"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6).
In younger days, I loved to boogie-board on the beaches of Southern California. I'm too uncoordinated to use a surfboard and too wide to body surf. I discovered a boogie board was just the ticket for an afternoon of fun.
If you've ever been in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of SoCal, you remember two things: 1) the water is really cold (about 65-degrees in summer), and 2) the waves and currents are incredibly powerful. The cold wears off once you get used to it, but the power of the ocean is truly amazing. The ocean will literally beat you up and flip you over with no advance notice. But almost unnoticeable are the so-called rip currents which can literally pull you out to sea.
It's possible to get so caught up in the fun of boogie-boarding that you don't realize that the riptide has pulled you hundreds of yards away from your starting point. You look for your friends on the beach and discover they're nowhere to be found! It can be scary. One rip current pulled me so far away from short that a lifeguard came to lead me back to safety.
I didn't mean to wander so far. It just happened!
Wandering away from God is much the same way. It's usually not intentional. It starts innocently. Maybe you miss a service because something important comes up. Or maybe you're visiting friends who don't go to church, so you stay home with them. The next week, maybe you're sick so you miss again. The next Sunday, you feel like sleeping in. After all, you've earned it. You work so hard!
Before you know it, you've missed worship service several weeks in a row and each week became easier. You reach a point where Sunday rolls around and you don't even think about church. You wonder to yourself, "When was the last time I even prayed?" And you don't have an answer.
You didn't mean to wander away from God. It just happened!
This Sunday, we will examine the first of three parables Jesus tells two very different groups. The first group, scribes and Pharisees, are watching Jesus. The second group, sinners and tax collectors, have come to hear Jesus. The first group grumbles because Jesus associates with the second group.
Jesus' first parable is about a shepherd and his sheep. One sheep out of a hundred wanders away and the good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to search for the one. He cannot bear the thought of losing one sheep to the wolves.
The scribes and Pharisees know the Hebrew scriptures really well. When Jesus starts talking about sheep and shepherds, they might instantly recall passages like Ezekiel 34 where God dresses down the Jewish leadership. "My sheep were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them." The good news comes a few verses later when God says, "Behold, I will search for my sheep and will seek them out. I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered."
So, the message Jesus has for the scribes and Pharisees is: "You guys are watching me? You better watch for God, because His judgment is coming."
In Jesus' story, the good shepherd looks for, finds, and brings back the one wandering sheep. Immediately, he throws a party--calling on all his friends to rejoice with him.
Jesus' message for the sinners is, "Hear this! God is searching for you. Let Him find you. Stop wandering aimlessly and come home. When you do, God and His angels will celebrate."
Do you know a wanderer? Have you made an effort to find them? Or did you simply write them off?
Every week, we should be combing through our church directories to see who has missed a few weeks. God expects us to seek out wandering sinners. Track them down and persuade them to turn around. Once they are back in the fold, heaven rejoices! Handsprings and high fives!
May we be a church that, like Jesus, seeks and rescues those who are lost.
"Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7).