99 to 1

Good morning, Friends!

Welcome to worship with Springfield Friends Meeting. Every week since the start of the epidemic, we’ve been bringing you these messages online. I hope you find something inspiring and comforting each week.

It was a big day for our family, a couple of weeks ago, when we baked bread for the first time in three months. I love to bake fresh bread. But when the epidemic hit, baking supplies just vanished off the shelf.

Nobody had any yeast. It was gone! We went to half a dozen stores. Nobody had it. Tried online. It was on back order. Ten weeks after we placed our order for yeast, it finally came.

We celebrated. I made four loaves of fresh bread, and the smell of it filled the whole house. When it came out of the oven, we skipped supper that night – we just had that wonderful fresh whol-wheat bread, still warm and so delicious.

Jesus said that the word of God, is like having fresh bread, every day.

That’s what worship and prayer are all about. We come together for God’s word. And it’s like the most heavenly smell ever. It’s like the most delicious bread, warm from the oven. Take a piece, and pass it on!

Today’s meal is one of the best-known stories of the gospel. It’s one thta Jesus told. Here it is.

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So Jesus told them this parable: “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?

When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 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.’

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.

Luke 15:1-7

Have you all heard that story before? It’s pretty famous.

Like all the stories of Jesus, it’s a rich source of food for thought.

First, let’s put ourselves in the place of the one sheep that got lost. Jesus never says it was a bad sheep. He never says it was careless, or foolish, or trying to be a problem.

It just got lost. It happens. It even happens to the best of us. We all get lost sometimes.

The one sheep is isolated. It’s not protected. It’s probably anxious and scared. In fact, the way that one sheep feels, is probably the way most of us feel during this period of lockdown.

We’re cut off from each other. Cut off from our daily activities, like workplaces and schools.

Last week I said that many of us have had to learn to:

• work without an office
• shop without going to the store
• go to school without a classroom
• go to church without gathering

This is a challenging time. For many people it’s been a creative time, but it’s also a tremendously anxious time.

We’ve got a fresh experience today of what it feels like to be that one, scared, isolated sheep, lost in the unfamiliar wilderness, with no idea whether we’re going to make it or not.

In the story, Jesus said that one sheep wandered away. Probably it was out on the edge of the flock for some reason, munching along, minding its own business. When the rest of the flock moved to a different place, maybe the one sheep just stayed there.

Or maybe the one sheep spied a little patch of delicious grass, just a few yards away. It went over there and ate that, and then it saw another little patch, even more delicious looking, and walked over and – well, you get the idea.

Wandering off isn’t evil, just like being different isn’t bad.

The rest of the group stuck together. Then the shepherd noticed that one was missing.

I remember, years ago, in college, I worked as a counselor at a summer camp. One of my duties was lifeguarding.

I took the Red Cross safety courses during the winter. I made it all the way to the top level – I was a Water Safety Instructor. We learned all kinds of techniques and skills.

We had to learn how to throw lifelines, how to approach a drowning person, how to break loose if they tried to grab you. We learned how to tow an unconscious person, even if they weighed more than the person who was rescuing them..

For the final test, I had to tow this great big football player, who weighed at least 100 pounds more than I did, four lengths of the pool. I was so exhausted, I needed to be rescued myself!

But the number one skill we had to practice, every day down at the lake, was counting.

It was a very well-run camp, with a good ratio of counselors to campers. We had one counselor to every 15 campers who were swimming in the water.

And the whole time, our most important job, was simply to count the kids, over and over.

If I was at the dock, there might be 20 kids in my area, with another counselor beside me. And we would just count the heads, from 1 to 20, at least once or twice a minute. As soon as I finished, I’d take a breath, look around, and start counting again.

As long as I could see them all, I knew they were all safe. If I came up one short, I’d count again, and then blow the whistle. All the kids had a swimming buddy, and they had to hold up their hands together. If one kid was missing, we knew immediately who it was.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. Just counting is the most important lifesaving skill there is.

