Make Time for New Friends

I recently had the opportunity to preach on Jesus’ parables from Luke 15. Sometimes referred to as “the gospel within the Gospels,” Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are well known for powerfully communicating the relentless pursuit of God’s love for the lost, even for those who have turned their back on God. We treasure these stories as they strengthen and encourage our faith and bring great comfort in knowing that God loves us so much, even when we are unlovable.
In these parables, I believe Jesus is not only bringing comfort in the message of the gospel, but he also admonishes and teaches using what Lutherans refer to as the third use of the law. Luke sets up all three of these parables in verses 1-2: “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” In other words, Jesus is really addressing the complaining scribes and Pharisees who did not appreciate the company he kept.
Jesus always told parables to make a point. The question we must ask is “What’s the point?” These verses give us clues as to Jesus’ purpose in sharing these stories in the first place: he wanted to encourage religious people to not be afraid to make time for some new friends! Truth be told, it is quite easy for those of us inside the church to look at those outside the church with a similar judgmental spirit as the scribes and Pharisees who looked down on the “sinners” that Jesus hung out with. Even though we identify as Christians (“Christ ones” or “little Christs”), our heart for “sinners” all too often does not reflect Jesus’ own heart of openness, love, and compassion for those who have yet to join in following him.
Gently and lovingly, Jesus is calling his audience then and still today to make time for some new friends. After all, how will we ever reach new people with the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ unless we spend time with those who are living life apart from him? I am reminded of the times after sharing about evangelism that I have been asked by church members who sincerely wonder how they are supposed to evangelize when everyone they can think of already goes to a church. Taking my cues from Jesus here in Luke 15, my advice is always that it is time to get to know some new people. Only about one quarter of Americans report attending church at least once a month while more than half seldom or never attend.
So let’s make time for new friends! Jesus enjoyed being with all kinds of people. And from what we can tell, all kinds of people enjoyed spending time with Jesus, too! As a follower of Jesus, you are called to reflect him in your friendships and in social situations even with those who think, believe, and behave very differently than you. With your openness and kindness to others, the gospel will be at work in you, with you, and through you!