Rejoice with Me!

“Rejoice with Me!”

Luke 15:1-10 (15:6-7) – September 11, 2022

Lost and found—this concept is very real and meaningful to my children. I have four children, and at various times, they have had to go looking for various possessions of theirs. You know, small items, things that were very precious to them somehow got lost. And oftentimes, they were persistent in looking for those precious things.

            I can remember when my son was younger, probably in first grade. He had a favorite stocking cap he wore almost every day in the winter. He wore it to school, out to play, on the weekends, almost everywhere. And then one day it got lost. My son could not find it anywhere. He was heartbroken at the loss of this precious stocking cap—precious to my son, at least. We searched everywhere—and I mean everywhere—in the house, in the car, in his classroom, in his locker. He even looked in the lost and found at his school. Sadly, we never could find it.

            Can you relate? Have you ever lost anything that was precious to you? Maybe not valuable in a monetary sense, but precious to you, your very favorite. Losing something precious can be quite a blow.

            This is exactly what our Lord Jesus talked about in our scripture passage today. He tells the parables of the lost things. In fact, one nickname for this chapter, Luke 15, is the chapter of the lost things—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.

Our scripture reading today tells us about the lost sheep. We will leave the parable of the lost son, or the Prodigal, for another time and another sermon.

            How precious was that sheep the shepherd lost? Let’s back up, and think about the parable our Lord told. He mentioned one hundred sheep belonging to this shepherd. One hundred sheep. A good-sized flock for one shepherd. And out of those one hundred sheep, one gets lost. We aren’t told how the sheep gets lost. The sheep could have done any number of typical things sheep do—sheep cannot just take care of themselves. This particular sheep could have wandered off, or lallygagged behind, or stubbornly gone its own way. We don’t know.

            What we do know, from what Jesus said, is that the sheep is lost. Gone. Missing.

If a statistical analysis is done of this flock of one hundred sheep, what are some possible extenuating factors? Certainly, the rocky hills of much of the area and the subsistence-level terrain have a bearing on the well-being of the flock. And the difficulty of finding water can also be a factor. Statistically speaking, losing only one sheep out of one hundred is not much at all, not when the shepherd is dealing with such unfavorable conditions. From a loss prevention point of view, this percentage – one percent – of loss may very well be acceptable.

            But this is not taking into consideration the plight of that one lost sheep. This individual sheep matters. This sheep is a creation of God.  How does the lost sheep feel? Is the sheep scared? Lonely? Hungry? Injured?

This reminds me of my oldest daughter years ago, when she was just a preschooler. I was at a department store in Chicago with my two children (at that time), my older daughter just turned three, and my second daughter a baby in a stroller. I was looking at clothing on the round metal racks that are common to many department stores. And as I looked at clothing and tried to keep track of my toddler at the same time, she got lost. I could not find her, and she was much too small to see me over the clothing racks.

            It only took me about four or five minutes of searching to discover where she had gone, but that time was anxious for me. And that time was traumatic for my daughter—I suspect those four or five minutes seemed to go on forever. She was lost. She did not know where she was, or where I was. And she was all alone, far from her home and familiar things, until I found her and reassured her that everything was all right.

            Isn’t this similar to us? Isn’t this our situation, from time to time? You or I lose our way, get off track, slip and fall, or even stubbornly go our own way.

Periodically, I try to put myself into the scripture passage I’m considering. So, where am I in this scripture passage? Where are you? How do we fit in? Is this just a nice little story, or is there something more?

Theologian Howard Thurman reflects in his sermon on this passage, “Now, Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community with their fellows, and when they have found it, when they have found their community with their fellows, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning. . . . The lost sheep. The searching shepherd. And the cry of anguish of the sheep was the voice of identification that the shepherd heard. That is how God is, if we let him.” [1]

But, how did Jesus see this parable? “Most often readers assume that they are the lost ones sought out by God and celebrate God’s persistence in finding them.  But, Jesus told these stories to the Pharisees who were unhappy that Jesus was eating with known lost sinners.” (Remember, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were all part of the ‘in-crowd,’ the people who were really trying to follow God and God’s rules.)  “Jesus’s message to them is that God is more interested in the lost than in them – and they should be too.” [2]

Jesus doesn’t just throw up His hands and forget about the lost ones. No! He goes after me, and you, searches for us, and makes sure that we are back with Him, in the place of security and protection, and says, “Rejoice with me! For I have found my sheep that was lost!”

