you will do that, because Jesus said, “Everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and to everyone who knocks, it will be open.”

But today, I wanted to talk with you about how God will probably answer a prayer for more people. And the way I want to suggest to you that God will answer the prayer for more people is this: anybody who is a parent has heard these words, “Mom, he followed me home. Can I keep him?”

Here’s a quote, “Dogs have a tendency to follow people home. This can be for a matter of reasons. Dogs can sense kindness in a person. And if they are a stray dog, they may escape their home because they’re unhappy. Unhappy with their owners, and they want someone to love them. They may also be hungry, and if they have no owner, they will be starving. If the dog doesn’t have a collar, I would recommend adopting the dog. And I would say, especially if the dog comes to you with a rose in its teeth, as the one in the picture does!

Another quote: What does it mean if a dog follows you home? Dogs are smart animals and will often single out one person to follow, sometimes even to the exclusion of others. This usually indicates that this person fulfills whatever the dog is looking for.

And then down in the smaller print at the bottom, I apologize if you can’t read it, an article from England on how to welcome and help your rescued dog become settled in your home. The writers point out, “After about three months– after about three months, your dog should feel comfortable secure at home. Having built a bond of love and trust with you and anyone else they live with.”

Now, it is true, some of us have had this experience of love at first sight. But the point that’s being made here is that if you’ve been hurt or abandoned or harmed, it takes a while for you to believe that people will care for you. It takes a while to build trust. And what this group has found with regard to helping rescue dogs feel a part of the family that adopts them, it takes about three months. It takes about three months for trust to be earned.

Last week, I shared this quote with you from sociologist Rodney Stark, who wrote all the way back in 1965, “True conversion is the result of a close relationship with a genuine, caring, practicing Christian.”

And when you find that people are coming to a church, it’s more a process of adoption than anything else because people are hungry for the feeling of a family. I saw in an article on the internet just this morning, you will see them again and again and again, one of the greatest social problems we have in the United States today is loneliness, that leads to depression, and that leads to serious illness. People need family.

Fifty years ago, it was said that people are looking for a friendly church. What we understand now is that people are actually looking for friends. Consequently, the vision of our church, what we want to see happen is that We are a functional family of God… Because why would anyone want to be a part of a dysfunctional family? And so we work to be more functional, more loving, more caring. And what helps us to do that is if Jesus is Lord, Jesus will guide us. And if Jesus is guiding us, then people will grow. And sometimes I’m tempted to say it this way: people will grow up.

But here’s the reality that we’re finding all around the church these days. People want to feel that other people care and people want to be a part of a family. So, consequently, what you see in a flock of sheep is visible in this photo: Sheep gather, in a flock, into families. And that’s because that sense of trust, that sense of caring attaches to another person. They connect with a person, not barns. Even though we have a lovely barn here. Not coffee and cookies – even though after church, there will be coffee and cookies. What draws people into the family of God is connecting to a person.

And sadly, if you talk to experts, they will tell you that what we need are bigger barns. What we need is fancier food and gourmet coffee. But I want to suggest, brothers and sisters, if we don’t have loving, caring people, new people won’t feel that a family is available in us. But see the shepherd? That’s a good thing. But all the sheep are in their little small groups because all those little small groups are like a family.

After church today – this is something I’ve always said – I can always tell if the sermon has been really good, because you’ll be gathered in little groups of two or three or four after the service like you don’t want to just leave yet. This is what happens because sheep and a flock gather into little families that make up the big extended family of the church.

Now this is photo of a teenage girl. And I put the words on the screen there that “I Need a Grandma”. Let me tell you where that comes from. They did a test – I found this in a journal, a scholarly journal, back in 1979. They did a test with teenagers. Now, that was 42 years ago, a long time ago. But they took a big room, like our fellowship hall, with lots of tables. And on all the tables, they put hundreds of different pictures: pictures of people of every age, people of every race and nation, every ethnic group; they had people with long hair, people with short hair, they had men and women. And they took those same people, and they had them dress in jeans and T-shirts. And they had them dress up in fancy outfits.

