One Lost Sheep

MP3 Audio:  WS330295_Dn-Joseph_One-Lost-Sheep.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 21, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading:  Luke 15:1-10

The good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine,
and diligently seeks and searches for that one lost sheep.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

Alan, have you been on any long trips recently? You put some hard miles in a very hot vehicle. You had to spend some money on gas. You had to spend a lot of your time. It was really comfortable, too, wasn’t it?–the whole trip, there and back, very comfortable. And how is the hottest it got in the van? Was it was over 100°? Probably over 100 degrees.

Was it hot, kids?  Yeah, it’s unanimous.

Well, I’ve got a deal for ya. I just got some insider information. In Indianapolis–four hours from here–a guy just dropped 50 cents by the highway. If you leave now, and you drive four hours to Indianapolis, and you spend about the next three or four days diligently searching up and down each side of the road, you might find it.

I don’t see a lot of motivation in your eyes to go after it.

::laughter::

Okay. Well, let me ask you something else hypothetical. Something like this actually happened to one of my older siblings. But imagine that by some terrible accident, Joel got left behind on a long trip, and you just now realized. You’ve got to go to Indianapolis to go look for him and find him at that that truckstop you left him at.

Four hour drive.  You gotta find that same truckstop. You gotta hope and pray that he is still there, and if he’s not, you gotta diligently search.

Would you do that?

Absolutely! You didn’t even have to think about it.

Why the difference?  It is the same trip. It is the same effort. It is not a matter of ability. It is a matter of value–a matter of value that you place on that which you looking for.  Fifty cents just isn’t worth the trip, is it? But how far would you go to rescue your boy? As far as you had to go–to the end of the earth.

There’s a great value that God attaches to each one of his sheep, whether it’s a five-year-old sheep named Alexander, a two-year-old sheep named Kelsey, or a hundred-thirty-seven-year-old sheep named Russ–::laughter::–Each and every single one of us may just be a dumb sheep in the Lord’s farm, but He loves each one of us so much. He values Alan so much, He values Jon so much, He values Benjamin and Russ so much, that just for that one sheep–not even all four of you together–just one sheep, just Russ by yourself, Benjamin by yourself–values you so much that Jesus is willing to diligently seek and search and look for you until you He finds you, and He gets you, and brings you back home.

So the first thing that this parable teaches us, is the value of one of God’s children. And it leads me to ask, “Do we place the same value on God’s children that He does?”

If God himself–the Creator of the universe–will diligently look under every rock and tree, and by every creek, until He finds that one sheep and brings him home, who are we to despise that one sheep? You know, it probably wasn’t by being a good sheep, that it got lost in the first place. It ws probably a baaaaad sheep. After being gone that long, he probably hasn’t been to the vet, so this is probably a diseased, wormy sheep that needs some TLC.  (See, this is why you don’t have breakfast before church.) He is diseased, he is cranky, he is ornery. And by this time . . . his wool is all matted and nasty, and it’s going take quite a while to take care of this sheep, and clean it up.

It’s ugly, it smells bad, it needs a trip to the vet, and it’s just not that nice to be around. And God loves this sheep so much that He leaves the ninety-nine, just so He can go find that one, and bring him back home. That’s God’s love for His people.

When we look around the pews today, we rejoice at how many people are here, that are here every time. But what about–now I’m not talking about those because of sickness; that’s a different issue–but what we do when we look around and we see those who haven’t been here in several weeks, those who were here, and now they are off somewhere else, because they have other motivations, other desires.

Well, there are a couple things. First, we can see that–at least for some people–the value that they place on worshiping in God’s house is not very high. That’s how a sheep gets lost in the first place; he just doesn’t value the Shepherd very much. Staying near the Shepherd doesn’t matter much to him. And we ourselves here, we can think of certain names, certain specific people that live here in Omaha or not too terribly far from here, who sat here every week. There is more than one person who sat here every week, and now for the last few weeks we haven’t seen them at all.

And we know that there are some people who will drive 75 miles one-way, just to worship in God’s presence every Sunday. There are some people, like Jon and like Alan, who will work all night and be exhausted, and yet they are both still here. It’s valuable to them.

