Sermon by Michael Robinson
Ever been lost? I remember getting lost when I was very young. I was shopping with mother and got distracted – probably at the toy shelves – and suddenly realised mum wasn’t within skirt-tugging range! A helpful shop assistant lifted me up high so I could see over everybody’s heads. I not sure who spotted who first, but I was as happy as she was when we saw each other!
I know what she went through when I became a parent. Our little bloke stopped to look at something in the shopping centre, and my wife and I kept walking. Our hearts sank when we realised he was no longer with us. We went back the way we’d come, looking for him. And there he was, wandering around without a care in the world. He didn’t even realise he was lost. I’m sure he didn’t understand why we were so happy to see him!
Jesus wanted us to understand how God feels when people wander away from him – whether they realise they’re lost or not – and how God feels when they come back to him. Let’s revisit some stories Jesus told about lost and found…
On a gentle breeze, Reuben heard the soft sound of frightened bleating. He cocked his head and listened, trying to work out where the sound was coming from. He glanced at the sky. Sunset colours streamed from the western horizon. Soon it would be dark. He didn’t have much time to find his runaway sheep. He clambered up a small rise towards the faint bleating. Down the other side in a shallow gully, he found the sheep. It had run into a thorn bush, and got itself all tangled up. The more the animal struggled, the more its wool became entangled in the thorns – and the more the thorns pricked and scratched.
“There you are, you stupid sheep!” laughed Reuben. The sheep recognised the shepherd’s voice, and bleated with relief. Reuben knelt down and cradled the animal’s head in his hands. “Look at the trouble you’re in, running away like that. I should leave you out here overnight to teach you a lesson!”
He took out his knife and cut away the wool tangled in the thorns. When the sheep was free, Reuben swung it up onto his shoulders and headed for home. “Good thing someone cares about you, my foolish sheep!” he chuckled. “Joel would have left you to fend for yourself!” His foreman had thought it was a waste of time to go looking for the one sheep that had strayed off. “Don’t bother about it, boss. You’ve got plenty of others!”
Reuben had disagreed. “No Joel, they’re all valuable. And I can’t bear to think of that poor animal out there at the mercy of wolves and thieves.”
When he arrived back at the sheepfold, he called out for his foreman. “Hey Joel! Come and see what I’ve found!”
Joel came out of the barn. His face broke into a broad grin. “Well, what do you know? You found it! I still don’t know why you bothered, but if it makes you happy, then I’m happy.” He paused, “Alright. I guess I’m happy for the stupid sheep, too!”
Joel went back into the barn, and brought out a bucket of grain. “Well, stupid sheep, I expect you’re hungry – here’s a special treat for you. Welcome back to the fold!”
The two men laughed, and went inside for their own supper.
Jesus said: I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7 (NIV)
Do you share the joy of heaven when the undeserving come back to God?
Reuben was down at the sheep pens, coming to the end of a long and tiring day working the farm. He stood to stretch his back and glanced towards the entrance gate. There was his father, standing there, staring up the road. Every afternoon he went to the gate and just watched the road. Reuben frowned and muttered, “Why does he do that? Wasting time on wasted money!”
He watched his father sadly shake his head and begin to walk back to the house. His father saw him and came over to the pens. He smiled warmly at his son. There was love in his eyes. “You’re working late again! Joel told me about last night, how you went out and found that runaway sheep! You really care about every part of this farm, don’t you. You do such a fine job…”
Reuben turned away from his father and busied himself with something unimportant. He didn’t notice the pain it caused his father. “Reuben… Reuben, what is it, son?”
Reuben straightened up and turned to face his father. “You just don’t get it, do you? You just don’t get it! You almost ruined this business when you gave him all that money! But I’m still here – every day, slaving away for you. And every day, you wander up to that gate, expecting him to come back.”
“Do you think I love you any less? Are you saying I don’t care about what you do, because I’m concerned about what he might be doing?”
“You said it… I mean, do you really appreciate what I do around here for you? When will you just accept the fact that you have only one son?”
