08 07 11 The 1 and The 99

My sermon from August 7th, 2011 based on Luke 15:1-7.  1 0f 3 in “Found!” series.

In 1991 Dire Straits reunited to record one last album, an album titled, “On Every Street.” The fourth single released from that album was ultimately the last single ever released by the band and I’m not sure that it ever gained much notoriety or attention. That is, until a year later when it was recorded and released by Mary Chapin Carpenter. The song is called simply “The Bug.” Anyone remember the first lines of the chorus to the song? “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug…”

This morning we begin a three-week series that we’re simply calling, Found! Today and for the two weeks that follow we’ll be working through the parables that Jesus tells in Luke 15. Before jumping into the first parable, let’s take just a minute and make sure that we understand the context of what is happening around and to Jesus when he shares these teachings.

Luke 15 opens with two verses that are quite telling regarding all that Jesus says here. 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.”

There is clearly tension leading up to Jesus sharing these parables. The things that Jesus has been teaching and the miracles that he has been performing are drawing people to him, but they’ not the right people, at least not according to the religious leaders of the day. Luke tells us that the tax collectors and the sinners are coming near to Jesus to hear what he has to say. The Pharisees and the scribes, the leaders of the religious establishment, aren’t happy about this and so they begin to grumble. I can hear the scribes and the Pharisees saying, “WE don’t like the fact that THEY are coming to hear what Jesus has to say…”

And as Jesus hears the grumbling he tells three different parables, the first of them is this… “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.

Early this week as I began finalizing my thoughts for today’s sermon I looked back at some notes that I made in early May. At that time I was wrestling with two different ideas, trying to decide which direction I wanted to go with this sermon. There is a great sermon in this parable about the reality that God pursues us when we distance ourselves from God and that God seeks to bring us back into community and relationship with God and others when we wander. There is also a great sermon in this parable about what it means for the church to be a part of the 99 about the reality that sometimes we are left to fend for ourselves and to care for one another as the 1 who is lost is sought and pursued.

Sometimes we’re the windshield. Sometimes we’re the bug.

Sometimes we’re the 1. Sometimes we’re the 99.

In the parable of the shepherd who goes to find the 1 lost sheep we see a powerful illustration of the reality that God desperately wants to be in relationship with us and seeks us even when we wander and even when we stray. The story of a young man named James illustrates this reality.

James grew up in and was confirmed in his United Methodist Church. After confirmation he felt this little nudge encouraging him to really invest in his faith and to get more involved with things in the church, but as he started high school he found himself becoming busier and busier. He attended worship with his family most Sundays, but there were many when it was hard to stay awake after late nights on Friday and Saturday night both.

Though church was still important to him and it was something that he did with his family each week, his time in the pews on Sunday mornings didn’t really impact anything about how he thought or the things that he did during the rest of the week. James kept feeling a little nudge to invest more time in his faith but he knew that he needed to have good grades and to put together a resume with lots of activities on it so that he could get into the college of his choice. He more or less kept his faith on the back burner.

When James graduated from high school he moved away from home to go to college. On his first couple of weekends on campus James went to a local United Methodist Church, but it just wasn’t the same as home. The music wasn’t the same. He didn’t know the pastor. People didn’t know him. There really weren’t very many people there his age. By his third week on campus the pile of dirty laundry was enormous, James was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading that he had to do, and he was exhausted by some of the late nights he had recently had.

He felt a little nudge telling him he needed to find a community of faith and that he needed to spend time reading scripture or praying and that it would be good to go to church to find these things. Nonetheless he decided that it would be ok to sleep in on that one Sunday morning and to then go to spend the day catching up on laundry and reading for classes. He’d go back to church the next week he told himself.

The next worship service he attended was Christmas Eve with his family back at his home church. He continued to feel those little nudges to invest some energy in his relationship with God, to maybe find a church home, but he kept telling himself he’d get around to it next week.

James graduated from college, got married, moved to a new community, started a job, began to have kids, and suddenly in his late 30’s James realized that it had been years since he had gone to church. His parents had continued to mention their desire for him to go to church, but he had tuned them out years ago. Some of his friend and co-workers had invited him to attend church with them at various times, but he had always had a reason not to go. He was convinced that he simply didn’t have the time. For many years he explained away a sense of guilt that he felt by saying, “I don’t have to go to church to have a relationship with God.” But when he was most honest with himself he didn’t really feel a connection to God anymore. He had stopped feeling or being aware of those subtle nudges years ago.

