Troubling Good People?
ave you been lost? We all have. Maybe not as lost as the those Tennessee folks who were going to lunch and drove three days through four states. It was in the AJC, so it must be the gospel. He picked her up and they cashed their Social Security checks to drive to Asheville; and they drove to Virginia, then N.C., and somehow ended up on the wrong side of I-75 in Kennesaw, Georgia. Now that’s being lost! Their families rejoiced greatly when they were found.
I got lost at home once. Actually, I was two blocks from home in a former mill village where all the houses looked the same. I knocked on a door and they called my Daddy to come and get me. He rejoiced that I had knocked on the right door. I don’t recall ever being truly lost again, at least not physically. I have been “turned-around” a few times but not frantically, feeling plum stupid, lost.
They say that sheep get lost a lot. They are not too bright. But the shepherd is trained to love them and to be able to identify each one. Since first century Jewish Shepherds raised their sheep for wool, they could easily become attached. Shepherds sang to their sheep to keep them feeling secure. David, the shepherd boy, played his harp to calm his sheep in storms. In the economy of the first century almost everyone had dealings with sheep and had great respect for professional shepherds.
In Jesus’ illustration he asks the Pharisees and professors if they had one-hundred sheep to care for and lost one, would they not leave the ninety-nine in the safety of the sheepfold and go seeking the lost one: And once found would the good Jewish shepherd not put the little sheep around his neck and bring it home with great joy and even want to celebrate with his friends and other shepherds?
But what is the meaning, or meanings, of Jesus’ story? It’s obviously about more than shepherding, because they would have all agreed that the shepherd did the right thing.
We get a hint from Jesus’ tag line… “There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.”
Of course, we all always rejoice when a sheep, or a sinner, or a lost off anybody is found. David McFadden has been found. You may recall how my fellow high school 1962 Blue Comet N.C. State Champion AAA Football Team right end, had disappeared, after completing medical school at Duke. He just walked away from his psychiatric residency. Recently he has contacted his brother. He has not come home yet, but we are still praying that he does, soon. When he comes back home, we will all rejoice!
But what about those troubling good people who have stayed home all of these years and done all the right things? It sounds like the dilemma of the elder brother who became jealous and angry when his prodigal younger brother returned home from wasting his inheritance on wild living, which is told by Jesus at the end of Luke 15, possibly to explain further the situation of the Pharisees.
The problem with the Pharisees was that no matter how much they tried to live up to the exact letter of the many Old Testament Laws the more unclean they must have felt, so they invented more and more laws, restrictions and sacred customs, and could not keep them either. The Law either failed to satisfy Israel’s longing to be one with God, or it was intended to fail in order to prepare the way for the dispensation of Salvation by God’s Grace.
You see, those 99% good people “who had no need to repent;” actually, were as needful of repentance as the rest of us.
We are so precious to God that He has done everything to make it so easy for us, in today’s world. (1) We hear the Good News of salvation through Jesus. (2) We let it grab our hearts and imaginations. (3) We believe it and it changes us inside. (4) We suddenly become Jesus’ Disciple and we begin a new life following Him. How great is that?
And one more thing: There is great rejoicing in heaven because of one sinner’s rescued life!
I like to think that many of these well educated and righteous Pharisees soon grasped what God had done in Jesus Christ and that there was great rejoicing for them too! Some probably refused the New Deal and kept trying to observe the same old laws.
That’s the way human nature still is today. There are sometimes plodders along, real good folks, who keep the laws. They work hard, usually real hard. You can count on them to do the right thing. They are what we call in the South, “Good Folks!” But sometimes they don’t want to hear about their need for the Grace of Christ. Lots of Southern, “Good ‘Ole Boys, and Girls,” assume they were born into the Methodist Church, as were their parents, grandparents and on back.
The Good News is that we are stepping on our own toes more gently lately. If we can get them into a DISCIPLE Bible Study, send the husbands off on a Rock Eagle Men’s Retreat, or get the couple to an Emmaus Walk, we’ve got them. Or, perhaps we can learn to preach the Gospel in a way that it might just finally click some Sunday morning. Actually, I believe that most of them have experienced salvation somewhere along the way, but they just enjoy nagging the preacher by not admitting that they have. You know, “Those Troubling Good People,” types: Unlike those mean old Pharisees and scribes. At least, I am sure we are doing better than one-percent that will be rejoiced over in Glory. None of ours are lost four states away sitting on the wrong side of the expressway headed in the wrong way.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor