Luke 15:1-10 (Pentecost 14C)

St. John, Galveston 9/11/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

“A Lamb in the Fold of God”

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

It was “a group of tax collectors and sinners.” It’s an interesting combination, isn’t it? What’s up though with the combination? Mind you, it’s not a group of mobsters and sinners, or a group of thugs and sinners, or even just a group of sinners. It’s a group of tax collectors and sinners. I suppose today it would be a group of IRS agents and sinners. But that doesn’t really help much, does it? 

 

Of all the sins that might be committed by mankind, we do tend to single out certain ones, don’t we? We don’t literally use the scarlet letter anymore to mark sinners, but we do a bit of the marking in our minds. Oh, you committed this sin, or that sin. It’s almost as if we think of the commandments of God as being independent from one another. The Scriptures though say that if “you’re guilty of violating one commandment your’e guilty of the whole law.” Still, why do you suppose that particular combination of people constituted the source of such grumbling on the part of the Scribes and Pharisees? 

 

Well, in 1st century Judea, tax collectors and sinners were the dregs of society. They were the one’s the Scribes and Pharisees felt the most justified in looking down on with a certain air of superiority and disdain. They looked down on sinners, well, because they were sinners. They looked down on tax collectors, because they were Jewish citizens who collected Roman taxes, plus a little extra, from their own people. As a whole, they were underhanded and dishonest. As such, they were traitors to the nation.

 

A group of tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus.” The Scribes and the Pharisees grumbled about it. They reasoned that if Jesus were a true prophet of God, He would know better than to associate with people the likes of these. What would He want with tax collectors and sinners anyway? He should be out looking for the righteous! In the mind of a Pharisee, He should be out looking for people like us! People with some sort of value, with something to contribute to His Kingdom! But here He was associating with the “others,” the dregs, as they were, of Jewish society.   

 

As the Scribes and Pharisees grumbled, Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who lost one of His sheep. “What man of you (He said), having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”

 

First, let’s dispatch with the notion that it makes no sense for the shepherd to leave 99 sheep in danger in order to recover one who was lost. The fact is, for a fold this size, that is, 100 sheep, there would have been 3, perhaps 4 shepherds tending the flock. Which means, when the shepherd sought out the one who was lost, the other 99 were left in good care.

 

The parable, as well as the other parables that follow, the one about the lost coin and the prodigal son, sets up a striking contrast between the grumbling of the Scribes and Pharisees over lost sinners who are found, and the rejoicing of the Shepherd and ultimately of the angels in heaven over the same. It speaks volumes to us about the heart of the Shepherd toward His fold, and the relationship that exists between the Shepherd and each of His lambs. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the Shepherd says, My sheep hear My voice and they know Me and they follow Me.” Here, in the parable of the lost sheep, we see other aspects of the Shepherds relationship to His fold. 

 

As we consider those other aspects, I’m going to use the phrase “a lamb in the fold of God,” a number of times. The fold of God are the baptized, those who  have been created anew in Christ Jesus, who have been buried with Christ in baptism into death and who have been raised again according to the likeness of His resurrection. God calls His lambs into His fold through the sacrifice and the merits of the Shepherd Himself.   

 

What then is the relationship of the Shepherd to His fold? First, as a lamb in the fold of God, you are never left to fend for yourself when you stray from the fold. In the case of the parable, where the shepherd lost one of His lambs leaving Him with 99, He doesn’t say, oh well, I still have 99 left, anymore than a parent who tragically loses one of their four children says, oh well, I still have three left. God is a seeking God. Jesus came into the world for that very purpose, that is, to seek and to save the lost, to call each of His lambs to repentance and to His grace and forgiveness.

 

Second, as a lamb in the fold of God, you are valued by God more than it seems you could be, or even should be. As to the parable, God, you see, doesn’t deal in ratios, or percentages when it comes to His fold. I mean, a 1% loss in business isn’t really all that bad. But to the Good Shepherd it is unacceptable. As a lamb in the fold of God, not only do you know His voice, but He knows you, and He calls you by name. 

 

This is an incredibly important point about the Triune God. He is a personal God. Which means, He both knows and He can be and is known. With His rod and staff, His authority and guidance, He comforts His own. And yes, He walks with them through the valley of the shadow of death, swallowing up evil and all that would threaten the safety of His flock. And goodness and mercy follow them all the days of their life. And the dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  

 

God is a seeking God. He’s also a personal God, who knows and is known, calling each of His lambs by name. And third, as a lamb in the fold of God, there is celebration and rejoicing each time you repent of your waywardness and draw near to Jesus. In the parable, when the shepherd finds His wayward lamb, there is no time of protracted shame, or even of restitution. The lamb who was lost isn’t made to follow somewhat distant from the rest of the fold. He isn’t marked or stigmatized. Well, he is marked, but it’s with the sign of the cross of His Shepherd. When He’s found the Shepherd gathers him up and lays him on His shoulders. And then the most amazing happens. The Shepherd rejoices that His lost one has been found! Repentance, forgiveness, restoration, these things gladden the heart of God. If I could be so bold as to say, they make Him happy.

 

Heaven too rejoices over one sinner who repents. It’s as if life has one purpose, one goal. Everything moves along on this journey from point A to point B. There are things that happen, some good and some bad. There are distractions. There are joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. But in the midst of it all, there are these two, repentance and forgiveness, the works of the Almighty in the hearts of His fold. And, when a sinner draws near to Jesus, when he acknowledges his sin, and the Savior declares, “I forgive you,” heaven rejoices.

 

They were tax collectors and sinners, but they might have been thieves and sinners, or liars and sinners, or just plain sinners. They drew near to Jesus knowing the heart of their Shepherd, their God. He’s a seeking God, not willing that any one of His lambs be lost. He’s also a personal God. He calls them each by name, even as He calls you by name. He’s a God who rejoices to restore His own, to gather them together into the safety of His fold. 

 

“And so through all the length of days

Thy goodness faileth never;

Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

Within Thy house forever!”

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +