Read Luke 10:1-7, Psalm 107:1-9 here.
I’m feeling a little sheepish about this parable. What do ewe think? It’s a story about sheep, an analogy, a metaphor (ask what’s it meant-a-for?). Jesus uses this story to answer the religious authorities who are complaining to Jesus about the people he’s hanging out with, people of doubtful reputation who came to hear Jesus talk. And they aren’t just listening to Jesus, they’re also sharing a meal with Jesus. To those religious authorities, i’s a ca-lamb-ity. Their complaining is what triggered his story.
- I wonder how well we relate to a story about sheep. How many of you have sheep or have ever had sheep? How about cows or goats or pigs? I think some of you have experience with those. How about children? Lots of us have experience herding children.
- What about herding adults?
- Maybe all of us have at some point been responsible for a group in some way. If we find that one of our group is missing, what do we do? Nowadays we send them a text. If that doesn’t work we try something else. We do everything we can to find them. Of course. Because every single person matters. We don’t want to lose anyone.
This past week, we gathered at Sterling Lake to remember 9/11, maybe the most significant event in most of our lifetimes, the day of the attack on the twin towers in New York City. Those two buildings were 104 stories tall, and at the time they were built were the tallest buildings in the world. There were turnstiles at the entrances that counted the people going through them, and so they know that there were 14,154 people in those buildings that day. Knowing that, it’s amazing that so many got out. 3000 people died in those attacks, not only people who worked in those towers, but also people who had gone in to find people and help them get out.
One of the stories that caught my interest this week told how the medical examiner’s office in New York is still working on identifying remains from 9/11. By now families have already had funerals for their missing loved ones, but many received no remains to bury. Just this week, using DNA technology that keeps improving, the forensic biologists were able to identify two more of the bone fragments, and give those two families a little more assurance and closure. There are still over a thousand more to be identified. Those scientists aren’t giving up until they’ve found the identities of all of them.
God doesn’t give up on us, either. That’s what Jesus was trying to convey. He’s saying, “I’m here with these people that you think are unworthy because they’re important to me, just like you are.” No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. No one is unsalvageable. Everyone matters to God.
I think we probably agree with that theoretically. What gets trickier is putting that into practice. One of the reasons it’s especially tricky is that it’s hard to know what’s going on inside of people. Our culture encourages us to view religion as a private matter. But In the words of Saint Basil of Caesarea, if faith is just a private matter, “Whose feet will you wash?” We cannot live out our faith alone.
Jesus said, “I came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) Jesus seeks us out. God pursues us. We talk a lot about us seeking God, but Psalm 23:6 says that God’s goodness and mercy pursue us all the days of our lives.
God knows our hearts. We can’t see each other’s hearts quite like God does. We’re like icebergs. We spend most of our time interacting with each other on the surface, but there’s so much more going on beneath the surface that we don’t see. It takes spending time with people to get to know them enough to get to the stuff beneath the surface. Spending time like Jesus was, sharing a meal, hanging out together, listening to each other’s stories, giving each other the space and freedom to be real with each other. And what we might find is that people we thought were fine are actually struggling, and people who we thought were a mess are really ok.
It’s really hard to know, which is why we need to be praying about our interactions with people, and letting the Holy Spirit guide us, because the Spirit knows our hearts. This is one of the ways “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Just this week I was praying about what to do about a situation, and in the middle of that got a phone call from someone I’ve never met who answered the very question I’d been asking. Things don’t always work out that way, but then sometimes they do!
This week there was a story in the news that was bothering me a lot. It was the story about a pastor that committed suicide. This pastor had been very open about his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. He and his wife and been very active in reaching out to help others who were dealing with depression. How, with all of that, did he still go through with it? His wife tweeted, “Suicide and depression fed you the worst lies, but you knew the truth of Jesus, and I know you’re by his side right this very second.”
I wanted to know more because this hits very close to home. Some of you already know that my husband Rob is bipolar and he struggles with suicidal thoughts, and so I asked him about this pastor. How could it be that this pastor was helping other people but still committed suicide? We don’t know the details about that pastor’s story, but Rob told me that when he was struggling the worst, he was working hard at helping others because he hoped he could prevent them from being like he was. Rob said, “I didn’t believe that I qualified. I didn’t believe that the gospel applied to me. I thought I was unsalvageable.” Depression feeds us lies, and so Rob felt he was beyond help. Unsalvageable. But nobody is unsalvageable.
That pastor, Jarrid Wilson’s hashtag was #yourlifematters. It goes right along with the video we watched earlier, about helping people know that we are all children of God. We need to remember and spread the word that because of Jesus, death never has the final word. And Jesus died for everyone. No one is unsalvageable.
In your bulletins this morning, there are green papers with a picture of a sheep. Take that out. My challenge to us this week is to pray about who is missing. Who needs to know or be reminded that they matter and they are a child of God? Whoever comes to mind as you pray, write their name on that sheep, and keep praying for them, and praying about ways to connect with them and to help them know that they matter, that they are not alone, and that you care about them.
The name you write there might be someone you know well, or barely at all. It might be someone you see often, or someone you don’t yet know how to reach. It might even be you. You can be honest with yourself and with God. You’re keeping that green paper.
If you would like help in contacting the person whose name you write on the sheep, put a note on the yellow card, and we can help. If you would like to talk about any of this, you can put a note on the yellow card, or talk to one of us directly and we’ll get together.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, tell someone please. Even a delay of long enough to tell someone can stop the impulse to harm yourself.
Nobody is unsalvageable. Everyone matters to God. Everyone is a child of God. The proof is in this verse in our reading today that is also our memory verse for this week:
There are billions of people, but God throws a party in heaven when even just one turns to Jesus. In a minute we’re going to sing an old hymn about Jesus calling us to come home. It’s about Jesus calling to everyone to come to faith, to return to faith, to come home to the family of faith.
We’re called to continue Jesus’ mission to seek and find lost people. There are three ways we do that:
- By how we live,
- by the relationsheeps we develop, (Did I say relationsheeps? Ewe know I meant relationships.)
- and by invitation.
By how we live – means to live with integrity and character, continually seeking to be more and more like Jesus.
By the relationships we develop – looking for opportunities to get to know each other more than just on the surface, taking time to listen to one another.
By invitation – In Jesus’ story about the shepherd finding the lost sheep, he finds the sheep and says, “Hey, I found you! I hope you’ll come home sometime. Bye!” No, he picks up the sheep and carries it back to the flock, and then gets everyone together to celebrate. In the same way, we can invite people to our homes, or to our gatherings, but even better is to pick them up and bring them with you.
Not long ago I was invited be part of a group I had never attended before. A few days before the meeting, one of the group called and said, “I’ll come pick you up and we’ll go together.” It was surprisingly nice to have someone shepherd me through that awkward first time. They introduced me to people, showed me where to go and what to do, and explained things I didn’t understand.
It’s like that for people who haven’t been to church, or who haven’t been to church for a long time, or who have thought that they weren’t good enough or welcome among church people. We show people that they matter and that they are welcome by making sure they’re invited and included.
We live in a world that is full of more ways to communicate with one another than ever before. Even though that’s true, that also allows us to keep our interactions more surface level, and sterile. We need to work to find ways to talk with people about what really matters, so everyone knows that they matter.
Who is missing? Let’s keep watch and make sure no one is left out.
You’re not alone. Confidential help is available for free.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255
Your life matters! You are a child of God!
Rev. Jeff Cheadle, recently retired from Stonebridge Community Church in Simi Valley, California, used to say this!