To be a Disciple is to be a devoted love-slave of the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not devoted to Jesus Christ. (Oswald Chambers)
I have opened this morning’s sermon with these words of Oswald Chambers because I believe that the dangers of false Discipleship are everywhere present in this morning’s Gospel lesson. In it, we read that Then drew near unto [Jesus] all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 1,2) What we have, it would seem, are the publicans and sinners huddled around Jesus, eager to hear His Word, and the Pharisees and Scribes standing off at a distance, murmuring and judging Him. First, we find those who are interested in and desperately needing what Jesus has to offer, and then the self-righteous Jews judging both Jesus and the company He is keeping. Nestled in between the two groups are, as always, the Apostles. Now, Jesus knows exactly what the religious and pious Jewish Elders are thinking, and so He offers two parables. The truth of these parables is not specifically addressed to the publicans and sinners but to the Scribes and Pharisees and even to the Apostles. But, of course, what Jesus teaches is always meant for all, that whosoever hears His words might become a true Disciple.
So Jesus asks,
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Ibid, 4-6)
Zoologists tell us that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe….) Occasionally, one errs and strays from the way of the sheepfold, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that the ninety and nine detect that one of their members is missing. Provided they are safely fenced in by the sheepfold, they are content and satisfied. The one who does miss the lost sheep is the shepherd, who then rejoices when he finds it. Jesus suggests that the Pharisees and Scribes are more like the ninety and nine safe and contented sheep than like the shepherd. The untold dangers associated with forsaking their communal safety and seeking out the lost sheep are paralleled with the Pharisees’ fear of ritual pollution through contact with publicans and sinners -spiritually lost sheep. For, as Archbishop Trench remarks, they had neither love to hope for the recovery of such men, nor yet antidotes to preserve and protect themselves while making the attempt. (N.O.P’s. p.286) The publicans and sinners are clearly more like the lost sheep in need of being found by the loving shepherd. The shepherd values the lost sheep so much that he leaves the ninety and nine because, for him, every sheep is of great value, like a repentant sinner who needs to be rescued and saved by God. Jesus says, I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. (St. Luke, Ibid, 7) Clearly, then, the truth found in Jesus’ parable rebukes the self-righteous, selfish contentedness of the Pharisees, who cannot be true shepherds because they were never lost sheep who became true disciples. A true Disciple of Christ will not be self-righteously satisfied but, like the lost sheep, like the publicans and sinners, whose lost state elicits repentance and the saving Grace of the Good Shepherd.
Jesus continues with another parable.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. (Ibid, 8,9)
The light symbolizes Christ and the woman images Mother Church. By the light of Christ, the woman, -the Church, sweeps her house, -the world, and seeks diligently until she finds the lost coin –souls who are lost in sin. As with the first parable, the woman rejoices when she finds what she has lost, just as there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) The true Disciple of Christ will learn that he is like the lost coin. As such, he is like the publican or sinner who is lost in his sin but is afforded neither value nor worth by the Pharisees and Scribes of his own day, –or the religious authorities in any age, who have judged him to be lost in sin, unlike themselves. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, comes into the world to find His sheep lost in sin to give them new meaning and worth. As a lost coin, the true Disciple finds his worth and value in the One who persistently seeks him out, mercifully rescues him, and lends him new virtue as He redeems him.
Of course, for the Pharisees and Scribes, the truth contained in Jesus’ parables fell on deaf ears. And it wasn’t that they were wholly devoid of holiness or goodness. In so far as they followed the Law, they were obedient to God. But the problem for them, and the threatening danger for the Apostles and Disciples of Christ, is their indifference to the cost of discipleship – for Christ tells them that they weren’t good shepherds because they had never known themselves to be lost sheep or lost coins. Jesus tried to show the Scribes and Pharisees that they were not paying the price or cost of discipleship. The cost or price of discipleship is the admission of being lost in sin. They truly refused to move beyond the confines of their law and tradition to see that what it taught was that all men are lost in sin. The Scribes and Pharisees could not see that the Law was meant to teach all men to repent because they were lost in sin and in need of God’s Grace to save them from it.
The cost of discipleship is identification with the publicans and sinners. What Jesus suggests is that before anyone can become a shepherd, he must first have been a lost sheep. This doesn’t mean that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was ever lost. But His followers must know themselves to be lost sheep and lost coins because, unlike Him, they cannot save man from sin. A man cannot try to get lost, for then he is not lost but just hiding and concealing himself. What Jesus means is that every man, and especially priests, must realize that he is lost because he is a sinner who has erred and strayed from God’s ways like a lost sheep. (General Confession)
Jesus says, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) Now, clearly, what the Pharisees and Scribes missed and what every true Apostle and Disciple of Christ should embrace are the virtues of humility and meekness. Pride, humility’s opposite, puffs a man up with a sense of his own self-important religiosity. The proud man measures his own goodness against other men’s sins. He has no need of redemption or salvation because he does not realize that he is lost in sin and must repent. But the publicans and sinners flocked to Jesus because they were lost in sin and painfully sensed that they had no value. Until Jesus’ coming, they had no one to bear the cross of their lost and worthless spiritual state. In Jesus, they find one who lovingly finds them and promises them new worth and value by stirring them to repentance and hope for salvation. Jesus sees in them the makings of true disciples; in them he finds those who know that they are lost and are now being found. You can’t be found until you feel the pain of being a lost sheep and a lost coin.
The true Disciple of Christ will be a man who once was lost but is now found. With St. Peter in this morning’s Epistle, he will be subject to his fellow men, and clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 St. Peter v. 5) The true Disciple of Christ will humble [himself]…under the mighty hand of God, that God may exalt [him] in due time. (Ibid, 6) True humility expresses man’s utter need for God’s caring love and healing power in Jesus Christ alone. The truly humble man subjects himself to his fellow men because he shares the same dreadful disease of being lost in sin, in equal need of redemption from the One who can carry his cross. St. Peter says, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, seeing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (Ibid, 8,9) The true Disciple of Christ sees the same afflictions…in our brethren in the world, living under the pain of despair and the death of sin. The afflictions of all men belong to our common condition that finds worth and value in Christ and His Cross.
My friends, let us study the cost of discipleship that Christ teaches in his parables. We shall not grow spiritually if we look with arrogant pride upon the world full of lost sheep whose condition we do not share. We shall grow spiritually if, with the publicans and sinners of old, we draw near to Jesus, who comes to find us and carry us on His shoulders to the Cross of His Love. God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5) We shall advance, knowing we were as sheep going astray but have now returned unto the Shepherd and [Bishop] of [our] souls. (1 St. Peter ii. 25) We shall mature spiritually, realizing that Christ, like the woman in today’s Gospel, has searched the world diligently for His lost coins of great value and found His hidden treasures in our broken hearts, made to find worth on His Cross. There will be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth…than over ninety and nine just persons who have no need of repentance. (St. Luke xv. 10,7) The sinner’s humility is greater than the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. He repents to be lifted with Jesus up onto His Cross. On the Cross of His Love, Jesus suffers and dies that we who were lost in sin can be found and redeemed.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: