Read Luke 15:1-10
Imagine growing up where there is an “in group” and an “out group.” Maybe you don’t have to imagine. By the time you get to junior high or high school, these things develop all too easily. But for the purpose of this exercise, imagine that you were and had always been a member of the “in group.”
The rules were made to suit you. You like the people in your group. People that you didn’t like were not in your group so you didn’t have to worry about them. If the rules for the outgroup were not strong enough, then you just revised them.
If you are in the “in group” then it is important that those in the “out group” be kept in their place. Sure, there was some migration into the “in group” but not without a cost and those who came were never meant to feel as if they were really part of the group.
Most of you have discerned at this point that this exercise with you being part of the “in group” is putting you in the Phylacteries of the Pharisees and other self-righteous religious leaders. Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew’s 23rd chapter.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
In this encounter, the Pharisees are just watching, but read all of the 23rd Chapter of Matthew to get a better perspective of how Jesus saw this group of people.
Let’s play along a little longer with you being part of the self-righteous group. You knew that you were right in living the way that you lived. That’s just the way it was. It had always been that way as long as you could remember. Yes, there were rules for you but you could interpret them, bend them a little for you while strictly enforcing them with those not in your group.
You could look at those not in your group and condemn them for just about anything that they did. You held the power and authority to say what was acceptable and what was not.
Then one day a man—sort of a wild card because nobody knew what group he fit into—came along and talked to you and your group and he spoke as one who had real authority. He would be a great addition to your group but he also talked to those not in your group and treated them as if they were as important as you and your group. Sometimes it seemed like he valued them more than he did you.
So using the model that you have grown up with you think, “He is either one of us or one of them. It can’t be both, and because he won’t be exclusive with us; he must be one of them.”
The problem is that he speaks with real authority. People listen. People hail him as an important person. Crowds gather for him.
On top of all this, when he confronts your group, you always walk away with your tail tucked between your legs.
We come to this 15th chapter in Luke’s gospel and this group of people known as the Pharisees. They are observing Jesus. They have not confronted him on this occasion but they are looking for something big to hold against him. They would really like to go one up on him. They are doing what we might call in therapeutic terms, “self talk.”
They are reinforcing what they think about Jesus by talking among themselves and reminding each other that this man welcomes sinners. He doesn’t just tolerate them. He welcomes them. On top of that he eats with them.
On this occasion, Jesus was teaching and it appeared that mostly people of this “outgroup” had gathered to listen to him. Tax collectors and sinners is the term we find in the Bible. Outcasts, those of doubtful reputation, and even notorious sinners encompass the range of descriptive terms for the people that I have described as the “out group.”
But the Pharisees were there and listening and Jesus knew it. So, he told a story—a parable—about a shepherd and his sheep. There were one hundred sheep in this story. That’s a nice size flock, enough to get the people interested anyway.
But one of the sheep is missing. Jesus surely has the empathy of the crowd at this point. People understand what it is to take care of sheep.
How do they understand this? I doubt that there were any shepherds in this crowd. They have found something else to do for their livelihood. There’s no way that I am going to take care of sheep. It’s a tough life. You have to be on guard against wild animals and thieves.
On top of that, sheep don’t know what’s good for them. Of course one is missing. That’s what sheep do. They go astray.
The question is, what does the shepherd do? He goes looking for the lost sheep. That’s what shepherds do.
He leaves the 99 in the open country—some translations say the wilderness—and he starts looking for this lost sheep. Jesus then said, when he finds it. Notice that he did not say if he finds it. He said when he finds it then it is time to celebrate.
He throws this sheep over his shoulder—remember there are 99 left back to their own care—and the shepherd must get back to them so this lost but now found sheep will move at the shepherd’s pace.
But bringing this lost sheep home is cause for celebration.
This parable hits home because it is something that a shepherd would do. Think back to the beginning of the previous chapter as Jesus is talking about healing on the Sabbath.
He asks, “What would you do if a family member or a donkey or an ox fell into a well on the Sabbath? Would you not go right away and rescue this person or animal?”
