"He's Has Your Number"
Scriptures: Psalm 51:10-12; Luke 15:1-7
Pastor Tom Millner
SpiritSong Worship Center
Today's scripture is more than a cute little story about a shepherd searching after and finding a lost sheep. One translation for today might read something like this: "Now a bunch of people who were seen as sinners and unfit to worship God unless they changed who they were, who they loved, or how they dressed, were having worship in the presence of the Holy Spirit, worshipping God and praising Him with their hearts and voices. A group of staid fundamentalists who considered themselves pious evangelicals looked on with self-righteous judgment and asked God how on earth could it be that the presence of the Lord would be manifest in such as this. God answered; 'I go for the ones who have wandered away and were ignored by the majority. I rejoice in their return to me for their thankfulness is more heartfelt than the pious who think themselves already justified by virtue of their tradition.'"
Charles Schulz in his comic strip, Charlie Brown gives us a good glimpse of how some insist upon witnessing. Charlie Brown sees Lucy approaching as he's in line at the school cafeteria. She runs up just behind him as he says; "what took you so long?" "I was convincing Gerald that my religion was better than his," she said. "How did you do that?" said Charlie. "I beat him over the head with my book bag," she said.
Jesus was responding to the criticism of the Pharisees that he was associating and even eating with those who were seen as sinners and thus unfit to be associated with. In the previous chapter (14) of Luke, He had just finished talking about the cost of being a disciple – giving up everything one holds dear – to follow Him. The Pharisees held dear to their self-righteous acts as being the foundation of their justification before God. Jesus is, with a bit of irony and "tongue in cheek" teaching them that God's ways are different. He uses an illustration that was commonly known to them – as was His custom.
Sheep herding was common in those days. There were no fences to keep the sheep in tow. Sheep can be easily distracted and wander away from the flock. There's safety in numbers where there are predators lurking around to snatch a loner away and devour it. This parable is about the value of the one, the goodness of the shepherd, and community of the flock. Let's look at each characteristic individually.
God loves the entire flock and does not forsake it. Many of us identify with the sheep that was lost because most of us have felt "outside" the majority at one point in time. We've wandered into all sorts of situations, believed we were too far gone, only to discover that we have been brought back to a flock of loving others by a loving God who cares for us all deeply. Most flocks had at least two shepherds so that one could keep watch while the other rested. Jesus doesn't mention that in His parable, but that would apply to us today. You see, as one goes out to seek the lost sheep, the gentle presence of the Holy Spirit is shepherding the larger flock. So God cares about all, not just some.
The Shepherd goes out of His way to seek, find, and bring back to the fold the sheep that had strayed. The sheep may have been distracted. The sheep may have felt he or she didn't fit in. The sheep may have seen self differently than the rest. The sheep may have been attracted to a patch of different clover. Whatever the circumstance, the Shepherd is in pursuit of His sheep. The Good Shepherd goes so far as to give His life for the sake of the one and saves the entire flock in the process. The Shepherd knows that the sheep cannot save himself – it is incapable of self-saving.
No matter what the circumstances of the one sheep, the Shepherd seeks, finds, and brings back to restore to the flock. God doesn't abandon even one. He seeks, like the "hound of heaven" he is for the one that needs His loving protection and He brings that one back in arms that are loving. Some have portrayed us all as "sinners in the hands of an angry God," but the gospel portrays sinners worthy of the hands of a loving God who makes the sinner just as if I'd never sinned by the grace and mercy of the cross of Jesus Christ. Even the one was worth dying for through His grace.
A man strolling the beach in Cancun happened upon a native Mexican who was bending down and picking up objects and tossing them into the sea beyond the waves. As the man approached the other he inquired as to what he was doing. The native responded as he reached down again that he was picking up starfish that had washed ashore and throwing them back into the deeper water. He explained that during high tide, the starfish would be swept by the current into the shallow area and not be able to retreat as the tide subsided. Therefore, he was about getting them back into the water before they died from lack of oxygen from the water. The visitor laughed as he responded with the reasoning that there were thousands of miles of shoreline on which starfish were deposited every day and that this good starfish Samaritan could not possibly save them all. Therefore, the visitor reasoned, what difference will it make to the population of starfish? The native picked up yet another and gently tossed it out to sea as he said "it made all the difference to that one."
Jesus still lives today in the hearts and minds of each of us who call upon His name. Shepherding is still flourishing because of Him. He said to those disciples to whom He appeared after His resurrection: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20) There are still lost sheep out there. There are also those who have wandered away because they thought the Shepherd and the flock couldn't love and accept them as they were made. The Good News is that He is the Shepherd of all, the lover of all souls, the justifier before God, and the Savior of each one! Our quest when found and properly re-flocked is to be found in His Word.
The Psalmist's plea was (Psalm 51:10-12) "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." The pure heart He creates is one that is honest before Him, not putting self interest above Him and thus basks in the joy that is in His salvation for us, offered with great sacrifice and love.
He has His eye on you – He's got your number – He calls relentlessly until you answer. Accept the call and say hello to the greatest adventure of your life!