Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19, c] September 15, 2019
5 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 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. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And 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.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In the Name of Jesus.
Jesus is our shepherd. One of the great images in Scripture.
The shepherd who leads us beside still waters, makes us to lie down in green pastures, restores our souls. [Psalm 23]
He prepares a table for us, even in the presence of our enemies. With him as our shepherd, goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. He is our shepherd. He makes his flock to lie down in safety.
But what does this mean? How does Jesus do this? When is he shepherd?
Can we rescue this beautiful imagery from being just some sort of cliché emoting warmth and making us feel good? Is there actually something solid and real we can say about what it is he actually does to be our shepherd?
The way that if I told about my dentist, I could actually say something concrete and real about what he does as my dentist, how on a certain date he filled in this cavity or took this x-ray? How if you were telling me about your insurance agent, you could tell me real facts about where his office is and exactly what policy he sold you for your car?
Can we rescue the imagery of Jesus from being some gauzy platitude and, instead, describe his shepherding in such a way that it is as solid and real as it would be if we were describing our dentist or insurance agent?
We know something of shepherding in our world. Look it up in the dictionary and we find something such as “shepherding is the careful management of resources or of an organization.”
So we see shepherding when a man is CEO of, perhaps, a bank, and he is able to shepherd the bank through a tough recession without losing any of its assets. Or when a woman is coaching the volleyball team, and she’s able to shepherd them to a district championship.
So we know something of shepherding. And then we come to Jesus.
He stacks up poorly. He’s got twelve apostles, but they argue with each other over who’s the greatest, one keeps denying him, another ends up betraying him, they’re all despised in the world, and we think we are looking at a man who is good at the careful management of resources or of an organization?
He gathers large crowds, but the next thing you know they’re shouting at Pontius Pilate to crucify him. Crucify who? The one claiming to be their shepherd.
We look at today’s Church. The Church chanting the 23rd Psalm about “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me to lie down in green pastures,” the church hearing readings from Scripture of the Lord saying,
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.
When we look at this Church, and we ask, how is Jesus the shepherd of this Church, what does he do to make himself shepherd?, What will we find?
He’s not as good a shepherd as the politician who shepherds a lot of volunteers, gathers a lot of donors, and builds a winning campaign. That kind of shepherding we can see; it makes sense.
He’s not as good a shepherd as a trainer down at the gym who has twenty people on a work-out program so you can measure their progress, or as the financial advisor who teaches seminars on how to establish wealth.
Those kind of shepherds—you can measure their results; you can see their effectiveness; in the world, we need them.
And then there’s the Church.
No progress to measure. Oh sure, progress here and there, as a school gets built in this town, or a new church goes up in that suburb. But then there’s the church in northern Africa where the whole world can see sheep being mowed down by Muslim terrorists. There’s the congregation somewhere in Arizona, perhaps, where three of the youth have been tempted away from the church by the promises of the Mormons to have a family filled with nice smiles. Or the congregation of sheep where the flock ends up fighting with each other, and four of the families leave with hurt feelings.
And Jesus is the shepherd of the Church.
When do we see Jesus as shepherd? This startles our world: Jesus is shepherd by virtue of hanging on the cross.
says the Apostle,
Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
[1 Corinthians 1:23]
On the cross hangs our shepherd. Foolishness to our world. But the wisdom of God for every sinner.
On the cross hangs the one who is paying the ransom to purchase every sinner from sin, death, and the devil. A ransom not of gold or silver, but his own blood.
On the cross hangs the one who, by giving himself over to death, dies in our place, and is victor over death and Hell on our behalf.
On the cross hangs the shepherd. Our shepherd. A shepherd like no other.
Not by leading winning teams or victorious movements, not by shepherding people to better health, nor better wealth, nor anything our world counts as worth measuring. But our shepherd by being the One who saves the sinner.
The sinner. That’s the one who cannot save himself. That’s the sheep who cannot keep himself in the sheepfold.
The sinner—it’s the one separated from the sheepfold, subject to his own sin, struck with his own guilt, blanketed in shame, unable to lead himself away from Satan, the evil one.
The sinner, that’s the stray sheep this shepherd—this shepherd known only by the cross, who makes himself shepherd by shedding his own blood for the sheep—that’s the stray sheep this shepherd goes after: the sinner.
That is, of course, you and me. If we are not sinner, he is not Savior. If we are not the lost sheep, we don’t know him as our shepherd. He goes after the one that is lost until he finds it. When he finds it, he rejoices with the whole church:
Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.
He brings back to the sheepfold, that’s his gift of repentance and restoration to the sinner.
He calls the sheep his own, that’s the ongoing proclamation of the promise of Baptism, as we were given to see that promise bestowed upon little Shepherd Asa this morning.
He sets the feast. That’s his liturgy where he is serving out his Body and Blood to cleanse of all sin.
You are his sheep, he is your shepherd.
In the Name of Jesus.