Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Sunday Message Based on the Parable of the Lost Sheep: Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7

This Sunday I will start preaching a series of sermons about the Parables that Jesus taught.

We will start the series by looking at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. That parable appears in two places: Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7 (NIV2010 Translation).

Some interesting facts about sheep can be found here:

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“He taught them many things by parables…. ” (Mark 4:2, Matt 13:3)

Parables are stories about everyday life that Jesus used to teach his Disciples and followers about God, what God is like and what the Kingdom of God is like. These stories are memorable. These stories are about what bothers us and what we struggle with every day. These stories are about you and I.

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Parables are stories that have layers and layers of meaning. These stories mean different things at different stages of our lives because we view them through the lens of our own experiences. The most obvious example is the Parable of Soils (Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-8, Luke 8:4-8). It is a parable that talks about seeds falling on different kinds of soil. After hearing that parable, someone could say, “Wow! This Jesus knows a lot about planting! When I am ready to plant my vegetable garden I will ask for his help.” That person would hear the parable and completely miss the point that Jesus was trying to convey: there are areas in our lives where our hearts are like the hard soil and because we refuse to open our hearts we miss God working in these areas of our lives.

Jesus probably preached the same sermon over and over and over again as he traveled around Galilee and Judea. Jesus probably used the same stories over and over and over again to illustrate different aspects of what the Kingdom of God is like. That is why, for example, we see the Parable of Soils in Matthew, Mark and Luke (Matt 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15). That is why we see the parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew and in Luke (Matt 18:12-14, Luke 15:1-7). Although Jesus used the same stories, the context in which Jesus used these stories is different in each instance.

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Today I want to talk about the parable of the Lost Sheep. If Jesus were to illustrate the point of the parable in 2012 and in USAmerica, he would use dogs and cats because very few people in USAmerica raise sheep and many Americans have pets. Who among us would not post “Lost Cat” or “Lost Dog” on every telephone pole in the neighborhood if our pet was lost? Who would not post a picture of their pet on facebook or craigslist to make sure that our friends and neighbors are aware that we are missing a pet and help us find it? Who among us would not go into the night calling “here <insert-name-of-your-pet-here>” and knocking on the doors of all your neighbors? Who among us would not rejoice when their pet was found or grieve if their pet was lost forever?

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Matthew 18:12-14 (NIV 2010)

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

In the Gospel of Luke 15:6-7, we hear an account where Jesus added:

Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

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As I was preparing today’s message I learned a lot about sheep. I always believed that sheep are stupid animals. I believed that because I heard and read many sermons affirming that. Imagine my surprise when I learned the following:

  • Sheep are labeled as stupid because of their strong flocking instincts and failure to act independently of one another. The reason they have a herd mentality and band together is for protection from predators. When a wolf or a panther is threatening the herd, it is not the good time to act independently and to step in front of the predator a la David facing Goliath.

  • A study of sheep psychology has found that sheep can remember the faces of more than 50 other sheep for up to two years. They can also recognize a human face. The researchers also discovered that female sheep had a definite opinion about what made a ram’s face attractive.

  • Sheep respond to mood changes in their shepherd. They can distinguish between facial expressions in humans and they can detect changes in the facial expressions of other sheep. In the lab environment, a sheep tried to console an upset caregiver.

  • Sheep visibly express emotions. When they experience stress or isolation, they show signs of depression similar to those humans show by hanging their heads and avoiding positive actions. As stress levels increase they start bleating and then give up by laying down and refusing to move.

  • In the Yorkshire Moors region of England, one particular herd of sheep figured out how to roll 8 feet across hoof-proof metal cattle grids to raid the villagers’ vegetable and flower gardens. According to a witness, “They lie down on their side or sometimes their back and just roll over and over the grids until they are clear. I’ve seen them doing it. It is quite clever, but they are a big nuisance to the villagers.”

  • These and many more tid-bits about sheep can be found on these pages: Page 1 // Page 2// Page 3.

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Sheep are curious animals; sheep also tend to concentrate on the task at hand. As they graze sometimes an animal gets so focused that they lose track of everything else. Who among has not gotten so busy that we forgot that something is cooking on the stove, or that we had a load of laundry in the washer, or even missed an appointment.

