Now we know where this leads Jesus, to the joy over a sinner who repents and is welcomed to heaven. But as a side note so we understand a bit more about the view of the fundamentalist Pharisee, they had this saying, “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.” Quite a different mindset than Jesus and why there was so much grumbling.
So we have these sinners gathered with Jesus, and it may well have been at a meal, and Jesus hears the grumbling. So he told them a parable directed at the judgmental people. Actually two parables. And so we are introduced to the next character, the shepherd with 100 sheep in the wilderness. And he calls on his listeners to identify with this shepherd, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Now let's put ourselves in that shepherd's place for a minute. Is it wise to leave ninety-nine sheep that are under your care and protection and go who-knows- where to find one lamb who wandered off... perhaps the lamb has fallen over a cliff or been eaten by a predator. Maybe it is up on a ledge where you can't follow. Maybe it is an hour plus away which makes two hours leaving the flock to fend for itself against all the hazards that await an animal in the wilderness. It would be a risky venture to say the least.
Well, against what would be my better judgment, Jesus tells us that we as the shepherd leave the ninety-nine and thankfully, we find the missing lamb and a great celebration follows.
And finally, we meet a woman with ten coins. Jesus doesn't ask us to identify with her as much as he wants us to imagine her apparent desperation to find that coin. Why so desperate? Well we don't know that. Was the coin particularly valuable? Maybe. Was the woman so poor that every penny counted? Again, maybe. But we don't need to know why, simply that it was extremely important to her. She searched, she swept, she got on her hands and knees, she moved furniture, crawled around with a lamp looking in every corner. “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'”
Remember, Jesus first asks us to consider the point of view of the searchers; the shepherd and the woman. But when we read this passage for ourselves, don't we identify with the sheep? Usually, as good church members, we identify with the ninety-nine good sheep who stayed put. But some of us will identify with the wandering one who was lost and then is found. And there is comfort and wisdom in identifying with the sheep. That lost sheep had a shepherd who would risk everything to rescue her. We have a good shepherd who did risk everything to rescue us. Jesus gave up the glory of heaven for a time to come to earth to share God's love for us. And his wondrous love, his risky love for us human beings was such a threat to the status quo that he ended up dying on the cross. Jesus never played it safe because his love for us was, is, such that no price, no cost is too high. Jesus came and at the cost of his life, found us and claimed us as brothers and sisters, children of God.
The title of today's sermon is Reckless Love. That is actually the title of a praise song written by Caleb Culver, Cory Asbury and Ran Jackson. It is a song celebrating the extravagant, undeserved love God shows each of us. Here's the chorus, “Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine, I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away. Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” There are three words there that connect it to today's gospel reading in a specific way. The songwriters don't really focus on it or even explain it, simply 3 words, “leaves the 99.” We get it, we've heard the gospel story of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one lost. But much of even the churched world don't know scriptures very well any more. And so that line can be confusing. Pastor Kendra Mohn wrote of this experience, “On a recent trip to the dentist, the dental assistant asked me about the significance of the tree in the Bible that has 99 leaves. As someone identified as a religious leader, I’m used to obscure or intense questions. But this one had me stumped. There were trees in Genesis and Revelation, prophetic trees, and fig trees in my mental database, but no trees with 99 leaves. He said he heard about it from a worship song, so I finally just asked him to sing it. “He leaves the 99.”
Leaving the ninety-nine is reckless. And for us sheep, being in the flock gives us a feeling of safety. But we know this world isn't safe. And Jesus did ask us to put ourselves in the place of the shepherd, not the sheep. God is the seeker with Jesus as the agent... and now that duty falls on us. Could it be that our calling is to love recklessly even those outside of our circle of safety? That is a big challenge; it isn't safe. In These Days this week, Michelle Slater wrote, “Jesus asks us to imagine ourselves as the shepherd, to see ourselves as those with responsibility of others and as accountable for those who are missing. It is important for us to mindful of counting those people in society who sometimes aren't counted. God's beloved community will always be incomplete while some are missing from the flock, not present at the table.”
Today marks the 19th anniversary of the attack on 9/11. We are witness everyday to the news programs with murders and terrorism. The war in the Ukraine goes on. Great evil and being in the flock doesn't protect us; like being God's son didn't protect Jesus. But we are called to do what we can to help those who are outside our circle. And so we give to the church organizations to bring the good news and the needed supplies to those in need. And we don't limit our good works to church things. We are called to seek the lost; not just to bring them into our select group but to show them the love of God. We are small, we aren't rich my many standards, we are old—er. But our call remains to love others, to seek those who need the touch of the Savior's love, to live a kind of reckless love that doesn't always play it safe but steps up and steps out. And we do this because Jesus has claimed us with his wondrous, sacrificial, persistent, love. From our title song, “I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it... Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” Amen.
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go 384 PH