The reading I will use for my message this morning is from the gospel of Luke. Chapter 15 -the one we read- is called the chapter of the lost, and it has three beautiful parables; we heard the reading of two of them. The parable I will use is of “the lost sheep”; the other one we read is the “lost coin” and the one we did not read is the “prodigal son”, or the lost son. All three parables are Jesus’ answer to the criticizing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were disappointed with Him because He invited “sinners” and tax collectors to eat with Him. These parables are Jesus’ way to tell the Pharisees and teachers of the law that everyone is important to God, even those they had already left out of God’s kingdom.
In those times Pharisees and teachers of the law thought Israel was the only important people for God, and among all the people from Israel they thought they were the only ones who God cared for, the rest, the ones who did not dress like them, or did not act like them were sinners and therefore rejected by God. Tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, blinds and even women, they all were sinners and did not have entrance into God’s kingdom. That was-of course- according to their interpretation of God’s word. But Jesus had the custom to take their world upside down. He took three images they knew very well: one sheep, one coin and one run away son to teach them a lesson about who is important to God, who is important in God’s kingdom.
Just for matter of time we will talk about the lost sheep only. In this story Jesus said that the shepherd had 100 sheep and one got lost. Jesus explained that the shepherd left 99 in the open country and he went to look for one. This shepherd was risking everything for one sheep. If we think in terms of money, if we think as a business-minded person this was a bad decision, but we all know that for shepherds, sheep are not business, they are family; shepherds and sheep have a personal relationship, shepherds know them all by name and check them all every day, one by one; and sheep are so close to him that they even know his voice and feel safe by their side. What Jesus is saying to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law is that the way God loves and values His creation has nothing to do with our position in society or in church, or what we are capable to do. No even what we have done, the way God values His creation is through the personal relationship we establish with Him through Jesus Christ our shepherd and His sacrifice for all of us on the cross.
So, the reason Jesus told the story of the Lost Sheep was to lift before the Pharisees those they considered worthless, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, blinds and women. The gospel of Luke was written some 30 or 40 years later after Jesus told these parables, and among all the parables Jesus taught, Luke chose these ones to share with his community; and I wish he could tell us the reason why he selected them. I have been asking myself why did Luke chose to share these parables with his community of faith and no others? And I believe Luke shared these parables for two reasons: one was persecution.
The Church was being persecuted. And because of this persecution some brothers and sisters were afraid of going out and share the gospel, they did not want to risk their lives and what they had. And by sharing these parables with them, Luke was telling them our place to be is not in the shadows, our place to be is not between four walls, our place to be is not in the safe or comfort zone, our place to be is where the lost sheep is; with these parables Luke is telling them only those who risk what they have, what God has given them will accomplish what God wants; only those who risk who they are will be what God wants them to be.
The other reason Luke shared these parables was division among God’s people. We find division all over the New Testament, especially in 1 Corinthians, where in chapter 1, Paul complains about the different groups within the church of Corinth. One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Same letter chapter 11, Paul also complains about the divisions during the Lord’s Supper. “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you,…when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat,21for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.
This kind of division had a simple reason, some of them thought they were better than the others; like the Pharisees when they compared themselves with the rest of the people, especially tax collectors. In Corinth the one who followed Paul thought they were better than Apollo’s followers; the one who followed Cephas or Peter thought they were better than the one who followed Paul. But it was another group who thought they were better than anybody else because they followed Christ.
Luke begins his introduction to these three parables saying that tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus and the Pharisees and teacher of the Law were murmuring because they were better than the tax collectors and sinners. Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector prayer in the temple. The tax collector’s prayer was, “God forgive me because I am a sinner” and the Pharisee’ prayer was, “God I thank you because I am not like this one…”
Now, when Jesus said that the shepherd left the 99 in the open country, He meant to say if you are good and just, righteous and holy, you do not need me, you can take care of yourself, let me go to look for the one who really needs me, the one who is suffering, the one who is in danger. Verse 5 to 7 say, “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. ”I am pretty sure Pharisees and teachers of the Law were not happy with this because they knew they were the 99, they did not need Jesus’ message of salvation.
Now, all this happen 2000 years ago. But, what about us today, what these parables, especially the one of the Lost Sheep can teach us today? Is it message still relevant for us today? I believe it is; I believe it has the same message for us today; Jesus once again is telling us: do what I did, go and look for those who are at risk to lose their lives eternally, go and look for those who were here with you and now are not; go and take risk and talk to others about Jesus. Ask them if they know “Jesus loves them; ask the if they know He will abide with them till the end.”
There is also a message for those who for whatever reasons are not in the flock; those as the lost sheep who walked away or were pushed away, the message is, God has a place within His people, His Church that belongs to you. Every woman, every man; every girl and boy have a place in God’s heart and in God’s plan that nobody can take. The body of Jesus is incomplete without you. This church is incomplete without you. Maybe you have good reasons for walking away from church, however, we at Redland Community United Methodist Church would like to give you who left the church, some reasons to come back.
First, God loves you and He has blessings waiting for you. Listen to John 15:5,“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Christ we cannot live a Christian life; only His friendship brings out the fulness of the meaning of the fruitfulness of the man and woman who abides in Christ.
Second reason, your eternal salvation. John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 8:31 “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Remaining with Jesus, practicing and knowing his word set us free. The best place to learn His word and His teaching is in church, Jesus’ body, Jesus’ physical presence in earth. Come back and do not keep Him waiting.
Third reason, God is waiting for you. Do you remember the parable of the prodigal son? God is portrayed in that parable as a father waiting for his son. He is waiting not to complain and ask you about what you did with his inheritance, but to receive you with opened arms, to give you new clothes, food and to celebrate with you.
And now church let me finish with one thought that its being in my mind. We had asked many times, why people do not come to church? We have ministries, we have events to attract them, we invite them, and they do not come. What is wrong with them? According to Lost Sheep parable that is the wrong question. The right question is, Why do we not go and look for those who are away from church? What is wrong with us? I invite you in the name of the Good Shepheard to commit yourselves and during this week go out and look for a lost sheep.