And they sent teenagers into that room one at a time. And they said this, “We would like you to imagine that your best friend just told you that she’s thinking about suicide. We would like you to imagine that another good friend told you that his father beats him up. We would like you to imagine what it would be like to think that you were pregnant as a teenager or your girlfriend was pregnant. And go in that room and bring back three pictures of people who you feel you think you could turn to to care about you and help you. Who would you choose?” And I don’t know how many teenagers they sent in. Probably, it was over 100 or more. But every single one, every single one brought out three pictures of people their grandparents’ age.

Now, think about that for a moment. I love my dad. But he’s working two jobs to try to pay the bills. I love my mom. But she’s really worried about my younger sister, and she’s so busy. Who’s got time to listen – Grandma?
Who’s got time to help me fix my bike – Grandpa?
Who has time for me?

But you know the damage that has happened in our world over the past 100 years. Grandma lives in Pennsylvania. And Grandpa lives in California. And you’re lucky to see them once a year. And so we have nuclear families trying so hard to keep everything together when the way God made the world is you’re supposed to live down the road from your parents. You’re supposed to live down the road from brothers and sisters who become uncles and aunts, and when there’s a problem, you all help each other.

Nowadays, that doesn’t very often happen unless people are able to find family in a church. I need a grandma. I need a grandpa. Having older people around is not necessarily a problem if you really want to help people. And if your grandma or grandpa lives down the road, how fortunate you are in this day and time!

Now, here’s what Jesus says about sheep. Luke 15:1, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him…” You see, people felt that caring in Jesus, and they wanted to get close to him. In other words, they followed him home.

Verse 2, “And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'” So he, Jesus, told him this parable. “What man of you having 100 sheep, if he has lost 1 of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’

Just so,” Jesus says, “I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents – now listen carefully here because Jesus is making a joke – than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.” Friends, there’s no such thing as 99 persons who need no repentance! If there were 99 people in this room, every single one of them would need repentance.

But what Jesus is lifting up here is that one is important. And Jesus will leave the 99 to take care of themselves. And he will go “look for that one” because one is important.

And we talked about what “lost” meant last week, and I suggested to you that “lost” simply means not with the other sheep. If you look the word up in the dictionary, that’s what they’ll tell you, lost means not being present.

And we talked about how in 1965, on a typical Sunday, only one out of four people would be in worship. Three out of four people technically were lost. They weren’t present with the others.

I told you that in 2009, our bishop communicated to a nationwide gathering for evangelism that the percentage had dropped to 18% – only one out of five people are in worship on Sunday morning. And what that means is when you go to Walmart after church and stand in line, when you go to the ball diamond and watch a little league game, when you’re in any kind of crowd, only one out of five people you see were in church that morning. And so, technically, a lot more are not present than just one. In fact, out of every 100, there are 18 sheep present, and there are 82 that aren’t.

And we talked about how in Kinmundy, the population, according to the 2020 census, is 733. That means this morning, there are over 600 people within a few blocks of this building who are not in church today. Now, maybe they’re on vacation. Maybe like Steve and Cathy, they’re in St. Louis for health reasons. Maybe they have the flu. But there are lots and lots of people out there who need what a church offers.

And that’s where I’m supposed to be. And when God looks at the world, Jesus hasn’t changed. He still wants to find that one lost person and have that one person come home.

So how does God answer the prayer for more people? It’s usually like this, you see, as you follow Jesus, if you pay attention, you will find that somebody’s following you.
Very likely, someone is going to follow you home because they want to be with you. They like you. Just as we talked about the dogs that follow people home, they sense that there’s something about you that meets their needs, that makes them feel safe, that makes them feel loved.

And so when you pray, “Lord, send those 600 people to our church.” God says, “How about if I give you one to watch over? How about if I give you one?”

And you know how you know who your one is? You will notice them. They will follow you around. They’ll be interested in what you’re doing. They’ll be interested in what you have to say. They’ll ask you for your advice. They will appreciate being with you because, again, like I said, there’s something about you. When they’re with you, they feel safe. They feel loved.

So here’s the question. If you started to look around you, who’s your one person? Well, Pastor Dave, somebody may say to me, “I don’t think anyone thinks I’m interesting. In fact, I don’t know anybody who likes me.” Well, we see, here’s the reality. If you just simply pay attention to who comes up to you and says, “Hello,” you may figure out who that one person is. If you pay attention to the people you go up to and talk to them, you may find that one person. If you just simply write down the name of every person you talk to each week, it will become clear.

