Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 19)

Text: Luke 15:4-6
Jesus said, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of themówhat 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!"

Seeking the lost

As the sun slowly peeked over the horizon, the sheep one by one opened their eyes to greet the new day. Jethro their shepherd had herded them into the sheep pen last night and they had a good nightís sleep. They had felt safe and secure because they knew that the shepherd was watching over them and protecting them from anything that wanted lamb for dinner.

Suddenly there was a panicky bleating that started with one voice and then the whole flock joined in. Jethro was not sleeping in the gateway to the pen as he did every night. Where was Jethro? Why would the shepherd leave us?

They ran it through their little sheep brains again, "Heís abandoned us. The shepherd has abandoned us!"  The flock was in blind panic and they all joined in the cry condemning Jethro as an irresponsible and reckless shepherd. They would all die. A bear or a wolf would soon see that Jethro was not there and what would follow was too horrible to think about.

The frenzy carried on until well after sunup, when one of them saw the shepherd coming over a distant hill. The sheep rejoiced. They jumped and frolicked and bleated with joy but their celebration didnít last long. There, on the shepherdís shoulders - it was Sheila the sheep! Sheila was always getting into trouble, always the last to do as she was told, nibbling her way into trouble as she absent-mindedly looked for fresh grass and losing her way and sending everyone into a panic. Sheila was just different and didnít really fit in with the other sheep. No-one had even missed Sheila that morning.

The sheep were dumbstruck. What was the big idea? The shepherd had left all the good, cooperative, well-meaning sheep to go rescue an uncooperative and silly one.
The sheep held a meeting and appointed Roger the ram to take the flockís complaint to the shepherd. They had it all written out and their complaint read like this:

Whereas, some days ago, we, the sheep were left alone to fend for ourselves, and
whereas, we were given no indication that the shepherd intended to return and
whereas, the uncertainty over the shepherdís return caused serious distress amongst us, and
whereas all this distress was caused over a sheep that nobody really likes very much in the first place,
therefore be it resolved:
that we, the sheep, do strongly protest our abandonment on the night in question,
that we demand a full explanation of the reasons for said abandonment, and
that we demand an apology for such thoughtless and irresponsible action on the part of the shepherd.
We demand better care and consideration.
Signed - The Flock

When the shepherd received the message, he called a meeting of all the sheep, and responded to each of the items in turn.
"Yes, itís true I left the flock a few nights ago, and you were left to fend for yourselves for a while, but Sheila was in danger and goodness knows where she might have ended up. Nobody objected those other times I went out to look for one of your lost lambs."

"Yeah but itís different Ė that was a lamb," answered one of the sheep, but she was shushed by the others.

"As to the part about not knowing whether Iíd come back, well, frankly Iím a little surprised at all of you. Havenít I always come back and never abandoned you before? Havenít I always protected you from wolves and taken you to fresh pastures and streams of clear water? I have never abandoned you before, why would I start now?"

"Yeah but Ö another of the sheep bleated but was shushed before she could finish.

"And finally, as to this part about it being unfair, what was unfair about it? Wouldnít I have done the same for any of you?"

"Well," said Roger the ram, "going out and saving all the rest of us, thatís one thing. But, well, you put all the rest of us in jeopardy for her." He pointed to Sheila, who, true to form, was already starting to nibble her way some distance from the rest of the flock and would most likely need the shepherd to get her back.

"Thatís what really bothers us", said Roger the ram, "Why didnít you just let her take her chances? She didnít deserve to get saved. She doesnít deserve so many chances. When will you go off again to look for that ditsy sheep and leave us alone?"

And for once, though he probably didnít know it, Roger had told the truth. Sheila didnít deserve to be saved but neither did any of the others deserve the care and protection the shepherd gave them.

This story would have had a happy ending if it concluded with "Sheila never wandered off again, the flock never complained again and they all lived happily ever after". But that kind of ending only happens in fairy tales. In real life at some time Jethro had to carry every one of the sheep on his shoulders even when they were uncooperative, unwilling and complaining.

Roger the ram and the rest of the sheep were right when they said that Sheila didnít deserve to be loved by the shepherd the way she was. Jesus had the same problem because people were saying that the people he mixed with and shared dinner with didnít deserve to be sitting at the same table as this distinguished teacher. They complained, "This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!"

