Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)

Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your vocation is your God-given calling, but it is not your job. For example, to be a father or a mother, a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife – that is your vocation. But to be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker – that is your job. Further, your vocation is quite likely not what you like or want to do, or feel especially gifted, skilled, and equipped to do, but your vocation is simply what God has given you to do in service to others to the glory of His Name. As a result, your Christian vocation is not normally a call to do something, but it is a call to be someone. Your vocation is to be the Christian you have been baptized to be in all the places, and in all the relationships, in which God has placed you.
Elijah had the vocation of being a prophet of the LORD. Arguably, neither Elijah, nor any of the LORD’s prophets, wanted their vocation or believed themselves to be especially gifted, skilled, and equipped to be a prophet of the LORD. Moses, for example, made all sorts of excuses to get out of his vocation, claiming that he had a speech impediment and that he was ineloquent. Jonah fled the other direction when the LORD called him to go to Nineveh. Jeremiah protested that he was too young. Doubting his own abilities, Gideon put the LORD to the test, not once, but three times.
For, the truth is that the vocations the LORD calls you to often do not seem attractive, and often you do not feel up to the task. Yet, still it is the LORD’s call, it is your vocation, and you must do it, you must go. A Mother is still a mother even if she doesn’t enjoy it or want to be. Still she has a service to provide to her children and they depend upon her to do it. A husband is still a husband, even if he is tired and distracted, and would rather be playing golf. He still has a wife and a family to serve who depend upon him to do what the LORD has called him to do. Your vocation is selfless and sacrificial, just as your Lord Jesus sacrificed all to save you from sin and death. And, there is peace and joy in doing your vocation when you recognize and confess that the Lord has chosen and called you to this work. It is a needed work. It is a good work. And it is a holy work.
Vocation is sacrifice, period. When Elijah’s vocation as prophet had come to an end, the LORD called Elisha to be prophet after him. Elisha was out doing his job, plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. And so, to demonstrate in a powerful and visual way the unchangeable and sacrificial nature of his vocation, Elisha sacrificed his oxen and boiled their flesh with the yokes and served it to the people to eat. There was no going back from the LORD’s call and his vocation. Elijah wasn’t even permitted to return to his father and mother to say goodbye. And so, to reiterate, God’s calling, your vocation, is a calling you have whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not. And, yet, there is blessing in doing your vocation – blessing for both you and for those you are called to serve.
Similarly, Simon had just returned to shore after a long, hard, and disappointing day at sea, doing his job, catching fish. He had just finished cleaning and mending his nets and he was ready to go home to supper and to bed when the Lord Jesus called to him to go back out to sea and to let down his nets for a catch. Though he was tired and exhausted, though he thought it was foolish and he didn’t want to go, he submitted and he obeyed the word of the Lord and out he went and dropped his nets into the deep for a catch. And, what did he get for it? Such a great catch of fish that he was literally at risk of drowning! Other fishermen, James and John, came to help, and even their boats were beginning to sink! Exasperated and terrified, Simon thought, as you have likely thought before, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He wanted to be free from the danger of his vocation. He wanted to be anywhere other than there, and if that meant sending Jesus away, then that’s the way it had to be.
Often our vocations can be overwhelming. The responsibility can be terrifying. Simon was made acutely aware of his weakness and his frailty. His ship and his livelihood were sinking, the great catch of fish would be lost, and he himself was critically near death. His cry “Depart from me!” was not a confession of faith, but of unbelief. Simon knew his sin and his unworthiness, but he did not trust in his Lord’s providence, goodness, and mercy. Therefore, like Judas, he despaired and he prepared to die.
But, you can’t quit your vocation. To be sure, many try, but there are consequences in terms of guilt and fear and real-world ramifications – just think of Jonah attempting to shirk his vocation to preach to the Ninevites! The breadwinner of the family can change jobs, but she cannot quit working when her family depends upon her to bring home the bacon. A husband cannot morally quit fulfilling his marital vows to his wife, nor a father his fatherly responsibility to his children.
Therefore Jesus said to Simon, and Jesus says to you who are overwhelmed, fearful, and despairing at the responsibilities of your vocations, guilty in your failings and sins, and ready to chuck it all overboard, to give up and die – Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid!” Jesus absolves you of your sin and guilt and He restores you. More than that, He blesses you and He equips you to do what He has called you to do. “From now on you will be catching men!” And, from that moment on, Simon and the others left everything behind. They left their boats and their nets and all the gear of their job, their profession, their livelihood. They left everything behind, just like Elisha, and they followed Jesus.
We all have vocations. We all have callings from God. Elisha was a plowshare, called to be the prophet of the LORD to succeed the prophet Elijah. Simon, James, and John were fishermen, called to be fishers of men. Matthew was a tax collector. Saul was a Pharisee. And, David was a shepherd. Still, a Christian’s calling is not normally a call to do something, but to be someone. Not all are called to be prophets, apostles, and pastors, but all Christians are called to be Christians in their various and numerous vocations. And, this can often seem an unbearable, unthankful, and a dauntless task. Therefore, St. Peter exhorts you, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” In your vocation, you were called to be a blessing. And, when you faithfully fulfill your calling – that is, when you do what you are called to do – you will be blessed in doing it. Quite often, when you help someone else, you will find that you also have been helped. But, do not do it in order to receive the blessing. Rather, do it because it is your vocation, your calling, and it is what you are supposed to be doing.
And, when you are doing what you are called to be doing, there is always the possibility that someone will notice. They might ask you, “Why are you being so kind to me? You don’t even know me,” or, “Why are you so kind to those who mock you and ridicule you for your faith?” or “How can you be so calm and at peace when everything seems to be falling apart?” Then you will have an opportunity to share with them the hope that you have in Jesus Christ. This is part of your Christian vocation as well.
Truly, our collect prayer today sums up vocation well: “O God, You have prepared for those who love You good things that surpass all understanding.” Here we acknowledge that God has called us to perform the works He has prepared for us to do before the foundation of the world. This is why your vocation, your calling, is holy and truly a good work, for it is the Lord’s calling and work that He has specially called you to perform. “Pour into our hearts such love toward You that we, loving You above all things, may obtain Your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” Here we pray that the Lord would fill us with His love so that we might truly love our God-given vocations and serve our neighbors in love and joy and find that we are blessed in being a blessing, which is so much more than we could ever want or desire.
We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, who selflessly fulfilled His God-given vocation for the life of the world, laying down His own life in selfless, sacrificial service, even unto death, that we might live. Let us then, likewise, lay down our lives for others, knowing that in so doing we lose nothing, but all is gain. You are blessed to be a blessing. But, you can only fulfill your vocation if you trust in and receive Jesus. Therefore, your Lord Jesus comes to you, who are weak, weary, and burdened by the travails of this past week, fearful and anxious at what looms in the week ahead. Your Lord Jesus comes to you, to serve you with His very own precious and holy body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of this Blessed Sacrament. Your Lord Jesus comes to forgive you, to commune with you, to strengthen you, to equip you, and to send you. This is His God-given vocation.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Striking the Balance - A Loving, Compassionate, Merciful, and Faithful Response to Same-Sex Marriage

Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. This is most certainly true.

What has changed? Well, that’s fairly obvious. Marriage has been redefined. At least, the human concept of, and language for, marriage has changed, even if the institution of marriage as God created it has not, and can never change. Nevertheless, for Americans, “marriage” is no longer the union of one man and one woman, has absolutely nothing to do with the capacity for procreation, but has been reduced to a pledge of commitment between any two people regardless of sex or gender. Prior to Friday, June 26, 2015, each state had the freedom to decide on marriage. Now, every state in the union must acknowledge and permit same-sex marriage whether its citizens want to or not. While there have only been a few isolated instances thus far, it is quite likely that individuals, businesses, and institutions that uphold traditional marriage will increasingly be penalized or persecuted in some way. For example, an employee who expresses her Christian belief that marriage is exclusively the lifelong union of one man and one woman could be disciplined or fired for breaking the tolerance code of a business that supports same-sex unions. A private business owner, perhaps a baker, photographer, or florist who does not wish to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony could be sued for discrimination. Even the preaching and teaching of Holy Scripture on marriage and sexuality may eventually be considered hate speech in the United States, as it already is in Canada. Churches will very likely lose their tax-exempt status, forcing many to forfeit their properties, and many more to close their doors. The result being that religious freedom and speech may soon be forced completely out of the public square and confined to only what happens within the walls of the church and your private home.

