Sermon Pentecost 17
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I would like you to think back for a moment and try to remember the worst thing you ever did when you were a kid. The thing that your parents would have been extremely angry about. Really, really angry. Maybe they found out, maybe they never knew. But, if they did know, they would have been absolutely furious. No need to confess out loud, just think about it.
Maybe you are remembering something, but you didn’t actually do it. You thought about doing it. You knew better though. But, maybe one of your sisters or brothers did it. You knew that this deed would have been the worst thing ever in your parents’ eyes.
Perhaps you were a good kid. You can’t think of a thing. Nothing that bad happened when you were growing up. But, maybe you were the parent and your kids did something really awful. And you were furious. So mad you couldn’t see straight.
You know the kind of anger I am talking about. The kind where one parent says to the other, “Do you know what your son did? Do you know what your daughter did?” The kind of anger where you don’t even want to claim the child as your own? You have to be reminded that you do indeed still love them and they are still your child no matter what they did.
Moses was up on Mount Sinai talking to the LORD. The people of Israel were camped out at the base of the mountain waiting for Moses. They thought Moses was taking too long up there talking with the LORD. Forty days and forty nights is a really long time.
These Israelites were not a patient bunch of folks. They decided that something must have happened to both Moses and the LORD. They got together and decided that enough time had passed that they could replace the LORD with another god.
Of course, the LORD sees everything from up on the mountain and when they started making that golden calf, the LORD was furious. The LORD turned to Moses and said, “Your people have acted perversely…”
Moses isn’t happy either, but he reminded the LORD that the Israelites were still God’s people. Even though they were acting like God was dead, even though they worshiping a god of their own making, and even though God was burning with rage, God still loved them, and decided not send a disaster to destroy them all.
Instead, the LORD did the opposite. The LORD sent Moses down with the gift of the Law. God changed their evil into an opportunity for good, a teaching moment, perhaps.
Our LORD God is the parent who still loves us and welcomes us no matter what. We all know we aren’t perfect. We accept that we can’t be perfect. We even have an acceptable percentage of failure for most things in life.
We start the school year knowing that we probably won’t get straight A’s, much less get 100% on every paper and every test. Many times we are happy with a passing grade. We even realize that not everyone will pass, not everyone will graduate.
We can hope for a winning season, but we know that our teams won’t always win every game.
We accept that some people will be without a job and we seem happy when the jobless rate is below 5%. Even marriages start out with the knowledge that some of them will end in divorce.
So, losing one sheep out of a hundred isn’t that bad. You might even say it is a pretty good percentage. I would be pretty happy to get 99% on a test. But, with God, every sheep counts.
Jesus asks, “4Which 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?
Which one of you? The answer is nobody. None of us would do that. God would though.
God looks at our value system with its built in level of failure, and confronts it with mercy and grace, forgiveness and love. God is not content with having most of the flock. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves every one of the sheep. He even loves the sheep who make really bad decisions, wander off, forget who they belong to, and make up their own god.
God loves each and every sheep so much that Jesus himself even goes out and finds the one who separates itself from the others, the one who doesn’t even notice that the rest of the flock has found a greener pasture.
With God, no one is lost forever. We might say, “You can’t win them all.” We might think 99% is a really good grade. Not for God, though.
It isn’t just the lost sheep and the lost children that Jesus finds. God doesn’t waste anything. With God, nothing is worthless. Everything can be saved. God rescues our bad decisions and bad behavior and transforms them, too. God used the unfaithfulness of the Israelites in the wilderness as an opportunity to teach them the laws of the Covenant.
God uses their story as a reminder for us. Whenever we think God has left us alone, the LORD reminds us that we do not ever need to make our own gods out of gold. We will always have a God who loves us as God’s own dear children. God loves us and finds us even when we do the things that make God absolutely furious.
God’s love for us changes everything. Everyone who is lost can be transformed, and every bad mistake, every bad deed can be redeemed. God was able to transform the greatest evil ever done, the killing of his own dear Son, into the salvation of the whole world.
Being lost isn’t just about our individual relationship with God. It has to do with our connections with each other. When one is lost, the whole community suffers. When we are disconnected from people we know and love, no matter what the reason, a part of us is lost as well.
What happens when God finds us? The parable ends this way:
5When he (the shepherd) has found it (the sheep), he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’
If we are honest, this is not the way we’d like for this parable to end. We’d rather for Jesus to say,
“When he (the shepherd) has found it (the lost sheep),
he carries it on his shoulders…
When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors,
and they say to the lost sheep, ‘Well, it’s about time…
I hope you learned your lesson…
You can come back this time,
but it’d better not happen again.'”
That’s not the way the parable ends though, is it? The way Jesus told the parable, the shepherd and all of his friends and neighbors rejoiced.
In fact, Jesus goes on to say,
“7Just 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.”
With God, no one, nothing is lost. When the lost sheep is restored, the whole community rejoices, all of the friends and neighbors rejoice. The lost sheep is restored to its rightful place in the community. And all the angels in heaven have a party and celebrate. Amen.