Sunday 11



1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1-10

Jesus had that ability to make really significant points with only a short story or a memorable tale. Jesus had small stories with big meanings and that is what we have today with the two stories we’ve just heard read in this morning’s Gospel reading. 

So I want today to make some points about the details of these stories which are so challenging. We have to put aside some of the examination of the rights and wrongs of a shepherd leaving 99 and going after 1. As we try to be rational we miss the points of the parable                                                                                                

The first point is that the lost are important. We tend to be critical of the lost, and somewhat resentful that they can just walk back and say sorry. We have a tendency to divide ourselves. We like division and pointing the finger, we thrive on it. Look at the media frenzy a few years ago over the burning of the Koran, the media went into overdrive over the pastor of a church of fifty who wanted to burn a book which was precious to the faith of millions of people. There is something inside of us which responds to taking sides, we point the finger at the lost and say that it is their own fault. We point the finger accusingly and blame the lost for being lost and we make them bad. The response of Jesus to this is to say, well if you are going to call some people bad then I am going to go and be with them. This is a problem for us, we want Jesus to stay with the good sheep and not leave them for the undeserving.                      

The thought of Jesus seeking the lost makes people angry. There is another important feature of the 'Lost' theme today. Whilst we like to be critical of the Pharisees, we should remember that they would not have been angry with Jesus if his only message was that people who are lost should seek forgiveness. This would be called repentance and the Pharisees would have approved of Jesus telling people to repent. The problem with Jesus telling the story of the Lost Sheep and the lost Coin was that neither the sheep or the coin repented, in fact they were not capable of doing so, the coin is an object. The emphasis is not upon the feelings of the sheep or the coin, rather upon the nature of God and how God works. The sheep and the coin don't do anything to contribute towards their being found, indeed they can’t do anything towards their being found. Sheep get lost all the time and they are oblivious, you see them by the sides of busy roads and they are just eating the grass, unaware of the danger in which they are in. So it is that Jesus in his ministry sought them out.                             

The Pharisees were angry at the thought that the lost should receive attention. They were resentful and bitter. We too can be resentful and bitter, but we have to recognise that God will not be happy until the lost are found and so he goes in search of them, not the other way around.                                                        

Like the Pharisees we can be resentful that Jesus goes to the lost, not to shout at them  and  tell  them  to  repent  but  to  show  them  compassion. When we get alongside the lost of society we want to put them on programmes, courses and rehabilitation to make them like us. Jesus doesn’t do that, Jesus went and sought the company of sinners, bad people, and when he found them he didn’t shout at them he ate with them.                                                                                         

That is a profound mystery to the self-righteous. Now it seems to me that this does teach us something about grace and forgiveness. It is not ours to be earned even through faith. We are sought out and saved by God.                                   

Sermons today which speak of the lostness of the human soul and the need to be sorry and God welcoming us back when we do, rather miss the point. The story of the lost sheep is a message about God and the fact that he will become exhausted, go to any lengths to find what is his and has been lost. God is not going to give up, God is relentless and will leave no stone unturned looking for that which has gone astray. And let this be understood, the sheep and the coin have contributed nothing, and didn't know they were lost.                                         

This searching nature of God is what causes us to sing about 'a love that wilt not let me go.' This is why the illustration of a shepherd is such a good one, looking for errant sheep is what shepherds do, they go and put themselves in danger looking for stupid sheep who don't even know they have gone astray. Jesus said "The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost."                                              

The Shepherd searches because the sheep is lost! It is the nature of God to seek out the lost, because they are valuable to him. . We need to hear this and remind ourselves that we have value, importance to God.             