What hasn’t changed? Well, that’s fairly obvious too. Jesus Christ is still Lord and King over heaven and earth. Jesus still reigns victorious over the devil, the world, and the grave. Marriage is still the lifelong union of one man and one woman as God instituted it in Eden. The Church will continue to persevere through all trial and tribulation and will emerge victorious on the Last Day just as Christ has promised. Orthodox Christians will continue to trust in the Word of the Lord and to live their lives in accordance with it. Orthodox Christian pastors will continue to preach, teach, exhort, admonish, and absolve sinners who repent. And, the Church, with a revitalized sense of Her purpose and with a new urgency, will continue to reach out to broken people in this broken world with the love, grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. There have been, are, and will continue to be countless victims of our culture’s slide into relativism and licensed immorality. While the world may shake its fists and clench its teeth in anger and hatred against Christ and His Church, the fact that we are all broken and in need of healing, that we are all hurting and in need of comfort, and are all sinners in need of forgiveness hasn’t changed.

What should we do? Well, I would hope that this is fairly obvious as well. Nevertheless, many Christians are asking and wondering. What should we do? We should keep on being the Church of Christ. That is to say, we must keep on hearing His Word and receiving His gifts and allowing them to continue to reshape and remold us back into the image of Christ in which we were first created. We must continue to clearly articulate what the Scriptures teach about true marriage and about the true purpose and end of marriage, to reveal to us the marriage of Christ and His Bride the Church. We must strive to recover and to recommit ourselves to upholding the holiness and sacredness of marriage as God instituted it, which we have permitted to become corrupted and devalued by widespread divorce, premarital sex, pornography, and adultery.

Now is not a time to lash out in anger at a world that has immersed itself in a narrative of decline. Now is not a time to bury our heads in the sand and take a position of isolation. Now is not a time to mourn in despair and hopelessness. The Church of Christ has always been at odds with the world. Her Lord Jesus Himself promised us this. Now is the time to be the Church of Jesus Christ in the world, but not of the world. Now is the time to be the baptized children of God and to leaven, salt, and enlighten the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now is the time in which God has placed you to live and to love, to share and to serve. This is not an accident, but it is God’s purpose, place, and calling for you. Do not be afraid. You were baptized for this. Remain faithful unto death, and Christ has promised to give you the crown of life. But, each and every day you live, you are His. He has promised to be with you, and to never leave or forsake you, and that not even death can separate you from Him and His love. Therefore, what is there to fear? If even death has been defeated, what can any man or government take from you or do to you that really matters? Nothing. You are His, period, and always. The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and grant you His Peace.

In the Peace that is Christ Jesus.

+ Pastor Ellingworth

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Homily for The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)

Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Their father loved him so because he was the child of his old age and the son of his favorite wife Rachel, and that made them jealous and angry and filled with hatred for him and for their father as well. And so, they plotted against him, and they threw him in a pit and they sold him into slavery to some Midianite traders. And then, to cover their evil deed, they brought the symbol of their father’s love for him, the object that inspired their jealousy and hatred, the beautiful robe of many colors their father had given him, tattered and torn and smeared with animal blood, and they told their father that his beloved son had been attacked and killed by wild animals.
Approximately twenty years later, they traveled to Egypt to obtain grain, as there was a severe famine in the land. Pharaoh’s second-in-command was merciful to them and provided them grain for their families. When they returned a second time, Pharaoh’s second-in-command revealed himself to his brothers. The brother they envied and hated, whom they sold into slavery and lied to their father about saying that he was dead, he was alive and powerful and merciful.
But, still, they were fearful and full of jealousy and hatred. Though they knew he was their brother, and that he had shown them mercy and kindness instead of wrath and punishment, still they feared him and they hated him. They murmured amongst themselves, maybe he will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him. And so, they continued their deceit and they devised yet another lie. They sent a message to their brother saying that his father had given this command before he died, that Joseph would forgive his brothers and, get this, himself too!
Joseph wept. Jesus wept. God the Father weeps. Why do they weep? They weep because we human creatures are so very, very corrupted by sin that we are truly blind and cannot see. They weep because we men, women, and children have such huge, sinful logs in our eyes that we cannot see the grace, mercy, and love that is being offered to us. Moreover, we are so very, very corrupted by sin that our flesh and reason do not want God’s grace, mercy, and love. We do not trust it. We resent it. We fear it. And so, we lie, and we flee, and we hide. We plot murder, we try to kill God, and we make excuses to cover it all up. We are afraid of being caught, of being exposed, and so we hide like cockroaches in the darkness of our sinful depravity. We assuage our feelings of guilt and fear by judging and condemning others, so that we can feel righteous and justified ourselves – at least, more righteous and justified than others.
Joseph wept. He wept because, though he had shown them nothing but mercy and compassion, still they feared him and did not trust him, still they hated him and despised him. Joseph wept because, despite all that, he did love them. Joseph loved his hateful brothers who wanted him dead. Joseph loved them because he loved God, and he knew that God loved both him and his brothers. Joseph did not judge himself better, holier, more righteous than his brothers. There but for the grace of God go I, he confessed. Joseph knew the grace and mercy he had received from God, how God delivered him from his brothers, from the Midianites, from Potiphar, and ultimately from Pharaoh himself. Therefore, Joseph loved his brothers, even though they hated him. Joseph loved his brothers despite themselves, and he could see, he knew, that God had worked everything – even all the evil and hatred of his brothers and the treachery of Potiphar’s wife – Joseph knew that God had worked everything for good, just as He promised in His Word. When his brothers threw themselves down before him and offered their lives in service to him – because they could not see his grace, mercy, and compassion, but thought only evil of him – Joseph wept and said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them. He gave them the best land in Egypt and provided for his father, his brothers, and their families.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” Any of you heard that lately? I have, exclusively from folks who were very happy about this week’s ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States making the right to same-sex marriage the law of the land. Such folk like to cherry-pick passages like this to make the case that Jesus is all about grace, mercy, and love, not judging and condemning. And, ya know, they’re right about that! But, that’s not the whole of it. Jesus is full of grace, mercy, and love for those confess that they are sinners and turn in repentance. However, for those who deny that they are sinners, who refuse to repent, who claim righteousness in themselves, while He continues to love them and call to them, Jesus can be very, very heavy wielding the Law of God.
Indeed, Jesus follows His teaching, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned,” with one additional couplet that gets conveniently left out, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Why do they leave that part about forgiveness out, I wonder? Ah, it’s because they don’t believe that they need to be forgiven anything. They haven’t sinned, right? They certainly don’t believe that homosexual relations are sinful. So, they just ignore that part. They just leave the forgiveness bit off. Therefore, they completely miss Jesus’ point in this teaching. They cherry-pick and take His words out of their context, and then they misunderstand, misrepresent, and misapply it.