And yet, one of the people I’m thinking of–I talked to him a week or two back–and they only live about 2 ½ miles from the church. And I mentioned the idea of coming back to church that particular morning. And he said, “Sorry, I’ve got to load some hay.” See, there is no inability there. He could leave the hay for this evening, or for another day, or pay somebody else to go do it. He could be here. But he values hay, more than he values worshiping in the house of God.

Some people, it is not hay. Some people, it is sleep.
They would rather sleep than be in the house of God.

Some people, it is a girl or a guy. Being with us significant other is so much more important to them, than being in the house of God.

And so you see the rank of priority. They will stand before Christ, and He will say, “So you loved sleep more than Me? You loved comfort more than me? You loved hay more than Me?  You loved your girlfriend, or your wife, or your husband more than Me?”

But we can also see something about ourselves. Because we know that there are some people that haven’t been here in a while, we can look at them and say,

“Well, you know, they weren’t my favorite people to be around anyway. I’m kinda glad they’re not here.”

That would be something good for us to take to the confessional, if we think anything like that. If we think–even in our hearts and our minds–anything like that, about any sheep that is not here, that has been here the past, then God forgive us.

The people we condemn may enter the Kingdom of Heaven before we do, because how much does Christ value that sheep?  I don’t care how foul they may be on some days, how bad they may smell. Maybe they need a trip to the vet. But God loves that sheep. God doesn’t go in anger towards them and say, “Ha ha! You’ve missed church three weeks in a row. I’m gonna bang you on the head. I got ya!” No, Christ weeps.

Do we weep? Do we rejoice because maybe somebody we thought was difficult or annoying doesn’t come around? Or maybe they’re not difficult, maybe they’re not annoying, but they are just not somebody we got really close to, so we just don’t care. Would we dare to take that which God calls valuable, and we say that He’s wrong and say, “No, really God, you’re messed-up. They’re not valuable.”?

But you see, there are many other sheep, not just those who have sat in the pews here. What about the Muslim sheep? What about the Hispanic sheep, and the black sheep, and the Indian sheep? What about the liberal sheep, the atheist sheep? What about that person who is really-rude-to-me-and-cut-me-off-on-the-highway sheep? Have you ever seen a sheep behind the wheel of a car? It is not pretty. They drive baaaadly. (I think my wife is a little sheepish at some of my jokes.)

We laugh, but sheep are funny, aren’t they? They are not the brightest, they don’t smell the best, and yet that’s the animal God shows as an analogy–not just for those who aren’t here today–but for those of us who are.

Do you think a sheep’s a funny looking animal?
Do you think the baaaaaa is a funny sound?
Do you think they have funny smells?
Do you think they are not too smart?

Guess what? That’s the animal God chose as an analogy for you and me, in his kingdom. He didn’t pick the Swift, the fastest bird out there. He didn’t pick a chimpanzee who has all kinds of intelligence. He didn’t pick some fancy deep-water fish that has this ability to light up on its own. He picked a dumb, smelly, farm animal, and said, “Yeah, that’s the analogy I’m looking for–for all these people in my church–a dumb, smelly, farm animal.”

Why would He do that? Is He trying to be mean? Or is He just trying to be accurate?

Let me ask you something. Are sheep useful? Do farmers raise them for a reason? Are they valuable? Absolutely! We are valuable to God.

But after the farmer shears the sheep–Calvin, you have been around some farms–how often does the farmer go to the sheep afterwards and ask for advice about what to do with the wool? There is not a lot of consultation with the sheep. God doesn’t ask–the farmer doesn’t ask–for their input. Their job is to be good sheep, to stay near the Shepherd, to be led by still waters and drink what He gives them, to be led into lush pastures and to eat what he gives them. And once he shears them and gets the wool, it’s His job to decide what to do with it, not ours.

You see, Christianity–almost by definition–is un-American, because what is the heart of being American, if not self-determination and independence? If you want to be self-determined and independent, then you need to get lost, literally, because that lost sheep has both. He is independent of the Shepherd; he is off on his own. He is self-determining his life. And guess what? When the wolf comes around, there will be no Shepherd there to protect him, and he will be eaten. And his self-determination, and his independence, will lead to his destruction and his demise.

