Luke 15:1-7 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep is one that I am sure many of you recognize. The job of a shepherd is to tend, guard and guide all of his sheep. So when one sheep leaves the herd, the shepherd feels an obligation to locate the sheep and bring him home. It was a humble job. People didn’t cheer him on to find his lost sheep. He wasn’t met with open arms when he returned home with his sheep (he had to call them together to rejoice). The shepherd did not do anything for the accolades of others, but because he loved his sheep dearly and wanted what was best for them. The sheep were the shepherd’s livelihood. The sheep kept his spirit alive. The shepherd when he returns home calls together everyone to rejoice, because the shepherd knows and wants all to feel the excitement of finding this lost sheep. He knows what it feels like to be fearful for the lost sheep, and then feel the joy of the sheep returning to the herd. He wants to share it with everyone.
So when one person on this earth turns their head away from God. It hurts all of us who take our mission on earth to be discipleship. We are saddened when a loved one or a friend turns away from the joy of God. Recently, I was at church and caught the face of a friend of mine who had left the church years before. Sometimes on Easter and Christmas I would see her, but never during any other time of the year. She had been hurt by the church at one time in her life. She felt the church didn’t care about her and she was upset with the way things were being run. She was and is a good person. She was just a little lost. It is pretty common to have people leave a church because of disagreement with the leadership. The thing is, it saddened me. I missed her. She was a sheep in the same herd as mine and without her at church week after week, I felt empty. So when I caught her at church recently, I couldn’t help but smile. It made my day. My emptiness became full again. It brought me tremendous joy. I cannot explain it except that I felt like the shepherd when he brought home the sheep. No one else may have noticed the joy that I felt. No one else may have noticed my friend’s reappearance. But God did and so did I.
I know the feeling of joy that God gives me each day of my life. I love that feeling, and I want to share it with others. I am saddened for my loved ones when they have not allowed their hearts to experience that joy. So many of us think that the church has the ability to ruin our faith. That is so far from the truth. Yes, the church is run by humans, so they do make mistakes in leadership, but they cannot take away your love of God (it is your choice to allow them to do that). You see, faith is personal. It is all about our own worship with God. When we start to look around at church and see the sins of others, we are asking for trouble. When we start pointing fingers and complaining about church leadership, we are falling into a deep pit. We will eventually become the lost sheep if we allow ourselves to dwell on other people’s sin and stop concentrating on the goodness of the church AND our own relationship with God.
The shepherd of each of us is God. God is there to guide us, to guard us and to tend to us. When we leave Him, He strays from the herd to find us. When we turn around once again to His loving presence, He is overjoyed. If you have strayed from your Shepherd, turn back now. Find Him. Reunite with Him. There may not be a big party for your arrival, but God will be there with open arms (and your friends and family will once again become “full” from your arrival home).