The questions are rhetorical. Of course, you would rescue them. Imagine calling out to your favorite ox—who among us does not have a favorite ox—saying, “Just hold on until tomorrow.”
Recall that the Pharisees remained silent. Had they actually answered the question with the obvious answer, their blindness might have been lifted, but they would not give an answer that seemed to agree with this man who welcomes sinners.
They had to keep their distance. They did not want this man who dined with outcasts to be seen as part of their elite group. They were practiced at sales resistance.
Most of us go to yellow or red alert and shields up whenever we talk with a salesman that we don’t know. The salesman is trained to get you comfortable with saying yes.
Wouldn’t you love to be in perfect health?
Wouldn’t you love to see your grandkids have their college paid for?
Would you love to have two or three times the pay that you have now?
Of course people answer yes to these questions. That’s why the salesperson asks them. He wants you to get comfortable saying yes. Then he starts on his sales spiel.
The Pharisees had obviously had a club meeting to discuss sales resistance with this Jesus. Unless, they have a plan to trap him, they don’t want to be trapped by their answers to his questions.
The problem is that Jesus was asking questions that they should have been answering so they too would have eyes to see. Jesus had nothing to sell. He had life abundant and eternal to give!
Jesus is talking to the entire crowd but the Pharisees should have had the greatest understanding of these parables. Without any comment from the men adorned with phylacteries, Jesus tells another story aimed mostly at the women in the crowd.
A woman has 10 silver coins and loses 1 of them. At this point, most of the men have tuned out.
“OK, a sheep running off by itself is one thing, but how does a coin get lost? It can’t run off. It should be exactly where she left it. Right?
I would agree it should be exactly where she left it but I don’t even want to confess the hours that I have spent looking for things that were exactly where I left them.
So she turns the house inside out looking for this lost coin. She gets a lamp to look in dark corners, probably making mental notes where she needs to vacuum now that she has shined the light over there.
Again note, Jesus did not say if she finds the coin; he said when she finds it. This woman was going to search until she found the coin.
When she does, she is going to get all of her girlfriends together and celebrate. What was lost is now found.
If they had today’s technology back then, we could all watch the new reality TV shows, Sheep Search and Coin Hunt. A little Facebook live and hourly tweets could have kept us all plugged in.
The women were surely plugged in to this parable. Of course you hunt for the lost coin. Of course you celebrate when you find it. Of course you rejoice with your friends.
Lost sheep and lost coins were things that people understood. You didn’t just write them off. Today, a 1 % write off doesn’t seem as important.
For the past 2 decades many companies have adopted a strategy of attrition with customers that register recurring complaints. Voice menus with inadequate options frustrate many customers. Many just live with the substandard service and others just discontinue the service. Many companies are just fine with losing customers who complain. They will not invest the extra effort to retain the 1% or 5% or sometimes even 10%.
But 2000 years ago, you were not content to leave their status as lost. You found the sheep. You found the coin. You searched until you did.
The Pharisees were content with the in group/out group arrangement. The outcasts were outcasts for a reason and their status did not need to change. The Pharisees had a never-ending supply of penalty flags and they were content with many being outside their elite circle.
The problem here is that God was not content to write off the lost. He was not content to just condemn the sinners. He actively sought the lost and the outcast and those surely on the fringes of society.
He sought them. He pursued them. He made a way for them to be included in this wonderful thing that today we call fellowship. A couple thousand years ago, we would have called it koinonia. It’s communion, connection, inclusion.
Fellowship is not a strong enough word these days. We have relegated fellowship to times when we eat and snack, mostly with our close friends. Koinonia is connecting with everyone as if they were a close friend. Koinonia is family.
God desires us all to be family. His heart desires none to perish. He doesn’t want anyone to remain lost and unrepentant. This is not God’s wish, as if anyone could grant God’s wish; it is the desire of his divine heart.
That desire produces action!
God didn’t just speak everything into existence and say, “Good luck guys. See you at the judgment.” He has been and remains actively engaged with his creation, so much so that he came himself in the form of Jesus to live in the human condition.
God is so engaged with his creation that he took the sin of the world upon himself when Jesus gave himself freely to be the Lamb of God that took away the sin of the world. If dying for us is not fully engaged, then what could be?
