‘…shepherds are we’
September 11, 2022
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10
Just what is today’s church? I believe that the church we are called to be, tells the story of a family gathered together, seeking to do the will of our Lord…and to do that by living and witnessing the power of God’s love in all we do and in all we say. In other words, it is we here, who are the church…not a building, not a particular ministry, but the whole of us gathered, supporting and encouraging each other. Here both for each other, and for whoever happens to be led across our pathway. For we represent the call of our Lord to love every individual whom the Spirit places in our path.
And as much as some may worry or fret about the costs or the depth of responsibility of this call, true faithful living as the church of our Lord is not about worry whatsoever, but rather simply about accepting the simple tasks that have been set before each one of us, learning to trust in God to provide the means to do that work.
The true church of our faith is a community gathered around a commitment to act and to live as one, while at the same time steadfastly standing in contrast to the ways and goals of the world at large. As Paul instructed in Romans Chapter 12, ‘Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God…’. We are not called to live according to the many ‘oughts and shoulds’ the world wants to lay upon us, but rather like Jesus himself, we are asked to stand fully in contrast to those systems of the world that value pretty much everything very differently than what Jesus came to teach us.
And I think that it is this, that may be one of the greatest challenges for those who have long lived within the framework of what the world considers as successful, secure, or even important. It is not easy to even entertain the idea that the Holy Spirit may have a quite different path for us than the one we have always thought was our own.
At its heart, the true church of our Lord, is an organic and fluid collection of believers. Never dependent on one single person or one group of individuals, but rather consisting of the whole of the present community called into action and specific local purpose by the Spirit. Some will come in, others may go, but the fellowshipping community will remain for as long as the Spirit has use of their presence and witness in the place to which they have been called. Any worry or energy expended seeking to ‘keep the Church doors open’, or to preserve a certain character of faith belief or practice, or to hold on to a particular core of members, is the business of the Spirit, and not our own. I have always held the belief that when Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all people unto myself’, that somehow this meant that our work was to be sure to concentrate on lifting up the person and work of Jesus in our life together, and to let the Spirit worry about who should be drawn in with us.
It is God and God alone who both calls a community into being, and sustains a community that is dedicated to holy pursuits and purposes. The Holy Spirit will always provide a way for a community called to holiness to do the work and bear witness of God’s love. Any concern for self-sustaining by members of the fellowshipis simply not a valid exercise of faithful life. In short, the church of our Lord is not to be an inwardly focused group of like-minded individuals, but rather a visible daily reflection of God’s love in saving and life-giving action, bringing hope and light into places of darkness, and to souls in need. And if we are being honest, all souls are broken somehow or somewhere, some just seem to be able to hide it better than others.
In addition, it is important to note that the church of today must have a table large enough for all. It must make room for and be inclusive of all levels of belief or even unbelief, giving space for all expressions of faith, be they strong, weak, or just starting out. At the table of our Lord, there should be a place set for every single ‘reflection’ of the image of God in which we each were created. And in contrast to the ways of the world, that table must be grounded in justice and righteousness, lifting up those who are sorely oppressed, as it seeks to root out and stand against all that gives birth to, or sustains injustice.
Which brings us to the message of our scripture today. The parable of the shepherd who leaves behind the ninety-nine already in the fold to go off and search for the one sheep who is lost is meant to be instructional for us all. We are those called to play the part of the ‘shepherd’ in our story. We are the ones who have been assigned the work of ‘search and rescue’ of those in need. We are asked to share the love that has already been given to us…which itself stands in stark contrast to much of what we see going on around us.
Our love and concern for others must always extend outward and be genuine, as well as Spirit-led…meaning, as the Spirit calls for, and as the Spirit directs that love to be shared in each particular situation. Which brings up a critical point. For when it comes to extending ourselves towards another in need, there is no one-size-fits-all way of sharing God’s love. Every person is unique, special, and precious in the eyes of God. And each has their own story known fully only to God and to themselves. Therefore, as emissaries of the love we have to share, we must ever be sensitive to the urgings and guidance of the Holy Spirit in how we are to love another, to be sure that we are drawing them into the fellowship and not pushing them away.
And that raises another critical aspect of this work of seeking, finding, and loving the lost with the love of our Lord. Which is, you can’t share God’s love, unless you are willing to first receive it yourself. You must be centered in the flow of the Holy Spirit, letting it blow through you as it guides you in seeking out, reaching, and finding the one whom God has placed nearby to share the portion of holy love meant specifically for them.
In Matthew 7, verses 16-17, Jesus tells us, ‘You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit’. A good tree will be known by the fruit it bears. A healthy and Spirit-led fellowship will bear good and holy fruit. People’s lives truly will be made better, they will come to know the power of love as it is shared with them, and they shall be filled with hope that they can lean on. People in need of the love of our God need real living shepherds to find them, who can then share that love in real and concrete ways. By the fruits of our efforts shall we, and our Lord be known…not by any other way.
My friends, it is not hard to see that ours is a healthy and productive orchard. The small gathering of faith-filled individuals here is constantly being blessed as we continue doing our best in sharing all that we have been given…as we too seek out that one sheep that has been lost out in the hills, while trusting God for the ‘ninety-nine’ who are back here in the fellowship.
There is so much evidence of God’s work among us lately. It is truly hard to deny that we are serving in many of the ways we have been asked. There is something of God going on here. Our life together is a witness of grace to many who are still searching. As Jesus taught in John Chapter 13, ‘If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.’ Our God has been very visible of late!
Our call however is not to rest on all that has been, but rather to continue receiving the love God has given us for one another, keeping our eyes and ears open for the guidance of the Spirit as to how to further extend that love into our community and to those in need who cross our path. The opportunities will surely come…I pray that our willingness to answer will always match up with them. God is always faithful in providing the means for us to do holy work, if we are open and willing to hear and eager to respond.
Ninety nine sheep safely in the fold was simply not enough for the Good Shepherd…neither should it be for us. There is always going to be one out on the hills, lost and alone…
…may we have the heart to hear their cry, to go to them, and to bring them home…
…for that my friends, is just who we are!