Tears welled up in the father’s eyes. “I love you so deeply, sometimes it actually hurts. I long to spend time with you, but you are so busy working for me, you have no time for me.”
“The estate needs all my attention,” Reuben snapped.
“Does it really?” His father frowned, “What are you trying to prove… that you are worthy to inherit this property?”
Reuben shrugged and stared at the ground.
“Son, don’t you understand? Everything I have is already yours! You don’t have to earn your inheritance – or my love!” He looked down at the sheep. “Last night, you went searching for a lost sheep. You were delighted to find it safe.” He pointed down the road. “Can’t you understand how I feel about him, lost out there somewhere?”
“Yes it is. He is my son. He is your brother. He is much more valuable than all these sheep put together!”
Reuben hardened his face, turned and began to walk away. His father called after him, “You honour me with your hard work and sense of duty, but your heart is as far from me as is your brother’s! I have two sons, but I fear you are both lost to me!”
Reuben came home late from a hard day bringing in the barley harvest. He was hungry, thirsty and tired. He threw his sickle in the store room, and made his way towards the house. That’s when he noticed the sound of music and laughter. He spotted Joel carrying some platters of dried fruit from the food barn. “Joel! What’s going on?”
“Oh boss, there you are! I’ve been looking every where for you. Your father told us to drop everything and come to the party!”
“Party? What party?”
“He’s back! He’s come home! Just this afternoon while your father was waiting at the gate.”
“You don’t mean…”
“Yeah, your brother’s come home.”
“So did he make his fortune with all that money?” There was a sneer in his voice.
“I don’t think so. He was dressed in rags, and smelt very strongly of pigs.”
“So he blew it all! And now he’s come back to ask for more, I suppose.”
“No… Actually, he just asked for a job.”
“Dad turned him down of course!”
“Of course. He wouldn’t hear of it.”
“That’s a relief. The old man has still got some sense then. But I still don’t understand what this party is all about.”
“I’m sorry boss, you misunderstood me. You father wouldn’t take him on as an employee, because he forgave him. The party is in honour of your brother’s homecoming…”
“What! He wasted all his money, and my father took him in? Sounds like my father’s the one that got taken in! I don’t understand it!”
“Look, I think you’d better talk to your father.” Joel hurried towards the house. Reuben paced up and down, glaring at the sound of the music, muttering in disbelief.
His father came out, beaming with joy and excitement. “Reuben! Reuben! I’m so glad you’re back from the fields. Come inside and join the celebration.”
“You’re joking, of course. Why would I want to celebrate? I’ve slaved around here all this time, trying to keep this place profitable. Not once have you thrown me a party. Meanwhile, this worthless son of yours deserts us, blows all his money on – heaven only knows what – he makes a complete mess out of his life. And when he comes crawling back home, you treat him like a king! Well, I just don’t understand.”
“Son, all this time I knew where you were. I knew were able to take care of yourself. But that’s not why I love you. I love you simply because you are my son. That’s also why I love your brother. And all this time I didn’t know if he was dead or alive. But he is alive – and home. I’m so happy, I could burst with joy. You have lost nothing – everything I have is yours. But you have regained your brother. Come on son, come in and rejoice that our family is complete again.”
Jesus’ story about The Lost Son is open ended. We get to work out what the older brother decides to do. Did he share his father’s joy that his brother was home, and join the party? Or did he continue to resent his father’s kindness to his wasteful son? More to the point – what would you do if you were the older brother?
Jesus first told that story to people who were self-satisfied with their good behaviour and religious devotion. They figured God would be impressed, too! They resented Jesus’ loving concern for the sinners and irreligious people they so despised. But they didn’t realise they themselves were lost and needed God’s forgiveness as well.
Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32 (NIV)
God cares about people who know they are bad as well as those who think they are good. But in fact we’re all lost to God – until Jesus brings us home. That’s why Jesus came; that’s why he died on the cross and rose again – to find lost people and save them. And God throws a party when they come back to him!