Do we care if the prodigal son comes home? This is a question I find myself pondering a week removed from preaching and leading at church camp. Throughout the week God moved in powerful ways, even personally I found God to be near and guiding conversations, bringing people together in prayer, and even forcing the worship team to change our small plans for nightly worship. In a camp of about 50 high school students, it became clear that most probably did not know what it meant to follow Jesus and by the end of the week, at least 7 teenagers surrendered their life to Christ. Beyond that at least a dozen either recommitted by repentance or sought healing from abuse and neglect that they were facing. It was Pentecost in East Texas. However, the sobering reality has been my attitude and those around me since this experience.

Upon returning I was eager to share with my church and people around me of this tangible kingdom expansion and the potential of dozens of young people going back to their homes and churches with this new awareness of God’s love. However, I have been shocked at the apathetic response masked in shallow, momentary jubilee.

If this sounds harsh, I am stunned at my own ability to reenter the “real world” as if last week was little more than a pleasant Christian retreat. Part of this is due to life circumstances and the constant necessity of ministry to keep moving on to the next thing, but I am concerned for my own lack of zeal for the lost (and found).

So why the apathy? Have we become disillusioned in disappointment when found sheep wonder away again? Is this a sign of distrust in people or a functional pessimism about God’s grace? As I spend time considering my own disposition, I am reminded of the 8-10 emotional responses I made to Jesus at camp every summer as a kid… just hoping something would stick. Maybe my pessimism is worry that I pastorally just fostered the same kind of emotional and fickle experience for the kids (though we sure fought hard not to do that). At the same time, I struggle to remember anyone celebrating with me when I decided to walk with Jesus—and still worse not many eager to help me learn what this pilgrimage is actually all about.

At camp we began the week looking at God’s “lost and found” in Luke 15. You know the stories: a sheep rescued by a shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one, a lost coin and a woman’s relentless pursuit to find it, and the prodigal son(s) loved lavishly by a father. These stories together are fascinating. The sheep wonders away maybe distracted by something pretty or nothing at all, like any of us that pick up our head and wonder….how did I get here? The coin did nothing to become lost; it just fell out of a pocket into the couch cushion, like anyone that has faced evil, sickness, brokenness that was not their own fault. The familiar story of the son who ran away willingly and violently and then the other son who was lost at home. The prodigal story invites us to consider the one running from God with vigor and the one who is lost in the church pew.

All different kinds of lost.

And yet we see that they are all equally lost. The redemption is the next similarity—there is a rescue mission for all of them. Jesus delivers these parables surrounded by religious folks, sinners, and tax collectors so that they might all know that there are not degrees of lost and found but just the two realities. I believe he taught these stories in this context so we might also know that the church is a part of this salvation narrative. Notice the final similarity in each story:

And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:5–6, NIV)

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’” (Luke 15:9, NIV)

Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:23–24, NIV)

There is a party. Each story has an invitation to rejoice with God. Here is the thing, the church has an expanded role post resurrection and ascension in that we are the search party—the conduit through which the rescue mission happens today. I think we believe that. This is why I agree to go preach at church camp and the church emphasizes evangelism. However, we are not just the search party, we are very much the celebration party. It is like we are almost too good at identifying who is lost and then lackluster in a return-home celebration. I don’t know why this is but it can’t go on.

My fear is that if we will not make a big deal about one of God’s lost coming home, for whatever reason, then God will find someone else to send on the rescue mission. Perhaps, God will use churches and individuals to reach the lost that truly have a high optimism of grace. It is time for us to not just like the idea of God’s salvation but to believe in its current efficacy and power.

Jesus saves. Jesus is saving. Let’s celebrate.