The Parable of the Lost SheepLuke 15:1-7 (NRSV)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 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.’ 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.
We begin every Sunday service in Oldtown with the words, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are always welcome here.” The truth is, we are all unique and individual, and none of us stand in the same space, let alone in the same shoes.
There are always people who make more money than us or live in bigger houses than us. There are always people that are more dedicated to their jobs than us and happier with what they have than us. But there are also those who make less and live in tougher situations. There are people who are unable to work and those who struggle to find joy in anything.
The important thing to remember is that no matter who we are, or where we are on life’s journey, we are all loved just the way we are, no matter where we live or what we do, no matter how we look at the world around us, what we look like, or what makes us happy.
Friends, wherever you are in this very moment, you may not be where you dream to be or where you want to be, but it is where you are in this moment, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the problem comes when we allow judgment into the mix, whether we are judging others or we are feeling judged ourselves.
During the season of Lent this year in Oldtown, we are trying our best to look at scripture and the world around us through the lens of love, just like Jesus did. Jesus ate with sinners. He met with tax collectors. He welcomed prostitutes, and he reached out to the sick and the lame and the unclean. And through it all, he never insisted that they come and meet him. He always went out and met there where they were.
The Pharisees and the scribes, or the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, never approved of Jesus’ actions. They would call him out for lowering himself to such wretched standards and for allowing “those people” close to him, let alone, meeting them in their own homes or the places where they were. But Jesus didn’t let that bother him. He had an amazing way of teaching others that love is the most important thing, which he did by the examples he set in his own life and the stories he told.
One particular day when he was being chastised by the religious leaders for eating with sinners and tax collectors, he told a story–a story about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. As the story goes, they were out in the field enjoying some nice warm weather, when suddenly the shepherd realized that one of his sheep was missing.
Now the shepherd had several choices. He could stay, taking care of the majority of the sheep. After all, they were the well-behaved ones that followed the directions. He could call out for the lost sheep in hopes that it would hear his voice and return. Or he could leave the ninety-nine and go out in search of the one that was lost.
So what do think? What did the shepherd do? Without a moment’s thought, the shepherd headed down the hill, leaving the ninety-nine, to search for the one lost sheep. He searched high and low. He searched across streams and through bramble bushes until he finally arrived just where the sheep was.
Now you might expect that the shepherd was angry at the lost sheep and frustrated that it had wandered off. But on the contrary, the shepherd reached out and picked up that beloved sheep, carrying it gently back to the fold, and then celebrated its safe return.
Now did the shepherd’s choice to leave the ninety-nine mean that the shepherd cared more about the one? No. The shepherd loved all of his sheep, but he knew that one was lost and hurting and in the most need of help.
Friends, the shepherd didn’t know why the sheep wandered off, just like we don’t always understand what it is like to stand in the shoes of another. But the truth is, we don’t need to fully understand. All we need to do is meet people where they are, and reach out to them with love. Sure, we can ask them how they are, or what their story is if they are feeling judged or misunderstood or unloved or lonely. But the most important thing is to love them no matter what situation they are in, leaving the comfort of our own space to meet them right where they are.
Unfortunately, this is the point that we often miss in the church. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we lose track of our true call. We focus on things that we like and the things that make us comfortable. Sure, we invite the community to come to us and to worship with us, but we quickly forget about our call to go out and meet people where they are. And in so doing, we care for the ninety-nine, forgetting about the one that is lost and lonely and in need of the most help.
Friends, in the week ahead, I pray that you might reach out to others with love, stepping out to meet them where they are. But I also pray that you might come to understand the love of God in your own life knowing that no matter whatever you have done, or left undone, or wherever you are on life’s journey, God is always there, loving you unconditionally, right where you are!