God’s Love for the Lost and Straying
Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Matthew 18:10-14 / II Peter 3:8-13
So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Dear Christian Friends,
In this church year, we have been weaving our way through the Gospel of Matthew and what scholars call his five teaching discourses. In the Epiphany season, we studied the Sermon on the Mount, in the Easter season we studied the second / Jesus as Missionary. This summer we studied through the third / Jesus as Story Teller. In November, we will study the fifth discourse / Death, Resurrection, World Judgment. This weekend and last, we focus on the fourth discourse / Life in the Community of Faith.
Last weekend, Pastor Muther brought forth three thoughts about the Place of Children in the Community of Faith – 1) What it means to be child like, 2) Who we are and how we live out who we are will have impact both the good and the bad in people around us, and 3) The greatest thing we can do in a day is to receive what God is trying to give us.
This morning, we focus on God’s great love for the lost and the straying. We operate with the premise that it really isn’t our assignment to figure out whether folks are still in the faith or have been lost to the faith, it is our assignment to care about the same things our Good Shepherd cares about, it is our assignment to have this Godly desire that not one of these little ones should perish, it is our assignment to go looking for those who have been scattered from the flock and invite them back into the green pastures and near the still waters.
We might have only (one chance). My first assignment as a pastor was to Immanuel Lutheran near Lewiston, MN. We came there in August of 1980, and for the previous three and a half years, they had been without a full time pastor. Some congregations have a way of struggling without the leadership of a full time pastor, but not this one, not so much. In fact, they had established an evangelism committee, and there were a number of their members who had been trained to go out and about, knocking on doors, making Gospel presentations. In particular, there was a man named Erwin, who was on fire for getting into the homes of people and making a full fledged Gospel presentation. He was a bit more aggressive than most of us, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, my sense was that the folks really didn’t want the full load, but his philosophy was “this might be our only chance.” He very much had this desire of our Father in heaven that no one should perish, this great desire for all to reach repentance, this great desire for the amazing grace of God to be received and unleashed into the hearts of the lost and the straying in our community.
Three truths we want to learn today about God’s amazing grace. Three truths arising out of today’s Old Testament Lesson, today’s Gospel lesson, and today’s Epistle Lesson, in that order. (The words for the first two parts of our sermon today come from a Facebook cartoon I saw recently – a lady with a frazzled and impatient look on her face declares first, “I could use some help around here.” And then secondly, with a different kind of a look on her face, she declares, “I’ll just do it myself!”)
Lesson #1 from our OT reading - I’m just going to come down there and do it (myself).
For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. (Ezekiel 34:11)
Years ago, I can remember getting ready to do a painting project in our parsonage basement, and our daughter Michelle wanting to help. I said sure, you can help, but the more I watched her paint, the less I wanted her to help. I wasn’t particularly patient with her, and it wasn’t long before I suggested she go and play and I would just do it myself!
In much the same way and on a much grander scale, the more God saw the shepherds of Israel in action in the days of Ezekiel, the more he knew he would just have to come down out of heaven and shepherd the people himself. The shepherds of that day were feeding themselves, but not the sheep. The weak they were not strengthening, the sick they were not healing, the injured they were not binding up, the straying they were not bringing back, the lost they were not seeking out. The sheep were getting scattered because there were no shepherds that cared about them. They were wandering all over the mountains and on every high hill, and nobody was searching for them.
And so God announces what He had already declared throughout the ages, beginning with Adam and Eve and repeating to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and to their descendants. From heaven above to earth below, He would be coming. Ezekiel prophesied what King David had already written- Yahweh Himself would be the shepherd of His people, He would make his people lie down in green pastures, He would lead them beside the still waters, even though God’s people would walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they would not be afraid, Jesus would be with them always, even to the end of the age.
Lesson #1 today for this community of faith is spend our days rejoicing. To keep on rejoicing that Jesus Christ has already come down and done it all by Himself. Keep on rejoicing that He came on a search and rescue mission, and mission has been accomplished. When He declared on the cross that it was finished, he said what he meant and meant what he said. Nothing we can do or say can add to what he has already done. He came looking for us in the waters of Baptism, and He has found us. He comes looking for us in the preaching of His Word, and He comes looking for us in the bread and the wine of the wine of the Supper, and every time we receive the gifts He is giving, the lost are found, the straying are rescued, the injured are bound up, the weak are strengthened, the hungry are fed, all is well here on earth as all is well in heaven.
