Delivered at Gordon Chapel on 11 September 2016 by Jeff Lowndes

SERMON: Luke 15.1-10 Parable Lost Sheep

There’s a story about a wee girl of 6 playing hide and seek in the garden with her young brother Bruce. She couldn’t find him, so their father went to look for his son. Eventually he looked down the old garden well – and there was Bruce hanging onto a rope. When he saw his dad he called out – please daddy get me out of here which he did. Someone asked the wee boy if he’d been scared – to which he replied ‘oh no – I knew daddy would come and get me out’!

Perhaps that’s why we love children, they look to us with faith – with hope – with expectation. They believe in us and that helps us to believe in ourselves.

An instructor said that he enjoyed teaching 1st year students because they were teachable – they wanted to learn – they listened expectantly – 2nd & 3rd year students were less fun to teach, because they thought they knew it all. Know-it-all’s are annoying, frustrating and not much fun.

Those scribes and Pharisees may have been good hard working men, doing their best, but perhaps they were know-it-alls, part of the system – prisoners of their own tunnel vision and perhaps not very humble!

In the NT, tax collectors and sinners are not Know-It-Alls – they know just where they stand – and they appear to be humble. They didn’t come to hear the scribes and Pharisees, because they knew they would only find judgment and condemnation there. Instead they come to Jesus – they come to listen and learn, which is good, for Jesus said “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. They made the right choice.

They were like 1st year students – eager to hear and ready to learn – hoping Jesus would change their lives.   Tax Collectors cheated people and could summon Roman soldiers to back them up. No wonder people didn’t like them – they probably didn’t like themselves much either!

We know what the tax collectors got up to, but who knows what the so called sinners in general were guilty of – perhaps not much more than you and I !  Tax collectors and sinners – a motley crew! But at least they came to Jesus with hope – perhaps knowing that he’d welcome and accept them, really did want to help and was joyful at their coming to him.

The scribes and Pharisees were different – a sort of upper class – the winners in life. They criticised Jesus for associating with those tax-men and sinners.

So Jesus told those parables to break through their deafness and hardness of heart – but beware – they apply to us too.   He speaks of things the people know about – a lost sheep – a lost coin – and a lost son.

The OT often uses the shepherd metaphor to describe God’s care for us. But ironically, in Jesus’ day people no longer regarded shepherds favourably. Shepherding was a lonely, thankless, often dangerous job, so people with options took to other professions. But shepherds couldn’t simply abandon their flocks on the Sabbath, and their religious observance was, at best, variable, so they were looked down on – but not by Jesus.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus introduced us to the kingdom of God, a place of upside-down rules, reflecting the radical nature of God. Ordinary rules do not apply. The loss of even one sheep breaks the shepherd’s heart, so he searches for it.  In a way, Jesus Christ is a parable himself – a man living out his life as an image, a metaphor, or the reality which is God.

In this story the shepherd had 100 sheep – a big flock back then, so this shepherd had more than enough. It’s a good feeling to have more than enough, isn’t it! A business with 100 customers can expect to lose a few every year. A teacher with 100 students can expect that some will fail. A shepherd with 100 sheep can expect to lose one now and then – so if the shepherd has more than enough, who cares! Life goes on! But – someone does care – our Lord cares!

And so, in this parable, the shepherd loses one sheep – only one – perhaps not one of his best animals either. He could have said, ‘I don’t have time for this, I must stay with the 99 others, I can afford to lose that one! But this shepherd knew that sheep’s name. He could imagine it waiting hopefully for him – just like the boy stuck in the well waiting hopefully for his father. And so he searched until he found it. He didn’t give it a hard time. He didn’t say, “Well, you got here on your own, so you can get back on your own.” Instead, he carried it back to the flock – a sign of tender loving care. Then he called his friends and neighbours, and they all rejoiced.

