Luke 15:1-7 – One Lost Sheep

The Shepherd and the Lost Sheep
“The Shepherd and the Lost Sheep.” By Peter Clarke, 1969

A lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They grumbled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their complaining triggered this story:

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. (MSG)

Lost people matter to God.  They matter so much to him that one lost soul found is the grounds for a big celestial party.  Please note this simple observation of today’s Gospel reading: If there is rejoicing in the presence of angels in heaven over one sinner who repents, then who is doing the rejoicing?  God!  God himself is crazy giddy with joy over one lost person being found.

Celebration is an important activity for the Christian. God throws the best parties, filled with plenty of joy and recognition of persons restored to fellowship. As people created in the image and likeness of God, we are hardwired for celebration. If God can go uncorked with joy and celebration, I’m going to say with confidence that open unabashed blowouts rejoicing over people’s transformation and new life is welcome and expected. Folks baptized in pickle juice can join the grumbling of all the high mucky-muck dudes who smugly look down on the marginal persons among us. Hopefully, the party-poopers won’t be heard because of all the noise at God’s party.

This parable of Jesus is meant to give us a glimpse of God’s own heart.  He would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person back to himself.  God would go dumpster diving and wade through the stinky nasty garbage to find that one lost valuable person.

Why should reaching out to marginal people with the grace and love of Jesus Christ be a high priority?  Because restoring lost people is a high priority for God.  God has placed the highest of priorities on recovering those who are spiritually lost and wandering around life without a purpose or a place to call home. Such people matter so much to him that God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earth.  Jesus went to the greatest lengths possible through enduring a cruel death on a cross in order to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.

I can still remember what it felt like to be separated from God and estranged from the church – it was lonely and sad, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help.  But God, in his great mercy, sent spiritual commandos to extract me from my captivity of the soul. So, my greatest desire is to live my life basking in the grace shown to me, grateful for new mercies which come every day, and giving that same grace to others – especially those considered as the lost, the least, and the lonely in society.

In leaving the ninety-nine and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost. So, because of this, I ask a sincere and probing question which I believe needs to be asked:  Can you live with that?  My own answer is: “I sure can, because I was once that lone lost sheep!”

Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd.  Thank you for going after me when I was lost.  Help me to remember that you will often leave my pasture to go after others. I’ll be willing and happy to go with you when you do. Let’s also take the Spirit with us.  Amen.

Click Compassion Hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty to remember the lengths of love God went to in restoring us.

Luke 15:1-10

            Lost people matter to God.  They matter so much to him that one lost soul found is the grounds for a big celestial party.  Please note this observation of the text:  if there is rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents, then who is doing the rejoicing?  God!  He is absolutely giddy with joy over a lost person being found.  These parables of Jesus are meant primarily to give us a glimpse of God’s own heart.  He would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person back to himself.  God would go dumpster diving and wade through the stinky nasty garbage to find that one lost valuable person.
 
            Why should reaching others for Jesus Christ be a high priority?  Because restoring lost people is a high priority to God.  Lost people matter to him.  They matter so much to him that he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earth.  Jesus paid the ultimate price of a cruel death on a cross in order to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.
 
            I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God, and estranged from the church – it was lonely and awful, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help.  But God, in his great mercy, sent people into my life to share the message of salvation with me.  In leaving the ninety-nine and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost.  Can you live with that?  I sure can, because I was once that one lost sheep.
 

 

            Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd.  Thank you for going after me when I was lost.  Help me to remember that you will often leave to go after others.  I’ll go with you when you do.  Let’s take the Spirit with us.  Amen.

What’s In a Name?

My family and I have lived in several diverse neighborhoods over the past twenty five years.  In one of those neighborhoods I would often go into the backyard of my house and spend time praying.  One day as I was talking to God, I turned my thoughts toward the neighbors around me.  “Lord, I pray for my African neighbor, my geeky educated neighbor across the street, my agnostic lady neighbor, my lesbian neighbors down the way….”  As I was praying, I was gently interrupted by God.  “Why do you refer to your neighbors by race, gender, religion, and orientation… they are just your neighbors.”

One of the things that sets humans apart from the rest of creation is the ability to name.  When God created Adam, he brought all the animals before him to see what he would call them.  And Adam named each and every one of them.  He even named the first female Eve (which means “woman”).  Then sin entered the world.  Ever since the Fall, people have had a knack for not only naming, but misnaming others.  The ability to name is a power unique to humans.  It can bring life or it can bring death, depending upon whether we name rightly or wrongly.

What God called me on in the backyard was the reality that I insisted on giving names to people which set them apart from me.  My naming exposed my heart.  I saw the people around me not so much as human beings created in the image of God as much as I saw them as impersonal beings, as objects which needed something.  This happens in the church as much as anywhere.  We see a depressed person, a sick person, an ornery person; we see needy people and insecure people.  We look at the world around us and see children dying, sex-trafficking, and people without clean water.  And then our misnaming comes:  “Someone should do something for them.”  In one succinct statement we have detached ourselves from others.  We keep people at arm’s length through calling them the name “someone”, and ensure our inaction through saying that “something” should be done.

The only way to cease misnaming others is by moving in a deliberate relational direction into another’s life.  Why is it that we call a group of people “those liberals” or “the ones on welfare” or “all those Hispanics”?  Because we don’t know one person from the groups we name.  We have never taken the time or effort to establish a relationship with one of “those people.”  So, we stay in our holy huddle and kick our names out, hoping that one of those people will not infect our community or influence the way we like to do things.

Jesus died on the cross for people, all kinds of people.  In God’s great mercy he gave us a new name and calls us children of God.  We are no longer strangers and aliens, but are adopted into the family of God with loads of brothers and sisters who are both alike and different from us.  And it is all good and right.

Church ministries need to get beyond heaping adjectives before the names of people.  When we name people a certain way, we arrogantly believe we know what those people need.  But when we see people as people, we will take the time to move in their direction and get to know them.  We will seek to listen and let them describe their own needs and the needs of the people they interact with every day.  Then, we will minister to them out of the context of relationship and not out of the context of distance.  In the church we will listen to one another, take the time to ask questions, and help others based on our shared humanity.

Try and become conscious of the labels and names you are inwardly assigning to people you see, especially those who are in situations of need.  Try changing the names you ascribe to them and see how it changes your perception of them.  Have you ever been wrongly named by another?  How did it affect you?  Who is someone you have wrongly labeled?  What do you think the impact of that naming has been?