The more committed Americans are to independence and to self-determination, the more they are committed to their own ultimate destruction. Sheep can’t fight. All they can do is run, and they can’t run fast. So the best place they can run is to the Shepherd, because He can fight. He can beat off the wolves. He can put them in a safe fenced in area.

There are a lot of football teams out there. You have the Panthers, the Cougars, the Bears. Why, out of all the NFL teams and all of the college teams in the country, where are the sheep? How come you don’t have the “Dallas Fighting Sheep”? You don’t have that. The closest you get, there is a team out there called the “Rams”. Those are the sheep that have the big horns, and they can run. . . . The Billy’s can butt you. But just the sheep–not the Rams–just the sheep, the women and the children, they can’t protect themselves, they can’t fight, they can’t fend off predators, they can’t provide for themselves. Did you know that a lot of times farmers will even clip off the tails of sheep? Otherwise things get backed up, up there, and they die. At least that’s what I’ve heard, that that’s the reason why farmers do it. It’s very unsanitary. Sheep don’t clean themselves even like the cat will, for example, or even like a dog. Is this gross? Is this earthy? That’s the animal God picked to represent you and me.

It’s humbling, isn’t it? You are not a fast racehorse, you are not a chimpanzee, you are not a Swift, you are a sheep.

Run to your Shepherd.

Value the other sheep.

Just think of the craziness of it.  If you had 99 sheep there, and they’re all clean, but why are they clean? Because the Master sheared them and washed them. And they don’t have worms; they don’t have diseases. Why not? Because they have been taking their medicine the Master has been giving them. And they are not all torn up by attacks from wild animals, because the Shepherd has protected them.

And then this one lost sheep comes in. The Master brings him back, and he looks terrible. He has still got worms. He is still all dirty and filthy. He smells bad. He hasn’t been sheared yet. He’s grumpy. He’s got different scars all over him, from narrow misses where predators attacked him and he just barely got away.

And the other sheep just start laughing at him, and mocking him, and saying,

“Don’t let him around us!  He stinks. He smells bad.”

What are the 99 sheep saying? They are saying,

“Well, look at us!–us being clean, and healthy, and safe, and scar-free–We did that!”

That’s basically what they are saying. They are not attributing it to the Shepherd. They are saying,

“Look, we are clean, we smell good, we are wonderful!
Now, this other sheep over here–he is the black sheep
in the family. . .”

But if they recognize why they are clean, if they recognize why they are healthy, why they are well fed, they will start to realize,

“Wait a minute! Only by the grace of the Shepherd, only because He condescended to give us our medicine, only because He fed us, only because He protected us, only because He sheared us, and washed us, and . . . my goodness!”

“You know, if it wasn’t for the Shepherd,
I would look just like THAT sheep!”

Now, you want some humility? Let’s put things in perspective. Be honest with yourself. Don’t say any names out loud, but I want you–in your mind–to be honest with yourself right now, and just internally think the name of a person who has frankly just kind of annoyed you whenever you have been around them, either in this church or another church, somebody that God has gone after and sought after and has brought home and is brought here to be one of his sheep, and you looked at him and you just thought, “Ughh! You know what? If they ever leave, I’m not gonna be upset about that.”

And true to the parable that Christ told–I want you to get this in your head–if it were not for the grace of God, you would look and smell and act just like that person you are thinking about.

You are no better. God didn’t try to save you first, thinking, “Man, this is a better sheep!” No, you are better because the Shepherd has been taking care of you. The Shepherd has been cleaning out your heart, and your mind, and your thoughts, and working on your actions.

Never, ever despise the new sheep that He has finally been able to gather in, and that He is still working on shearing, and cleaning, and taking to the vet. If it weren’t for the Shepherd, you would look just like them. And if they will submit to the care of the Shepherd, it won’t be long before they look just as good–or better–than you do.

This should cause us to be humble. This should cause us not to boast in the good things that we experience and think, but it should cause us to say,

“Oh my goodness, everything that I have–everything that I have to be thankful for is a gift. I didn’t earn my way into the kingdom. I didn’t earn my way into holy living. I didn’t earn my way into Jesus loving me. I am just another filthy, stinking sheep. God sought me out, He brought me home, He values me, and because he values every sheep, I am going to value every other sheep just as much as He does.”

