Sunday, September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-7; 14th Sunday after Pentecost; September 15, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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. (Luke 15:1-7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
Who would miss one sheep in a hundred?  Sheep look very much alike, wooly balls of fluff standing in the ‘open country’ slowly walking and eating…  bleating softly to one another.  Baa, baa,
“Have you seen Wooly today, Fluffy?”
“Now that you mention it Cotton, I haven’t…  I haven’t I wonder where she’s gone… have you seen her, Bobbin?”
One silly sheep in hundred, has wondered off…  not many notice.  But there is someone who does notice.  He begins looking for the sheep right away.  First, he counts the sheep, because something doesn’t feel right with the flock.  97:Cotton… 98:Bobbin… 99:Fluffy… 100?!?  I thought so.  He looks over the flock.  Wooly is gone again.  The shepherd notices when even one sheep is missing.  He knows everyone by name… it is his job to care for them.  When they wander off, he goes out to get them.   He must. The world outside the flock is dangerous.  There are thorns and brambles to get caught in.  There are hungry animals who love the taste of lamb.  The silly sheep just walks and eats, not watching where she’s going.  Pretty soon she’s walked right into a thicket of thorns.  The more she pulls to get free the deeper the thorns grab into the matted wool of her coat.  The more she struggles the more she becomes entangled.  Now the thorns have pierced her skin and blood begins to flow, coagulating as a dark red mass in his wooly white coat…. It’s a fine mess.  One lost sheep, perfectly tenderized and ready for any hungry predator that happens along.  One lost sheep perfectly lost all alone and no where to turn.
We very easily see ourselves here, stuck in the thorns with the sheep.  Over and over again we hear about people who have strayed from the flock, we may even have our own story of how we have gotten lost, tangled up in the thorns that are out there, perfectly ‘tenderized’ for Satan to come and take his prize.  All of us at one point or another in our lives have been right where Wooly is, with no where to turn?  But, let’s look at the parable again.  It just doesn’t talk much about the sheep.  It says… "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.”  The parable really isn’t about the sheep.  It’s the shepherd who gets top billing.  The sheep just gets lost.  The storyteller doesn’t say how or why.  The primary focus of this parable is The Shepherd. 
The shepherd is the one who is charged with taking care of the sheep.  He is the one who notices when one of a hundred has wandered off.  He is the one leaves the ninety-nine to go and look for the missing one.  By the way…  back then, shepherds didn’t leave sheep unattended.  A very large flock was broken up into sub flocks of a hundred sheep each.  That’s the number a shepherd can reasonably watch.  When a sheep got lost, the neighboring shepherds would watch the flock while he would go out to find the missing one.  The point here is that the shepherd goes to look for the sheep, because he cares for the sheep, even one in a hundred. 
Our minds automatically picture Jesus as the shepherd here.  We picture him all the time with sheep on his shoulders or standing with the shepherd’s staff in the midst of the flock.  He calls himself the Good Shepherd.  It is a very strong image a very meaningful word picture.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures…”  When ever we hear words like this our minds automatically turn to Jesus.  And well they should, for he is the Good Shepherd, the Best Shepherd.
In the parable the shepherd goes after the lost sheep.  What it doesn’t say is that he does so at great personal risk.  The people listening to Jesus would know this because they know what it means to be a Judean shepherd.  They know that because searching for a sheep in the hill country is dangerous for the shepherd.  A lost sheep isn’t easy to find.  Lost sheep don’t do anything to help the shepherd find them.  They don’t sit tangled up in thorns bleating out loud until they are found.  They are frightened.  They quickly fall into despair and become worn out from the struggle.  A lost and frightened sheep will simply ‘go into shock.’  They lie down and become still.  The seeking shepherd must look under the brush, behind rocks, and in crevasses.  He must crawl around on the ground, seeking the place where the sheep has become trapped...  The shepherd can call out to the sheep all he wants but it does no good.  A frightened sheep won’t respond, even to the shepherd’s familiar voice.   It is a long, tedious, tiring and dangerous journey for the shepherd.  The predators that would kill the sheep would just as well attack a seeking shepherd.  But, according to the parable, the shepherd is willing to take the risk for the sake of the sheep.  He goes after the sheep “until he finds it.”
