Who’s Watching the Ninety-Nine?
September 15, 2019 - Sermon Text: Luke 15:1-10
Today, we often live with a sense of urgency. There is always something that needs to be done right now. And, to make matters worse, we misplace or lose those things that are necessary in order for us to get those urgent things done. We need to get out the door and get quickly over to a doctor’s appointment and suddenly we can’t find the car keys.
The Manager of the city of Kamloops’ Parks and Recreation needed to call one of his employees about an urgent problem with one of the financial reports for the Hockey Tournament. He dialed the employee’s home telephone number and was greeted with a child’s whispered, "Hello?" Feeling just a little bit put out at the inconvenience of having to talk to a youngster, the manager asked, "is you Daddy home?" "Yes," whispered the small voice. "May I talk with him," the man asked. To his surprise the small voice whispered, "No." Wanting to talk with an adult, the manager asked, "Is your mommy there?" "Yes”, the small voice answered. "Then, may I talk with her" asked the man. Again, the small voice whispered, "No."
Knowing that it’s unlikely that this small child would have been left alone, the manager decided he would just leave a message with the person who should be present in the house watching the child. And so the manager asked the child "is there any one there besides you?" "Yes," whispered the child, "a policeman." Wondering what a policeman would be doing at his employee’s home, the manager asked, "May I speak with the policeman?" "No, he is busy," whispered the child. "Busy doing what” asked the frustrated manager. "He is talking to my daddy and mommy and to the fireman," came the whispered reply.
Growing more troubled with every passing moment the manager hears something unusual and asks; "what’s that noise?" "A hello-copper," answered the whispering voice. “What’s going on there” asked the manager, now anxious and alarmed. In an awed whispering voice, the child answered; "the search team just landed the hello-copper!" Concerned and more than just a little frustrated, the manager asked, "why are they all there?" Still whispering, the young voice replied (along with a muffled giggle) "they’re all looking for me!"
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4) or “suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8).
When we lose something that is important to us, we also search diligently until we find it. Sometimes, we misplace things and simply forget where we put them. Other times, things might wander away under their own power. Once, when our daughter Amy was still quite young, she had a pet hamster in a cage in her bedroom. Once, when we went shopping, somebody forgot to close the cage door and that hamster wondered away. We searched the house diligently and finally found her alive and hiding in a crevice in the wall.
The heavenly Father considers all of His human children very important to Him as the parable of the Lost Sheep teaches us. All too often, we wander away from our God and His Church. It’s simply easier to do something else on Sunday than going to church although the Bible warns us to “not [give] giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25). Others don’t simply wander away, but they also want to hide from God. “I heard you in the garden” replied Adam, “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” Genesis 3:10). Others get mad at God and simply want to run away and have nothing to do with Him.
And in fact, we can’t hide or run away from God. “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:8). Wherever we wander, wherever we roam, wherever we hide, God will wander and roam with us and He will find us. We may wander far away from God in our life-time and we might even find ourselves lost, alone or in trouble. But we are God’s beloved children and God cares very much about us and God will search after us.
Sometimes today, our kids or grand-kids push the panic button when they can’t find that special toy, stuffed animal or blanket. Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip portrayed this wonderfully in one cartoon strip when Linus’ security blanket (series of five carton clips) had to be washed. Sometimes, in life, we hold so tightly to certain things or ideas that we have anxiety or panic attacks when we lose those things or when they are taken away from us even for a moment.
Schultz was making the point that we adults are not all that different from children in many ways. We are also quick to push our own panic buttons when we have misplaced our cell phones, our wallets or our keys. Nothing can be more disconcerting than searching from one end of the house to the other to locate the missing car keys – when you are late and rushing out the door. Those incidents are no less severe for us than for a child misplacing a favourite toy because there is no peace until that which was lost is found. And, we might go so far as to say the same is true of our heavenly Father. The panic button has been pressed and there is no peace in heaven until everything which is lost is found. No matter how far away way we may stray from God or how much we might try to hide from God -the Father seeks us out & finds us.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). The parable speaks loudly and clearly to the modern church – doesn’t it? It’s not about the “ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). We all know what it’s about. It’s all about those other people; who don’t ever come to church, or maybe they only show up twice a year; Christmas and Easter. They expect the church to be there for them, when they need a baptism, a wedding or a funeral, but they aren’t willing to support the church in any way.
And what about those people living in situations or life-choices that we don’t agree with; wearing their cap or tuques or turban all the time, who may not have washed themselves or their clothes in weeks, who smell like alcohol, tobacco or worse, who are just plain different from us. If we are honest with ourselves, those are the people whom we wouldn’t want to see in our church anyway because they aren’t a very righteous bunch like the ninety-nine who have been left behind to watch over the church while the shepherd is out seeking the one who is lost.
