Pastor Steve Mechem
Luke 15:1-7 New Revised Standard Version
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Jesus and his disciples are making the 90 mile trek from the heart of Galilee to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus is teaching and preaching and gathering more disciples.
It is fair to say that the newest followers of Jesus aren't exactly religious types:
women who rent out their bodies,
men who sell their souls,
opportunists who take advantage of the present political situation,
thieves, liars, sinners
- all stopping to listen to Jesus and finding themselves engaging with him about life and faith.
- they are digging Jesus and Jesus seems to be digging them as well.
Also, listening to Jesus are members of the religious hierarchy and boy, oh boy, they do not like what they are seeing and hearing.
Jesus not only attracted these deplorable people, but he seems to accept them, embrace them, and even sits down to sup with them.
Their disgust is written on the religious folks' faces and Jesus perceives that they have a major problem with him. But rather than placate them or appease them, he tells stories to remind them of the unconditionality of God’s love and their blatant missing of the point.
The first story he tells is about a shepherd and his sheep.
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”
Now I make the assumption that the shepherd is by himself or herself caring the 100 sheep. We are not told that the sheep are left in someone else’s care- only that the 99 are left in the wilderness while the shepherd hunts for the lost one.
I imagine myself in the crowd that day, and hearing Jesus say, “which one of you, who being responsible for the 100 sheep, would not leave the 99 behind to go looking for one missing one.”
I would think to myself, or if I had the courage, I might speak up and say, “Me. I would not leave 99 sheep by themselves in the wilderness to follow after one who is lost, or stolen, or wolf food at this point.”
Here, let’s illustrate.
I will be the shepherd.
You all can be the sheep. Sheep practice- say baa together.
Now if we really want to get into it, y’all would move to the middle and huddle together, because that is what sheep tend to do.
We are coming to the end of the day, and it is important that I do a head count. Hope I don’t get sleepy counting the sheep.
1, 2,3 … 98, 99.
I must look for her. I call her by name.
After a quick survey of the general area, I will wander further and further away, moving beyond where I can see my other sheep. I will not stop looking even though I am leaving you the other 99 in the wilderness.
While I am gone, faithfully looking for my one lost sheep, I have no way of protecting the rest of you. I have my staff with me to fend off wolves, but what if a pack of wolves come to devour the rest of you because I am not there- a 99 sheep smorgasboard.
What if while I am gone, a few sheep get gutsy and move beyond the flock and fall of a cliff or get caught in tree branches.
What if, while I am not with you, some sheep rustlers, round you up and take you away.
All of this because I am looking for one missing sheep.
Oh there she is- safe and sound.
I will not punish her.
I will not scold her.
I will not diminish her.
I will embrace her, and carry her back to the fold on my shoulders.
One thing is for sure. When I get back, we will party- celebrating life that is now found.
While I would never say it to Jesus, I might think, listening in as Jesus told the story, that leaving 99 sheep behind to search for one lost one is irresponsible. (which by the way, is what the religious folks think about Jesus- he is irresponsible, and potentially dangerous.)
Now, one reason a shepherd might leave the whole flock to find a missing one is if the one that is missing is special to the shepherd. A sheep deeply loved by the shepherd, perhaps a gift from a beloved.
The parable doesn’t say this but interestingly, when this parable is told in the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas a couple of centuries later, the shepherd tells the found sheep, “you are the sheep that I love most of all.”
As Jesus is telling the parable, he is telling his followers one thing and the religious folks listening in another thing.
To the religious folks he is saying, “Don’t think you are better than other people, cause you’re not. You are just one of the flock. You are iImportant, of immense value, but not of more value than anybody else.
Don’t feel as if you can look at others as lesser than, or as less loved than you.
Because God loves them all:
The immigrant, the stranger, the left behind.
The lonely, the forgotten.
The young, the old, the in-between.
Straight folks, gay folks, trans-folks.
The married, the single, the divorced, the widow and widower.
Those who are struggling with health issues and those who are not.
Brown people, black people, white people.
The rich, the poor, those who are rich but think they are poor.
The celebrators and the grievers.
The successful and the failures.
God loves them all and pursues them with an unbounding passion, loving and accepting, full of mercy and grace.
So, how dare you think that you are better than others? How can you possibly misunderstand the heart of God to such a extent?
That is message one of the parable.
The second message is for you- the lost sheep.
Here is the hope-
The Shepherd loves you.
The Shepherd has already found you.
Notice that the missing sheep does not find her way back to the shepherd. It is the shepherd who pursues the sheep with absolute confidence that the sheep will be found.
Be confident little one.
Be confident scared one.
Be confident lost one.
No matter where you find yourself, the shepherd is already there- finding you. Even in your lostness, you are found in the love and grace of God.
And the shepherd
will guide you to green pastures.
and lead you to still waters.
The shepherd restores, the shepherd leads, the shepherd cares.
The shepherd walks beside you.
protects and comforts you with the staff of grace.
The shepherd joins you as you journey to new life and new hope.