14th Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2019
Jesus Goes After the One
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Gospel reading. Jesus said, “What man of you, 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?” Here ends our text.
The elders of St. Martin Lutheran church were having their monthly meeting. The item at the top of the agenda was delinquent members. They went through the list, family by family, person by person. The list was getting pretty long. One of the elders made a recommendation. “These folks haven’t been to church in years. They’re breaking the third commandment week after week. They’re despising the Word of God. We can’t let this bad example continue. I suggest we start removing them from the roles.” A couple of heads nodded in agreement. But then Frank spoke up. “I think if we do that, we’ll just lose them forever. We need to go after these people. Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the shepherd who left the 99 and went after the one? The shepherd found the lost one and brought him back so then there were a hundred again.” Frank turned to the pastor, “That’s what you need to do, Pastor. You’re the shepherd here. You can’t just stay with the 99 all the time, but you have to go after the one. If you don’t, pretty soon our flock won’t be a hundred anymore, but 99. And then if another one wanders off, we’ll only be 98. Pretty soon we won’t have any flock at all. That’s what could happen to our church if we don’t go after the one.” Frank continued, “Now take my neighbor, Randy, for instance. He’s a member here but hasn’t been in church for years. I’ve talked to him, but he always says he’s putting in extra hours at his repair shop on Sundays. But maybe if you talked to him, Pastor, he’d come back.” The pastor agreed that he’d make a call on Randy. He’d go after the one.
The next Sunday Frank was pleasantly surprised to see his neighbor, Randy, back in church. First time he’d seen him out of his greasy coveralls in years. He cleaned up pretty well. On the way out of church, Frank shook the pastor’s hand and paused to say, “Pastor, the angels are rejoicing in heaven today.” “That’s right,” the pastor replied. “The angels in heaven rejoice more over one lost sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need to repent.” Frank slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Keep up the good work, Pastor. Keep going after the one.” “Oh, I intend to,” the pastor smiled.
That night Frank was sitting at home by the fire. It was a dark and stormy night. As he sipped his drink, Frank mused to himself about Randy’s return to church. He was glad that Randy had finally repented. Frank felt good about himself for his suggestion to the pastor and complimented himself that he’d played a part in Randy’s repentance. Just then the doorbell rang. Frank opened the front door and looked out into the rainy night. A man was standing there in a raincoat and broad rimmed hat. As he stepped into the porch light, Frank recognized him and exclaimed. “Oh, Pastor! I didn’t realize it was you. What are you doing here?” The pastor said, “I’m here after the one. There are few things I need to talk to you about that I understand are going on in your life. May I come in?” Frank heaved a sigh and said, “You’re right, Pastor. There are some things I need to get off my chest, things I need to confess. Come on in.” That evening the angels were rejoicing again.
Why do we often think, from our view from the pew, that it’s always the other guy who needs to repent? “Yeah, he’s the one who’s wandered off. He’s the one who’s lost. He’s the one who needs some shepherding. He’s the one. And if he comes back, we’ll all do some celebrating. But me? I’m with the 99. I never wander off. I’m with the righteous people who don’t need to repent.” But let me tell you, if you think you’re always with the 99 who need no repentance, then you are a Pharisee. You’re self righteous. The Pharisees were always grumbling about the other sinners. But themselves? They had no need of repentance. At least they thought they didn’t. They thought they were keeping the Law as well as it could be kept. They could always compare themselves with others and feel good about themselves. They needed no Savior. They were their own savior. They needed no repentance. That was for someone else. But the irony was that by thinking they were always in the 99, they had really wandered off. They were the one who was lost. They had wandered off into arrogance, and pride, and self righteousness. And you fall into the same trap too if you think you’re always with the 99. You give the angels nothing to cheer about. You act like a Pharisee if you only come to church to show that you’re among the righteous people who don’t need to repent. But there are no righteous people. There are no people who need no repentance. We all need to repent. For we all wander off. You wander off every time you sin. You wander off every time you think a sinful thought: coveting, jealousy, anger, or lust. You wander off every time you speak sinful words: cursing, gossip, a fib, a boast. You wander off every time you do a sinful act: stealing a little time from your employer, ignoring your parent’s request, or neglecting your neighbor’s need. You wander off every time you suffer a great tragedy and lose faith in your Lord. Every time you sin you wander off and drop below the horizon. Yes, you are the one. You’re the one who’s lost.
But thankfully, Jesus goes after the one. In his earthly ministry, Jesus went after individual sinners. He went after prostitutes and tax collectors. He went after the Samaritan woman who was living in sin. He went after the woman caught in adultery. He went after Zachaeus the tax collector. He went after the woman who wept over her sin and washed his feet with her tears. He went after the thief on the cross beside him. Jesus went after Jews: Jairus the synagogue ruler and even his own disciple Peter when he denied him. Jesus went after Gentiles: the centurion and the Canaanite woman. Jesus went after those who suffered tragedy: blind Bartemaeus, the woman subject to bleeding, and the man of the Gerasenes possessed by demons. Jesus went after the dead: Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus even went after the self righteous: the Pharisee Nicodemus and the rich young ruler. Sometimes Jesus prodded them with the Law to show them their terrible condition. “Look at you! You’re a mess! You’re covered with the thorns and briars of sin. You’re teetering on the precipice of death!” But when they knew they were lost, Jesus gave them sweet words of Gospel. “Let me pull those burrs of sin off of you and put them on me. Your sins are forgiven. Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” He throws the lost sinner over his shoulders and says, “You’re coming home with me.” And every time Jesus brought a lost sinner to repentance, he said to the angels, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
And thankfully today, as our ascended Lord, Jesus still goes after the one. He goes after you. He goes after you with the staff of his Word. He uses his Law to jerk you off your feet. But then he uses his Gospel to haul you back to him. You hear his Word in church, in Bible study, and home devotions. You hear his word from the lips of your pastor, from your Christian friend, and from your parents. You read his Word in the Bible. Jesus goes after you with the staff of his Word and brings you to repentance. You confess your sin and believe his words of forgiveness.
But notice that when we repent of our sin, it’s not our doing. It’s God’s doing. God is like the woman in the parable who’s lost one coin. Yes, she has many others, but that one coin is so precious to her that she lights a lamp and sweeps the whole house until she finds it. The coin has nothing to do with its being found. It’s a passive, inanimate object. But finding the coin is all the work of the one who seeks it. It’s all the work of God. For God is the one who’s totally responsible for our justification. He’s the one who makes wandering sheep righteous. God the Father sent his Son to be the one sheep, the Lamb of God, who would die to save the 99 plus you. And then the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to bring you to repentance through his Word. God picked you up off the dusty floor and put you back in his collection.
It was kind of a dull afternoon in heaven. The angels looked down from their seats, their pendants drooping. Not much action happening in the game below. Only 100 sheep in the dugout who didn’t think they needed to repent. But the angels began to perk up when they saw one of the sheep wandering off. It got itself into a real mess, caught in a thicket of sin. The angels screamed to the lost sheep about the approaching wolf, but the sheep couldn’t hear them. Then other angels began to point. Jesus was going after him. The angels were on their feet now. The wolf attacked Jesus and bit him, but Jesus crushed its skull with his staff. Then he got even more bloodied as he picked the thorns of sin off the sheep and freed him from the thicket. The angels began to cheer and wave their pendants as Jesus threw the sheep over his shoulders and carried him home. The angels were dancing and rejoicing in the stands because Jesus had another one. He had you. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.