I had a church member who took this seriously, and I asked him, “Who is it that you think, out of all the people you talk to each week, who would need our church the most?” And he immediately knew. “It’s easy. I don’t know what her name is, but she’s the lady at the convenience store where I buy my morning coffee on the way to work, because she needs a church more than anybody I know. She was telling me all about the struggle she was having while she was filling my coffee cup the other day.” Well, you see, if somebody does that, then you begin to pray for them. Pray every day for God to bless them.

How will God answer your prayer for more people to come to church?
He’ll probably give you one person to watch over.

Now, let me tell you about the power of that. Let me tell you about the world’s largest church. It’s Yoido Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea. Yoido Church has 700,000 members. But they do church differently than the way we do in the United States. They are what is called a cell church. Their church is organized into 50,000 small groups that are called cell groups.

Now we understand about small groups, don’t we? We have Sunday school. We know about prayer meetings. We know that there are churches that will organize people into small groups. And John Wesley also did this for people to help each other and watch over each other.

But you see, friends, here’s the difference: The purpose of a cell group is to reach out to people who don’t have a church. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know of a single church anywhere in Illinois, United Methodist or any other type, that has organized a small group that is entirely focused on helping lost people come to Christ. But the world’s largest church has 50,000 these groups that focus on helping lost people find their way home to the Lord and a church.

And each group is instructed to set a goal to love two people to Christ within the next year.
The group might have six people in it, might have a dozen people in it like Jesus did. But two people, that’s the goal. Just two people.

Now here it comes. It’s on the screen in smaller print. This is the key: “They select someone who’s not a Christian.” They don’t select someone who goes to another church. They don’t select someone who used to go to their church. They select someone who doesn’t have a church, “who they can pray for, love, and serve. They bring meals, help sweep out the person’s store, whatever it takes to show that they really care for them.”

Cell church members – in these giant apartment buildings that they have in Seoul, Korea, will ride up and down in the elevator looking for someone that they can help carry their groceries in. Any little thing that shows that they care, whatever it takes to show that they really care for them.

When a person asks, “Why are you treating me so well?” – because today you wonder suspiciously what that person wants – our people answer, “Jesus told us that we’re supposed to do good to all men, and we want you to know that we love you, and so does Jesus.”

Now, here’s the result. “After three or four months of such love, the hardest soul softens up and surrenders to Christ.”

Now let that sink in. Not a day. Not a week. After three or four months, the person comes to believe that what they’re being told about Jesus is true. After three or four months, people come to believe that Jesus does love them. After three or four months, they come to believe that these people, “Yes, they love me, too. They didn’t just love me during the hard times when my mother passed away or I lost my job or when I was sick, but they loved me on through all the times, three or four months.” And their heart softens up and they want to be a part of a church family.

And you know the very first thing they do when they’re a part of a church family, a part of that cell group? They choose the next person to love.

Yonggi Cho would constantly spin off new churches. He would give one of his associate pastors $5 million and 5,000 people and send them off to start a new church. But at 100,000 new people converting every year, bang, they’d be right up to 700,000 again because this works. And it will work right here because it’s based on what Jesus asked you and me to do, to love God first and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we are busy people. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot to get done and we go back and forth and back and forth, and all too often, Lord, we don’t take the time to see the people that are around us … because we’re in a hurry. We’re in a hurry to get to the store and get what we need and get home so that we can spend the next three to four hours sitting in front of the television set. And as a result, Lord, quite often we really don’t visit with our neighbors like we could. But Lord, I just simply pray that you would help us to notice our neighbors. Because it’s certainly possible, Lord, as we seek to be faithful to you, that as we go about our business, we will find that there’s someone, maybe at work, someone maybe at our hobby that we see at the bowling alley or a baseball game, someone in our family, someone, Lord, who lives just down the street and is literally a neighbor as the dictionary defines it. But maybe we notice, Lord, that they’re coming closer to us, and maybe, Lord, we should consider the possibility that that is you working in their lives. And so, Lord, help us to be kind, help us to notice, and when we become aware of needs and difficulties and concerns, Lord, help us to listen and help us to pray for you to help the people that want to follow us home to church. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis )

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