“The Good Shepherd would not let us perish” Trinity 3 2023

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25. June 2023

Trinity 3

Luke 15:1-7

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Last Sunday, Jesus was with respectable people—rich, religious, honored people. It was a fine house and a sumptuous supper. When Jesus was invited, He went. He did not despise or scorn those people because they were rich. Jesus did not come just for the sake of the poor or just for the sake of the rich. How much money a person had was not the important thing. He had come for all, not for all vaguely and in general, but because every single man, woman, and child needed Him.

The people Jesus had supper with last Sunday did not feel they needed Him because they felt quite sure of themselves. They lived decent lives. They were prominent in the church. They were leaders among God’s chosen people. They had the Scriptures, the Law, and the promises of God. They were the seed of Abraham on whom God must surely look with satisfaction. 

When Jesus came their way, they were interested in what He had to say. People were talking about this man from Nazareth. They wanted to look Him over, to confirm their views, prejudices, and opinions of themselves. Jesus would be useful for their purposes, or they would have to tear Him down and set Him straight according to their way of thinking. 

But whether He came or not, whether He made interesting conversation or was merely an opinionated and boring son of a Nazarene carpenter, didn’t concern them and certainly wouldn’t make any difference to them. That there might be a need for a change in themselves, that they might need or be deeply influenced by Him, was far from their thinking. That Jesus might be their Lord, they didn’t even consider.

To these people, Jesus spoke some hard words. Jesus does not allow Himself to be considered in this detached and condescending way. Jesus forces us to face up to God. When we confront Christ, we must say either yes or no to God, and God can’t be taken in just a little dose.

Jesus’ hosts last Sunday felt they did not need God or acted as if they had God in their back pockets. When God came to them in Christ and called them to Himself, they all, with one consent, began to make excuses. Other things were more important to them. They wanted to keep their lives and interests intact. They were well satisfied with themselves and their lives. They felt no need. Therefore, from Jesus, they received nothing—nothing but rejection. Of His supper, they did not taste.

Today Jesus is the guest with a different set of people. These are the riffraff, the poor, the despised. The sort of people you wouldn’t want to be associated with if you valued what people might say. Their lives hadn’t turned out so well. They had failed of respectability and success and had given themselves to all manner of loose living to fill up their hollow, sinful lives. When Jesus visited them, He didn’t have to tell them they had gone astray and wandered far from God. They knew that quite well. Their trouble was that they doubted whether God would have any use for them. They saw their need and looked to Jesus.

When Jesus received them and went to have supper with them in their home, the respectable people complained. “How can this man be a man of God if He associates with that sort of people?” They were anxious about the cause of God—their sort of God. It was un-hallowing God’s name for a man who claimed to speak for God to be mixed up with such disreputable people. God’s business was with the good people, the decent and respectable, with people like themselves.

How completely they misunderstood God’s business, Jesus shows in the parable of the lost sheep. God’s business is bringing and keeping lost sheep close to Himself so they may be forgiven and have the achievement and joy God wants them to have. Jesus came to give all that to us. When some said they didn’t need Him, Jesus turned to others who knew their need. It was not that He approved of their sin but that they needed Him so badly. Last Sunday, it was the poor, the lame, and the blind that received the fellowship and food of Christ. Today it is the lost sheep.

Now a sheep is the most helpless and foolish of all animals—Schafskopf (“mutton head”). Sheep need constant care, watching, and protection. By themselves, they are easy prey. All is well with them only when they stay close together within the shepherd’s care. They can’t go at it alone. So when Jesus calls us sheep, He says some basic things about us. We should cling together close to the Shepherd. But the big point of today’s parable is about the sheep that goes wrong and gets lost.

If you have ever heard the bleating of a lamb separated from the flock and lost, you will know how pitiful its plight is. Its peril and need are great, and to this need, a good shepherd makes a ready response. A hireling will, of course, not worry much, for what is a single sheep there or there among so many? A hireling thinks only of the less or more of his own advantage. 

The shepherd to whom the sheep belong has quite another feeling. He does not think numerically but individually. When one sheep goes astray and is in danger, he leaves the ninety-and-nine and goes after the lost one until he finds it. This is not more or less in Jesus’ love for any particular sheep. He does not love the ninety and nine the less because He leaves them and searches for the lost one. He would do the same for each one of them. 

A good mother loves all her children, but when one of them gets sick, she gives all her attention to that child, worries, and cares for it so the sick child may soon be better again. This does not mean she has ceased loving her other children, but one child is sick and needs special love and care. As it is with a good mother, so it is with a good shepherd. Special needs call for special care.

Most of us have been with the flock since infancy by our Baptism, with the community of God’s people, among whom is our safety and welfare. You can’t be a member of the flock in isolation. A sheep that is separated from the flock is a lost sheep. Sometimes we have gone our own way, deserted the flock and the shepherd. Left to ourselves we would perish, drugged and poisoned by the noxious weeds of the world, the prey of that lion who walks about seeking whom he may devour and torn by the sharp teeth of fear and uncertainty.

But the Good Shepherd would not let us perish. He came after us, patiently and lovingly, and carried us back on His shoulders to the flock. On our wounds and injuries, Jesus poured the balm of forgiveness, and for our hunger, He gave the food of His Word and the fellowship of His family. If we are in the flock today, we must confess that Jesus has often come after us and carried us back.

When we stray, we know that it is we who stray; when we are brought back, we know it is He who has brought us back. We can call ourselves “His” today and hereafter because of the Lord’s mercy. Here is our reliance and certainty, not in our respectability, decent lives, or anything of us. It is only in the unfailing mercy of our Shepherd, so patient and so good.

To be in the flock means to be guided by the Shepherd, to follow His bidding and example, and that means sharing His concern for the lost sheep. We may not, like the Pharisees, ignore the lost sheep and write them off as not good enough, not fit to be associated with Christ and ourselves. Nor may we, like the prodigal’s elder brother, resent the special effort for the lost son and claim that if anybody is to be bothered, it must be me.

We know ourselves to have been so often lost sheep. We know what it means to be a lost sheep, to be found, and to be borne back to the flock on the shoulders of the Shepherd. We want other lost sheep to know that too. We do not have to look far to find lost sheep. Within the circle of our own family and friends, we find them. Near us, many wandering are lost from the Shepherd and the flock. 

When we go after the lost sheep and seek them out, we show Jesus what it means to us that He has sought us out and brought us back to the fold. In doing this, we are promised a share in the angels’ joy. This joy is God’s goal for us. Joy is never in isolation. Separate from Christ and His flock, this joy is lost to us. The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep. His joy is in us knit together, sharing the angels’ joy over lost people brought to life in Christ. His never-ending work is to restore you repeatedly by Word, absolution, baptism, and His Supper. Today, Jesus sets the table for you—rich, religious, honored people—or the riffraff, the poor, the despised. Come, eat and drink and be restored again.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin

Based on a sermon by the Rv. Dr. Norman Nagel, may he rest in peace.