You see, the righteous ninety-nine churchy people who have been left behind to watch over the sheepfold have already labelled those people as the ones who are too far gone, who have moved so far away from God that they are lost and there is no hope and no sense in seeking after them any longer. They’ve made their own beds. They have chosen to be where they are. They’re out there, on their own, in the sinful dark world - and there is nothing we can do to bring them back.
That’s kind of the same way the ninety-nine righteous people of the first century also believed. Notice the context and audience for this morning’s parable. “The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”” (Luke 15:1). How horrible! The Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day also labelled the undesirable people in their society. They often accused Jesus of eating and drinking with them - with those sinners they often called them. They were the people who were so far gone, so lost and so sinful and so unclean that the ninety-nine righteous religious people did not associate with them at all.
Knowing that “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered” (Luke 15:2) about those people; the tax collectors and the sinners, Jesus tells all of his listeners two parables, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin in order to make a point. The first half of the parable is directed at those people who have been ostracized and labelled by the righteous. No matter how lost, no matter how far from God or from the church we have wandered, no matter how sinful someone may be Jesus (the Good Shepherd) still seeks and looks and searches for them. No matter how far gone we might think another person may be, it’s with more love than we can imagine that the Father seeks after them. It’s with the same love that God sought after us.
No matter how horrible the lives of those people might look, Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to take care of themselves and His Church while He is out seeking the lost in order to bring them back into His sheepfold. Of course, we know that we were once also lost sinners “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are thankful that Jesus sought us out through the cross so that we could also experience the Father’s love and forgiveness. But those people are much worse sinners than we could ever imagine; disrespectful, unclean, unkempt and unfaithful. They are worse sinners than any of us; than the ninety-nine could ever be. Like the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, Jesus is pointing out to us that we have also become as self-conceited as “the ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
Jesus’ parable doesn’t make any sense to us who have been left behind in the sheepfold anymore because we consider the lost, those who have moved away from the church as the sinners who are permanently lost to us. In many churches, we actually write it right into our legal documents and constitutions; in effect saying that the church should take care of its own. The church should take care of those who show up faithfully to worship and who contribute financially to the life of the church, while we remove from membership those who don’t. As such, the church should take care of the ninety-nine and not go wandering off in order to find the one, two or three sheep who have wandered off and who are missing or lost.
But when we talk about the Father’s mercy, grace, love and faithfulness for all His children, we find that Jesus always goes further than the way we think and believe. He doesn’t write anyone off or cut anyone out as He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus never gives up on anyone. He continues to pursue, to search and to seek so that every single one of the sheep might know just how much we are loved by God.
When we find something important to us, which was lost, we rejoice in finding what was lost. It’s a relief and also a great joy, after we have relentlessly searched for something which was lost and now is found. “When she finds it [the lost coin], she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin’” (Luke 15:9). Rejoicing is central to both of Jesus’ parables today. Rejoicing is also an important part of our lives because we are not the ninety-nine righteous, but instead the lost sinners who have chosen the path which leads to eternal death. We have wandered off. Honestly, we are lost, but the Father seeks after us, finds us and brings us back in order to show us how much we are loved.
Both of these parables describe how Jesus relentlessly and tirelessly searches after us. When somebody has been found by our God, and they are brought back into our fellowship, it is supposed to be a great time of rejoicing and celebrating. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10) - who changes the direction of their life. This is also an occasion to celebrate and rejoice on the earth!
But, when some people read these parables, they think that the Father is almost, let’s say foolish, because of the way He rejoices and celebrates. Imagine, comparing the Father to a widow who having found her lost coin throws a party to celebrate the fact that she has found that one lost coin? I don’t think any of us would throw a party and invite neighbours and friends if we found our lost keys? It does sound somewhat ridiculous and foolish - doesn’t it?
But in reality, it’s not foolish in the eyes of God. It’s actually very important to God. God invites the whole cosmos to rejoice with Him over finding one lost soul. What has been lost has been found! As we worship, we always need to remember the wonderful opportunity we have to joyfully celebrate that God has found us and that we are forgiven sinners. God has washed us clean through the water of Baptism. We are the ninety-nine righteous who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ who not only found us but also gives us his body and who shed his precious blood on the cross in order that we might be fed & united with Him & His Church.
When we consider the Bible to be the living and incarnate Christ, who is also speaking to us today, we will discover that we are also part of the audience listening to Jesus’ parables today. These parables are intended for all of us, for the ninety-nine redeemed-sinners who cannot by our own power find our way back to God. Without Jesus we are lost. But the Word speaks to us and tells us that the Father loves us, relentlessly seeks after us, in order to finds us and takes care of us. It’s a message of great joy about God’s loving and powerful message of amazing love and acceptance so that no matter how far we have moved away from God – we might know that God is still seeking after us in order to bring us back into His sheepfold.
Copyright © 2019 St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops
THIS WEEK'S MESSAGE
St. Andrew's Lutheran Church is the Founding Perish of the