17th Sunday after Pentecost
In a time of great stress and uncertainty, such as our present era, we human beings have a tendency to seek greater control over our affairs; rigid, tight control. When events beyond our control buffet our lives, we seize up, trying in vain to control more and more of the outcomes in exactly the way we want them to go. But, tragically, this very rigidity is our undoing. We are smashed to smithereens by these forces that assail us.
I remember that as a boy I would grow afraid when dark, dark clouds came rolling in to blacken the sky on the Iowa prairie. “It’s a tornado!” I thought. My dad, much wiser and more experienced, would point to the livestock. He’d say, “If it were a tornado the cattle would not be standing calmly in the feedlot!” All the critters, from the cattle to the dog to the birds would be looking for a safe place, if the storm were going to be really severe.
It’s instinctive for those critters. In a violent storm they look for safety wherever they can find it. And a farmer could get trampled if he rigidly tried to control each and every one of them. Instead, he provides the shelter, gets as many to safety as he can, and then, if necessary, performs search and rescue during the storm. Otherwise, after the storm has passed, then it’s time to round up the strays, fix fences, pick up the pieces, and, hopefully, not have to dispose of dead livestock!
The flock of Christ, the Church, is facing a storm of such stress these days as has not much been seen since the early years long, long ago. The forces of the world, the stresses of life, make this a very stormy time to be the Flock of Christ.
Yet in this storm you will hear voices that cry out for more and greater control over the flock. Beliefs, behaviors, every aspect of the Christian life is to be rigidly controlled in order to achieve measurable and observable outcomes. The voices say that the storm is so bad, you got to control the flock very tightly. But the forces of life, of this world, will only smash the flock of Christ to pieces under such rigid control, scattering and, tragically, killing the faith of many.
It is the faithful thing, rather than trying to exercise rigid control over the flock in a storm, the faithful thing is to provide the greatest shelter possible and guide as many of the flock toward that shelter as possible. And…to see to the work of search and rescue during the present storms. Not tight control, but shelter, and then for those who have bolted, search and rescue.
This is what Jesus is saying in His parable. It’s not a parable about sheep, the 100, the 99, or the 1. It’s not a parable about what methods of control are most effective for keeping 100 of the 100 sheep together in one place. It’s not about the sheep!
Jesus begins His story, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them…” “You,” He says. “Suppose YOU have a flock, and suppose YOU lose one of the sheep.” The parable is not about the sheep, the 100, the 99 or the 1. It’s about the shepherd!
Jesus is very precise. “Suppose one of you…loses one of them.” He doesn’t say, “Suppose one of the sheep get lost,” as though it were the sheep’s fault…though it certainly could be. Sheep do wander. And in a storm…they panic.
And we human beings do that! Like sheep, things distract us. So many things distract us! Got to be doing it all. Really important stuff to do. Stuff that certainly must last an eternity given how much energy we expend doing it! 24/7. We get distracted.
And we human beings, like sheep, get skittish. Someone annoys us, we wander off. Our feelings get hurt, we wander off. We don’t like this or that, we wander off. We get bored, we wander off. And then, throw in all the great uncertainties of this present era, uncertainties and stresses that have people at each other’s throats. Add in all these anti-religion activists with their silly arguments giving more uncertainty to the flock. And…poof…the sheep scatter! It’s what people do!
But Jesus is not telling His story to blame the sheep. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and [you] lose one of them.” His point is to say, “Well, I have!” Jesus does have a flock…all are His…all humanity, believer or unbeliever…is His flock. All are His…but He does not have all…some are lost.
Now this is a startling admission! But for Jesus, He tells this parable to explain what He is doing. Search and rescue. Yes He has some, the 99, but one is lost. Today, in a world of 6 billion people, a few billion are His, the people of faith who follow Him as their Shepherd. But not all 6 billion people of the world are in His flock. And even among those who are…His sheep still wander and scoot at the crash of thunder.
So Jesus, the divine shepherd, has come into the world so that all, 100%, 100 of 100 sheep might be His. The Word became flesh, so that we sheep would not need to find shelter somewhere outside our human, flesh and blood existence. Jesus bears our flesh and blood that we might find shelter in Him. This Shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander…to provide the eternal shelter from the storms of our own creation, from our sin, from our sheepish foolishness. This Shepherd rides the dark storm through Good Friday to the calm of Easter morning, when He steps forth into the fresh air of resurrection life to search and rescue…until 100 of 100 are His.
This is our calling, because we are His. “Suppose you have 100 sheep and lose one,” Jesus says. Our most effective work is in gathering the flock to this place, a shelter against the storms. Because here the Voice of Christ is most clearly heard. Here the food of Christ is lavishly served. Here in the strength of the many as one flock, together, following the Good Shepherd.
But not all for whom Christ died come to this place of Christ when the storms rage. There are those who live without faith and scatter at every thunder clap of life. There are those who belong to the flock of Christ, but are so skittish that rather than join the flock, they too run at every storm. But our calling is to create the Church like a prison, “No one ever escapes from Stalag St. Peter’s.” No…ours is the task of providing this shelter…and while the storms rage, the work of search and rescue.
Each of us according to our calling. Parents have more influence over their children than any pastor or teacher when it comes to matters of faith. And many a child lives within that parent-imparted faith. But some, being human, wander…heedless to the voice of mom or dad. So a Christian friend may have greater influence with that lost sheep. And, certainly, a pastor has a different influence than most…when exercised with some discernment!
But in many ways, by many different voices…in many and various ways, the lost are found. The work is on-going…in some eras, like the present time, made more difficult by circumstances beyond our control. But the work does go on. It was not finished when Christ ascended…it was not finished when the first apostles laid down their lives…it will not be finished in our lifetime. It is on-going.
But that’s not our concern! We are the Flock of Christ, each of us is part of the whole Flock…and we know…each of us knows sheep who are lost. Oh yes, it is a stormy time to be the Flock of Christ…but that means that it’s the best time to look for the lost until we find them. And then…with Jesus, with Him who receives sinners and eats with them…when we find the lost, as we ourselves have been found…with Jesus, we too rejoice.