That story sounds a bit “over the top”, doesn’t it! Perhaps a shepherd might look for one lost sheep and carry it back on his shoulders. But who would call together friends and neighbours to have a party over one lost sheep, one lost coin or a lost prodigal son?

Are these analogies for the celebration in heaven, when the angels will rejoice for the lost sheep that is found – will there be a party there for you and me?

Yes, this story is a bit “over the top” – and deliberately so! Jesus told “over the top” stories to strike home to his listeners, and to us, to show that we have an “over the top” heavenly Father.

When we are lost, we can expect our Father to come looking for us, to have a good word for us, help us to our feet. We can expect our “over the top” Father to lift us up – carry us and love us in spite of everything – to restore us and to make us whole. And when we’re safely back in the fold, our Father will hold a party in our honour.

He doesn’t have to do that. But this story emphasizes that God loves us – good or bad – and that he never gives up on us. We don’t deserve it, but he helps us anyway. That is Good News!

And it tells us that God feels the same way about the village drunk, the thief, the corrupt MP, even the terrorist who kills with bombs.

This parable tells us that God loves the people whom we hate. The scribes and Pharisees couldn’t understand that. They couldn’t understand that God loves the unlovely. That’s Disturbing News!

So there are two lessons here. The first is that God never gives up on us.

He will allow us to wander off and use our own free will – and he will allow us to stay lost if we insist – but he always encourages us to return – the door is never closed. And that’s more Good News!

The second lesson is that God doesn’t give up on anyone. He loves those we reject. He loves good and bad people. He loves the boss who bullies us and the customers who give us a hard time. He loves the worst of the worst – and never gives up trying to win them back. And that can be Disturbing News! It’s hard to take, isn’t it?

That’s what the scribes and Pharisees failed to understand. Crikey – it’s hard for us to understand even with the knowledge that we have. They expected God to despise and reject those that they despised – perhaps in our hearts we do too.   We have to work at seeing others as God sees them.

This parable calls us to pray that God will save us. Then it calls us to pray that God will help us to save the rest – even those whom we would prefer to have nothing to do with.

This parable strikes at the heart of our value system and confronts us with the magnitude of God’s mercy, forgiveness and love.

Gods purpose is to invite everyone to the party, saints and sinners alike. We need to accept the invitation to the celebration and let God stamp ‘loved and forgiven’ on our hand, as we enter the door to the party, where an extra gift awaits us – the gift of Gods Grace.

Jesus will meet with anyone, because everyone is lost and needs to be found. He seldom calls people sinners, instead he calls them the lost – lost sounds more like concern than condemnation.   Many things can lead to us feeling lost and we may wander off, not expecting anyone to come looking for us.

But God is looking for us – looking through caring people, sacred stories, prayer and worship. God is a hope that pursues us, a comfort that gathers us home, and a love that embraces us.

We are never as indifferent to God as we might think, for that lost feeling is a longing for grace! We can live in a grace that is beyond our understanding – we need to let ourselves be loved.

Being lost has to do with our connection to each other. We’re inter-related. So that to talk about one who is lost is, at the same time, to talk about the effect one who is lost has on the others.

Like the man who said, after his wife’s death, “It’s not only that I’ve lost her – but that I’m lost without her.”

This is the essence of the Kingdom of God – we’re family – brothers and sisters in Christ, joined by our common allegiance to him. And because we belong to the body of Christ, when only one is missing, even just one, then something in us is missing too.

We need to hear the Good News of this story – but importantly we need to hear the Disturbing News as well.

May we have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart to care – and may we use them to love and serve the Lord.

For in the end, it is all Good News!     Amen

Let us pray

 God of the lost and the found,

when I lose my way – send someone to guide me,

someone from my church, community or even a stranger.

when I lose heart, help me to find hope;

when I lose strength, help me to find courage;

when I lose security, help me to find trust;

when I lose patience, help me to find grace;

when I lose faith, help me to find you afresh;

when I am lost – seek me out and bring me home.