A particular sheep may lose track of time and forget to pay attention to anything else AND as it grazes, little by little it gets separated from the herd. A few hours later that animal discovers that it is all alone, its herd is nowhere to be seen or heard, and it cannot see or hear the shepherd. It gets agitated, starts bleating, than it gets discouraged and hangs its head and gives up completely; it lays down and refuses to move.

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Church can you hear me? Who among us has not gotten so focused on what was going on in our lives that we skipped church once or twice? And then we skipped church for few weeks… Weeks become months, our prayers become less and less frequent, our Bibles become dusty, and all of a sudden, God seems so far away and we ask ourselves, “How did I get lost?” I often hear that in hospitals when people are forced to face their own mortality and to reevaluate what is really important and what is not.

Not so long ago, some members of the president’s secret service were involved in a scandal involving prostitution. More than likely it was not a single lapse of judgment; more than likely it was gazillion small steps in the wrong direction that led them there.

Our current economic woes did not just spring up overnight. They started with one small step in the wrong direction, and then another. It took decades to get to where we are today. The poor are poorer, the middle-class is shrinking, the rich are richer. And now that we cannot sustain our lifestyles and we fear what lies ahead, we argue and point fingers and blame everyone except ourselves for our economic misfortunes. When did we get lost? When did we forget that we are all on the same team?

Church can you hear me? In the last 50 or 60 years our society has been so focused on prosperity and individuality that little by little all of us lost the sight of our church communities and our shepherd. Little league games, fishing, chores and trips to the mall became more important than worship and spirituality. Among those who still come to church on Sunday mornings, many refuse to do anything, no matter how small, when they are asked for help. By and large most of us still claim to belong to a church. Yes, many USAmericans don’t attend church for weeks on end. Many of us no longer know what the voice of the shepherd sounds like and what it feels like to be in the presence of God. And then we are surprised when drugs show up on our streets, when there are metal detectors in our schools, and when our education system fails to produce scientists and engineers. How did we get lost?

Many churches today are more concerned with their state of disrepair than with making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, and then we are upset that our pews are empty. We no longer seek the lost sheep; we forgot how to rejoice when a lost sheep is found. How did we get lost?

In case you are wondering whether I am blaming laity, there was an article in the United Methodist Reporter last week. The author noted that many of our clergy draw their energy from ambition, too often looking to the next appointment and an increase in prestige and salary. Dispirited clergy results in dispirited congregations (Haynes). How did we get lost?

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Somehow we learned to run away from Our Shepherd. Somehow it became OK not to want to be bothered. At the Chestertown’s Tea Party in 2012, as I was talking to visitors, more than once I heard something like, “We will buy your food but we don’t want to have anything to do with your prayers or your church.”

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Now let us stop talking about one lost sheep and talk about the other 99. These sheep know what the voice of God feels like and sounds like; these sheep know that they are a community; they know that our lives are interconnected with each other because we are connected to God. These are our strengths.

These 99 sheep also know that there are plenty of lost sheep around us. God loves us and God loves them. Sometimes God sends us to reach out to these lost sheep and to help them get back to where they can again hear the voice of the shepherd. Church can you hear me?

All of us have been a “lost sheep” at one time or another; all of us have also been among the “99 sheep.” Some of us have been sent to be a shepherd to help a lost sheep find its way home.

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That is how Paul explained it in 1 Timothy 1:12-14 (NIV2010)

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

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The parable of the Lost Sheep is about grace; not cheap grace that requires nothing of us, but the grace that challenges us to examine who we really are. I am talking about God’s grace that makes us aware of the realities of our social, political, and economic lives. I am talking about God’s grace that helps us to recognize our own “lostness.” I am talking about God’s grace that challenges us to heal families, to care for the environment, imagine and work toward peace and justice, and work on strengthening our relationship with God.

Just like Paul, we are called to acknowledge that we are not perfect, and to recognize that being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus, is NOT about our shortcomings, failings, flaws, and faults (Dan Dick). Being a follower of Jesus is about our fervent and purposeful striving to find the strength and the stamina to be disciples of Jesus in spite of our imperfections, and to be God’s hands, feet and voice in a world that has forgotten what the voice of God feels like.

Will you allow God to find you?

Will you open your hearts, your minds, and your doors?

With gratitude for God’s Amazing Grace, will you go looking for God’s lost sheep and help them to find their way home?

Works Cited:

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