17th Sunday After Pentecost (C)
Saturday, September 25, and Sunday, September 26, 2004
Read book, One Lost Sheep by Dandi Daley MacKall.
Why does Jesus tell this story, this parable? It’s in reaction to the Pharisees, those self-righteous religious leaders of the Jews who were shocked that Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors. They couldn’t understand how Jesus, this reportedly very holy man, this very wonderful teacher could stoop so low as to hang out with the sinners—the prostitutes, the criminals, the seedy crowd, the ones who wouldn’t ever be prepared for temple worship. How could Jesus hang out with people like tax collectors—people who worked for the Romans, people who often cheated people out of money?
Those are the questions on the lips of the Pharisees; that’s why they’re ready to judge Jesus as being the wrong kind of leader. So He tells them a series of three stories about welcoming in those who are lost—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son/the lost son. Jesus came to go after the lost. Like a shepherd who risks his life to go back into the wilderness looking for his one lost sheep, so too Jesus put His life on the line to come to this sinful world to find His lost sheep, to find sinners, to save those who were separated from God.
Let’s rephrase this parable of Jesus. What does it mean for us today? If we want to learn from Jesus, if we want our ministry to match the goals of Jesus, what’s it going to look like? Read along in the bulletin through the parable of the lost sheep, in the reading from the Gospel of Luke, while I reword it, make it to be about today.
How many of you, seeing that we have gathered many to hear God’s Word,
Yet knowing that there are others who are lost, not knowing about Jesus,
Would find it wrong to leave the congregation gathered in the sanctuary
And go after the others who are lost
Until you find them? And having found them,
You walk with them or drive them to church rejoicing,
And coming to the church
Call to the congregation
“Rejoice with me,
Because I have found someone
Who was lost.”
Do you not see? There is more joy in heaven
Over one sinner who repents
Than over those who gather but see no need for repentance.
What does our ministry look like? It certainly is not just about us, the ones who are here; it’s also about the ones who are not here, the ones who have wandered away or who have never been invited or who have been scared away. What does our ministry look like? It doesn’t stay right here in this room; the ministry of Jesus goes out into the world, goes into the streets and homes and corners and alleys trying to find people who are lost, who don’t have hope and direction, who don’t know the promise of forgiveness.
So that’s what I’m going to do: go see if there are any lost sheep outside. I’m going to leave you for a moment, but I’ll stay in radio contact, let you know what I find outside our doors.
(Go outside, walk out to sidewalk, wave at cars, narrate). “Ministry doesn’t stay inside the flock. It doesn’t stay inside the church. The ministry of Jesus has to go outside to find the lost.”)
I suppose you could say I left the 99 to go look for the one lost sheep. Except I know that once you were the one lost sheep. At one time, we were all lost sheep, not knowing Jesus, not having faith in Him. At many times in our lives, we may have been that one lost sheep, who strayed from the flock, wandered away from Jesus, left the faith. You may have even been that one lost sheep this week, spending minutes or hours or days apart from Jesus, not trusting in Him as your shepherd and guide and Savior.
So while today I went outside to look for any lost sheep, while today I went outside to make the point that Jesus has taught us that His ministry isn’t limited to the people already here, to one location, today I also know and remind us all: you were the one lost sheep. And Jesus risked everything to come and rescue you. When He suffered in this life, it was to save you. When He died on the cross, it was to die in your place. When He rose again from the grave to defeat death, it was to defeat your death.
You were the one lost sheep—stuck in some ravine, not knowing how to get back to the flock. You were the one lost sheep—caught up in your own life, trapped by some bad decisions, confused by this world, hurt by the tragedies around you, and Jesus came to find you. Somehow He brought you back into the flock so that you are here today. He may have used many helpers along the way—parents, children, friends, strangers, pastors, Sunday School teachers, preschool teachers, choir directors, ushers, leaders. However He did it, today I look out and think: you were the one lost sheep. Jesus found you, brought you back, and there was so much rejoicing in heaven when you repented, admitted your sins, admitted your need for Jesus. There was so much rejoicing in heaven when you were back safe and sound in the faith, trusting that Jesus would save you from eternal death.
So hearing the parable of the lost sheep is a reminder of how we have all been lost sheep at different times in our lives. I literally went outside today as a reminder to you that someone in your life went outside the church, talked to you about your faith, found you where you were, so that Jesus could draw you back into the flock.
But now let’s hear the parable in a different way. Think about my venture outside as a reminder of what God calls us to do. Now you are the shepherd. Jesus is calling on us to be shepherds, the ones who seek the lost. Just like in that little children’s story book where “two sheep telephone” and they say, “Hello, Shepherd? We need your help,” so Jesus is calling you, hiring you to help with his flock of sheep. There’s only one shepherd, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, but He calls each of us to be His coworkers, the priesthood of all believers, all Christians called to be servants in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus calls you and says, “Hello, shepherd? We need your help.”