            Isn’t that good news? And the best part is, the Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd, is our good Shepherd, too. He cares about me, and He cares about each of you, as well. To me, the news about our good Shepherd is the best news in the world.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables, ed. David B. Gowler and Kipton E. Jensen (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 22–24, 25.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-19-24th-sunday-in.html

Lost Sheep

“Lost Sheep”

Matt 9-36 sheep, shepherd people

Matthew 9:35-10:1 (9:36) – June 14, 2020

In college, I can remember times when I heard fiery sermons about missionaries, and about how God provided the world as a harvest field for the followers of Jesus. I can remember how the preacher would thunder “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few! Pray that the Lord will send out many into God’s harvest fields!”

I attended a Christian college, and I did hear a number of sermons like that. Yes, that Bible reading is from Matthew 9:37. Perfectly appropriate for preachers to take this verse and highlight it in a sermon meant to urge people to go out to the mission field. The very next verse is where our Lord Jesus chooses the 12 disciples, and commissions them to go out into the villages and towns and heal, preach and do just what Jesus had been doing.

However, when I read these verses from Matthew to prepare a sermon for today, I was drawn to the previous verse, verse 36. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I am NOT going to focus on the harvest being plentiful, and the workers being few – in that case, this would be a very mission-oriented sermon. I do preach mission-oriented sermons when I feel God leading me that way, but for this Scripture reading at this particular time, I see a different picture. Instead of God sending followers out into the world, I see Jesus full of compassion and caring. I see Jesus as a loving Shepherd, caring for His lost sheep who don’t even know they are without a shepherd.

Many, many people around the country have not been in physical contact with anyone else for a long, long time. In some cases, for months. People are still suffering from social isolation, from limited and limiting conversation from behind a mask, at a socially-acceptable distance of six feet—or more. Have you felt isolated and alone? Have any of your extended family, or loved ones, or friends been in that situation? Jesus would be able to give you a hug, for sure. As a Shepherd, Jesus would certainly lift up and carry little lambs in His arms.

Can you imagine how comforting that would feel, to be held in the arms of our Lord Jesus? What a wonderful feeling, to be protected and made secure by our Heavenly Shepherd.

For those who did not know, I am in the middle of a 4-part community video series involving the recent months, the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order in Illinois. This series is in collaboration with the Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce. I am the host and narrator for the project, and we are very grateful to the Village of Morton Grove and associated departments for all their help in making this series a reality.

As I think back a month, to the beginnings of this idea for a video series, it all started with a conversation. Or rather, two conversations, with Father Dennis and with Mark, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce. In both, we talked about how disconnected and discouraged many people felt. All three of us – Father Dennis, Mark, and I – had many people sharing with us how disheartened they were, for a number of reasons, all stemming from the pandemic, the shelter-in-place, and the social isolation that gripped so many across our nation.

Which leads me back again to this verse from Matthew 9:36, where the Rabbi Jesus spoke of compassion, and nurture, and how Jesus cares for each of us as His sheep. Jesus did not just preach from a pulpit, or up front on a raised platform, separated from all the other sheep—I mean, people. No, Jesus had compassion on these lost sheep.

Jesus felt such love and compassion towards these members of the house of Israel, He felt it deep down to his “splachna,” down to His guts, or bowels. According to the original Greek, in the first century, to be moved right down to one’s bowels was to be moved with compassion, or to have compassion inside. The bowels – or guts – were thought to be the seat of love and pity at that time. This expression denotes the very heart of Jesus’ understanding and personhood.

With Jesus, His compassion was not impersonal or disembodied. He did not simply see abstract problems that could be explained away. Instead, Jesus had compassion on real people. He saw each individual, the real self inside, and considered each one worthy of compassion and care. To know that someone has seen the real self, hidden underneath and still manages to love and accept us. What a profound difference that makes in our lives, in our hearts, in our self-image. Can we do less when we seek to engage the community around us?” [1]

What an earth-shattering thing, for Jesus to see us, to know us deeply, down to our hearts. We can praise God for this wonderful certainty, even as we are in the midst of such anxiety and fear. As a community, we can gather together to name our stresses and losses, and to grieve and mourn. Yet, Jesus shows us how to have compassion on ourselves and on others.

Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods are finding resilience, togetherness, hope and even joy. Praise God for the example of our Lord Jesus. We can join (virtual) hands in community. Is there any better, more holy calling than to make friends with everyone we meet?

Remember, God loves everyone, no matter who. And, we might be surprised at who becomes our new friend in the Lord as we show compassion, too.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/open-our-eyes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!