Who *Are* the Lost Sheep?

Who Are the Lost Sheep?

Sunday Evening Vesper Service

Copeland Oaks, Sebring, Ohio

September 11, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

This morning at Christ Church I shared a message about welcoming sinners the way that Jesus welcomed sinners, and as a part of that discussion I read a passage from Luke 15 that most of us here are likely familiar.  In that passage, Luke 15:1-10, we hear these words:

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins [each worth a day’s wage] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In our story, we know that the sinners that the Pharisees are talking about are the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other people who were generally excluded from polite society.  These were the people who didn’t come to the Temple or make an appearance at the synagogue although some, if not many, of them had likely grown up in good Jewish families, had gone to Jewish school, attended synagogue services, and had their bar mitsvah (or bat mitzvah).  Some of them, of course, were not.  These might have been Samaritans, or Roman soldiers, or others who had never been a part of the church but, for the most part, in the story, the vast majority were almost certainly ethnically Jewish. 

And that’s a kind of a weird problem.  These people that Jesus calls God’s “lost children” were family.  They literally shared DNA with the people who were critical of Jesus.  They had grown up in the church, but now they were outcasts and found it almost impossible to come back to the church even if they wanted to do so because of the stigma that they bore as, quote, “sinners.”

Obviously, those of us who have gone to church for any length of time, or who have read this story with us, know that Jesus, and God, were of a different opinion.  Although Jesus told them that they needed to stop sinning, he still went out of his way to find them where they were, to be friends with them, and to make them feel welcome.  Jesus wanted to be sure that they knew, and felt, that the door to rescue, reconciliation, and redemption was wide open to them.

But if we skip ahead twenty-one centuries, we find ourselves asking the same question…

Who are the lost sheep?

When we attend a Gentile church and few of us even know someone who is ethnically Jewish, it seems obvious that the lost children that we know aren’t Jews.  But we’ve learned that while Jesus’ mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel, the mission that he left to his disciples, and to his church, is to seek and to save all of God’s lost children, that is, all of humanity.

With that in mind, let’s look again at the people that Jesus was criticized for hanging out with, talking to, and to whom he offered grace, mercy, and friendship.  The people that Jesus invited in, were the people who the church liked to discredit and write off.  They were the people that didn’t fit in, didn’t have enough status, had the wrong status, who chose the wrong side, had the wrong kind of job, or otherwise fell through the cracks in the society of New Testament Israel.

Many of the people on that list are the same people in our communities today.  Churches full of Democrats can find it hard to minister to Republicans, and vice versa.  We look askance at people who don’t dress like we do, or who don’t smell like we do, let alone prostitutes, drug dealers, drug users, gamblers, smokers, folks covered with tattoos and piercings, single mothers, teen mothers, fussy babies, bikers, the poor, and a bunch of other people who just don’t fit into our idea of church membership.  And let’s not forget the difficulty that we sometimes have welcoming people of color, the deaf, the blind, the mentally handicapped, the disabled, or people whose first language isn’t English.

But the parable that Jesus told says that “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  And so as mixed up as we might get, or whatever it is that makes us think that we know who belongs and who doesn’t belong, at the end of the day Jesus says that everyone belongs.  And every one of those people that we might be tempted to discredit or write off are exactly the lost sheep that Jesus was talking about.  Every one of those people that frighten us a little, or anger us a little, or make us cringe when they come through the door, are exactly the people for whom we should drop everything, leave behind the ninety-nine, light a lamp and sweep the house, or whatever it is that we need to do to make them feel welcome, show them mercy and grace, so that they can hear the message of Jesus’ rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.

Jesus’ message of the lost sheep was never an easy one, and it isn’t easy now.  But our mission isn’t to make the ninety-nine sheep inside our church comfortable and well fed, our mission is to rescue the one that’s missing.


Did you enjoy this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Sinners Welcome!

Click here to listen to the podcast

Click here to watch the livestream: https://youtu.be/_6_sQhB0L3Q


Sinners Welcome!

September 11, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28                   Luke 15:1-10              1 Timothy 1:12-17

In 1781, famed preacher Jonathan Edwards presented a message to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  He preached that same sermon again in Enfield, Connecticut later that same year and, by many historical accounts, triggered the beginning of what is now considered to be the First Great Awakening which brought countless waves of people across the new United States and England to faith in Christ.  In that message, Edwards proclaimed the horrors of hell and forwarded the idea that it is only the grace and the powerful hand of God that holds back the demons of hell and allows sinners to remain in this world so that they will have an opportunity to repent.

Present day preachers tend not to preach with that kind of style or fire, though many of us would agree with much of Edward’s message.  What’s worse, however, is that somewhere along the line, our churches established a reputation as places where you needed to get right with God before you came in, or as places where sinners, the unclean, the tattooed, bikers, persons of color, the poor, the homeless, smokers, gamblers, and any other kind of outsiders aren’t welcome.  And, in many churches, that characterization is unfortunately true. 

But that isn’t the message that we find in scripture at all.  Yes, God does have a problem with some people, but God’s list almost never seems to overlap with the people that our churches like to exclude.  In Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, we hear this:

11 At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; 12 a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”

22 “My people are fools;
    they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
    they know not how to do good.”

23 I looked at the earth,
    and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
    and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
    and they were quaking;
    all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
    every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
    all its towns lay in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
    though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
    and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
    I have decided and will not turn back.”

God condemns Israel not because of everyday, ordinary sin, but because of their conscious decision to act in ways that they knew were in opposition to God’s will.  They had known God… but forgot God and had become so desensitized to wrongdoing and injustice that they only did evil and entirely forgot how to do good.  God had created Israel to be a light to the nations but whatever light that they had… was gone.

God’s intent is better demonstrated to us in the actions and the teaching of Jesus such as we find in the story contained in Luke 15:1-10.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 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.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[each worth a day’s wage] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The accusation against Jesus was that he must be a bad person because he welcomed “sinners” and shared the relationally intimate act of eating meals with them.  As I noted last week, during communion, a shared meal is an intimate act.  Only an exceedingly small number of people will be invited into our homes and in the even smaller inner circle that sits at our table and shares food with us.  Even in a group setting with larger numbers of people, there is still a decision-making process by which we choose who will be given access to that level of closeness.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law would never do such a thing and they thought that doing so cast doubt on Jesus’ authority, credibility, and likability. 

But the parables that Jesus uses to craft his reply reveal that these are exactly the people that God wants to welcome.  When you have one hundred sheep, and lose one, you use all your time, talent, and resources to find the one that is lost, not to nurture the ninety-nine that stayed home.  And when you lose a coin that’s worth an entire day’s wages, you don’t just keep counting the nine that you have, you expend all the effort that you can to find the one that you lost.  The people who were in the Temple and who worshipped in the synagogues weren’t lost.  The lost people that God wanted back were the people that had left the church and had left God’s family in one way or another. 

And as the Apostle Paul writes to his friend Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12-17, he writes from the perspective of a person who was once lost, but has been found, welcomed, and redeemed.  Paul says…

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Too often our churches are so laser-focused on the chaplaincy of our church, which is the mission of caring for the day to day needs of the congregation, that they completely ignore, and sometimes are downright unwelcoming, to the lost people that God wants to rescue.  How often do we hear stories or jokes about people who felt unwelcome because they visited a church and accidentally sat in the spot that Mrs. So-and-so had sat in for sixty-three years?  Or folks who were angrily stared at because they wore the wrong kind of clothes?  Or had the wrong color skin?  Or belonged to the wrong political party?  Or were shown the door because they were divorced or remarried?  Or were single parents?  Or drank too much, or smoked, or swore, or… well, you get the idea.

When God condemned Israel in the story we read from Jeremiah, his condemnation wasn’t for any of those things.  God’s condemnation was for the church people who forgot how to do good and couldn’t stop doing evil.  Instead, what Jesus is trying to teach us is that the people we need to spend our time, talent, and resources on, are those lost children that we so easily overlook or condemn because they don’t go to our church, or don’t look like us, or talk like us, or vote like us, or move in the same social circles as us.

Bear in mind that Jesus never told sinners that it was okay to keep on sinning.  But Jesus most certainly did say that sinners should always be made to feel welcome in his house so that they could hear… and feel, the message of love, rescue, and transformation that is contained in the gospel message.  Our mission isn’t to keep out the riffraff.  Our mission is to save the lost, to welcome the riffraff, the outsiders, and the outcasts so that we can be agents of rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.

But in order to accomplish our mission, in order for us to do what Jesus has called us to do, requires us to do what Jesus did.

And that… is to make sure that sinners are welcome.


Did you enjoy this?

Please LIKE and SHARE!

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.