Occasions for celebration
15 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
Thoughts on the passage:
One of my hobbies is disc golf, or Frisbee golf. If you are not familiar with the game, it can be played at Robbin’s Island and is basically golf with a disc instead of clubs and a ball. You throw your disc from the tee and try and get it into a basket instead of a hole. It is usually played on courses that are carved out of parks and other recreational spaces.
Like in golf, there is always of the chance of an errant shot and because of the nature of the terrain a stray shot can be easier or harder to find. In wide open spaces usually all one has to do is recall the flight of the disc to find it. Once it goes into the trees it gets harder and when water is involved it can become impossible since even wading in the water where you saw it enter is no guarantee of success.
Since all of my hobbies tend to be done on a tight budget, I work really hard to locate my discs when I lose them. This has occasionally meant long delays in my game, but in the end it has been worth it. Interestingly enough, I probably have found more discs than I have lost, which is to say that I have often found other lost and abandoned discs while searching for my own.
Our Gospel lesson today is an important reminder of the value of searching for those things that we have lost. A shepherd who does not diligently seek after the one lost sheep out of a hundred will soon find themselves not with 99 sheep, but 98 and then 97, and soon no sheep. If we do not take care of the things that we are given, we will soon find ourselves lacking them and more.
Jesus gives this lesson of course when confronted with why it is he pays so much attention to the sinners in the world rather than the righteous people. He reminds the righteous, the disciples, and us of reaching out to those who are lost and in need of help. None of us is going to be perfect, we are all going to sin and be lost at some point. If it was not for Jesus constantly reaching out to find us and save us, soon we would all have strayed from his flock.
Unfortunately, I think we have forgotten Jesus’ message. I think we do not remember the amount of rejoicing that occurs in Heaven when one lost soul is saved. I say this because personally I do not do a good job of seeking the lost sheep. I say this because I know that as a church it can get very easy to focus on the members we have and become focused inward rather than outward. We want the attention on us, and not where it should be, on the lost sheep, the lost souls that need to know the same love of Christ that we have come to know.
First of all, it starts with each of us. We need to commit ourselves to doing the hard work of looking for the lost sheep around us. If we are to be Christ’s followers, then like Christ we need to care about those who have become lost. I wish I could tell you a simple solution or an easy formula for how to do it, but the reality is that it looks different for each of us. Martha Wagner, a saint of our church who passed away this last week made it her personal goal to reach out to all who need Christ’s love on the floor of her nursing home. She tirelessly worked to reach out to the lost she encountered even in her limited mobility. We each need to understand who it is we are called to reach. For me I have felt it most acutely with people of my generation. I have met so many people burned by church and the failings of our religions institutions who in turn have lost some of their faith in God. It has always been my goal to try and restore their faith in God through my work in the church. Through me I hope they can come to experience God and to grow in their faith in God. I wish I could tell you great stories about my successes, but it is not always easy.
Who is that person that your heart breaks for? Do you worry about the neighbor down the street who seems to be struggling with so much and yet is not willing to turn to God for help? For some people it might be their children or grandchildren who have lost, or never really found a faith in God that they are wanting to reach. We all have lost sheep in our own lives. Sometimes the best place to look for them is to remember that time that we were lost. What was it that caused us to stray? What drew us back? Once we answer those questions it might be easier to start looking for others who are in the same place.
When it comes to what our church can do, we have something to help us. Our congregation has been invited to take part in something called the Healthy Church Initiative which is a partnership between the Annual Conference and local churches. They invite healthy congregations who have a potential to reach new people to take part in an 18-month long process. That process starts with training for a team of people and gathering of information. Then a group of consultants comes out in the spring, meets with the congregation, reads through all the information we prepare about our congregation and gives us their report. That reports consists of five strengths they feel we have, five areas of growth they see, and five recommendations of how we can use our strengths to address the opportunities for growth. Then if we accept their plan, they provide coaching for the next year to help us implement changes that they recommend. It has been very successful in helping churches to reach new people and spread the Gospel. It is my hope that we will undertake this and see similar results.
This coming week the Administrative Council will be deciding if they think this is something we can do. The one piece of information that they are lacking is whether there is congregational interest in doing this work. Are we willing to engage in the process? Are we ready to go out and start looking for the lost sheep? Will you be a part of our sacred work of making new disciples and transforming the world?
Questions to Ponder:
Who are the lost sheep in your life that your heart breaks for?
When is a time that you were lost and how did God find you?
What can we be doing as a congregation to reach those who are lost around us?
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I was lost but now I am found; was blind but now I see. God, your amazing love and grace has reached so many of us who have become lost in our lives. Reach out to us again and bless us that we might be your shepherds, searching for the lost sheep around us. Help us to respond to your presence in our lives by doing your work in the world. Amen