Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 19)

Text: Luke 15:4-6a
(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”.

On his shoulders

Fear, being afraid, terror, a sense of unease and danger are important feelings that God has given to us to protect us and defend us from all kinds of possible harm.  We learn this from a very early age. The first time we touch something sharp or pointy or hot or see someone else touch one of these, we learn how dangerous they are to us personally. So, when someone else wants to stick something into us that’s sharp, fear kicks in and we protect ourselves.

Fear causes us to teach our children about stranger danger.
Fear stops us from patting big dogs with big teeth.
Fear prevents finding out more about our neighbours.
Each of us have our own sense of unease and discomfort that comes out of some unexplained fear – a fear of the dark, small spaces, certain harmless animals, certain people.

One evening a woman was driving home when she noticed a black car behind her driving uncomfortably close.  She stepped on the gas to gain some distance from the car, but when she sped up, the black car did too.  The faster she drove, the faster the car did.

Now scared, she exited the freeway, but the car stayed with her.  The woman then turned up a busy street hoping to lose her pursuer in the traffic.  But the car went straight through a red light and continued the chase.

Reaching the point of panic, the woman whipped her car into a service station and ran inside screaming for help.  The driver of the black car ran toward her car, pulled the back door open and hauled out a man hidden in the back seat.  It seems he had seen the man get into the back of the car moments before the woman got in and drove away.  He was wanted by the police.  The woman’s fear caused her to watch out for her own safety but in this case she was afraid of the man who was fearful for her well-being.  It just goes to show that in this crazy mixed up world even fear can get all mixed up.

In the perfection of the Garden of Eden, did Adam and Eve experienced fear?  If there was nothing to harm them before they disobeyed God, then fear instantly became a part of their lives and the world around them after they sinned.  They became afraid of God; they were afraid to see each other’s nakedness and they needed to protect themselves from the world around them. 

That’s not what God had planned for his world but that’s the way sin has made it.  Fear, unease, danger, pain and grief have destroyed the peace and safety that God had created.

I saw on TV the other day, the anniversary of September 11 and the raw emotions that this day still brings.  We know what kind of fear echoed around the world as a result of that devastating day and similar terrifying days that have followed including tsunamis and earthquakes and the terrifying consequences they have had on people’s lives.

Recently we saw the effect of chemical weapons being dropped on the people of Syria.  Can you imagine the fear that must grip the hearts of people after such a terrifying indiscriminate attack?  People of all ages and backgrounds are left gasping for breath.  Such an attack could easily happen at any time again and so people live in constant fear. 

While the news focuses on that, there are places where children are kidnapped and forced to serve in the armed forces or girls are stolen for the sex trade.  Can you imagine the fear in the hearts of parents and in those who are stolen?

What is the answer to the evil in our world? 
It’s the government’s job to provide a peaceful community for us to live in but too often governments fail in this task.  There is plenty of evidence of this happening. 
It’s 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 that comes through forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Some people are able to influence powerful people.  You and I might not be able to influence world politics on a large scale, but when we share the peace of Christ with others we are doing our bit to offer the world hope in the face of so much carnage and violence.  
The way of Christ is not to add to the carnage already inflicted on suffering people but to urge and pray for our leaders to seek ways that do not involve fear and violence.
Tell the world that there is a better way – that reconciliation, forgiveness and peace are possible.  There is a way beyond fear.

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.  A sheep is lost in the wilderness and the shepherd is afraid for the safety of this one sheep.  Having seen the harshness of countryside in Israel I can understand fully why a shepherd would become concerned about a lost sheep.  He goes to a lot of trouble to find his straying sheep.  He knows that his lost sheep is terrified as it wanders about in strange territory unable to find its way home again.  He puts himself at great risk to go and find it 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.   

We can easily become lost sheep in a wilderness of fear and insecurity.  At any moment events in our lives can raise our anxiety about our safety.  Like the sheep in Jesus’ story, we can be certain that we have a shepherd who fears for our safety when we are afraid. 
He 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.  It may seem that the circumstances that are causing our fear are outside of our control and we can’t help but feel terrified and unsafe and uncertain and fearful about how the future will turn out.   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 sheep 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.  The words of Psalm 23 are especially relevant and have comforted people over the centuries reminding those whose lives have been shattered and are grieving, that they have a comforter.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. … 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).

There are those times when we become lost sheep in a wilderness of questions, most of them starting with “why”.  There are so many questions – questions that rise out of fear because we don’t have all the answers.  Why cancer?  Why this tragedy?  Why me?   

Jesus the shepherd sympathises with us and understands.  We might have so many questions for God, but there is no doubt 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 decreased 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 reckless when he left the rest of the flock to look for that one sheep.  He feared for the safety of his 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 we can be assured the shepherd puts us on his shoulders and carries us back home” (v 5).

There are times when we become lost sheep in a wilderness of helplessness.  Being helpless fills us with fear and anxiety. 
It may be helplessness in the face of disease or lying in a hospital bed after an accident; 
the helplessness that approaching death brings;
the helplessness of giving into the same temptations;
the helplessness that we can’t change any of our circumstances. 
It’s just at those moments when our strength gives out, we give up and we are fearful of the future, that Jesus’ arms around us are the strongest.  His presence and love strengthen us.  When we are lost in the wilderness of helplessness, be assured Jesus “puts us on his shoulders and carries us back home” (v 5).

One thing worth noting 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.  At the Communion table, 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). 

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”, and in the end to our eternal home.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th September 2013

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