September 15, 2013: Hurting Strays Are Never Worthless To God!

Let us pray: Dear Savior, sometimes when we feel alone and helpless we start to think that we don’t matter to You. We think that You’re too busy to hear our prayers and that we aren’t all that important to You. Today, dispel those thoughts from our minds! Show us how much You value us! Yes, remind us that we’re more important to You than life itself. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SHEPHERD OF OUR SOULS!

TEXT: Luke 15: 1-10

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

When you see a stray kitten or a stray puppy cowering along the side of the road, what do you do? Do you just pass by figuring “some else will take care of it?” or do you stop and attend to its needs? I’ll tell you what I did. About 2 years ago during a cold December night the phone rang. Someone said: “I just left a cat outside your church on the front steps.” I tried to elicit some info from them, but they simply hung up. Well, I got on my parka, went outside and lo and behold there on the front steps was a plastic laundry basket with a sheet tied over it. Inside was a fully grown cat peering out at me. It was late, cold, and I wasn’t going to bring a cat into the house with a dog. So, I picked up the basket, went into my office—remember the heater is on during the winter—undid the twine around the basket and put a water bowl in it for the cat. Then I went home to sleep and deal with it come morning. The next morning I bought some dry cat food, kitty litter, and then went to see the cat. It was out of the basket and hiding behind my desk next to the heater.—Smart cat! I called around again, I had done so the night before, as well to no avail, but now I finally found some local lady vets who took it in and promised to find it a home. I know they did as they are “cat people.” To this day I still shake my head at the cruelty of desperate people in dumping that cat here at church. But, of course, as Debra Ann said: “It could have been a baby.” In retrospect, I guess God made it all work out for the best for all involved.

Sometimes we feel like strays, too. Sometimes we feel like life has dumped us off and left us all on our own to fend for ourselves. It’s a cold harsh reality. Maybe we’ve done something to hurt another and been shunned. Maybe we’ve done nothing, yet cruel people have ostracized us or just figured they didn’t need us anymore so we were discarded. In any case, not having the emotional attachment of knowing that someone really cares about us is rather crushing to the psyche.

I

Well, that’s where our lesson comes into play. It’s a delightful and uplifting reminder that God never discards people and always takes in “strays.” We see that fact illustrated in the opening words of our lesson: “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” To those outward paragons of virtue, such needy folks were nothing more than strays…..But not to Jesus! His heart is much bigger than that! He came to earth to seek them, find them, welcome them, and save them. He gave His life for them on a cross. They, you, and me are more valuable to Him than His own blood. That’s the message of the cross. That’s the depth of His love. That’s our God.

So prove His point Jesus then goes on the give us two parables, two stories, both of which teach the same truth: HURTING STRAYS ARE NEVER WORTHLESS TO GOD!

II

The first parable borrows from the imagery of the time: a shepherd and his flock of sheep. This shepherd has 100 sheep—a rather large flock for the time. They were all valuable and represented not only his livelihood, but his life savings and old age income, as well. One day when counting them up he realizes that one is missing. Should he cut his losses and tend to the 99? Considering how dangerous it was to leave sheep unattended, it would be the prudent thing to do. But, he doesn’t do that. Instead, he leaves the flock, backtracks his previous route and finds the one lonely sheep. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” But the joy over finding this one seemingly forgotten sheep doesn’t end there. He calls his friends together and has a celebration! “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” As I said previously, it wasn’t the most prudent or cautious thing to do, but it was the most loving, wasn’t it? Wouldn’t you like to have that shepherd looking out for you if you were his lost lamb?

Well, you were and at other times we have been. Anytime we stray from the Lord’s fold, we find ourselves alone, helpless, discouraged, and without hope—meaning God’s favor and blessing are absent from our lives. Yet, right here we have a wonderful promise of Christ to always seek out and find us. Right here He basically says: “I’ll never leave you alone.” Yes, hurting strays are never worthless to God! And to buttress the point, Jesus adds: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Yes, Christ cares for you individually. You and I are not merely a “face in the crowd” to Him. We’re His life and His life’s work.

III

The second parable uses silver coins in its imagery. Having ten silver coins probably meant this woman was lower middle class. It meant she worked hard, saved regularly, and wasn’t a compulsive buyer. But one day, somehow, she loses one of them. Does she say: “Ah, well, that’s life!”? No! She gets out a lamp, sweeps the corners of her house and keeps on searching until she finds it. Then she, too, calls her neighbors together to rejoice over finding the lost coin. Now comes the application: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The word used here for “sinner” means shooting at a target and missing it. In life we shoot at living up to God’s high standards—perfection—keeping the 10 commandments in and by our thoughts, our words, and our actions. When we fail we cause ourselves to become lost, to become strays. If we stay lost, we’ll be passed over when the heavenly tally sheet is added up on judgment day. But, Jesus doesn’t want that to happen. So, He keeps searching for us. That searching obviously takes on many forms. Sometimes He sends people or events to prick our consciences. Sometimes through them He hovers around us trying to wake us up and get our attention. And when that occurs, He scoops us up in his hand and leads us along the pathways of righteousness. That means a happy outcome in this life, culminating in a really happy outcome in heaven.

When I’m helping a person who has strayed from God’s grace and that person has been found, I think about this passage. To think that we can make the angels in heaven rejoice and sing for joy!—It’s a heady thought. And yet it’s true. Well this is one more comfort that the Christian has over the non-believer. So, next time you begin to feel a bit like a stray, just remember: Hurting Strays Are Never Worthless to God! Amen