Wayward Sheep, Not Faceless Crowds
I’m sure I’ve told you about my friend Murray, a member of the church where I previously preached. Many Thursdays, Murray and I would dine at Mary’s Tacos for the all-you-eat buffet. Murray’s dental work was suspect, and I would spend most of the meal shielding my plate from flying enchilada particles. Murray liked to talk with food in his mouth.
Murray didn’t have a lot of friends. I’d heard stories of him being less than kind to people over the years. Maybe he mellowed with age because I never found him to be unkind.
Murray was a WWII veteran who served under General George Patton. He talked a lot about both the war and Patton. I think he needed to get some things off his chest. And I was his sounding board.
Occasionally, Murray would be telling a war story when he would stop to fight back the emotions. Tears would well in his eyes. His voice would shake. I know he saw unspeakable things in that war. He could never shake those memories. Sometimes he would apologize for the tears. But it was in these emotional episodes that Murray became a real person to me.
That’s why Thursdays with Murray at Mary’s became a habit. Because in those moments when Murray broke down, I no longer saw him as a food-flinging, oddball. He was my brother in Christ.
In Matthew 9, Jesus travels through the villages of Galilee healing and teaching. He drew massive crowds of people. The apostle says that “when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” For Jesus, the crowds were not faceless individuals. He saw them as people who needed a savior.
Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been talking about the lost… the wounded… the wandering… and the rebellious. My tendency is to see these folks as a faceless mass—not real people. But I’ve found that the more I pray for them, the more attached I feel to them. They’ve become real to me. Have you found the same thing true for you?
Seeing the lost as a faceless mass allows us to downplay their need. We lose our sense of urgency. And we don’t hurt for them at all. But as we pray for them, maybe accompanied by fasting, we begin to see everything differently. I catch myself in line at HEB wondering whether the cashier, the person in front of me and the person behind me has any concept of Jesus. And if they don’t, do they even care? Maybe they just need somebody to tell them. I find myself being much more aware of my attitudes. I smile more. I say ‘hello’ more. I say ‘God bless you’ or ‘Have a blessed day” more. I purposely try to be more joyful, hoping that somebody might ask me the reason for my hope. I pray for that to happen.
As we come to the end of this series of sermons, my prayer is that we've developed a greater awareness and compassion for people who don’t know Jesus. I pray that we get opportunities to share our story with people and that He'll give us the courage to seize those opportunities.
The “woke” church sees others as Jesus sees them—as individual persons who desperately need to know the Good News. Jesus commands us to also be the “sent” church—a community of people who makes disciple-making a top priority.
Now that we’re awake, may we be willing to be sent. We have all the tools we need. God will never command us to do anything that He will not also empower us and equip us to do.
“As you go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 29:19).