1 Timothy 1:12-17
August 28, 2022
How are you serving?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who here, having 100 sheep, after noticing that 1 has wondered off, would leave the 99 unattended and go search for the lost one? Raise your hand? During my internship, the chair of my committee worked for Select sires. I rode around with him a few times. I remember going to this one Dairy Farm and the Vet was there. A cow had her stomached knotted and the vet had to do surgery. It was fascinating to watch and talk with the vet as he worked. The vet had done this procedures thousands of times before—he probably could have done it blindfolded. Afterwards, I was talking to the farmer and Jim about the cows and the farm. The farmer loved his cows very much. He told me about being out in the field at 2 or 3 in the morning with a sick cow. He told me about having to bring calves into his kitchen to feed them because it was too cold outside for them to survive. But sometimes, a cow cost more to keep alive than they can produce and the farmer needs to make the difficult choice—preserve the farm or preserve the life of the cow?
What if change the equation. What if we said a group of a 100 people were gathered and one wondered off, would we leave the 99 behind to fend for themselves to search for the one? Sheep and cows are one thing, but is a human's life more valuable and is it worth risking to lives of the 99 to find the one who was crazy enough to walk away? To lose one soul...when is that appropriate?
At the end of the School year just a few months ago, our nation was grappling with another school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Tx. I, like many parents, had many sleepless nights following that shooting. What if that happened here? What if the police officers had to make a call that in order to save an entire class meant costing my son his life? Or who among us, upon coming up to a house on fire, learn that 9 of the 10 family members were outside the home but one was left inside, would say them, "99% of your family is safe, why risk everything to save one?"
I read somewhere that when the military train medics, they had to train their medics to not run out into a battlefield when they hear their name called, but instead, they need to send a corman or another person to bring the injured over because if the medic gets injured or killed, nobody would be left to care the injured.
Knowing all this, how would you interpret Jesus' words?
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
I think the easy answer here is to say that context matters and dictates when the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the one versus the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. This very question is what pastors and other church workers are challenged to answer year after year. What programs and ministries are worth keeping and which ones are not? And I got to tell you, context doesn't always dictate a clear answer or an answer that most people are happy with. And I know I sound dramatic here, but imagine if I dissolved your ministry because we could no longer it…people get very defensive. What is the point of our ministry and work. Is it to build up those on our membership roles or seek that one lost soul?
I think the Biblical answer is very clear. Jesus seems to be saying that God cares about the one. Jesus says, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Through these two parables, Jesus describes the coming kingdom of God as like a shepherd who leaves behind the 99 to find the one lost sheep. Jesus also describes the kingdom of God as like a woman who, having discovered she is missing one coin, she searches the whole house until she finds it. The kingdom of God is more concerned about the one that got away than the 99 who remain and God's kingdom breaks into the world when we do just that—seek out the lost despite the cost or the risk.
But in our world where instant gratification is expected, where a consumer’s needs are always expected to be met, where consumerism governs how we respond in almost all situations of life—how does one live out this gospel that is so counter-intuitive? How does one live out the gospel when it feels like tradition and history dictates our response rather than the needs of the present? Can a church be the church if they don't have a Sunday School? Can a Church be the church if it doesn't have a youth group? Can a church be the church if it doesn't have a choir or a contemporary service? Can a church be a church in anything meet in anything other than a building with steeple on it? What makes Zion a church?
I remember when I was real young and we were still living in Philadelphia at the time. I was sitting in a circle with a few other kids for the opening of Sunday School and we were learning new songs. “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” There is no better way to teach kids about what makes a church, a church than that rhythm. It exactly matches up to our confessions. For In our Confessions, the church is defined as the gathering of the saints where the word is preach and the sacraments are administered rightly. The church is the gathering and we gather not to stay but to go out. In 1978 when the LBW was institute, the dismissal was added as both a reminder and a task. Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Go in peace is just a nice way of saying, “Get out.” Serve the lord. And we serve the Lord by serving the last, least, lost because by serving them, God’s kingdom becomes more of a reality. We serve the Lord by going after that one who has wondered off. We serve the Lord by not listening to what the world says about logic and the bottomline, but instead, seek those who are lost and need to be found.
Finding ways to equip you all for mission and ministry has been the guiding principle that we have used this summer as we evaluate and plan for this fall and the ministries here at Zion. And I will admit, our plans for this fall are not perfect. There is still a lot of unknowns, but it is a start. What we tried to avoid is the idea that if you build it they will come is something that only works in movies about baseball. While this has been a guiding principle for many churches over the decades, few have seen any noticeable results. Congregations that follow this principle usually waste precious resources and volunteers are left feeling disappointment and anger over a lack of participation. The work we do here needs to uplift the body of Christ so that we have can go out and seek the lost. Ministry requires us to adapt and pivot on a moment’s notice. For centuries, the church met in caves, in people’s home, in the catacombs deep beneath city streets. They found ways to preach the gospel by adapting, pivoting, but they always grounding themselves in the word of God and the sacraments through worship. Ministry today is no different.
I am very excited to see what the fall brings here at Zion. We have some exciting new ministries as well some ministries that have taken a brief sabbatical over the past couple of year. During this time, a lot of thought and prayer went into what exactly are we equipped to do as well as looking at what is needed by the people who make up Zion Lutheran church. I think one good example of this is Sunday School. While it is returning this weekend, Sunday school is a prime example of a ministry that was design to meet the needs of an generation of people 100 plus year ago. Sunday School doesn’t look the same today for good reason because the world and the needs of the people have changed. For 1900 years, the church didn’t have Sunday School and look at all we accomplished. When I hear people say Sunday School is not what it use to be, I often reply by saying, “Of course it doesn’t. We also don’t drive Model T cars either.” During one of the last sermons my home pastor gave before he retired, he talked about how he welcomed back his predecessor to Christ just a few months prior. As they walked around Christ, Pastor Folkemer kept saying , “Christ looks nothing like it did 25 years ago.” Pastor Sabatelli told the congregation that he hoped that in 25 years, when he returns to Christ, he hopes he will say the same thing because the church needs to constantly adapt and pivot.
I think we sometimes let our history and traditions dictate a little too much of what we do. History and traditions should be used as a guide, but as we move into this new program year here at Zion, I hope we don’t allow the past to hold us back from equipping the body of Christ from serving the lord through ministry to the lost. I hope we don’t allow the need for holding onto the past from entering into the future that God is calling us to live into. I hope that we instead, see worship as the place where we all gather to be strengthen in the Word of God and in the gifts of sacraments, so that as we leave this place, we might have the spiritual nourishment to meet needs of gospel—a gospel that is focus on finding the lost who have been forgotten by the world but not forgotten by God. Because the church is not about the things: the physical structures, the programs, or even the music. The church is the people—the gathering of the saints and it is our mission to equip one another other with the armor of faith through word and sacrament, so that we can be like shepherds who leave behind the 99 to save the one who got lost.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.