“When I click on my TV and I see one of those talking heads on the news, and they spout off something ridiculous and evil and wicked, in my heart I’m going to cry for them, because I know that Jesus is seeking for them to come in, just as much as anybody else.”

“When a Muslim bombs a nursery and kills a lot of children, I’m going to weep for that person and pray not just for the kids, but for that precious soul that is so deceived and is serving the wrong shepherd. And I’m going to pray for God to have mercy on him and to love him and bring him into His Church–just as much as I pray for the kids.”

“When I get on my iPhone and look up the latest news, and I find out about this serial rapist out in the east, I’m going to pray for those women, and I’m going to weep and pray for that rapist–for that man–realizing that if it wasn’t for the grace of God, I would be him, and that through the grace of God, he can be right where I am, and that God loves him just as much as He loves me, no more, no less.”

You see, in every human being is the image of God. We are all created in the image of God. And if I were to take this icon of Christ right here, and take it outside and put in the mud and sprinkles some dirt and leaves and bugs on it, until it’s almost entirely covered up, would it be okay at that point to say, “Ah, well, this is just worthless! I can take this icon of Christ and just throw it away in the garbage.”

No, no, no, no, no!  What do you do with an icon of Christ that is caked with mud? You gently and carefully wash it, because you don’t want to mess with the paint, and you don’t want to hurt the wood. You treat it with care and tenderness, and people look and say, “That’s just ugly! That’s just this dirty rectangle, and it’s ugly.”

And you say, “Ah, but I know what’s inside.”

And you get a towel, you get it wet, and you carefully remove those layers of filth until finally you get down and you start to see Jesus. But it is still dirty; it is still filthy. And you wipe the bugs off of it, and you get the cobwebs off, and then you get a little more of the dirt off, and finally you get down so close to paint that you have to go to a professional. And you say, “Look, I want this restored. And I don’t want this image marred. I don’t want to hurt this,” until they get the last bits of dirt and grime off, until finally it’s totally clean.

And once it is totally clean again, what you see? You see the image of Jesus, the image of Christ. And then what do you do? You venerate the image of God and you kiss. You don’t treat that the same way you would treat just any old rectangular piece of plywood that’s covered in dirt, because the image of God is there. That is the way we should view every murderer, every rapist, every Muslim, every person who comes and checks out our church for a little while and then decides that there are more interesting things out there.

We are all sheep. We don’t have anything to boast about. Anything good that we have, is a gift. And we need to value not only the image of God within ourselves, but the image of God in our brothers and sisters here in church, and even the image of God in those who do not know Him at all.

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 21, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Icons, Luke 15:4-10. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to One Lost Sheep

  1. tpkatsa says:

    America’s Founding Fathers never intended that we be independent from God or self-determined apart from God, e.g. believing that “we are the captains of our souls.”

    As evidence of this statement I would give the following brief excerpts from the Declaration of Independence: “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” and towards the end, “…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence…we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

    Why would the Framers ask for the protection of Divine Providence if their intent was to set up a country which prizes independence and self determination apart from God?

    • The Constitution’s reference to “Divine Providence” is a testament to the founding fathers’ belief in Deism, and therefore their widespread lack of faith in Christ.

      Many of America’s founding fathers were Deists, not Christians. Many of them believed there was “Someone up there” who, for the most part, set the world in motion and then sat back to watch as a Spectator. Deists commonly referred to “Providence”, instead of referring directly to God. Providence was not so much a present activity of God among men, as it was understood to be a divine pre-ordering of things ahead of time, so that good behavior would bring about good results.

      Whatever Thomas Jefferson was, he was not a Christian. In a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter”.

      Nor was George Washington a Christian. He never took communion any time in his life. And instead of mentioning God directly, he preferred Deist terms such as “Nature’s God” and “Providence”.

      In 1831, Rev. Bird Wilson preached a sermon and stated that “among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism”. He pointed out that Washington was “really a typical eighteenth century Deist, not a Christian, in his religious outlook”.

      Was our nation founded upon a belief in God?
      A deity, perhaps, but not the Christian one.

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