Notice also how he reacts when the sheep is found.  He rejoices.  He doesn’t yell at the sheep for being so stupid as to get lost.  He rejoices that he has found it.  And yet the worst of the job, the most difficult part of the job is still ahead of him.  The sheep is exhausted and frightened.  You can’t drive a sheep in this condition home.  You can’t lead it home; it is a quivering mass of nerves.  The shepherd places the sheep on his shoulders and carries it.  It is the only option.  A full-grown sheep weighs about 70 lbs.  Remember the rocky ground, remember the thorns, and remember the predators?  The journey is only half over.  Yet the shepherd joyfully carries the sheep home.  He bears the great cost of saving the sheep, the bruised aching body and the danger of it all.  And he does it with great joy.  When he returns home with the sheep, there is a great celebration because of what he has done.  This really is absurd.  No real human shepherd is going to haul a full-grown sheep on his shoulders.  It’s beyond their ability.  That’s what makes this story really about Jesus, and only Jesus.  He does what human shepherds can not, will not do.  He suffers himself for the sake of the sheep.  He gives himself for the sake of the sheep.  The story talks about the shepherd bearing the weight of the sheep, that’s Jesus bearing our weight, the weight of our stupid wandering, our sin. 
Sheep get lost, it’s a part of who they are, they go about their daily business, eating and walking, walking and eating.  They ignore the danger about them until it’s too late and they get lost.  They get tangled up in briars and lost in the rocky wilderness.  When it happens they have nowhere to turn.  But this parable is good news for sheep.  It talks about a Good Shepherd comes and finds them.  He pays the price to bring them home.  And he rejoices in it. 
When we were lost and without God; when sin had us tangled in its thorns and Satan was ready to pounce on us for an easy meal; when we had no possibility of saving ourselves and nowhere to turn; the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, comes for us.  He does it at great personal cost.  The way is difficult and painful.  The very same predators are looking to devour us turn on him and all of hell’s fury is unleashed.  The cost of finding us, the cost of seeking us, is a bloody death on the cross.  But it is through that cross that he carries us home.  You see, we can’t.  We can’t be driven.  We are lost quivering sheep hiding in the darkness.  We are totally lost and condemned, tangled up in the thorns and without hope and nowhere to turn.  Our only hope is to be carried home.  Just as Jesus carries that beam of wood that would hold his hands fast, he carries us.  It is our weight, and the weight of our sins, that pulled down on the nails that are driven through his hands and feet.  It is a terrible cost that he endured, but one he is willing to pay because through it he bears us home.  The rejoicing comes, too.  Three days later Jesus doesn’t stay dead but brakes free from the tomb.  This time Jesus carries us from death to life.  And he delivers us home where the rejoicing continues.  “Look what I have done for you!” he says, “I have rescued you when you were lost! You are my precious sheep!”
Jesus knows us very well.  He is the Good Shepherd; he knows his sheep.  He knows how much we can stray.  We just keep eating and walking, walking and eating, and before we know it the treats of the world close in on us… again.  But he keeps us from straying too far.  He is always there with a comforting word, or even a gentle whack of his shepherd’s staff.  He says to us again and again. “I have rescued you.  I have found you.  Remember the cost I have already paid for you.  Remember the rejoicing in heaven over you.  You are my precious sheep and I am your Good Shepherd.”
But, it’s easy to forget.  Life gets busy.  We think about the brambles.  We think about the threatening predators.  We could so easily go back to quivering.  We could so easily forget about the Good Shepherd.  But he is always there.  He never forgets us.  He is here with us today again today.  He reminds us of his great love for us saying, “I am your Good Shepherd.”  Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Amen.

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