The Lost Sheep


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 20, 2014

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ (LUK 15:6)

  1. The angels themselves struggle with hell to protect us, they give us states of good and truth to moderate the effects of the evils we choose for ourselves, and when we clearly see that we must repent of evil and learn to live well, they rejoice for the sheep that was lost!
    1. But the Word says that they rejoice more for the lost sheep who is found than for the 99 that were never lost. Should we, for the sake of the angels’ happiness, experiment with evil, deliberately loose ourselves, so the angels can have the joy of a repentant sinner?
      1. It sometimes appears that the only way to prepare for life is to experience sin.
      2. We talk about “sowing wild oats” as if it’s a good thing to do
      3. And this view seems to be supported by the parable of the prodigal son who lives in all manner of wickedness, and yet is welcomed home – much to the disgust of his orderly and self-disciplined brother.
    2. Does the Word really teach that we should get out there and experience sin (especially young people) for the sake of our spiritual health?
  2. The Lost Son/Sheep
    1. Took his inheritance early
    2. Moved from the farm to the big city, representing a move from heaven to hell
        1. My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. (ISA 5:1)
        2. The kingdom of heaven is like a sower…
        3. Sodom and Gommorah
    3. Wasted his inheritance with riotous living
      1. Became a swineherd to survive.
      2. Hit bottom” and returned home, humbled.
      3. Was received by his father with joy.
    4. We are tempted to take the point of view of the son that stayed at home
      1. We are resentful that others can “have fun” and “get away with it”
    5. We have to think about it from the point of view of the Lord’s own kingdom:
      1. In heaven, no one gets lost.
      2. In heaven, there are no evil people making evil choice that harm the innocent.
      3. In heaven, people learn about evil through the merest suggestion and are so horrified that they flee from it.
        1. Children in heaven are taught about evil through plays that merely suggest it – like MacBeth.
    6. The world that we live in, on the other hand, is not heaven, because there is evil in it.
      1. Evil is only permitted by the Lord when it can be eventually turned to good. For example:
        1. The sale of Joseph into Egypt by his brothers: “But now, do not therefore be grieved nor angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God. (GEN 45:5-8)
        2. The car crash of that saves lives by making others more cautious
    7. But it is extremely important to realize that when it comes to the Divine Providence, to “permit” is not to “will” or “intend”
      1. It’s one thing when a parent “permits” a child to go to the park. It’s entirely different when the Lord, grieving, permits evil.
      2. AC 2768 But its being said that “God did tempt,” is according to the sense of the letter, in which temptations and many other things are attributed to God; but it is according to the internal sense that God tempts no one; but in the time of temptations is continually liberating from them, as far as possible, or as far as the liberation does not do harm, and is continually looking to the good into which He is leading him who is in the temptations; for God never takes part in temptations in any other manner; and though it is predicated of Him that He permits, still it is not according to the idea which man has of permission, namely, that by permitting He concurs.Man cannot comprehend it in any other manner than that he who permits is also willing; but it is the evil within the man which causes, and even leads into the temptation.

        (See also AC 7877:5, 10778)

  3. In conclusion, thinking about this paradox, we can turn to the work Conjugial Love for an illustration.
      1. The first part is so beautiful and ideal that it is hard for us to comprehend or even believe it.
        1. Visions of angel couples in the various heavens.
        2. Their incredible innocence and genuine love for each other.
      2. The second half is shocking in its acceptance of sexual disorders to the point that many have seriously tried to suppress it.
    1. This dichotomy illustrates at once the Lord’s great love and hope for us and at the same time recognizes that we all will fail to some degree, and that He is merciful.
    2. In the Word, the sensual, is represented by a serpent
      1. There are two ways to find out if a snake is dangerous:
        1. To pick it up and see if you die when it bites you, or
        2. To read a book about snakes and learn to recognize and avoid the dangerous ones.
    3. Like any parent, our Heavenly Father wants us to do the right thing.
      1. He shows us the way. The Word is full of stories of people doing evil, and the horrible consequences of that evil:
        1. Achan’s sin at the battle of Ai.
        2. David and Bathsheba.
        3. Ahab and Jezebel.
      2. The Lord hopes that we will read these stories, imagine them in our minds, discover the consequences of evil in that way, and avoid sin by learning from the mistakes of others.
      3. He alerts us to the dangers
      4. You don’t have to get lost, to get in trouble.
        1. You can learn from the experiences of others.
        2. There is always the danger that you’ll enjoy yourself too much and delay returning to order until it is too late for salvation.
    4. But also, like any parent, His love is unconditional, and without end
      1. He tries to keep us from getting lost
      2. But He doesn’t give up on us if we do.
        1. He looks for us until we allow Him to find us. Then He dusts us off, sets us on our feet, and gives us another chance, hoping that we have learned something that will help us do better in the future.
        2. And when the lesson is learned, and we return to the flock, He rejoices.
          1. Not because we have sinned, but because we have finally learned not to sin, and can begin to do what is genuinely good because it is from Him.

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ (LUK 15:6) Amen.

First Lesson: Luke 15

Second Lesson: AC 5992

The angels, through whom the Lord leads and also protects a man, are near his head. It is their office to inspire charity and faith, and to observe in what direction the man’s delights turn, and in so far as they can, without interfering with the man’s freedom, moderate them and bend them to good. They are forbidden to act with violence and thus break the man’s cupidities and principles; but are enjoined to act gently. It is also their office to rule the evil spirits who are from hell, which is done in innumerable ways, of which the following only may be mentioned. When the evil spirits pour in evils and falsities, the angels insinuate truths and goods, which, if not received, are nevertheless the means of tempering. Infernal spirits continually attack, and the angels protect; such is the order.

[2] The angels especially regulate the affections, for these make the man’s life, and also his freedom. The angels also observe whether any hells are open that were not open before, and from which there is influx with the man, which takes place when the man brings himself into any new evil. These hells the angels close so far as the man allows, and remove any spirits who attempt to emerge therefrom. They also disperse strange and new influxes that produce evil effects.

[3] Especially do the angels call forth the goods and truths that are with a man, and set them in opposition to the evils and falsities which the evil spirits excite. Thus the man is in the midst, and does not perceive either the evil or the good; and being in the midst, he is in freedom to turn himself either to the one or to the other. By such means do angels from the Lord lead and protect a man, and this every moment, and every moment of a moment; for if the angels were to intermit their care for a single moment, the man would be precipitated into evil from which he could never afterward be brought out. These things the angels do from the love they have from the Lord, for they perceive nothing more delightful and happy than to remove evils from a man, and lead him to heaven. That this is a joy to them, see Luke 15:7. Scarcely any man believes that the Lord takes such care of a man, and this continually from the first thread of his life to the last of it, and afterward to eternity. Amen.

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