The Good (But Impractical) Shepherd
Text: Luke 15:1-10
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd…but He’s certainly not the Practical Shepherd. His own words prove that: “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?” That is not a practical, or even good business practice. There’s a concept in accounting called breakage. The assumption is that when goods for sale are being shipped somewhere, some of them will break on the way. The seller has to absorb those costs, so it’s usually budgeted as an acceptable loss, simply a part of real, practical life. But Jesus seems to know nothing of this concept, nor does He want to. For Jesus, no loss is acceptable, not even a 1% loss, one lousy bumbling sheep out of a hundred. So He does the wildly impractical thing and He leaves the other 99 sheep, the ones He can bank on having, the ones that can easily turn a profit, and He goes in search of that one, spending who knows how much time and effort tracking it down. And then, when He’s done the recklessly impractical thing, even more impractically, He goes to everyone in shouting distance and announces a party. Over a dumb lost sheep. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”
But it’s not as if this is a one-time behavior for Jesus. He continues: “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? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me for I have found the coin I had lost.’” In this last year, I’ve heard of people losing 15-25% of their investment portfolio, sometimes more. But here, one day’s wages are misplaced and it results in burning through the household lamp oil and wasting a day searching and scrubbing the house. And then, a party. Not very sensible.
This has truly been Jesus’ M.O. from the start. Even before Jesus took on flesh and blood to tell us these examples of His impracticality, He announced to the prophet Ezekiel, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries.” He’s willing to walk the entire globe searching out a lost sheep, in spite of darkness and storm, lightning and wind and hail. Nothing will stop Him in His compulsive search for a lost sheep.
And just when were suspecting He was in need of counseling and financial reeducation, Jesus shows us how He really goes from impractical to reckless. The sheep, the coin, aren’t shiny and clean and docile. They don’t want to be found. The sheep is filthy and bites. The coin is tarnished. As we heard right at the start of the parable, but only slowly connected the dots—as it tends to go with parables—the ones Jesus is willing to go to such great lengths for are sinners. Not the upright citizens of the community. Not the brightest and best. Not the valedictorians and people of the year. The tax collectors. The traitors. The prostitutes. The drug addicts. The drug dealers. The greedy. The cheaters. The con artists. The members of the political party you can’t stand. The members of your own political party. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
But wait—there’s one more shock. It’s not Jesus alone who’s so impractical as to chase down the sheep that keep running off into poisoned pastures and headbutting their caretaker. It’s all of heaven that’s this way. It’s Father, Son, and Holy Ghost who loves and chases these creatures. It’s the angels breaking into glorious hymn and chant over a dingy lost coin. It’s the saints at rest, the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles who nod and smile and laugh and slap each other on the back when one of these lost causes is picked up and carried home.
In our own disillusioned age, we’re entirely too ready to cut people off over a slight or even a perceived slight. It’s easy to shut people out when the main way we communicate is virtual or over the phone. Ghosting—just ignoring and pretending to not be there when someone tries to communicate with you—is a common phenomenon. It’s how a lot people end all sorts of relationships. We are people of short tempers and live in the midst of a people of short tempers, surrounded by the ashes of burned bridges on every direction.
But thank God that He is not like us. Because I have some news that might be difficult for you to hear. You are not one of the 99 sheep who stay put. You’re not one of the 9 coins that stay in the purse. You’ve jumped out and gotten lost in the filth between the couch cushions. You’ve wandered away from the fold and eaten God-only-knows-what in dangerous hills and valleys. You are the one that Jesus goes after, so impractically. You’re the one He chases so recklessly, so dangerously. You’re the one He can’t let go of, the one He can’t let get away. He refuses to chalk you up as a loss. So He takes on human nature. He journeys into this dangerous land of mortals, being a man who can Himself die. He searches all the way to the cross, where He not only finds His lost sheep, but dies in its place, so that all the poison, all the dirt and shame and sin can’t touch you; it won’t threaten you anymore. He dies for His sheep—the most reckless and impractical kind of love anyone could even imagine. But even death won’t get in between Him and His lost sheep. He finds His way back through death, conquering it, coming back from it for you.
And there is joy in heaven over you. We’ve had glimpses of that joy in song today. I saw your smiles earlier when Kapelle was singing. You’ll experience that joy again when the rejoicing heavens join us in this sanctuary—angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, patriarchs and prophets and apostles, all the lost sheep who have been brought back safely to the fold forever. They’ll be here at the altar, at the rail, just beyond our sight, harmonizing with our songs in a key we can’t quite hear yet, as you receive Jesus and His forgiveness, His life. Then, when He’s come to you, when you’ve been picked up and carried on Jesus’ body and blood shoulders, you’ll know joy again, peace that lasts through days of clouds and thick darkness. You’ll be the one that God smiles over and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the name of Jesus, the Good, if Impractical, Shepherd. Amen.