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Lectionary 24C Pr 19    
Grace  Lutheran Church    
Lakeland, FL      
September 11, 2022

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
I Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The world is all around us, isn’t it. So, as urged by Karl Barth, I set out this week to prepare this sermon with my Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Today we remember the devastation of a single event twenty-one years ago that changed our lives forever. And, of course, we are witnesses to a nation and commonwealth that grieves the death of Queen Elizabeth II who held the throne as long as many of us have been alive. And the death barely two weeks ago of Mikhail Gorbachev whose leadership contributed to the dismantling of the Soviet Bloc – we may remember President Reagan’s words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”.There is the ongoing concern about the nuclear plant Zapor EEE jia and the disaster that could result, reminiscent of Chernobyl in 1986. And so with all this going on, not to mention that partisan turmoil in our country, yes, with all this we gather, whether on-site or online, today and indeed Sunday upon Sunday.

We gather not only in the midst of the tremendous needs and challenges of the world around us, but also with whatever burdens we each are carrying. Whether it is worry over our health or that of a loved one, concern for finances, maybe mental illness and depression. Or maybe it is a simple generalized anxiety that is the result of living in this world – these things are contagious, you know.

As we look out at the world around us, we may wonder if God has forgotten us, that we don’t really count. And that is when we turn to today’s Gospel. We read there two parables. You will remember that a parable is often read, however mistakenly, as an allegory where X stands for A and Y stands for B and A plus B = a moral of the story. Sometimes that may be true, but, as some of you have heard me say before, I rather think that most parables are like kaleidoscopes. When you look through one end, you see one distinct pattern, but then if you turn that end just a bit, something brand new comes into view that may be similar to what you saw first or just might be something rather different.

Today’s first parable is like that-- the Parable of the Lost Sheep. There are at least a couple of things to notice. The first I would characterize as extraordinary and the second I would characterize as radical.
Here’s the extraordinary part. The shepherd is out grazing the flock of 100 sheep over which he is keeping watch. Would you please get the image of a flock of 100 sheep in your mind's eye.  Maybe led beside still water. Maybe grazing on a hill. OK, you have the image? Hold on to it for a moment. OK. 

Now, I would like you to erase that image and instead get an image of a flock of 99 sheep. OK. Do you have that in your mind? OK, Compare and contrast. How is this one different in your mind’s eye from the first one? Can you distinguish in your mind’s eye between these two?  Well, I sure can't. Here is the extraordinary thing -- the shepherd could. The shepherd looked at those in his charge -- this flock of 100 wooly creatures and said "Ooops, one is missing! Where is that pesky little Alex? Did he run off again?" Extraordinary isn't it, that the shepherd knew his own so very well that when one of them was missing, the flock looked different to him.

What happens next? -- this is the radical part. The shepherd out in the middle of the grazing area heads off to go find pesky little Alex. No biggie we may think. But let's think again. Out in the middle of this grazing land there were dangers to sheep -- not exactly lions and tigers and bears. But there were hazards. Wolves and other predators could come. Others of the sheep could head off. The flock could scatter. Yet, the shepherd leaves the 99 together to go find the one. Radical.

He finds the one, places it on his shoulders and returns to the flock where there is much rejoicing. He calls out to his friends and his neighbors -- Alex is back -- come on! Let's party! And the celebration began -- not just here on earth but also among the angels in heaven.

Two happenings -- one extraordinary and one radical. In some places this is not known as the “Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Rather it is known as the Parable of the Incomplete Flock. Let me repeat this. 

Now to reflect a bit more on sheep -- this is important. Sheep were not made to live independently on their own. They were meant to live in a flock. We too as Christians were not intended to live isolated lives on our own. Rather we are meant to live in community with God through the Holy Spirit and with one another.

There are a couple of thoughts here about living in community. First, we are mindful of each other -- we notice who is here and who is not. As we gather today each Sunday, let us be mindful of who is missing from our midst.  And as importantly, we are mindful of the fact that our flock is not limited to those who gather on-site but also includes those who are with us online. And, we of this flock are a part of the much larger flock that includes the entire Body of Christ. So it is that we are part of a big big house with lots and lots of yard and a great big table with enough room for everyone. There are Roman Catholic Christians, Methodist Christians, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, inter-denominational and non-denominational Christians. Quite the flock this is, no?

But the flock is even more than this. Immediately after the shepherd returns home with the lost sheep on his shoulders, Jesus tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. What do we learn from this? We learn that the sheepfold -- the flock -- includes those who are not righteous before God. It is this one that the shepherd went off to find. Radical action.

Do you know someone who is lost and has not been found? Do you know someone whose life is incomplete because they have not responded to God's grace in their life? Do you know someone who has wandered far from their flock?  

What radical action do we take to reach out to this one? Do we open our doors and say, "here we are, come on in"? That is well and good but not exactly radical as the shepherd was radical. The shepherd was willing to put aside all that he held most important in order to reach the one, the other one, the wayward one, the lost. This was a radical risk-taking flock-tender.

Now, one more thing. What I have been describing is from the perspective of the flock, the 99. But there’s another way of looking at this – perhaps you feel like the 1, like that pesky little Alex or Alexa. Perhaps you feel alone and lonely. Maybe you have wandered away from home. Maybe you see no bright light in your future. Maybe you want to have a place where everybody knows your name. We rejoice that you are here. 

Come along with us. Tell us your name. Come and join our song and worship.(Sing)

It is our prayer that you will feel the wonder of God’s love in our midst. Come splash in the waters of baptism. Come and feast at the Table. After worship, join us in Fellowship Hall for a cookie or two. Tell us a bit of your story. And we’ll tell you a bit of ours. (sing)

And in this the flock, the very Body of Christ, is knit together with yarns of compassion and love and faith.

May it be so. Amen.