given on Sunday, September 12, 2010
Undoubtedly this week has been a challenge. The workweek had its challenges, people provided challenges, and nature had a few in there, too. Sometimes life gets so demanding that God seems so far away. What are we suppose to do?
Reading scriptures this week did not seem to provide any major direction. Prayer was often forgotten. No time to call on a friend. Escape was not an option. Why even preparing comfort food seemed out of the question, especially since so much comfort food takes time and an oven—remember, the summer weather still prevailed.
What is a person to do?
A good night’s sleep helps, and some quiet helps. Unfortunately those even seemed evasive
Fortunately, as demanding as a day gets, I am able to get up in the morning and start fresh. I expect many of you can say the same thing; and I believe it is because we have God’s grace in our lives each and every day. For those lost sheep who do not have God with them, I expect each morning is pretty tough.
When I was growing up, the stained glass window that captured my attention each Sunday was the one telling the parable of the lost sheep. Today, I still am captivated by the image of Jesus holding that one lamb in his arm while others follow behind him. He even used the other hand to hold the shepherd’s hook. For some reason, that particular picture sooths me.
The parable turned out to be in this week’s lectionary. I know it is one that is so familiar that none of us think much about it any more, but consider how come:
- We have heard that story since we were kids in Sunday School,
- We see that picture in almost all the churches we have attended,
- We see that picture in almost all the Christian children’s books,
- We have heard sermons on the parable regularly, and
- We no longer think we are a lost sheep—so why pay attention.
That last reason may be our weakness. If we think we are no longer lost, then maybe, just maybe, that is why our days and our weeks seem to take a toll on us.
The other readings from the lectionary seem so dismal. The verses from Jeremiah certainly did not provide me any sense of encouragement and love. The one verse that did stand out was Jeremiah 4:22:
“My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good.”
I know the words are not the uplifting, pleasant verses exuding hope. Instead they are almost mean-sounding. In fact, reading that verse and looking at the context from which they come, do not tell me about God’s grace, rather it talks of his punishment.
At no time are we exempt from becoming lost sheep. Life’s challenges can quickly derail a soul and cause one to become lost. Everyday we do wake up, we are at risk of becoming lost. What prevents us from losing our way and from turning away from God?
Go back to the parable of the lost sheep. Look at those words. Think about your own life:
4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
Each one of us has had times when we have lost something. For some, we have a child that has wondered away from the teachings we have tried to instill within them. Maybe on a more literal plane we have had a sheep, a calf, or a pet who was lost. Maybe the one that was lost was a friend. Still each time we have had a loss, we do everything we can to ‘find’ that lost one. We leave all the others in our lives or in the field just to go out and ‘find’ the lost one. We willingly risk ourselves to find the lost. Does it not make sense to think that God loves each one of us so much, that when we begin down the wrong path, He does everything he can to keep us in the fold?
There are times when I personally can look back over my own life and see times when I began to wander. At the time, I felt really good about the path I was following, but something, some internal voice started calling me back. The hard part was figuring out what to do. Which way should I turn? Who should I listen to? Where should I go?
As a lost sheep, I was afraid. Sometimes I would feel almost frozen into place unable to move. At other times, someone was encouraging me to go the wrong way. The quiet, persistent internal voice never gave up. God stayed with me. God would not give up. God’s voice grew louder and louder, and I began to turn towards it. I returned. And with the return came unexpected joy flooded over me. That joy, that sense of being back with God is truly one of the most remarkable experiences one can have in this earthly life we are given.
If being found and joining in God’s loving community is that rewarding, then I can only imagine how God feels, too:
5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
Another way I can relate to God’s sense of joy is by experiencing that sense of relief and flooding joy when I find something lost of my own. The parable gives our minds something to consider, but complete understanding comes from experiencing it. Maybe what is lost is only the car key; but that key represents mobility, getting to the doctor’s office, answering a call from a family member or friend in need, and so much more. Losing the key places you in chaos. When you find it buried at the bottom of the purse or right there on the table by the door, the sense of anxiety simply vanishes—like a puff of smoke on a windy day. All the negative thoughts are gone, replaced with joy. Joy that releases you and lets you return to the task at hand.
God knows us personally. He has granted us grace, love, from the very beginning of life. He has invested his time and energy to love us—not just one of us, but all of us. He has entrusted us with a purpose, to love one another. He expects us to share his grace with others who are lost. Are we doing that? Are we extending God’s grace to others each and every day? If we know God’s grace, then we can do all that we can to help others know that unconditional love. The parable ends with the result:
7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Everyday we meet life’s challenges with God’s grace. We meet together on Sundays to continue worship and to renew our God energy to meet the challenges of a new workweek. We read devotionals and scriptures to keep our power source strong. We share our thoughts with each other to strengthen our understanding of God’s grace and how to use what he has taught us. We have discipline and we use it to grow in love. Every day we experience God’s grace.
We have been lost at one time or another. Even Paul, possibly the greatest missionary in the history of the church, was lost. He did not know God’s love during his early years. Yet God kept searching for him and found him, just like God searched for each of us and found us. Paul shared his story, and other lost sheep were found.
In his letter to Timothy, we see how much joy Paul felt once he was found and received God’s grace:
12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
If Paul can be found, then each one of us is found, too. If Paul recognizes God’s grace, then we can, too. If Paul can ask for God’s forgiveness and move on in his life sharing God’s love with others, then we can too. In today’s world, we must continue Paul’s work. Hear his directions to Tim in today’s words of the Message:
15-19Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.
Deep honor and bright glory
to the King of All Time—
One God, Immortal, Invisible,
ever and always. Oh, yes!
I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight we’re in.
Today, just one of those typical Sundays you have experienced before, you are challenged. God found Paul and gave him the task. Paul found Timothy and gave him the task. Has God found you? If he has, you are tasked; too, to carry God’s love to other lost sheep. You are to take the joy of God’s love with you each and every day as you look for the lost sheep around you. If you feel lost, then turn to God. Listen to his voice and follow him. The everyday challenges that cause you to be lost can be transformed by God’s grace when you are found.
Dear Loving Shepherd,
I have been lost, and I now am found. I have everyday challenges, but I find your grace each and every day. I may not always love as you would have me love, but I try. I try because I know your love. You knew we were lost, so you came as Jesus to personally find each and every one of us. Help me to find other lost sheep and share your grace and glory with them. –Amen