Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
September 28, 2014
In the early years of the 20th century, John Deere introduced a revolutionary corn planter that changed agriculture in our country. It was called the John Deere 999. The 999 came from the fact that the planter would only miss one hill of corn in a 1000. That’s pretty good, when you think about it. But such thinking is our way of thinking. In God’s eyes, would it be good enough. What about the one that got away? Today, I am beginning a series of sermons focusing on a covenant that I worked on with the Pastor Nominating Committee and was adopted by the Session. Earlier in our service, in the reading from the Westminster Confession of Faith, we heard about the covenants God has established with his people, leading up to the covenant of grace established by Jesus. A covenant expresses what we are about. In this covenant in which we’re entering within my ministry, there are a number of responsibilities we’re to share. First of all, we have a shared vision for what this congregation might be. In our joint covenant, we reference the Great Ends of the Church (there are six of them), and I encourage you to look them up. You can find it online, or come by the church office and I’ll give you a copy of the covenant. Today, I’ll focus what I think should be our overall vision for the church. We’re told in Proverbs that where there is no vision, the people perish.  We need a vision and our vision comes from Jesus. We’re to be concerned for those who are lost—both outside the church and those who have been a part of the fellowship but have drifted away. Do we have a heart for the lost? Are we happy with the 99 or are we willing to envision a new community that makes a place for the one on the outside? READ Matthew 18:10-14
We started early that August morning. At 6400 feet, the air was cool and the sun a good two or three hours from cresting over the eastern mountains. The church camp I had been directing for the summer had ended the week before and most everyone had gone home. I, on the other hand, had to stay around till after Labor Day in order to take care of groups that came in on the weekends. This gave me plenty of time to hike and enjoy myself. Matt and Henri, two of the counselors, were with me this day. We’d finished up the summer camp work and they’d be leaving the next morning; this was a farewell hike. Our plan was to bushwhack up drainage of the East Fork of the North Fork of the Wood River (I love the way they named streams in that part of the country). We would hike up to a saddle southeast of Ryan Peak, a climb of some 4,000 feet, and then drop down on the other side into the drainage for the West Fork of Trail Creek. We’d continue hiking, till we got the Trail Creek Road where we’d be met for the ride back down through Sun Valley and Ketchum, where we’d stop and have dinner before returning to the camp. The climb was tough, often at a 45 degree angle and through a thick forest of lodgepole pines with thick duff on the ground that made climbing tough. You’d slid back part of each step. The lodgepoles also had dead lower branches that need to be broken out of our way. We were all in good shape. Yet, it took us a good steady hour to break out of the thick trees and another hour to truly be above tree line. From then on, we seemed to float. The skies were almost blinding, bright blue, and not a cloud to be seen. We snacked at the saddle, and then Matt and I climbed a few hundred more feet to a small summit that gave us a 360 degree view of our surroundings. Orienting our map to make sure we had the right drainage (this was before GPS), we started down the other side. It was when we reached the tree line that we heard the cry of a lamb. This area is heavily grazed by sheep and the sound of them bleating is not unknown. But this was a lone animal in country in which there are cougars and bears and coyotes, all who would to have a leg of lamb dinner. We found the pitifully looking lamb crying for its mother and tried to catch it, thinking perhaps we could take it down with us and find its herd, but we didn’t have a staff or even a rope for a lasso and our attempts were comical at best. The animal kept out of our grasp, but kept on crying. We left it behind and continued down the drainage. A mile or so later, we came upon the rest of the herd, with a sheepherder on a horse. We told him about the lamb, but this guy was in charge of thousands of animals and he didn’t seem too concerned. “She’ll find her way back,” he said, as he brushed off our concern and took another nip from his flask. Obviously, this guy wasn’t the Good Shepherd. Now, I won’t say that he was unconcerned. But when you have a herd of several thousand animals, you’ve got your hands full. As a business, you expect to lose a certain percentage of your animals to predators every year. So you keep the 99 together and hope the one lone animal makes it back to the herd. There are a lot of things in the gospel that don’t make sense: the last being first, the meek inheriting the earth, those who weep breaking into laughter and the shepherd who leaves the 99 in search for the one that is lost. You know, we’ve heard this parable so many times; it’s hard for it to have the shock value that it carried in the first century. When Jesus told the story, I’m sure the disciples were thinking, “Yeah right, that’s exactly what a good herder will do.” No, that’s not what they would have thought. Instead, they knew it was crazy for a shepherd to leave the herd in search for a solitary animal. But Jesus wants them to know that this is the way God works. God goes out of his way to bring back those lost from the flock. This part of Matthew’s gospel is directed at the church. The 18th chapter of Matthew begins with the disciples asking a question about who’s most important in the kingdom. Jesus shows them a child and says they have to become like a child if they want to see the kingdom. Then, in the 10th verse, where we’ll begin reading, Jesus expands his thoughts, warning the disciples to take care of those seen as insignificant or marginalized within the community. One way of understanding this is that if the church is the 99 and doing its role of taking care of one another, then the herder could be freed to go and get the lost sheep. Of course, “If the church is taking care of each other,” is a big “IF,” which is partially why Jesus told this parable. The one lost here refers not to someone who has never heard of the gospel, but to someone who has been a believer, but like in the parable of the soil, their roots never took hold. Maybe they were never fully committed to the gospel, or maybe they were just beginning to learn about Jesus, but when they compared themselves to others around them, they felt insignificant. Maybe they didn’t feel they had anything they could contribute to the church? Or maybe someone said something that hurt them and cause them to break away from the fold and to go their own way. Whatever is the reason, these “insignificant ones” are in danger of not only falling away, but of being led astray, even into destruction. So it is important that they be reclaimed. God doesn’t want them to remain lost; he wants them to be restored into the fellowship of the church. Jesus tells us that not only do those who are least significant have angels looking out for them, but that these angels also are there with the Father in heaven. This shows God’s concern for these people who are on the edge. In Jesus’ day, it was thought that only a few angels actually got to look into God’s face. This is another example of the last being first… Those who seem insignificant in our midst may be most significant in the eyes of God. In fact, because they have these angels looking out for them, we may be making the wrong enemies when we look down on such people. “Don’t look down on even one insignificant person,” Dale Bruner writes in his commentary on this passage. “In every believing community there is at least one person whom we feel deserves contempt. Such people Jesus now upgrades.” How might this parable apply to our life together within this community? Are there people that we look down upon? If so, we should examine our motives in light of Jesus’ teachings. What can we do to show such people love? How can we make everyone in our midst, regardless of what they bring to fellowship, feel important and significant? And what about the lost sheep, those who have fallen away? How might we encourage them to come back? (By the way, some of you are doing a wonderful job of reaching out to such people.) I encourage all of you to ask, “Is there someone missing that I could call and invite back?” Or maybe, go a step further and visit? Or, if you are unable to do that, maybe write a note? Or have you made someone feel insignificant and need to do some apologizing? If we each made one contact this week, we’d make a big difference! And what can we do as a community? What changes might we embrace that would make Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church more inviting, more appealing, to those outside these walls? Jesus calls us to look out for one another. If the church is caring for one another like it’s suppose to be, then it’s safe for us to go out in search of the lost sheep and to bring them back into the fold. Can we buy into a vision of a church that is so caring that we seek out the lost? This isn’t something that I can do alone, nor is it something that just the Elders can tackle. It takes all of us. Amen.