Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 19)

Text: Luke 15:1-7
One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, "This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!"  So Jesus told them this parable: "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.

A God who searches

An urgent matter had arisen at work and the boss needed to call one of his staff who was on holidays. He dialled the home phone number and was greeted with a child’s whispered, "Hello?"
The boss asked, "Is your Daddy home?"
"Yes," whispered the small voice.
"May I talk with him?" the man asked.
To the boss’ surprise, the small voice whispered, "No."
The boss persisted, "Is your Mummy there?"
"Yes," came the answer.
"May I talk with her?"
Again, the small voice whispered, "No."
"Well, is there someone else there I might talk to?" the boss asked the child.
"Yes," whispered the child, "a policeman."
"Well then, may I speak with the policeman?"
"No," whispered the child "he is busy"
"Busy doing what?" asked the boss.
"Talking to Daddy and Mummy and the fireman," came the whispered answer.
Now the boss was growing concerned and just then he heard what sounded like a helicopter through the ear piece on the phone. The boss asked, "What is that noise?"
"A hello-copper," answered the whispering voice.
Alarmed, the boss nearly shouted: "What is going on there?"
In a whispering voice, the child answered, "The search team just landed the hello-copper!"
"Why are they there?"
There was a muffled giggle as the child said, "They are looking for me!"

Losing something is a common occurrence in most people’s lives. Keys that have gone missing. Someone told me just recently of losing their purse with $500 in it. Another person told me about their frantic search for a mobile phone lost on a shopping expedition. And as we frantically search for what is lost, we call out for some kind of sympathy and help. The only reply that comes back is the not so helpful advice, "It will be right where you left it".

One of the worst experiences that any parent can have is to misplace a child. I recall the fear, the worry, the frantic searching when we lost the 4 year old son of very close friends. He had come on a camping holiday with us to the beach. After spending the morning on the beach, it was time for lunch and so everyone busied themselves picking up buckets and spades, towels, hats, sunscreen and whatever, and in that short time the little boy vanished. We searched the campsite, the beach, even the sea fearful that we would find him floating the water. We feared the worst. Finally a beach patrol car stopped at our camp with a little boy grinning from ear to ear - excited by the ride in the beach buggy. He had decided to walk up the beach thinking he knew the way back. Eventually the life-guards at the next beach found him. I really wanted to be angry with him for taking off like that and causing us so much worry, but we were so relieved that he was safe.

Today we heard Jesus’ story about the shepherd who had a hundred sheep and loses one of them. It was obviously upsetting and worrying to the shepherd that one of his sheep was no longer under his protection and somewhere out there in the hills alone and afraid. Because of his concern for this one lost sheep drastic measures needed to be taken. He leaves the 99 sheep in the wilderness (which seems to be a silly idea since they would be left unprotected) and goes looking for that one sheep.

No shepherd in his right mind would do this. Yet Jesus presupposes that this would be the normal thing to do when he answers his own question asking what they would do. Without hesitation he says, "Of course, you would leave the 99 and go look for the one that was lost." This was a serious situation and it called for critical action.

The attitude that the shepherd displayed reminds me of that of a parent who loses a child. Perhaps like that of the parents of Daniel Morcombe who disappeared waiting for a bus on the Sunshine Coast. Their love for their son will not let them rest until they find him or find out what happened to him. They are leaving no stone unturned to find their little lost sheep. And the shepherd who lost the one sheep goes even further. He leaves 99% of his flock in the wilderness where there were dangers galore and goes after the one. A drastic situation calls for drastic action.

Now either this shepherd is a fool or the shepherd loves the lost sheep and will risk anything, including his own life, until he finds it. We live in a throw away society. If we lose something or it breaks down, the loss is easy to bear because we can just go out and buy a new one. If we were in the crowd listening to Jesus, maybe that’s what we would suggest. Why risk your life for one sheep when for a few dollars you can buy another one – perhaps one with a few more brains. But this shepherd was not the throw away kind of person.

There are a number of points that can be drawn from this story of Jesus, but I want to focus in on just one today. This is a story about God.

Our God is not the throw away kind of God. He has plenty to get upset and worried about when he looks at our world.
God must have wept bitterly over the deaths of those school children, parents and teachers in Russia.
God must have cried out in pain as people lost their lives in the bomb blast in Jakarta.
God must be terribly concerned about the way people have chosen to do evil instead of letting love rule their lives. He must be horrified at some of the things we get up to when our selfishness and self-centredness take control of our lives and we do and say things that inflict deep wounds on members of our families and friends.

You could say that God has an obsession about every one of us. He is like a parent who loses a child. Each one of us is irreplaceable. He doesn’t turn his back on the lost – those who disappoint him and cause him so much anxiety. This story about the shepherd’s drastic action to restore one sheep to the flock gives us a message that is loud and clear.
We are loved by a God whose love is relentless and who will not rest until he has brought us back and restored us to a right relationship with him.

He sent his Son, Jesus. The one person, who was totally innocent, died on a cross for you and me. He was punished for us. He has brought to us the forgiveness of everything we have every bad thing we have ever said, done or thought. He forgives us for being people who can’t help ourselves because sin is so deeply ingrained in us. He removes the wall of sin between us and God and restores us to a right relationship with our heavenly Father. He makes it possible for us go to heaven when our life on this earth is over.

This story about the shepherd shows us the heart of God. God has a heart that yearns, that longs, that aches for the one who is lost. God has a heart that loved us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us so that all who believe in him might not die but have eternal life.

Sometimes we like to think that we are chief actors in the business between God and us.
"I’m searching for a deeper spiritual truth".
"I’ve been spending more time in prayer to come closer to God".
"I have decided to give my life to Jesus".
"I have come to the decision that God ….. whatever.

Modern culture tells us that our lives are our own. We are the authors and captains of our fate. That I or we are responsible for our faith. One can go so far to say that people think that they are responsible for their salvation.

Paul, the apostle, knew just what it was like to be a lost sheep. He was the first to say that if it was up to him he would still be anti Jesus Christ. Once he hated Jesus and everyone who believed in him. He actively tried to get rid of the Christianity from the face of the earth. Jesus, the shepherd, found him and his life took a dramatic turn around. We heard it before in the words he wrote to Timothy. He says,
"This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners". He goes on to say that even though he was a horrible person, Jesus still loved him and was merciful to him. He is an example of how far God will stretch his love – even for the worst person. Paul says firmly that it was not his decision to become a Christian, God went out and found him, as awful and horrible as he was (1Timothy 1:15-16).

Josh announced to the small group gathered after church, that he was going to be baptised next Sunday. One of the group asked him what had brought him to the church in the first place expecting to hear the usual response about deciding to follow Jesus.
Josh replied, "I got put here." I really mean it. I think Jesus just came out and got me. That I’m going to be baptised next week is nothing short of a miracle."

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – you and me. Some of you have heard this a thousand times before; there may be some here today who are hearing this for the first time. It makes no difference – this is still the truth that saves. God's love is relentlessly reaching out to you, it is seeking you out, it saves you. If you have been wandering, lost or missing, God is looking for you. He is calling your name.

You see -
He’s passionate about you.
He’s crazy about you.
You are his most valuable possession.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th September, 2004

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