And it’s the shepherd’s job, too. The shepherd’s job is to look out for all of the sheep, not just the majority. If you bring 99 home and lose one, that’s not a successful day.

The reason this story is so important, is that Jesus is the shepherd in the story. And like the shepherd in the story, Jesus was always counting, to make sure that none of his sheep are lost.

Jesus said, “If any of you lost just one of your sheep, wouldn’t you leave the flock, and go out into the wilderness to find it, and search everywhere? And when you find it, you bring it home on your shoulders, and you call your friends and say, ‘Rejoice with me – I found my sheep that was lost’!”

This story is one of the foundations of Christianity. It’s who Jesus is. It’s what Jesus does.

A whole lot of people, who know zip about religion and couldn’t care less – they understand this one. An uncountable number of people, who couldn’t recite even one Bible verse, are still able to say, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.”

That is why people love Jesus. They love him because they know that he cares. He’s the good shepherd.

But there’s more going on here.

This story is the foundation for a lot of careers people choose. People who care, not just about the comfortable 99 who never got lost – they care about the one that’s missing, the one that’s hurt, the one that didn’t come up for air.

I’m talking about teachers who care about the kid with special problems. I’m talking about doctors and nurses and health care workers who dedicate their lives to helping people who are sick, and counselors who help people who are troubled.

I’m talking about city workers who keep things going in crises like this, not because it’s their paycheck, but because it’s their calling. I’m talking about first responders who come at any hour of the day or night, putting their own lives at risk, for the sake of people in trouble.

The story of the good shepherd is the life story of all these people, and many more.
But there’s a few more things about this story that we can learn.

The way Jesus told it, it’s also about not judging. People who led very bad lives had heard about Jesus, and they were coming to listen to him. And all the critics said, “This Jesus – he welcomes these low-lifes! He even sits down for meals with them!”

I don’t think Jesus approved of sin, or encouraged people to live bad lives. If anything, Jesus calls us to a higher standard. Christianity is about leading better lives, about going to the heart of God’s commandments and doing more than we’re required.

But it’s also about sincerely welcoming people. All of them, without holding back.

The 99 comfortable, respectable folks who never step over the line and wouldn’t even think of wandering away – Jesus loves us, too. When we’re in trouble, Jesus is right here, instantly.

But the ones who are lost, or hurt, or bullied, or rejected or in danger – they’re the ones the good shepherd notices and goes after.

People keep asking me, “Why are we doing so much during the COVID-19 crisis? Most people aren’t going to get all that sick from it. Maybe only 1 or 2 per cent are going to be on a ventilator.”

Today’s story is part of the answer. Jesus cares about the majority, who are enduring serious hardships. But we care, because Jesus cares, about the minority. And we also care about the people who are helping them, who are going to get completely overwhelmed if the rest of us get careless or make selfish decisions.

The story of the good shepherd is a major reason we need to listen to the protesters, even if we don’t agree with every sign they carry. It’s why I listen very carefully to the Me Too movement. It’s why I care a lot about Native American rights.

If one sheep is missing, if one group is being treated badly or unfairly, Jesus cares about that. And if Jesus cares, then his followers like us need to care.

The bottom line of this story is that individual human beings matter to God. God is willing to turn things upside down for the sake of one person who’s lost or missing. People aren’t percentages or statistics to God. Every one is a precious soul, who Jesus came to love and save.

Some people would say that’s lousy arithmetic. Jesus says that every life matters – especially the ones that nobody cares about.

Like all the stories Jesus told, we’ve got to make our own application.
I can’t tell you want to think, or what to do, in these difficult times.
Just remember that Jesus is the good shepherd. He cares for all of us.

Thanks for listening. Read the story again for yourself. It’s in Luke chapter 15.
Please call me or e-mail me any time. I’m always glad to listen!

Please pray for everyone. Please support Springfield Friends, or whatever fellowship you belong to.

Until we meet again, in Jesus’ name. Amen

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