God is so engaged with his creation that when Jesus ascended to heaven, God’s own Spirit came to be with us. We call this Spirit the Counselor, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, and the Holy Spirit.
God has not forgotten one of us. Consider the billions of people alive now and the billions who have lived before us. You think that God might have written off some of them early on, but God’s heart longs for all to come home to him.
So when Jesus walked the earth teaching and preaching and healing and rebuking and casting out demons and just showing people what his Father’s heart was all about; those on the fringes and edges of society were clearly in his sights.
Those whom the righteous called outcasts and misfits and sinners received head of the line privileges when the one with the words of life came to town.
Of course Jesus went to the lost. He came to fulfil the desire of his Father’s heart, that none should perish. He could have just reprimanded the Pharisees, put them on probation, and returned to heaven instead of going all the way to the cross.
But his heart, like his Father’s and like the Spirit’s who lives inside of us now is a heart that none will be lost—that none will be lost.
Our challenge in this age where shepherds are scarce and our money is mostly in the bank is to have a heart for the lost.
We take care of each other as family. That’s who we are, but we are not content that so many live outside the family. So many remain lost. So many seek the things of this world when truth and life and abundance lie in God’s Kingdom that he has opened to us.
Abundance lies in inclusion in the family of faith. That said, we do have to do some maintenance from time-to-time. The mission of the church is to reach the lost, bring them to Christ, help them become disciples, help them take on the easy yoke and light burden of our Master. Somewhere along the way that includes baptism.
But, we also have to take care of those who are a part of this body. We have to take care of those who are sent and who go into this world to reach the lost. We must be wise so as not to focus exclusively on the body of believers that gathers weekly, but we must not neglect them.
The shepherd left the 99 for a short time. He may or may not have left those sheep in the care of an assistant, but he wasn’t gone for a long time. He left in search of the lost but he came back to the flock. Tending the flock ensured there was a flock to tend.
Surely, he searched with intensity. Every sheep was important to the shepherd.
Everyone in a modern-day congregation is important. We don’t like being compared to sheep, but the analogy is applicable.
We are also numbered among the shepherds for we carry the good news. We go in search of the lost. We desire none to perish. We leave the flock for short periods and go in search of the lost.
We need the strength of coming together, but we need the heart of mercy that sends us on a mission with passion and intensity when we go in search of the lost.
We are to search for the lost, not out of duty, but out of love.
Has our heart been shaped like our Master’s? If it has, we have this compulsion to reach out to the lost time and time again.
We will view the lost from his perspective, not so much that they are lost from our local body, but that they have strayed away from the Good Shepherd.
We are his arms and legs and voice and compassion in this age. We reach out to the lost. When only 1 sinner comes home, there is rejoicing in heaven.
Rescuing the lost connects heaven and earth with joy and rejoicing. When the desire of God’s heart is fulfilled, the result is joy.
God knows when a sparrow falls and numbers the hairs on our heads. He not only knows when a sinner repents and comes home, he is filled with and heaven is filled with joy.
We know that we do not reach out to the lost on our own. The Holy Spirit is with us until the end of the age. If the angels in heaven can celebrate when just one lost person comes home, how can we do any less?
We must celebrate the profession of faith.
We must celebrate the baptism.
We must celebrate every step taken in discipleship for this is where we grow in God’s grace. We not only work to bring people home but to keep them home. They become part of the family and grow in grace with us.
We can look at the world as a dismal place full of people who have turned away from God, or we can look at it as so many celebrations just waiting to happen. There are so many opportunities—so many opportunities to excel.
Let us have a heart for the lost. Let’s take good news to them. Let’s be God’s light and love to them. Let those who do not have the Lord taste his goodness in their every encounter with us.
God is not willing that any be discounted as lost. He has sent us to rescue them. Walking with God’s Holy Spirit let us bring God the desire of his heart.
That in itself—that we are in this together with God—is cause for celebration. God trusts us enough to find the lost and be a part of bringing joy to his heart.
Let us reach out to the lost as never before.