Use my little venture outside today as a reminder of what Jesus is asking each of us to do. Outside of these doors, outside of this congregation, in any direction you choose, any door you choose, there’s lost sheep. You are the shepherds, the faithful coworkers of Jesus sent to find those lost sheep. When you go out there, you’ll find those sheep on the streets, in your homes, in your workplaces, in your schools, in restaurants, in stadium bleachers, and in your backyard. Some of those sheep have never heard about Jesus. Some of those sheep just got lost last week after leaving church. You are the shepherds, and Jesus is putting us all in different places to reach different people with the hope of His love.
Sometimes when you’re leaving church after worship, I wander away from the receiving line, not there to shake hands and share greetings. At that point, the line stops. Everyone seems a little confused. “Where did that Pastor Squires go?” At that point, I want you to remember: I might have stepped outside, so to speak, to find the lost. A lot of times when I wander away from the line, it is to talk further with a visitor or someone who is hurting, so you don’t have to wait for me. In fact, I’m hoping you’ll keep walking so that I might introduce you to that visitor. In that same way, I won’t be offended if you don’t come out in the greeting line, because you strike up a conversation with someone who wants to know more about our ministry or you’re making sure someone feels welcome.
You are the shepherd sent to find the lost. But stay in radio contact with the Good Shepherd and with the flock. As we go out into the world, it’s important to stay in contact with the Good Shepherd, talking to Him in prayer, learning from God’s Word, so that we don’t get confused and lost ourselves. Keep talking to Jesus while you’re serving Him out in the field.
As we go out into the world, it’s also important to stay in contact with the other helpers, the other workers in the field, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Worship services, Bible studies, fellowship time, gatherings at church, youth events, that’s like keeping in radio contact. By talking to each other, supporting one another, encouraging each other to go find the lost, then we’ll be all the more prepared to keep venturing outside. We are not alone as we try to tell others about Jesus—the Good Shepherd is with us; our fellow Christians are with us. Take the parable of the lost sheep as a reminder that you are the shepherds.
Let’s look at this parable in one more way. When the shepherd returns with the lost sheep, the household joins the shepherd to rejoice over finding that lost sheep. Now we are the household. Jesus calls on us to rejoice with Him when He brings lost sheep back into the flock. If you are a shepherd, each sheep is very valuable to you. To lose even one sheep could be very costly. So, that party when the shepherd returns with the lost sheep, that party is huge. Jesus is saying to us: “There’s a huge party in heaven when someone finds out about the Gospel or when someone returns to the faith. You are the household. Have a huge party when you see a lost sheep come to church.”
And we need that reminder from the parable of the lost sheep, because I’m afraid sometimes we turn and stare when the lost sheep comes back. We size up that new person in the pew. We wonder, “Why would a person like that be in church?” I’m afraid we’re not so good at being the household that parties. Take the parable of the lost sheep as a reminder that we should be celebrating when the lost sheep comes back.
So the next time someone brings a friend to church who is just finding out about Jesus, make sure you talk to that person, show them that you are glad they are here, and thank God for that person. The next time you see someone in church who hasn’t been here for a long time, welcome that person back. Not in a snide way—“Oh, I haven’t seen you in awhile”—welcome them genuinely, lovingly, showing them how much you missed them, were concerned for them, and really want them to be here learning about God’s love. The next time you see someone in church who doesn’t look like you, who doesn’t fit your idea of a church member, who looks like maybe they’ve been away from God for a long time, instead of judging them, ignoring them, or avoiding them, celebrate! Rejoice! That person who looks so different was a lost sheep who has come back, a lost sheep just like you were at some point. Rejoice, because the sheep that was lost is found!
You are the one lost sheep, but Jesus has found you. Now you are the shepherds, sent by Jesus to find other lost sheep. Now you are the household, called upon to rejoice when a lost sheep comes back to the flock.
The parable of the lost sheep isn’t about sheep farming, and today isn’t about how Pastor Squires walked outside while talking in a walkie talkie during the sermon. It is a reminder of what Jesus did for us—coming out of heaven to find us on earth. It is a reminder of what Jesus sends us to do—go outside these walls, this comfort zone, to find others who don’t know about Him.
Today I want you to remember that Jesus found you and rescued you. Who did Jesus send to find you? Who was it that helped you learn about God or return to God? Thank God for that person who tapped you on the shoulder, invited you to church, asked you how you were doing, told you they missed you at church, found you in trouble but stayed by your side. Thank God for that person today. And then I want you to leave church today knowing that you are going outside, you are headed out to meet some lost sheep, and Jesus is sending you. Think of someone specific that Jesus is sending you to find. Pray for that person this week. Look for ways to tell that person or show that person how much God loves us. And then when we see each other bringing those sheep back, let’s celebrate next week and every week. Let’s make this one big party, rejoicing how Jesus brings us back into His love and care. These worship services are huge parties for all of the lost sheep who are back in the flock of Jesus.