If lesson #1 is to spend our days rejoicing in what our Good Shepherd has already done, lesson #2 is to be passionate about what He is still doing. If lesson #1 is to rejoice in a mission accomplished, then lesson #2 is to be passionate about the mission ongoing. Or to say it as moms and dads often say when they are trying to teach their children the value of pitching in and doing projects together, I could use some (help) around here.
Lesson #2 comes from our Gospel reading – the words of Jesus - See that you do not despise one of these little ones….So it is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish.
This is, in fact, the overarching theme of the Pentecost season, which begins 50 days after Easter and extends all the way to the end of November. Pentecost was that day when Jesus Christ poured out His Spirit like he had never poured it out before in the history of the world. From that day forward, the followers of Jesus were to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world, from that day forward, the Church was to be focused on making disciples of all nations by baptizing in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and by teaching all things that God has commanded. From that day forward, every little Christian congregation all over the world was to see to it that they were not despising even one of these little ones. From that day forward, pastors and boards of elders were to have on their agenda how best to search for and rescue those who had gone astray. From that day forward, Christians in every generation were to be out and about joining Jesus on His mission to seek and to save the lost.
If lesson #1 was for this community of faith to keep on rejoicing that Jesus Christ has already done it himself, and if lesson #2 is for us to know that Jesus can use our help around here, then lesson #3 out of today’s Epistle lesson is for us to know that God’s patience with sinners is not to be confused with a lack of seriousness.
Lesson #3 is from our Epistle reading - The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance…Peter goes on to say that the day of judgment is coming like a thief in the night, the world as we know it will be passing away, believers will be saved, and unbelievers will be condemned.
Peter would have our Father in heaven looking us in the eyes today and saying, I’m (serious). I’m serious about waiting for the Gospel to be preached in all the nations. I’m serious about both Jews and Gentiles to be invited to the great banquet hall. I’m serious about every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.
As the shepherd who left the 99 and went searching for the one lost sheep was serious, as the woman who lost one of ten coins and searched until she found it was serious, as the father whose prodigal son came home was serious about celebrating the forgiveness of sins, so is our God serious about His Church carrying out His Great Commission. He’s serious about the mission and ministry of Christian congregations and institutions near and far. He’s serious about preachers preaching in faithful fashion week after week, He’s serious about children getting baptized and raised up in the discipline and nurture of their Savior, He’s serious about His cross being lifted High, His Name being hallowed, and His Kingdom of grace coming more and more in our midst.
In closing today, we note how often it is that we get distracted from the mission of the church. Some times we are distracted by life going well and other times by life not going well. Some weeks, we are distracted into complacency by our prosperity and other weeks we are distracted into panic mode by crisis. This past Monday morning, we woke up to news of Las Vegas in crisis. We watched in horror as a crazy man perpetuated unimaginable evil on hundreds of concert goers, killing 59, injuring hundreds, and outraging millions. Many of us spent time wondering where was God and how God’s Kingdom could possibly be extended in these days of tragedy.
In response, a columnist name Mike Rowe responded with an article pointing out how the spirit of Americans is (unstoppable) during crisis. quick to rise up and not be silenced.
“The world is as uncertain as the people in it, and we share this land with some very uncertain folks. But we also share it with living proof that hope will never die.
Take comfort in men who threw themselves over other people’s children. They are no less real than the killer, and they are still with us.
Take comfort in the woman who loaded wounded strangers into her car and drove them out of harm’s way.
Take comfort in the hundreds of first responders who risk their lives every day, and the hundreds of anonymous citizens who stood in line to give their blood.
Take comfort in the fact all good people are shattered, and that you are not alone.
In this very place and in this very hour, we ask for more and more of the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, we ask for the seriousness of those first responders and medical personnel in Las Vegas to be our seriousness, we ask for God’s desires to be our desires.
The kingdom of God is like a large community of faith in a small town who struggle to stay focused on the one thing needful. They care deeply about the kingdom of God and His righteousness, but they often get distracted by all these other things in life. But as the years go on, the Holy Spirit has a way of drawing them closer and closer to their Savior. More and more these days they are rejoicing that Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to seek and to save the lost. More and more they realize what a privilege it is to be part of His ongoing search and rescue mission. As often as they come with their brokenness to their God, that often they find joy rising up on the inside of them, that often they find their eyes being opened to see what it is that God is wanting them to see. In Jesus Name. Amen.
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