They didnít understand the kind of love that Jesus has. Itís a love that looks past the ugliness of disease and sin.
He reachs out to social outcasts, and touches the oh so ugly and horrible and contaminated lepers.
He didnít shy away from the demon possessed.
He had no problem with the Samaritans even though they were despised by everyone else,
and when he spoke about the Good Samaritan, and talked with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Samaritan leper, the love of God was shown in even brighter colours. Jesus had no problem with the tax collectors or with those who openly showed their hatred toward him.
Even the Pharisees were not beyond the reach of his love. We call it "grace". Jesus loves sinners and even dies for them even though his love is completely undeserved.

We know it makes more sense logically for the shepherd to forget about the wilful disobedient sheep and look after only those who were willing to trust him and really appreciate everything he does for them. Thatís how we operate mostly.
If someone does something nice for us we respond with a similar nicety and when someone hurts us we respond with equal and even greater hurt.
Rarely would we respond to unkindness with extra generous kindness or reply to rude words with gentle and tender words. It just goes against the grain to respond in this way.

And this is the point that Jesus is making to those who criticised him for mixing with social outcasts, open sinners, the helpless, the marginalised, the dispossessed and the oppressed. He doesnít treat them with the scorn and disgust expected from a holy man. He does the opposite. He welcomes them and even eats dinner with them Ė a sign of acceptance as people whom God loves and wants them to be a part of the Kingdom of God as much as anyone else. Jesus is making a statement through his eating with these people that they are valuable and treasured by God as much as, and perhaps even more so, than those who think they are righteous and well-connected when it comes to sitting at table with Jesus.

In Jesusí parable it made more sense to look after the ninety-nine sheep who had stayed near the shepherd and not been tempted by greener grass elsewhere, rather than go tramping all over the wilderness looking for one silly sheep who will repeatedly wander away from its caring shepherd because it thinks it can take care of itself in a hostile world.

To the shepherd every sheep is a treasure; every sheep is valuable; no sheep will be lost if he can help it even if that sheep is obstinate and rebellious. Thatís the kind of love that Jesus has for us.

Itís the kind of love that led God's Son to leave the safety of heaven and became one of us, he suffered and died for us, he risked everything for us, because of his love for the lost. He is passionate about the lost and did everything possible to make sure that the lost donít stay that way and are safe by his side. He wants none of his sheep to face God's judgement for rejecting the love that is shown to them in such a generous and unrelenting way.

Jesus concludes his parable with the shepherd saying, "I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!" Each of Jesusí stories about seeking the lost ends with a party.

That's what the kingdom of God is all about. When the lost are found there is great rejoicing. When one sinner repents and responds to the love and care of the Shepherd there is great rejoicing in heaven. You can imagine the angels partying and celebrating every time someone who is lost is found and welcomed home by our heavenly Father. Each time Jesus talks about the lost being found you can sense something of the passion he has for making sure that no-one stays lost. His passion for the lost even extended to the cross where he gave his life for those who had lost the way and nailed the Son of God to a wooden beam.

A question that needs to be asked in view of this parable is this Ė how passionate are we about seeking out the lost and returning them to the safety and grace of their shepherd? Itís easy to deflect that kind of question to others or to the congregation as a whole and in that way let ourselves off the hook. Itís easy to hear this Word of God and say, "When will the congregation take God's passion for the lost seriously" or "When will this person or that committee or council take seriously the seeking and saving of the lost?"

Rather than looking around at others first of all we need to ask ourselves that question, "Do I have the passion of the shepherd to leave all else behind and seek out the lost?" "What have I done to seek out and carry on our shoulders those who are lost Ė lost not only in the sense of missing from the side of the Shepherd but also those lost in trouble, or sickness, or sin, or whatever else causes them to be separated from the One who truly values and loves them? Have I had reason to join the angels in heaven and rejoice over one person who is lost but has now been found?

God's grace is to be shared. It comforts, soothes, forgives, reassures, values each of us as individuals and it also drives us to ensure that everyone gets to know and appreciate how much God loves them and wants every single person who is in some way lost to return to their heavenly Father.

God's grace seeks us out and through the blood of his Son restores us to his flock again. It challenges us to be like Jesus to seek and to save the lost.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th September 2010
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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