A sermon on ‘the lost sheep’, based on Luke 15:1-10 (Year C, Proper 19).
Aim: To explain why the sheep is really lost, why we need to reach out and how.
If you’ve spent your whole life in the church then the story about the lost sheep is really well known isn’t it? Perhaps we think we know it so well that there is nothing more to learn. But let’s imagine that we are not religious insiders and that we are listening carefully, expectantly, to the story.
In verse 2 the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” These sinners were Jews who collaborated with the Roman occupying forces – a foreign, Pagan invader. (Although the Romans were relatively liberal occupiers, the Jews had recent memories of those who were not. The previous invaders had tried to destroy Jewish culture and worship.) So these people were beyond the pale, yet Jesus ate with them! This was too much – for the Jews eating with someone was to accept them totally, to recognize them and know them as one of God’s people. To this day, when we take communion we cement our relationship with God and with our fellow Christians.
Meaning at the Time
It’s easy for us to criticize the Pharisees, but we should remember that their zealous devotion to God was much greater than ours is today. They were popular with the people just as the Taliban were in Afghanistan because the alternative was corrupt and collaborated with foreigners. But the Pharisees were a political party and, perhaps, were focussed on the Jews as a Nation, and the power that gave them, rather then the fate of individuals. Perhaps the Pharisees have pride – they have confidence in themselves and their earthly power, rather than in God; this is how evil men are described in Psalm 14 and Jeremiah 4. They were rightly critical of sin, but so much so that they could not recognize repentance or rejoice about it. So Jesus told them a story.
In Jesus’ time, those hearing the story would have known that a lost sheep would be in real danger. Not only would the stupid animal have wandered away from the flock, it’s natural protection, the Shepherd and the best grazing, but it would be easy prey for wild animals and bandits.
Meaning for Today
Today, those who don’t know Jesus don’t see themselves as lost, because whatever doubts they might have about their lives are masked by material wealth. They don’t need God, because they have confidence in their wealth and strength – until they run out. I’ve heard those who don’t know God say two things: “I’ve got nothing to say sorry to God for” and “why is this happening to me?”
Perhaps they also don’t know about God, because nobody has told them. I wonder if we still have an appetite to go out and save the lost? Or do we just stay within our church, our comfort zone, our little club? In our network of activities – no doubt good in themselves – have we so thoroughly occupied ourselves with business that we have forgotten our Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 29:19 NIV)
Do we even think of ourselves as a church
that does that kind of thing? What would
we have to do reach outside to the lost?
What would we have to give up in order to have the time, money and
people to do that? our regular
activities? Our habitual style of
worship? Imagine if we did go out and
draw in dozens of new believers, people who don’t know how to behave in church
– what changes, what sacrifices would we have to make to accommodate them and
disciple them? Are we willing to do that? The key, as always, is Jesus. If we recognize and accept him as the Son of
God then we will accept his authority and power to forgive sin, as the outcasts
did, and that would drive everything