Sermon: 99 + 1 = 100

Luke 15:1-10
11 September 2016

When we lose something that is very important to us, it can be the most frustrating thing in the world. We have all experienced it, for example, when we can’t find our keys, or glasses, or wallet, or purse.  Maybe it is the checkbook or credit card or a watch that is missing.  When one of these important things becomes lost, it becomes high priority until we find it.  So we stop everything that we are doing and look everywhere: we look in the trash; if you are like me, you start cleaning; and if none of those things work, then we pray.  When we find the missing item, there is such a huge sigh of relief, and we may want to tell a family member the good news.

My text is Luke 15:1-7 and it is the parable of the lost sheep.
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 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.  This is the Word of God.

One day a farmer walked into an old country store and said to the shopkeeper. “I found a stray lamb”. The shop keeper asked “Well, how did it get lost?” The farmer answered “They usually nibble themselves lost. They keep their heads down and wander from one green area to another, till they come to a hole in the fence and go out and never find the same hole to get back again.”  Then the shopkeeper said “Just like people.”

There is a lot of truth to what the shop keeper said. As God’s sheep, we may get distracted, we may wander, we may lose our bearings, and we may need some type of help as we try to find our way.  But regardless of the situation we may find ourselves in, our Lord cares.

2 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your care on Him for he cares for you.”

As God’s sheep we need to remember our Heavenly Shepherd may need time to work out circumstances and details needed to bring us out of our difficulty; we need to be patient.

The idea of our Heavenly Shepherd looking after us and working on our behalf was displayed on a cold December day in 1996. Carney Taylor, a construction worker, was at work on the Interstate 64 Bridge over the Elizabeth River in Virginia.  On that particular day, a pickup truck hit a patch of ice, slid and knocked Mr. Taylor off the bridge where he fell some 70 feet into the cold river.  Taylor was fortunate because Captain Joseph Brisson was standing on a river barge and saw the fall; he jumped into the water to make a rescue.  With a large piece of wood, Brisson swam to Taylor then slid it under him to keep him afloat; within 30 minutes, the two were rescued.  Taylor was hospitalized with broken bones, and Captain Brisson was treated for mild hypothermia and released.  Captain Brisson later told newspaper reporters that he knew what he had to do.  He said, “I have a family, but I also thought about how life is very important. I am a Christian man and I couldn’t let anything happen to him.”  In the rescue, Captain Brisson showed the heart of our Heavenly Shepherd, who left the joy of heaven to die on a cross so all could have eternal life.

As Jesus told the parable of the Lost Sheep, it is obvious that we are like the lost lamb and He is the Good Shepherd. Notice when the shepherd found the lost lamb, he didn’t scold it or treat it roughly, but he brought it back home.

For most of my life, the only knowledge of sheep I had came from books or television; that is, until my associate minister in New Hampshire decided to raise sheep as a hobby. For the 2-3 years that he had them, I used to go up and visit and help feed them or assist the veterinarian when she made a special call.  What surprised me most about sheep was that they had distinct personalities and that they responded when their name was called.  The sheep had deep emotions and at times sort of acted like teenagers.  My associate minister’s sheep never got lost because he had an electric fence, but there were times–due to sickness–when they felt scared.  And it was my associate pastor who was the one who came to the rescue.  He was also there when one of them was about to give birth.

And that is a picture of what our Lord does for us. He gives us that needed attention when we appear to be lost, confused, or in crisis.  The Lord will often send people our way to say the right word, or give us that needed assistance.  We might hear a song, read a book, or see something on Facebook or in the word of God that speaks to our hearts.  We may experience this protection when in distress; have you ever had a feeling during a crisis where you knew beyond a shadow of doubt that “this is a God moment” and everything will be okay?

As a chaplain for the Ellington Fire Department, I am on hand at the time of the crisis. Some people see my black cap with the inscription of chaplain and the cross on my reflective vest as encouragement.  They see it as a sign that God is in control and is very much present in their life.

It is possible that you might feel distant from God. If that is the case, why don’t you invite him into your heart?  If you have a friend or a family member who might be in the need of TLC, go visit and do what you can.

When that immigrant or refugee family walks into a fully furnished apartment, courtesy of this congregation, may they give praise to God and realize that he has not let them become abandoned in their time of need.

On Wednesday September 7, 2016, Dr. Belinda Forbes, a dentist and medical missionary to Nicaragua related that when someone shows care and concern in the name of the Lord, that is like God himself coming to help or rescue that person. It has quite a spiritual effect.  Because of medical caring, Dr. Forbes has witnessed God’s sheep returning to the fold as believers.

There is a legend about a cobbler who had a dream where Jesus appeared to him and said he would come and visit him the next day. The dream was so vivid and real that he got up very early the next morning and decorated his shop for the Lord’s arrival.  He waited all morning, but to his disappointment, his shop remained quiet, except for an old man who limped up to the door and asked to come in for a few minutes of warmth.  While he rested, the cobbler noticed that the old man’s shoes were worn through.  So he took a new pair from his shelves and gave them to the stranger.  Throughout the afternoon, the cobbler waited, but then he noticed an elderly woman struggling under a heavy load of firewood, so he invited her to rest and gave her something to eat, then she left.  As night began to fall, the cobbler heard a cry outside the door.  It was a boy who was lost, so he took him by the hand and helped him find his way home.  When the cobbler returned, he was sad.  He was certain that he missed the visit of his lord.  In his sadness, he prayed, “Why is it Lord that your feet delay?  Have you forgotten that this was the day?”  Then he heard the still small voice in his heart say, “I did keep my word.  Three times I came to your friendly door; Three times my shadow was on your floor.  I was the older man with the bruised feet; I was the woman you gave something to eat.  I was the child on the homeless street.”

I think one of the most satisfying experiences in life is to be used by God: to share his word with others or perform acts of mercy. In a sense, we are representatives of the shepherd.  That is the ministry of the gospel.

Let me close. When we lose something, it is the best feeling when we have found it.  Spiritually speaking, we come back to God; there is a lot of happiness.  And there is a great deal of satisfaction when we help someone find their way to God or help someone turn their life around.  So let us all be about our Father’s business.