Over time life with work and his wife and his kids became increasingly stressful. His parents were both in declining health and he felt pinched between a variety of obligations pushing in on him for a multitude of directions. One morning at work James had an incredibly frustrating and difficult meeting and during his lunch break he left the office and drove to a United Methodist Church that was down the road. He found the door unlocked and the sanctuary open and he went in to sit. As he sat there he felt a rush of emotion pouring over him. His mind flooded with memories of hymns and scripture readings from his childhood. He wondered if God could really love him, especially after how far he had wandered. And as he sat there he found himself silently praying that God was still there for him, especially after all that time.

Many of us are like James to varying degrees. Few of us have done terrible horrible degenerate things, but many of us have strayed and have wandered and have at one point or another in our lives found ourselves distanced from and no longer even seeking to listen to the voice of God calling out to us. The good news is that when we do wander, we serve a God who seeks us, who reaches out to us, and who rejoices and celebrates when we are found.

God’s love and grace and forgiveness are constantly reaching out to us. Those nudges that James experienced, those loving inquiries from his parents, those invitations from friends to attend church were all God reaching out and seeking to connect and calling James to return to relationship with God and relationship with others. God’s love is an incredible gift and I believe that once we have experienced it and come to understand it from the perspective of the 1 lost sheep, then we can better live into what it means to be a part of the 99.

Sometimes we’re the 1 and the good news is that God loves us and seeks us even when we wander and even when we stray. Sometimes we’re the 99…

In both old and New Testament times the image of a shepherd was used to represent a religious leader. I imagine you have heard conversation about a pastor shepherding a congregation. Maybe you have heard a congregation referred to as a flock. And if a congregation is a flock, let’s take just a minute to explore what Jesus’ parable might have to teach about being a community of faith today.

As individual members of the church we come together as a community of individuals who have experienced God’s love and God’s grace. We come together to celebrate that love and to grow in that love. On Sunday mornings and during the week one model that exists is that of me as your shepherd and you as my flock. Expanding upon this idea, there might be times when you as the 99 are called to care for one another and to tend to one another as I am out in the community seeking to connect to the 1 who has wandered or who is lost. But I don’t want us to get stuck in the idea that I as your pastor am the only one who is out to be seeking the lost. Let’s expand this just a bit.

One of the labels that we give to Jesus is that he is the good shepherd. Jesus as a shepherd reaches out to seek and to find lost sheep. But I invite you to think about this… we as the church, as the 99, are called to be the body of Christ in the world. You see where I’m going with this…? If we’re called to be the body of Christ in the world, what might it look like for us as the 99 to take an active role as the body of Christ to be the good shepherd in the world to play a part in the searching and the seeking and the finding of those who are lost…

Those who know the good shepherd have been richly blessed by God’s love that calls to us, that forgives us, that heals us, that gives us meaning and purpose. And we’re called to share that love with others and to reach out and to invite others to come and to experience God’s love and God’s grace in and through our community.

We have some incredible opportunities this week to do this very thing, to reach out and to seek those sheep who are lost and to invite them to be a part of God’s work in our community of faith. Tuesday evening we’ll be participating in the fair parade. I am confident that this will be a lot of fun for everyone who participates, but our presence also sends a message to the community. By choosing to gather together as the church outside of these walls and at a time outside of Sunday morning, we show the community that we believe in a God who loves all of the community and that we want to be a part of loving the community as well.

At the fair all week we’ll be sharing water with people and collecting prayer requests for the community. Both of these simple acts of service and prayer show the community an element of who we are and how we understand God to be working in and through our lives. At the fair we’ll also be sharing invitations for people to come and join us in worship in the coming weeks. We’ll be giving a tangible gift, a fan to help beat the heat at the fair.

These ideas: to be in the parade, to have a booth at the fair, to collect prayer requests at the fair, to give out water at the fair, to give out fans at the fair, to invite people to church through those fans, none of these ideas were mine! Each of these ideas came from different members of the congregation who were thinking creatively about how to reach out and to invite others to be a part of what is happening in our community of faith.

Sometimes we’re the 1 and in those times we are blessed to experience God’s unconditional love poured out into our lives. It is my hope and prayer that you have opportunities to experience God’s amazing and unconditional love through your worshipping with and participation in this community of faith.

Sometimes we’re the 99, sometimes we’re called to care for one another, and to reach out into the world sharing God’s love and inviting others to be a part of God’s work in this community of faith. It is my hope and prayer that as you experience God’s love you will step out in faith and invite others to be a part of the things happening here.

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