Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Unreasonable Grace. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 14, Proper 19C, preached on Sunday, August 15, 2019 by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Again we hear Jesus’ parables: the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.  There’s a lot that can be said about Jesus teaching with parables and stories.  Stories are an important tool for instruction.  They get our attention; we want to know what happens.  They’re memorable; they stick with us.  Stories are illustrative; they show truth at play in real life situations.  And Jesus’ parables are no different.  But there’s something surprising about many of Jesus’ parables. … They’re unreasonable. 
    Look again at the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  This shepherd has 100 sheep, and he loses one.  Right away we see the shepherd isn’t very good at his job.  The whole job of a shepherd is to keep his sheep, and he loses one of them.  But, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, because sheep do wander off at times, and keeping an eye on 100 of them can be tough. 
So the shepherd sees that one is missing.  Now, simple math says that if you take 1 away from 100, you still have 99.  The shepherd still had 99 sheep to tend to.  He was still responsible for keeping 99 other sheep alive.  Again, simple math says that the value of 99 sheep is more than 1 sheep; therefore, it’d be reasonable to just forget about that missing sheep, one that probably wanders off all the time anyways, and look after the rest, making sure not to lose any more.
 That’s what we’d do.  We’d look at the other 99 and value them more.  We’d forget about that other sheep.  In the grand scheme of things, what’s just one sheep?  What’s just 1 compared to 99? 
But this isn’t what the shepherd does.  He leaves the other 99 in the open country and goes looking for that one that was lost, with no guarantee of finding it.  He risked 99 for 1. 
Some commentators and Bible Study notes will say that these 99 sheep weren’t left completely unattended; that there’d be partner shepherds there to help.  But Jesus doesn’t say that.  And even if that’s true based on traditional shepherding practices, that still doesn’t reasonably explain why a shepherd would spend time searching for one sheep when there’s no guarantee of finding it.  It could be severely wounded.  It could be dead, having fallen off a cliff, or torn apart by a predator.  Or that sheep could just be simply lost forever, unable to be found.  No matter what, there’s a great risk of not finding it, and then how foolish would that shepherd be?
But this parable has a happy ending.  Luck would have it that the shepherd did find that sheep.  And so he carries it back to the flock. 
But then, the shepherd continues to be unreasonable.  Going home he calls his friends and neighbors and invites them to rejoice and celebrate in the finding of that sheep.  Who does that?  It’s just a sheep, and if this was a formal celebration with food and drink, the cost of that could be more than the cost of that found sheep.  The whole Parable of the Lost Sheep is unreasonable.  And the same can be said about the Parable of the Lost Coin.  One lost coin out of 10, forget about it.  And then to celebrate its finding like you won the lottery, how foolish! 
    It can be hard for us to comprehend the point of Christ’s parables.  The stories we remember, but the truths they teach we don’t always grasp because they don’t fit with the reasonableness of our world.  And that’s the point.  Jesus’ parables aren’t about our world.  Jesus’ parables aren’t proclaiming the truths of what we value and what the world around us values.  Jesus’ parables are about the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus’ parables are about what He values.  Jesus’ parables, they’re unreasonable because He is unreasonable.  He’s unreasonable with grace.
    God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down...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” (Ezk 34:15-16).  Christ is the Shepherd and He comes looking for His lost sheep.  That’s you, that’s me.  We’re God’s lost sheep.  We’re lost, not because we simply can’t find our way; but because we wander off.  We wander off into sin.  We’re not the 99 who stay put.  We’re that one sheep that strays all the time.  We see the green grass of temptations and we follow it.  We don’t want to stay put.  We don’t want to stay in the safety of God’s flock, listening to His Word.  Instead we wander off into the darkness of sin, satisfying our immediate desires, not thinking about the dangers that surround us; not thinking about the devil that lurks around wanting to devour us (1 Pt 5:8).  If it weren’t for our Savior Shepherd who came for us, then we’d be lost forever, unable to find our way back.  We’d be dead.  We are dead. 
    We can’t find our way back to God because we’re dead in our trespasses.  We’re trapped with no way out.  We need our Shepherd to come and put us on His shoulder and carry us home.  That’s what Christ did.  He put our broken, dead, sinful selves on His shoulders.  He carried our sin to the cross, and there He left it.  There He died, so you would live.  The Shepherd exchanged His life for you, His straying sheep.  What an unreasonable thing to do, to die for someone who constantly rejects you, who consistently turns from life to death, and yet that’s what Christ did.  While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you (Rom 5:8), you as His flock, and you as a single sheep. This is completely unreasonable grace, and what’s even more unreasonable, this is celebrated.
    At the end of Jesus’ parables, He gives an explanation: “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” (Lk 15:7).  There’s joy over repentance.  There’s joy over salvation.  All of heaven, the angels of God and the saints who’ve gone before us, they celebrate your salvation.  All of heaven celebrates when a sinner is brought from death to life.  There’s no greater joy for God than when one of His sheep is saved.  There’s no greater joy for God than when you repent of your sin and look to your Savior Shepherd for salvation.  So repent.  See how unreasonable Christ is for coming after you.
    Jesus’ parables are unreasonable.  Jesus is unreasonable.  He’s unreasonable with grace.  No one in their right mind would die for sinners.  No one in their right mind would give up their life for an evil person.  And yet that’s what Christ has done for you.  It’s unreasonable that your righteous Savior would die for you, a sheep that constantly strays, and yet He did.  It’s unreasonable that angels and saints in heaven would celebrate this, and yet they do.  Christ came to find the lost.  He came to find you.  It’s unreasonable, but that’s what He did, and that’s what He celebrates.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

No comments: