Of Sheep and Sinners

As I was preparing my sermon notes for Sunday (our minister and I swapped roles last week and this week; he’s leading the singing and I’m preaching) I was handed two gifts this morning to help me remember the awesome love God has for us. They fit well with my sermon themes. Last week was about the church’s leaders, the elders/shepherds. This week we’ll be looking at the members of the body, the sheep. In the amazing way God has of speaking to me, I had a Facebook post and a favorite Bible account come to me this morning. I don’t believe it was a coincidence they showed up at the same time; God’s timing is too incredible and perfect for that.

A friend of mine posted this on his Facebook feed today. It fit so well with my Sunday lesson that I decided to use it. I repost it here for your consideration (for those of you who are members of the congregation, you’ll be seeing and hearing this again).

Every once in a while, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and reject it. There are lots of reasons she may do this. If the shepherd tries to return the lamb, the mother might even kick the baby away. Once a ewe rejects one of her lambs, she will never change her mind.

These little lambs will hang their heads so low that it looks like something is wrong with their little necks. Their spirits are broken.

These lambs are called “bummer lambs.”

Unless the shepherd intervenes, that little lamb will die – rejected and alone.

Do you know what the shepherd usually does?

The shepherd will take that rejected little lamb into their home, hand-feed it and keep it warm. They will wrap it up with blankets and hold it to their chest so the little lamb can hear their heartbeat. Once the lamb is strong enough, the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock.

That sheep never forgets the shepherd’s love and care when their mother rejected them. When the shepherd calls for the flock, guess which sheep runs first? That sheep knows the shepherd’s voice.

The bummer lamb isn’t loved more, it just knows intimately the one who loves it. It trusts the shepherd because it has experienced love from the shepherd.

Many of us are bummer lambs. Rejected and broken. But Jesus is the good Shepherd. He cares for our every need and holds us close to His heart so we can hear His heartbeat.

We may be broken but we are deeply loved by the Shepherd who will never leave us.

~ Author Unknown

A little while later, I was doing my daily Bible reading, including Luke 7, which has one of my favorite accounts, the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume that washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (I wrote about her once before in my post entitled Waiting for God under Fire). I love coming back to her story, as well as others whose main characters demonstrate an incredible humility and awareness of their own unworthiness. They come to Jesus because they recognize He is who He claims to be, and He offers them a love and compassion they can find nowhere else.

Being painfully aware of our own shortcomings and inadequacies deepens our appreciation of how amazingly overwhelming God’s love and grace really are. Christ didn’t die for us because we were such good people or even His friends. Romans 5:6-11 puts it this way:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The woman with the jar of perfume did what she did, not because she expected anything in return, but because she recognized that Jesus was worthy of it, and she was unworthy of Him. But Jesus always desires to show compassion to the humble repentant heart. Rather than roundly condemn her (as the Pharisee who hosted the dinner was itching to do), Jesus gave her what she needed most: forgiveness of the sins which weighed her down with shame. Great faith and love bring great forgiveness, and great forgiveness inspires even greater love.

All through the Gospels we see Jesus having a heart of compassion for the poor, the downtrodden, the ones who society overlooked or considered unworthy of normal human contact. They were the rejected ones whose spirits were broken, much like “bummer sheep”. Jesus said specifically those were the ones whom He was seeking, the unloved, the rejected, the hopeless. Not surprisingly, they were the ones who responded most readily to Him.

All of us have been “bummer sheep” at one time or another. We’ve all experienced rejection, and in one way or another we are all broken, if for no other reason than being human and under the curse of sin. But there is a shepherd, a Good Shepherd, who will take us in and care for us, hold us to His breast and let us hear His heartbeat. If you have experienced His loving care, your response will be to run to the voice of One who loves you best. But if He saved you when your spirit was crushed, and you love Him deeply for what He has done for you, you’ll be the first sheep in line.

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