Do you ever feel stretched thin, like too little butter spread over a large canvas of bread? The Holy Spirit dwells within us, but we’re finite creatures. Today if you feel like too little butter spread over a canvas of bread, I can’t help you, but the Spirit within us is infinite. Recognize that we’re finite, and don’t feel guilty over the things we’re not able to perform.
There’s an infinite Spirit within each of us that motivates us to become an infinite family with the whole church in Lodi. There are 45,000 other Christians in this town, and we need to have an intimate connection with them. We’ve heard that we need to have an intimate connection with the church around the world; we need to sacrifice and go and meet with our brothers and sisters wherever we can. Today, I also want to bring us back to the local church.
When we have this infinite compulsion inside of us to go out and do, we end up feeling guilty. “Why am I not doing enough? Is the Gospel really compelling me to do certain things?” The Gospel does compel us, and today we’ll break down some of the barriers or road blocks that people throw up.
The first roadblock is bad titles. We’re going to talk about two parables today, the parable of The Whole Flock and The Complete Purse. You’ve probably never heard of these parables because the titles we use to refer to them are normally The Lost Sheep and The Missing Coin. We have assigned these titles of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin to these parables so that we can fixate on the individual and not have the infinite Spirit within us really compel us to go out and do. When we look at the context of the parable, we’ll see that the familiar titles don’t actually line up with what Jesus was talking about. We’re also going to talk about Matthew 18 today, with an emphasis on intimacy.
I’m part of a large and dysfunctional family myself, and my brothers and sisters gave me a love and appreciation for family. And yet in church, we sometimes have things wrong about family. My immediate family was a whole unit, and when I had to leave that unit to come down to Lodi, my other six brothers and sisters were not the same without me. There used to be a wholeness, and now it’s gone. Yet when an individual leaves the church, we think we can function the same without them and that we’re still the same church without one of our parts.
One of the reasons for this is that we are guarded. When the Holy Spirit compels us to be intimate with a brother or sister and then they leave the church, we become guarded, and that is what Jesus talks about in Luke 15. There are two parables in Luke 15 and they center around the concept of wholeness and family, but the way we’ve titled them has allowed us to miss that.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
What we need to understand as we move forward is that we sometimes divide the church era and the Jewish era. But if Jesus has inaugurated a new family in the church, a combination of Jews and Greeks. In the Jewish era, these people were one family. When it says the tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus, and the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling, they were all Hebrews, all members of one singular family. The Pharisees and the scribes were there, and they were grumbling about who Jesus was welcoming.
In our nuclear family when someone strays and returns, we get so excited. But in the Hebrew family, the Pharisees and the scribes turn their backs on the sinners and ridicule their own family for coming back to Jesus. And so Jesus calls them out on this. His retort is swift and to the point:
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Luke 15:3-4
Notice the phrase one hundred, meaning a whole flock, a complete herd. Jesus tells them to think of the whole flock: one hundred sheep. When one of the flock leaves, the herd is no longer complete. If one of them goes missing, aren’t you going to drop everything to go after that sheep?
We’ve titled this passage The Lost Sheep and we’ve fixated on our individualistic selves. The proper title is The Whole Flock – the parable is about restoring wholeness and restoring family. The Pharisees grumble about the sinner returning, but Jesus says, “You can’t be whole until he comes back. You can’t be whole until he returns.”
Because without it, you aren’t just out one sheep but you are out a complete flock. You haven’t just lost one, but you have lost the whole and you only have part. When we title this passage The Lost Sheep, we think we can be whole by ourselves. But the other 99 have lost part of themselves as well. Wouldn’t you risk everything to be whole again?
The wonderful part about this parable is that Jesus assumes this will happen. If completeness is sought, it will be found. Just like it is being found right there as Hebrew tax collectors and Hebrew sinners come to Him. And so Jesus tells us what our response should be:
When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was 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 15:5-7
Jesus says to the scribes and the Pharisees, “Rejoice with me! Don’t turn your back or your shoulders when the sinners and the lost are coming back to me. Why won’t you rejoice with me? Don’t you know there’s a symphony in heaven over what’s happening when the family returns? Rejoice with me!”
His accusation to the scribes and the Pharisees is something the churches in Lodi need to hear. I hear His accusation: “There’s a party in heaven! Why aren’t you rejoicing right now?” Our Lodian ears need to hear that.
Why do the scribes and the Pharisees think they can be whole without their fellow Hebrews? They have a lack of intimacy with one another, and a sense that they can be righteous before God without brotherly love. That’s the same for our churches here in Lodi. Where’s the intimacy with our brothers and sisters that longs for wholeness? If we don’t love one another, then I can see how this church situation has arisen. If there’s really not a love, then I can see how we don’t seek after people when they go missing, or why we respond with apathy when they come back in. But if there’s truly love and God’s infinite love is flowing within us, isn’t that expressed with rejoicing when someone comes home?
