Yesterday I preached from the following text…
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 – ESV)
This short story is coupled with similar stories bragging on a God that goes after lost sheep, coins, and sons. Those three objects don’t tell the full story about the things our God is after. He is a reconciling, redeeming God who is intent on embracing everybody and everything with His grace and mercy. Anyone or anything left out will not do. He is in it to win it and more importantly He is in it to win you.
The focus of the sermon yesterday was on calling people to repentance and sharing in the heavenly celebration of each and everyone who God reclaims. It would have been good, but a slightly different sermon to preach about the possible response of the 99 sheep left in the open field or more precisely of the congregation wondering why Jesus isn’t given them more attention. When Jesus tells the story he leaves no room for the 99 sheep to complain or push back, but anyone who has led Christians…I mean sheep…for 5 minutes knows what a fuss and ruckus it would cause if a pastor abandoned 99 to pursue 1. That kind of ministerial math never makes sense and is highly frowned upon. Good pastors focus on the 99 and leave the 1 to find their own way home…or not.
I sometimes wonder if most people in the church would prefer to hear the passage this way…
Now the good church people were all keeping notes of what Jesus was up to. They began to stir up Facebook and Twitter by saying “This man wastes his time with the wrong people and doesn’t manage the church well and keeps talking about changing things around here.” Jesus told this story in response. “What kind of pastor spends her time hanging out and pampering those who should be mature in Christ? If one person or family is outside of the family of faith a good pastor gives the greater part of her attention to reaching them with the gospel and urging them to return to their faith in God. While she is shepherding lost sheep the sheep who are safe and sound can tend to each others needs and the business of the barnyard.” But the good church people responded with suspicious and critical hearts saying people who abandon God and the church should not be celebrated, but judged. The church is for saved people and the pastor should protect, provide, and predicate everything around them. Jesus urged the good people to have a right spirit about the gift of repentance that God offers us all. Everyone should rejoice when God gives grace for anyone or anything – for those in and those out. However, the 99 persisted in their beliefs and demands that Jesus could do much greater things if he would only tell and retell the stories that they liked to hear him tell…over and over…again and again….softly and tenderly…for those who are living right and keeping their membership covenant only…like the Father intended. 🙂 (Luke 15 – GDB2 version)
Every story that we tell about God should make more of the life and ministry of Jesus and less about the gory details of our shame and suffering as well as our selfishness and stone heartedness. Bragging about God’s grace is much better than bragging about our sinful past. Nor is it important to highlight how good, faithful, decent folk have been born and raised in the church and never needed God to rescue them. This story highlights the seeking, searching, soul saving nature of our gracious God. God is determined to give grace to the sinner and grace to the saint. Everyone gets grace!!!
Repentance is the singular appropriate response to that gift and all of us should practice it…today…right now…in everything. Repentance is for the one who strays, but it is also for the 99 who kept the faith, but maybe got sideways about the church or something else God was doing. Repentance is for the one who makes a bad decision and follows the wrong spiritual leader, but also for the 99 who in their heart values the politics of their party over the Great Commandment or the Great Commission. Repentance is for the one who has life pound them in the ground so hard that they stop believing God really knows them by name, but it also for the 99 who grumble over first world problems and the privileges they think they are entitled to as Christians. Repentance is for all of God’s people – lost and found. It’s a shame that we reserve it only for the really, really bad, shameful, dirty sinner.
Repent today of anything in your heart that might be against or between you and God. To Repent is to confess, turn away from, and abandon anything that does not honor God in word, thought, and deed. You will not only feel better (confession is good for the soul), but your life will be better for it (and so will others.) You might even hear a song being sung when you do because Jesus tells us “there is more joy in heaven over the 1 who still see their need for God’s grace than the 99 who desire to stand on their own works and ways.” And who doesn’t love good music on a Monday morning?