Sermon: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Text: Luke 15:1-10
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke in parables to enable us to get our heads around the enormity of the wonders of God, the challenge of his Gospel message and the depth of God’s love. He also told parables to entertain as well as enlighten. With that in mind, I am going to explore the parables we hear this morning, with more parable.

Are you sitting comfortably? I’m sure that Our Lord never signalled his parables to his listeners in this way, but it seems strangely appropriate for what I am about to tell you.

Once upon a time, there was great distress among the sheep. Little Wally, the son of prominent flock members Drusilla and Arthur, was missing. The panic had begun in early afternoon, when he did not return from play. Soon, though, the shepherd found out that Wally was gone, and about nightfall he set out to search for him. Everybody knew and liked little Wally, and the whole night, while the shepherd searched, nobody slept a wink.

Nobody, that is, except for Roger. Even by sheep standards, Roger was a ‘black sheep’. Among other things, Roger had a very unpleasant, grating “baah.” When it came time to move from one pasture to another, Roger always stayed at the very back of the flock and complained. And when it came time to be sheared, Roger would kick and thrash about so that it took twice as long to shear him as any other sheep.

So it wasn’t surprising that, while the rest of the flock stayed up, saying kind words to Drusilla and Arthur, giving them encouragement, Roger slept like a log, and wasn’t much interested in the corporate relief felt when Wally wandered back safe and well.

Roger was effectively, an outcast. Some weeks later, Roger was distracted whilst munching on a particularly nice section of grass and wandered away from the fold. Without him even noticing, he went far from safety, and soon found himself alone, in danger, in fear…

Meanwhile, back at the fold, things were getting a bit frantic. They saw the shepherd pulling on his boot and leaving and came to only one conclusion: Somebody Was Missing!

News flashed through the herd: Somebody’s missing! Somebody’s missing! All the parents checked their children; all the husbands check their wives, all the wives checked their husbands, and everybody checked on elderly relatives.

All present and accounted for. That was odd. Why would the shepherd leave the Sheep if no one was missing? They ran it through their little sheep brains: HE’S ABANDONED US! The shepherd has abandoned us!

Within minutes, everybody had heard of their abandonment, and the fold was in a blind panic. The frenzy carried on until one of the particularly sharp-eyed sheep, saw the shepherd coming over a distant hill.

The sheep rejoiced. They gambolled and frolicked and bleated with joy even greater than that they felt that day when little Wally was returned.

But their celebration did not last long. There, on the shepherd’s shoulders — it was ROGER! They had done their nose count, but Roger had alienated all the rest of the flock so badly that nobody even thought to look for him.

The sheep were dumbstruck. What was the big idea? The shepherd had left all the good, cooperative, well-meaning sheep to go rescue an obnoxious, unpleasant, anti-social one.

The Sheep made a representation to the Shepherd: complaining about being abandoned, and about how unfair it was.

The Shepherd called a meeting, for that is what they do in enlightened shepherding circles.

He said:

“Yes, it’s true I left the flock all alone a few nights ago, and you were left to fend for yourselves, but nobody seemed to mind when I left you alone to go search for Wally.”

“Have I ever abandoned you before? Haven’t I always protected you from wolves and taken you to fresh pastures and clear streams? I never abandoned you before, why would I start now?”

“As for the unfairness of it all… Wouldn’t I have done the same for any of you?”

“Well,” said Herman The Sheep, acting as spokes-sheep: “Going out and saving all the rest of us, that’s one thing. But, well, you put all the rest of us in jeopardy for HIM….” He motioned over to Roger, who, true to form, was asleep, snoring loudly, far away from the others.

“That’s what really bothers us, said Arnold The Sheep, “Why didn’t you just let him take his chances? He didn’t deserve to get saved. It’s not fair.”

And for once, though he probably didn’t know it, one of the sheep told the truth. Half of it anyway. Roger did not deserved to get saved. It was not fair.

Of course, the other half of the truth is, none of the OTHER sheep deserved to get saved either. They all deserved to be left to take their chances, but they didn’t have to. The shepherd looked after them and rescued them when they needed it.

This would probably be a much more satisfying story if I were to tell you that Roger’s experience changed his life profoundly, and that from that day forward, he went on to become a model sheep, cooperative, appreciative and obedient; but he didn’t.

The only real difference anyone could tell was that he didn’t complain as much while moving from pasture to pasture, and he didn’t thrash around quite as much when he got sheared. Roger remained, to the end of his days, a sheep wholly undeserving of the shepherd’s rescue.

Yes, my dear friends, salvation comes to the undeserving. And that’s good news, because we’re ALL undeserving. When we expect or ask justice from God, we have to understand that it is justice from God’s perspective, not our own petty, narrow, xenophobic or insular notions of justice.
We know that God, through Christ, does not do what would be held in common circumstances as fair. God does not do what is just by our sense. God does what is pleasing to God, and that is far, far BETTER THAN FAIR.

That, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is GRACE. The foremost of sinners — and Paul counted himself as one of these — receive salvation so that Jesus Christ may display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

During a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated, what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

The people at the conference had to agree.

The idea of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct we have. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—all of these offer a way to earn approval. Only Christianity shows us that God’s love is unconditional! It is grace which is the true mark of Christ.

So if there’s ever the temptation to be resentful of the salvation received by those who seem undeserving, don’t worry. There is plenty of salvation for everybody — the good sheep, the bad sheep, and all of us in between.