So, what does Jesus mean to teach us in this Gospel? It is this: Do not judge, do not condemn, but forgive, because the holy and perfect Law of God judges and condemns you all, and what you all need, whether you recognize it or not, is forgiveness. That is why you are like the blind leading the blind – you are all blind in your sin and will fall together into the pit of death. That is why you cannot help your brother to remove the speck from his eye, because you have a giant log in your own eye obscuring your vision.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how timely is this Gospel for us today! We are in no position to judge or condemn anyone, for we, ourselves, are sinners in need of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Let us learn this lesson, not only from our Lord today, but from the example of Joseph who, though he was wickedly wronged by his brothers, would not judge and condemn them, but showed them grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Joseph could do this, Joseph had to do this, because he knew what a wretched sinner he was himself, and he knew the boundless grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness the Lord had shown him.
Still, only sinners can be forgiven. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. There is a judge of sin, and that is the Lord and His Word. No, it is not our place to judge. We are judged ourselves. But the Word of the Lord is the judge of all. All who confess their sin and repent receive the forgiveness Jesus died to give. But, those who refuse and reject His forgiveness, claiming they righteous and just and without sin, they are judged and condemned already. When it comes to homosexual acts, these sins are no worse than others before the Lord. But, they are sins, and they cannot be blessed or accepted as anything but. We do not judge or condemn those who practice such sins, but we must show grace, mercy, love, and compassion to them as brothers and sisters who are sinners in need of forgiveness just like us – There but for the grace of God go I.
However, our culture, and now our government, has put us in a difficult position. The culture and the government refuse to acknowledge such acts as sin, but they have instead blessed and accepted such sinful acts as normal, acceptable, and even good. Increasingly, Christians who simply say what the Lord has said in His Word about these acts, that they are sinful, are called bigots and hateful. Now that the law of the land embraces, blesses, and celebrates such acts, it is likely that the Word of the Lord will be declared hate speech and that the freedom to exercise our religion will be ghettoized to our churches and homes alone. It is even likely that congregations will lose their tax-exempt status, which will place an enormous financial burden upon the church, likely crushing a small congregation like Christ the King. What can we expect in the weeks and months to come? Hopefully, not much. But, I agree with what Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George said back in 2010: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” However, that is not all that Cardinal George said. Though it is less frequently quoted, Cardinal George continued by saying that “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
“For, the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” We are all sinners. Our sin goes all the back to our First Father, the First Sinner, Adam. Adam plunged all of his progeny, even all of creation, into sin, and corruption, and death. Ever since then, creation has been trapped in an endless cycle of deterioration leading to death. Joseph knew this, and he wept. Jesus knew this, and He wept. God knows this, and He weeps.  This is why we must not, we cannot judge or condemn. We’re all in the same sinful, sinking boat!
But, we are not like those who have no hope! No, indeed! Even as Joseph, despite all the evil that had been done to him at the hands of his brothers, and at the hands of enemies of the Jews, did not despair, but he recognized that, though they meant evil against him, God meant it for good, so, too, will God work this terrible situation for good. For, if this causes Christians to study His Word more and to receive His gifts more, to pray more, and to seek to live according to His Word more, and to witness more in their vocations, to uphold God-instituted marriage more and to faithfully love and serve their husbands and wives and children more, to chasten their laxity on divorce and premarital sex and co-habitation more, and to unite with like-minded and like-hearted Christians of other denominations more on issues in which we agree while not capitulating on those issues in which we disagree, then, that is a good thing, and a hopeful thing, and a blessed thing, and a necessary thing!
Truly, we have behaved much like Joseph’s brothers towards our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father. We have been jealous of Him and have feared Him and have even sold Him into slavery and murdered Him. And yet, He says to us, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Because of His love for us, and His grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, we do not judge, and we do not condemn, but we stand firm on the Word of our Lord, never flinching on the Truth, while loving and serving in grace, mercy, and compassion, just as we have received these in fullness and abundance in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Homily for The Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 3)

