Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 19)

Text: Luke 15:4-7
(Jesus said,) "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, "I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!' In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.

He puts us on his shoulders

On Tuesday morning we woke up to the news that thousands of people had lost their lives in a terrorist attack on New York and Washington. As we watched the pictures on our TV screens the sense of shock, horror, disbelief, and anger came over us as we shook our heads in pity for all those who had lost their lives, for families that had been torn apart as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters were suddenly wiped out. They had gone to work on Tuesday like any other morning. They had farewelled family members as they have done a thousands times before, not realising that this would be the last time they would do this. Deals were being transacted, meetings were being held, shopping was being done and then suddenly out of the blue they were wiped out.

As we watched, we realised just how frail human life really is. In just a short time so many lives had been ended. Thoughts of death filled our mind and that it could strike us at any time, even at times when we don’t expect it. Included in those who died were young men and women who will never reach retirement. So much talent and ability lost to our world.

As we watched our TVs, we were saddened not just by the loss of life but also the loss of our safety and security. America has such sophisticated intelligence and surveillance equipment and personnel. It can watch what is happening around the world with satellites and spy planes, but on Tuesday none of this was of any good. Those cities were defenceless. As a result fear swept around the world. Cities everywhere were put on alert. The centre of London was shut down; extra security measures were taken here in Australia. Questions have been raised about CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) to be held in Brisbane. Suddenly we became aware that this kind of terrorism could happen anywhere. We feel more vulnerable and helpless than ever before. Our sense of safety has been violated. The ramifications of this event will reverberate around the world for some time to come.

As we watched our TVs, we were overcome with shock, horror and anger that some individuals could have so little respect for human life; that someone can be filled with so much hatred and bitterness that they thought nothing of destroying so many innocent people. How low can human beings go?

As we watched our TVs the pictures of human grief and destruction have caused us to shake our heads in shock when we see what effects sin has in our world. Make no mistake, as much as the world doesn’t want to talk about sin and people believe they are basically good, this week has shown us just how powerful sin really is. Evil has raised its head and wiped out thousands of lives. Sin has caused the death and grief of this past week. Because of evil, a plane was flown directly at a building full of people with the deliberate intention of wiping them out. It is evil that fills people with so much hatred that they become so blinded by their cause that they will commit mass murder. History has seen it before – the Holocaust, Idi Amin, the IRA, the Balkans, and history will see it again.

This isn’t the way God wants his world to be, but that’s the way sin has made it. Sin causes so much pain and grief. It has destroyed our peace and safety.

What is the answer to the evil in our world? The only solution to sin is Jesus Christ. There will never be an end to violence, terrorism, and fear, unless the peace that comes only from Jesus Christ is embraced. Although it is the Government’s job to provide a peaceful community for us, nevertheless it is the church’s role and that of every Christian to share the peace of Christ in whatever way they can in order to break the cycle of evil – hatred, vengeance, violence, and destruction of property and life. We need to tell the world a new message – a message that tells of the love and grace of God. You might not be able to influence world politics, but when you share the peace of Christ with others you are doing your bit to offer the world hope in the face of so much carnage and violence. Tell the world that Jesus would gladly put it on his shoulders and carry it back home.

In our text, Jesus was eating with "tax collectors and other outcasts" and some religious people complained that he shouldn’t be mixing with these low-lifes. So he told a story about a shepherd who goes to a lot of trouble to find his straying sheep and when he does find it, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it back home (v 5). The sheep is safe. There is someone who loves it, seeks it out and tenderly embraces it. Jesus is our shepherd.

We can easily become lost in a wilderness of fear and insecurity. The events of this past week have raised anxiety about our safety. Like the sheep in Jesus’ story, we can be certain that we have a shepherd who lovingly holds us in his arms. He assures us that we are his children, joined to him at baptism, members of the family of God. We are reassured that, come what may, he will not let go of us and will always be our helper and the giver of strength when we feel the frailty of our humanity. Tuesday’s events may have happened thousands kilometres away on the other side of the world, but we know how small our world is today. The fear that people in New York felt has encircled the world. It may be outside of our control to prevent something like this happening here in Australia, but we know that Jesus, our shepherd, will always hold us close when our fear and lack of security overwhelm us. He puts us on his shoulders and carries us back home (v 5).

When we become lost in the wilderness of fear about our own death or that of a loved one, we can be certain that we have a shepherd who lovingly holds us close and comforts us with his words of promise. It is interesting to note that President Bush quoted the 23rd Psalm in his address to the people of America. He asked people to pray for those whose lives have been shattered and are grieving, that they may be comforted. He referred to the shepherd of Psalm 23. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff – they comfort me." When we fear the day we will breathe our last breath, we are assured that Jesus our shepherd, who has defeated the power of death, will comfort us when our fears are the greatest. He will reassure us of his promises that he has prepared a place for us in his Father’s house in heaven (John 14). When death does come to us, be assured that Jesus the shepherd puts us on his shoulders and carries us back home (v 5).

Because of the events of this last week, we may have become lost in a wilderness of questions, most of them starting with "why". We question the reason for so much death. We ask why God has allowed this tragedy. There are so many questions for which we don’t have all the answers. But be assured that Jesus the shepherd sympathises with us and understands why we have so many questions and doubts. We might question the God’s lack of action, but there is no question about God’s love for us. When we are finished with all of the questions, we will realise that God hasn’t moved away from us one bit. His patience and love have not been diminished one bit. Like the shepherd in Jesus’ story, the sheep was lost in the wilderness but the love of the shepherd was so strong, even to the point of being wreckless when he left the rest of the flock to look for that one sheep. We could even say, when we are lost in a wilderness of questions and doubt, his love for us burns stronger than ever before. When our faith in God’s love falters be assured the shepherd puts us on his shoulders and carries us back home (v 5).

There are times when we become lost in a wilderness of helplessness. It doesn’t matter what we do; everything seems so helpless. Those who died in those planes and buildings this week were helpless victims. You might say, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. When accidents, grief, death and sickness suddenly strike us, it’s not hard to feel a victim, to feel like those who were trapped in that crumbling building, to feel helpless to change any of our circumstances. It’s just at those moments when our strength gives out and we give up, that Jesus’ uplifting arms are the strongest. His presence and love strengthen us. When we are lost in the wilderness of helplessness, be assured puts us on his shoulders and carries us back home (v 5).

One thing worth nothing is the shepherd’s persistence. He doesn’t give up until he has found that straying sheep. We see that in Jesus. His persistent love for us, led him to the cross. Even though we are lost in a wilderness of sin, and are totally unworthy of his love, nevertheless he still died for us. At the Communion, he provides a meal for us, bread and wine, his body and blood. Even though we are sinners, nevertheless he shares himself with us at this meal. Those grumbling words of the Pharisees could also include us, "This man, (Jesus) is friendly with sinners. He even eats with them" (Luke 15:2 CEV). There is great rejoicing and celebration in heaven when Jesus carries back home one of his lost sheep.

In all the trouble that sin causes in our lives, it is great to know that we have a Saviour, a loving shepherd, who carries us on his shoulders and brings us back home.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th September
, 2001
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.

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