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September 17, 2019, 9:03 AM

Leave, Go, Find, Rejoice - Sermon, 9/15/19


Here we go again! Jesus and those pesky parables of the lost things. The stories we hear today are two out of three of Jesus’ parables about finding lost things. The first one famously uses the imagery of a shepherd. The second one uses the perhaps less-familiar imagery of a woman searching for lost money. The third parable about finding lost things – which we don’t hear today – is the familiar parable of the prodigal son.

In my relatively-short spiritual life, I often focus on the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the perspective of the lost sheep. It is not uncommon for me to feel like a lost little sheep, somehow separated from the crowd for whatever reason, and in serious need of rescuing. In fact, I frequently feel in need of rescuing. Because of that, I find the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd comforting – knowing that I will eventually be found.

When I identify as the lost sheep, everything in the story is passive – everything is done to me or for me. Instead, a few commentaries I read suggested that we should hear today’s parables of the lost things from the perspective of the one doing the searching. Particularly in the parable of the lost sheep, there are four action words for what the shepherd does: leave, go, find, rejoice.

By focusing on action in the telling of the parable of the Good Shepherd, I believe Jesus is making a point – more than a simple point about grammar but also a point about a call to action. Seeking lost sheep is not a passive activity and it might just be an activity Jesus invites his followers to join in.

Let’s look briefly at each of the four action words: leave, go, find, rejoice. When the Good Shepherd leaves, he leaves behind the 99 well-behaved sheep to find the one rebellious sheep. He could have simply counted the one sheep as a loss. Surely he did not perform a cost-benefit analysis. Wouldn’t it have been better, more financially sound, to keep the 99 than risk losing the 99 in favor of finding the 1?

But the Good Shepherd does not do that. He makes a bold move and “leaves the 99 in the wilderness.” Now there are all kinds of different understandings about what it means for the 99 well-behaved sheep to be left in the wilderness. Was the wilderness a safe place or a dangerous place to be? How safe would those 99 sheep be from human poachers and animal predators while in the wilderness? That’s another story for another day.

What we can be certain of is that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99. This is an active choice made by the shepherd. We don’t know if the lost sheep is the shepherd’s favorite. We don’t know if the lost sheep is worth more money than the 99. We don’t know if this is the first time the one sheep ran away. All we know is that the Good Shepherd makes an active choice to leave the 99 well-behaved sheep in search of that one lost sheep.

The second action word to look at is “go.” In Luke, we hear Jesus say that the shepherd “(goes) after the one that is lost.” The shepherd goes himself, presumably alone – after all, shepherds aren’t exactly known for having chatty co-workers – and the shepherd actively pursues the one who is lost. It is not as though the shepherd sends out a search party. It is not as though the shepherd puts up “Lost Sheep” posters around the town. It is not as though the shepherd delegates the task to someone else.

Instead, the shepherd goes. He goes into potentially unfamiliar territory. When I imagine this story, for some reason I see it unfolding at night. Now there is nothing in the Gospel lesson to suggest that the shepherd goes sheep gathering at night – that’s just how my imagination works. Whether the sheep wanders off in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night, the shepherd does go after it.

And the shepherd goes with a purpose. He does not simply wander around at night until something interesting turns up. He goes with one, single purpose in mind: find that sheep. “Find” is the third action word that appears in this brief parable from the mouth of Jesus. First we hear “leave,” then we hear “go,” and now we hear “find.” We don’t know how long it takes to find the sheep. Did the shepherd’s voice get tired from calling out? Were the shepherd’s feet dirty from wandering through the wilderness?


 

The good news is that the shepherd finds that one, lost sheep. When the lost sheep is found, the shepherd indicates a great level of affection for it. The shepherd gathers up the previously-lost sheep and lays it on his shoulders. This image appears frequently in Christian art: the sight of Christ with a sheep around his shoulders. Many people identify with the previously-lost sheep and take comfort knowing that Jesus is actively seeking them, even in the midst of being terribly lost.

The story of the Good Shepherd concludes with a party scene. Now that the shepherd finds the sheep, he rejoices. He calls together his friends and neighbors for a party and they rejoice together. There are financial reasons why the shepherd might rejoice – after all, sheep are not cheap. Sheep are the shepherd’s means of livelihood. Losing even one might mean financial ruin.

But the shepherd finds the sheep and rejoices. The story ends on a high note – with an example of the rejoicing that is promised in heaven. “Just so,” Jesus ends this portion of the reading, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Okay – so, as far as I know, no one in here is a shepherd. No one in here spends his or her time seeking lost sheep but what if Jesus is calling us to do just that – but instead of seeking sheep, we should be seeking lost souls? Perhaps each of us knows and remembers a time when we have felt like that one lost sheep who, once found, is wrapped around the neck of the Good Shepherd. If you know what it feels like to be a lost sheep that is found, take action. Leave, go, find, rejoice. Share with others the great good news you find in this community and hear from Jesus Christ.

Being this kind of shepherd is dangerous work. But even as we face our anxieties and worries, we take comfort knowing that we are modeling our lives after that of the one truly Good Shepherd. Let us go forth from this place today, knowing and trusting and believing that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls us into similar service. Let us leave, go, find, and rejoice! Amen.


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