Luke 15:1-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11; Micah 7:18-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” Or, so goes the oft-quoted poem from J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” which today is frequently pasted to the bumpers of motorhomes and a multitude of recreational vehicles traveling our nation’s highways and byways. Unfortunately, while this may be true of Tolkien’s mythological Ranger/Messiah/King figure Aragorn, it is unequivocally untrue of every human being who has ever lived, save one – the one that Tolkien’s Ranger Aragorn served as metaphor of, the only Son of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Truly Jesus is the only man who has ever wandered far from His home so that He had no place on earth to lay His head, and yet, Jesus was everything but lost. Indeed, Jesus came to seek and to find, to save and to restore, and to bring home those who were lost – you and I. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks, finds, and saves His lost sheep. Jesus is the woman who diligently searched her house until she found her lost coin. Still, the key thing to recognize and to confess today is that you were lost, but now you have been found. Jesus has found you. His Holy Spirit has called you by His Gospel, enlightened, sanctified, and kept you in faith. Before Jesus, without Jesus, you were a straying, wandering, and lost sheep – and often still you stray and wander. Before Jesus, without Jesus, you were as completely helpless as an inanimate coin dropped between the floorboards, lost to all – and often still you become spiritually listless and lifeless. But, you are precious to Jesus and His Father, and He has forsaken everything to find you, to purchase you, and to restore you. Jesus wandered far from heaven, far from His Father’s home, to seek and to find His Father’s lost children, His own lost sheep. He found you, and He did what was necessary to save you and to restore you. He gave all that He had, even His very life because He loves you, and He loves His Father who loves you, and you are precious to Him, you are precious to the Holy Triune God. You are His sheep and His children, and He will never let you go.
But, there are many layers to the onion of Jesus’ parables of the lost. And, I will but scratch the surface of them with you today. Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes who grumbled that tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus and were eagerly listening to and receiving His teaching. However, what really offended them was the fact that Jesus welcomed these people and joyfully ate and drank with them. Jesus treated them as equals, as brothers and sisters, as fellow children of Abraham and children of His heavenly Father. Those lost and broken people were precisely the people Jesus came to seek, to find, to save, and to restore. Ironically, that was the work the Pharisees and the scribes were supposed to be doing! The Pharisees and the scribes were supposed to be the shepherds, pastors, and teachers of Israel proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News, that God was seeking, saving, and restoring His people just as He had promised after man’s fall in the Garden. But, somewhere along the way, the shepherds of Israel became hardened in their hearts and self-righteous. What they failed to see, to remember, and to confess was that they themselves were also lost and needed to be found, saved, and restored. They believed that they kept God’s Law pretty well – and, truth be told, they did, except that they bent and lowered the bar of the Law repeatedly in order to make it more do-able in their eyes and in the eyes of men. And, so, the reality is that they did not keep the Law of God – for, no one keeps the Law of God – but they deceived themselves into believing that they did keep it. They were lost, but they could not see that they were lost; therefore, they could not be found. They were sinners, but they did not believe or confess that they were sinners; therefore, they could not be forgiven. And, because of their self-righteousness – which is no righteousness at all – they judged others guilty of sin and of failing to keep God’s Law, and they condemned the very children of Israel that they were called and sent to seek, to save, and to restore.
Jesus compared them to shepherds, which offended them, for they did not see themselves as shepherds and they considered shepherds to be lowly and beneath them and unclean. Moreover, Jesus accused them of losing a sheep. You see, He didn’t say that the sheep wandered off and got themselves lost, but that the shepherd lost a sheep. The lost sheep Jesus was referring to were the sinners and tax collectors that were lost and needed to be found, whom the shepherd-Pharisees refused to acknowledge, let alone look for or take any risk to find, save, and restore. And yet, Jesus’ parabolic shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in his flock in order to find the one that he had lost. Now, I don’t think that most anyone would consider this a wise move – to abandon ninety-nine sheep in order to find one; it just doesn’t make good economical sense. And, yes, there are many biblical commentators who suggest that there were other shepherds to watch the ninety-nine. Well, maybe, but Jesus does not say that. Therefore, I think that we can take from this a deeper theological meaning – the ninety-nine sheep are just as lost as the one. Yet, the shepherd in Jesus’ parable picks and chooses which sheep to care for and which to simply ignore and abandon. The Pharisees and the scribes did just that in practice, because they considered themselves among the ninety-nine sheep that were safe and secure in their own self-righteousness. They could care less about those they judged and condemned as sinners and unclean. They were not the Lord’s sheep in their eyes, let alone the children of Israel, of Abraham, and of God.
And, then, Jesus hits them a second time by comparing the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees to a woman, to a woman who has also, once again, lost something – she has lost one of her coins. Again, the parable seems a bit exaggerated from the judgment of human reason: She has ten coins. Why the panic and fuss over one lost coin? Again, commentators speculate on the great value of the lost coin, or that the coin represented her husband’s pay for one week of work and that she was given the great responsibility of managing his money. Well, maybe, but, again, Jesus does not include any such details. The important point here is that the lost coin was important and precious to the woman so that she stopped everything and searched the whole house until she found it and it was restored to her treasury. The Pharisees and the scribes had no such zeal for the lost sheep of the Lord’s flock and the lost children of Israel. Consequently, Jesus ends both parables with the summary explanation of what they mean saying, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
“Not all those who wander are lost?” The point of Jesus’ parables of the lost is that we are all lost and need to be found. Indeed, there is rejoicing in heaven over each and every sinner who repents. To be found is to repent. To repent is to recognize and to confess that you are lost, that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. Notice, there’s no talk about good works, great faith, sincerity of repentance, etc. Jesus simply states that there is rejoicing in heaven over sinners who repent. To repent is to be found. Only the lost can be found. Only sinners can repent. And, repentance is not a work that you do, but it is something that is worked in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Lord. Think of it as the Good Shepherd’s call to His lost sheep. The sheep remain lost until the Shepherd calls. Then, they hear – and, hearing is a passive activity – and they respond; but responding is dependent upon the call: no call, no response – period.
Thanks be to God that He has sent His Son, the Good Shepherd, to call His lost sheep, to call you and me, to repentance. Thanks be to God that He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us, creating faith and trust in our hearts and turning us from our wayward path of sin and destruction back to Jesus who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. His Gospel call has gone, and goes, out to all through His undershepherds, His pastors and priests and ministers, and through you, the Priesthood of all Believers. Jesus continues to eat and to drink with sinners, and the angels of heaven continue to rejoice over each and every sinner who repents.
“Not all those who wander are lost?” You were lost, but you have been found. Now you get to participate in the searching and the seeking and in the calling and the restoring. Do not despise those wayward sheep who are sinfully pursuing their sinful paths – they are lost. But, go and find them. Call to them with your Master’s voice, His Holy Word which is the vehicle and means of the Holy Spirit. Call them to repentance by showing them mercy and compassion while sharing with them the hope that is in you. And, return here, to the flock, where your Good Shepherd is present with His Words and with His Wounds to forgive you anew, to heal and to restore you, to nourish you and to protect you, and to build you up for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Holy Name. Let us rejoice with the angels of heaven over each and every sinner who repents. To the glory of God the Father, through His Blessed Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.