We get guarded, and so there’s a lot of turnover in churches and this can hurt us. We start to love, and then someone leaves and it’s painful. God’s love is infinite and when we start getting hurt by that love, we start guarding ourselves from it. This apathy has created a church situation where people come and go, people lose their faith, and when people come back after a long struggle, there’s a party in heaven but there’s no party down here.
Jesus’ accusation to the Pharisees and the scribes should be felt here and now because we haven’t allowed God’s love to flow through us and attach us to His church. Jesus is super firm on this, and so He puts it in another way. Instead of thinking about sheep, He presents the parable of a woman and her money.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10
The angels are clapping when wholeness is restored. The nine coins cannot do what the ten can do. There’s value in the one that was lost, but there’s so much more value in all ten coins together. The whole needs to be restored and when the whole is restored, there’s a party in heaven and there was a party in that woman’s house and yet that party does not happen in our churches.
What would life be like if we actually knew about our brothers and sisters in Remedy and in the larger church in Lodi? What would it be like if we had the intimacy of Christian family that’s talked about in these parables where the whole is so important that we’re willing to do anything for it? What would happen if we stopped guarding ourselves over people leaving, and if we allowed that intimacy and love to hurt and pursue and to grieve when they are walking away?
There’s another reason we don’t pursue, which goes back to these bad titles and bad understanding of scripture. The parable of the whole flock is found in Matthew 18, but what does Matthew 18 mean to you? Most Western churches recognize the chapter as a passage on conflict resolution or church discipline. We’ve made Matthew 18 about church discipline so that we can feel better – we’ve made it about the process you have to go through to kick someone out of the church instead of how Jesus is making it so we can have a whole and restored church. If we think of this as the whole being restored and Jesus’ method of protecting His church, our lives would have to change.
Jesus is talking to a group of Hebrews and forming a church in which He’s trying to make them one family. Matthew 18 is this process of keeping restoration and wholeness. Instead of reading conflict resolution, let’s look at this outline:
- Matthew 18:1-5 | Greatness is Childlikeness
- Matthew 18: 6-9 | Stop yourself before hurting another
- Matthew 18: 10-14 | Parable of Whole Flock
- Matthew 18: 15-20 | Process of handling sin
- Matthew 18: 21-35 | Forgive without limits, and a warning about unforgiveness
Most people define the whole chapter by what happens in verses 15-20, instead of letting the context dictate what is occurring. This outline should defend to us that wholeness and completeness is the fundamental principle of the church. It should have been fundamental to the nation of Israel, who are all one family. Now Christians churches are all united under Jesus, knitted under Him. We need to stop being poor interpreters of scripture and be honest to ourselves. Completeness, wholeness, and one family is important to Jesus and it should be important to us as well.
Instead, we’ve done what Peter did. After Jesus said all of these things, Peter said, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Peter wanted to know how much he had to sacrifice and give of himself. Jesus told him to forgive limitlessly. We’re called to forgive without reservation.
We’ve guarded our hearts to the point that we hardly care when someone strays and we’ve misinterpreted scripture to get away from God’s conviction. We’ve guarded our hearts and run from intimacy with each other, yet we’re not complete without them at the local level, at the church level, and on the global level.
We’re not whole without them, and if they leave, we’re not whole. I’m not saying that church moving isn’t ok. But if when we leave a church, we’re also walking away from God’s fold and jumping over the fence, that’s not ok. Jesus is addressing the situation where someone is jumping over the fence and leaving. If one of us were to jump over the fence, we’d be incomplete. When we allow ourselves to seek out the lost, it’s only then that wholeness can be restored.
We need to get intimate and invested with one another here at Remedy, and also across the church, in different places and in different denominations. It’s going to feel like we’re spread over too much toast – recognize that you’re finite and can’t have personal connections with everyone, but at least desire it and have the intimacy and the joy that comes from God’s infinite love in you.
The first application is Remedy specific. First, Remedy is a new church which means most of you have probably come from a different church, and you may not have left your old church on great terms. If you didn’t leave your church on great terms, and your old church body thinks you may have left the church altogether, how can they unguard their hearts? When we leave and we leave in rough relational terms, we need to go back and have a conversation. That needs to be a conversation we’re comfortable having so that the whole church of Lodi can pursue those who are truly lost sheep.
The second application is passage specific. It’s really difficult to grow in love, which is why Jesus has sent His Spirit into our hearts and it’s Him who lives in us. Know that you already have Jesus’ love for His whole bride inside of you and you are already declared brothers and sisters with your brothers and sisters at Remedy and around Lodi and around the world. Jesus’ love is already in you for them, and you’re already their family. You’re already one and you already love them – our whole job is to live like it. It’s going to feel like you’re spread too thin but God gives us a deep love for one another and we’re united to one another. We simply need to live like it. As you go today, live like you’re connected and that you’re not the same without them. Allow Jesus’ love to flow through you for the whole flock, in Lodi and around the world.