There are occasions when people use the expression, ‘I found Jesus.’ This is really not true is it? They should say ‘Jesus found me’. If we say, ‘I found Jesus’ then that is ridiculous. The sheep doesn’t go looking for the shepherd, the sheep doesn’t know it is lost.                                                                                             

The other point that Jesus is making is that we are all lost. Whilst we are trying to be rational and questioning the wisdom of leaving the 99 good sheep, we miss one of the main points of the story. It is because we are so self-righteous that we fail to recognise that there is no such thing as 99 righteous who are not lost. If we looked at ourselves honestly then we would know that. Not one of us does not need to be continually sought out and saved by God. That is the whole point of the teaching of Jesus. If we are honest we have to admit that each one of us is a lost sheep, there are no self-righteous people, just people who think that they are.

Then there’s the importance of unity I want to say something about the 99 sheep who are left whilst the shepherd goes off. In one sense it is true that the 99 are very important. Let’s think about the parables again, a woman loses a coin and a shepherd loses a sheep, one is lost in each case. But in each case the one is a part of a whole.                     

A woman loses one coin , there are nine left, when she finds the lost coin the nine becomes ten again, A shepherd loses one sheep, there are 99 left, when he goes in search the number of lost sheep becomes 100 again.

In each case there is restoration of the whole. Is Jesus not teaching us how much God will not accept loss, division of the whole? Surely we can see that God wants unity, the completeness which is the opposite of our desire to see fragmentation and separation into good and bad.                                                     

The whole is restored, the point is that without the lost the whole cannot be made, 99 is no good they will be incomplete. God is found in unity.                       

The celebrations are out of proportion. I want to end with just noting the fact that Jesus appears to go over the top in the parables about the rejoicing over the finding of the lost. OK so you found the sheep, the lost coin whatever, why so much rejoicing? You were only down 1% of the sheep why make such a big deal.                                                           

We need to remember that it is a big deal to God. God made each and every one of us and each and every one of us is important. It does not matter to God how lost we are, all are important and none shall remain lost.




Isaiah 60
John 6: 51-69

What in your opinion rate amongst the worst decisions of history. Some of my favourites are the story of how in 1962, the Decca Recording Company rejected an opportunity to sign the Beatles to a long-term contract. "We don't like their sound," Decca explained. "Groups of guitars are on the way out..." oops! Other bad choosers were the nineteen publishers who didn’t think that JK Rowling’s long book about a boy wizard would sell! There was the film studio who auditioned Fred Astaire and completely missed his star quality. They wrote down, “can’t sing, can act, can dance a little”.

In looking at the reading from John’s Gospel I was struck by those missing disciples, the ones that pushed off home instead of sticking by Jesus. That must have been the greatest missed opportunity in the whole of history! Imagine being them! Imagine having met Jesus, following him for a while then just leaving him and the other disciples. What on earth possessed them.? Why did the missing disciples cut and run? Their disastrous decision is the focus of my address this evening.                                                                                               

First let us look at the context. This passage from John comes quite early in John’s narrative, but already the disciples had seen Jesus change water into wine at Cana; they had seen him do miraculous healings and they had witnessed him walk on water! They had heard him acclaimed as the Son of God by no less a person than John the Baptist. All the disciples had personal evidence that in Jesus they had found someone very special, special enough to be the Messiah that all Jews were waiting for. So those disciples didn’t turn back because they thought Jesus wasn’t special enough nor convincing enough.                               

Perhaps they were the sort of lily-livered cowards who run home when things get dangerous? But no, if we examine the history, there is no evidence that any disciples left after the terrifying incident (John 2:14) when Jesus drove all the merchants from the Temple. Everyone must have held their collective breath, waiting to see if Jesus was carted off to prison shortly after but they didn’t leave then at that moment of supreme danger.

Perhaps they found Jesus to be too much of a rule breaker: eating on the Sabbath and flouting too many social norms? But no! The same disciples had stayed when Jesus started doing shocking, unconventional things like talking to a Samaritan woman alone, as though she had been a man! So they weren’t driven away from Jesus because they were boringly conventional and upset by his original approach to the Jewish Laws. So what was it that sent them scurrying off home?

According to John’s Gospel what sent the missing disciples home was Jesus’ bombshell statement that in order to gain everlasting life they would need to feed on his flesh and blood. You can imagine their reactions - Disgusting!                 Impossible! Ridiculous, Meaningless! If we study the context of Jesus’ words it isn’t hard to see why they were rocked to the very core.  If we place ourselves in their minds we can see that the words would seem be appalling and confusing. Was Jesus proposing some sort of cannibalism? How could a decent person drink the blood and eat the flesh of another? What was Jesus claiming? How could he be of the same flesh as God, whom everyone knew did not have a body! What on earth did he mean?                                                                      

Jesus was surely testing his disciples. In a passage a few lines later he relented a little to explain that his words were not literally about the body but were to do with the spirit. His words were to be taken as a metaphor. What he meant would become obvious when he gave his followers the bread and wine at their final meal together and told them they were to eat them as spiritual nourishment in memory of him. They couldn’t know what the true significance of his words might be. And they were upset and offended and gave up on Jesus.                                          

The issue over which the disciples split apart was to do with what some could accept while some could not. Those with literal minds, who demanded a practical demonstration of the meaning were thrown into a crisis of confusion and went home. Those who were willing to accept the bigger picture: the wonders and healings Jesus had done; the mystical things that had happened to them all, were willing to hang in there and see what Jesus was really saying. Those of a more impatient and down to earth disposition could not bear it and they left. And they missed the greatest opportunity we can conceive of: the chance to be with Jesus and to witness his triumph over death. They went home because they didn’t understand the letter of what he was claiming. And they couldn’t take it on trust. And so they missed out on the experience which millions would have loved to witness, Jesus’ ministry on earth.                                    

I think this story, about faith and the willingness to temporarily suspend questions, has tremendous relevance to Christians in any age and for our time. There is much that is difficult for even the most learned and devout Christians to understand about God and the way he works in the world.

For example, believers have grappled with the problem of human suffering since the very  beginning. There are some aspects of our faith which remain in the region of just that, faith. We can’t hope to fully understand God. We can understand aspects of him. God’s greatness and his purpose can be dimly perceived, “through a smudgy mirror” or “a glass darkly” if you prefer. A great deal of our faith isn’t provable but it is knowable. We feel the action of God in the world, we hear him speak to us in our lives, and through the actions of others. Faith is a subtle thing, but powerful. Some of the wisest people in history have shared our faith. Some of the cleverest philosophers have tried to disprove the existence of God but been forced to admit that there is a realm of understanding which exists but cannot be pinned down. The force for good which drives the Universe, which creates love and self-giving can be  experienced but not scientifically measured and put under the microscope. Faith is a doorway through which we must pass in order to experience God. Without it the door remains slammed in our faces. And that is what I think happened with those poor disappointed disciples, they were not willing to trust Jesus, even after all they had seen and experienced. They wanted certainty before they would take the next step, and in that they proved themselves useless to Jesus. Peter for once got the answer right. He didn’t know what was to come or understand the process of Salvation, but he knew Jesus was the Way. In the course of the next year, Peter was to experience the true meaning of Jesus’ mission to save, but he was willing to trust until he did so. This issue of belief, faith, is a key component of our religion. The area of love and spirituality is the least provable part of our existence as humans, but without it we would be less than human. We cannot know how God’s love operates but we see and feel its effects.                                      

God’s purpose in sending Jesus was made clear in the Lord’s own words. He was part of God, sent by God, to give believers everlasting life. The key word in there is believers. Those who prized their sorry little reason over faith in this wonderful Jesus, went home angry and disappointed and confused. Those who stayed, were willing to wait and see what unfolded were rewarded in inconceivably wonderful ways, witnessing for themselves the Risen Jesus, seeing his ascension in Heaven, hearing God speak. I bet those missing disciples wished that they had been there, as we do.








































































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