The Lost Sheep
Jesus told a parable about where his priorities lay, and where the church’s should be. Luke 15:4-7 reads:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
I once heard a story of a church that had a recovering meth addict walk through its doors. This young man, age 20, was trying to get his life back together. For several weeks he came to the church because he was finding a message of hope and a community of support. After being in this church for a couple of months, he came in to Sunday morning worship and sat in the front row, his normal seat. This time, however, he came with a plastic water bottle full of water, sipping it as he worshiped.
One of the patriarchs of the congregation approached him afterwards and asked him, “What do you need that water in here for? This is the sanctuary, we don’t have drinks in here.” The young man was taken aback. Nobody had told him of this unwritten rule, and he felt embarrassed and ashamed.
When I think of situations like this, I cannot help but wonder what Jesus would be saying if he were right there. If the parable of the lost sheep is any indication, I think Jesus would be saying, “Don’t fret over the water that this recovering meth-addict is drinking. Rejoice with me, and the angels in heaven, that this sinner has repented and is brought back into the fold! I am more happy with his return than with the other 99 people in this room who have been faithfully coming for years.”
Just to be clear, God is highly pleased when people live a lifetime of faithfulness to him. But this parable says that there is something that brings more joy to the heart of God even than the steady faithfulness of his church people – it is when the lost are brought into the fold. So we need to ask ourselves if this is the priority that we set with the language we use, and with the way we treat outsiders. Is it worth it to make sure coffee isn’t spilled in the pew, if by doing so we chase away people who are coming to learn about the life changing love of Jesus?
When you read about how Jesus brought sinners into the fold, we read that he regularly disappointed the religious people of his day. “Why is Jesus going to eat with Zacchaeus, the sinner?” Do you remember how Jesus allowed Mary to wash his feet with her hair? Certainly the proper and cultured people in the room feel uncomfortable. He violated cultural norms by talking to the woman at the well. Let’s make sure we don’t get in the way of Jesus’ mission by making up rules that he never gave us.
A Prayer: God, help us to reach the lost sheep. Help our hearts to match yours, that you prioritized the lost and sought them out. Forgive us for making up man-made rules and sticking to traditions that alienate people who need your love. Help us to give up our own comfort for the sake of those in need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.