Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community


Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-16

Luke 15:1-10


A little over 20 years ago, when Will Willimon was then Dean of the Chapel at Duke University ,he did some research for a book he wrote on “burnout” among clergy and laity, trying to discover why, having once put their hand to the plow, some quit. On the clergy side, he interviewed scores of pastors and those who work with pastors. A man who had counseled troubled pastors in Texas declared to Willimon that, after many years' observation of pastors, he knew one great truth-- no one should go into the pastoral ministry who had previously been a professional photographer. His theory was this-- If we clergy have a need to look at the world through a small aperture, if we need to get everyone fixed, in focus, we will be miserable in the ministry. People just won't stand still. When we think we have gotten them pinned down, in focus, they move.

There is no way to stay in the church long if we are like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby who wants the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.

In the church, with Jesus, things are messier, riskier, more reckless than that.

They asked Jesus, “Show us the Father. And, in response, he portrayed a messy, divine recklessness at the very heart of reality. Consider this evidence:

A farmer went out to sow and he. . . carefully prepared the soil, removing all the rocks and weeds, marking off neat rows, placing each seed exactly six inches from the other, covering each with three-quarters of an inch of soil?

No. This sower just began slinging seed. Seed everywhere. Some fell on the path, some on the rocks, in thorns, and some, miraculously, fell on good soil, took root, and produced a harvest. That's sort of what the Word of God is like, said Jesus.

A farmer (it might even have been the same one!) had a field. The servants came running in breathlessly, Master, there are weeds coming up in the midst of your new wheat!” “An enemy must have done this! cries the farmer. Enemy, my eye. We get this sort of agricultural mess when we sow seeds with such abandon. Do you want us to go out and carefully root out those weeds from your good wheat? asked the servants. “No, let ‘em grow. I just like to see stuff grow. We'll sort it all out in October. And Jesus said, God runs God's kingdom like that.

In his commentary on these parables, John Calvin surely had in mind our propensity to clean up the church and to tidy things up when he warned, “it is vain to seek for a Church free from every spot”(The Institutes of the Christian Religion,IV,I,xii-xvi, p. 235).

Now, how about today's Gospel Lesson? Jesus asks, which of you women, if you lost a coin, would not completely tear your living room apart until you found your lost quarter? Ripping up the carpet, moving all the living room furniture out onto the front lawn? And when you find that quarter, would you not run out into the street, call to your neighbors, saying, “come party with me! I've found my lost quarter!” Now, would you not do that? Of course we wouldn't.

Jesus called a shepherd “good” for his willingness to lay down his life for one single lost sheep.     Jesus says, Which of you, if you lost one sheep, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and risk everything for that one sheep? And when you found that sheep, would you not call all your friends, saying, Come party with me! I've found my lost sheep!” Of course the answer is, “None of us would do that, Jesus.” And yet, God does.

“Point us toward the kingdom,” they ask Jesus. And he replied, “A man gave a great feast, spared no expense, got the best caterers in town, hired a band, sent out invitations to all his friends and cronies, and they-- began to make excuses. They are all busy, cleaning out the garage, checking over their IRAs, sorting their socks. They refuse.

The Lord of the banquet gets real angry. So he sends out his servants a second time, telling them to bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame-- in short, those with nothing to do on a Saturday night. And they came. But, the banquet table is not yet full. The caterers have already been paid, so he sends out his servants yet a third time, telling them to bring in the good, the bad, the indifferent, the ugly. And when they get there, then the party begins.

Jesus says, the kingdom of God is like that. Church is a party with people we wouldn't be caught dead sitting next to on a Saturday night. Just when I get my church all sorted out, sheep from goats, saved from the damned, hopeless from the hopeful, somebody makes a move, gets out of focus, and cuts loose..

Just when I settle down to keep house in the church, just me and my flock, Jesus says, By the way, I have other sheep, who are not of this fold. I'm going to find them, too”(John 10:16). “And when I find them [note, he doesn't say if, but when] heaven goes wild.

So here we sit in our rows of bolted down pews. We plod through the service as printed in the bulletin. We might get the impression that life with Jesus is a rather tame, orderly, neat, and cautious affair.

Don't believe it! Let's remember the stories of the relentless woman who wouldn't rest until she found that quarter. The seeking shepherd who risked everything for just one silly sheep. Sure, the shepherd was quite pleased over his ninety-nine sheep who had not gone astray. Those of us in the sheepfold can take heart! But, the shepherd was also willing to drop everything to search for the one who wandered and, when it was found, heaven went wild.

We are loved by a reckless, relentless God. This is precisely why it brought to my mind a much-neglected gospel song and the story behind it. Let me share both with you.

Elizabeth Cecelia Clephane of Scotland never enjoyed good health, but that did not stop her from writing beautiful poetry and hymns. However, were it not for William Arnot, the editor of a popular Scottish Presbyterian magazine, Family Treasury, Elizabeths literary efforts would never have reached beyond the chest in which she kept them. Shortly after her death in February 1869, four months before her 39th birthday, her sister let Arnot go through the chest to look for appropriate poetry for his magazine. One piece he found and published has now been sung all around the Christian world– “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.

Subsequent visits to the Clephane home allowed Arnot to find and publish seven more of Elizabeths poetry and hymns. In an issue published early in 1874, he printed a poem from her pen that was to become the most effective gospel song of that century. He asked her sister how Elizabeth happened to write the lines of that particular poem.

She explained, “She wrote them originally at the request of one of the Sunday School teachers in our Church. The teacher had a large class of boys and thought it would keep them quiet as well as arouse their interest if she read them a poem written by a member of the church whom they all knew. Elizabeth had been brooding for several months over the hasty departure of our only brother. He had caused us much heartache before he finally packed up and left for Canada. Before he left home for the last time, he said rather jokingly, ‘Well, you won’t be able to rescue the lost sheep this time, girls, because he is going too far from the fold. Even the shepherd wont be able to locate him. We learned later that he had actually gone to Canada, but we never saw him again. With him as well as the class of boys in mind, she wrote her poetic version of Jesus famous parable, entitling the poem: ‘The Ninety and Nine.’”

From Mr. Arnot’s journal the poem found its way into other magazines and papers until the memorable day, later that same year, when Ira D. Sankey discovered it in a penny newspaper in Glasgow. He and Dwight L. Moody had just concluded four strenuous months of meetings in Glasgow, and were on their way by train to Edinburgh, to hold a three-day campaign there at the invitation of the ministerial association. Just before boarding the train, Sankey bought a weekly newspaper for one penny, little dreaming it would be the best penny he ever spent. Looking through the paper for some news of his homeland, he found nothing American but a sermon by Henry Ward Beecher. In disgust, he threw the paper down, only to pick it up a while later to pass the time by reading the advertisements. It was then he discovered a little piece of poetry in a corner of one column he had carelessly overlooked during his first reading. He read it, liked it, and decided at once it would make an effective song if someone set it to music. When he read it to Mr. Moody, the famous lay-preacher nodded a polite reply, as he was too busily engaged in reading some letters from his family in the United States to hear a word his equally famous song-leader had read. Anyway, Sankey clipped the poem and put it in his music scrapbook.

At the noonday service the second day of the special series in Edinburgh, Moody preached on “The Good Shepherd.” Moody turned to his song-leader and asked, Have you a solo appropriate for the subject with which to close the service?

Sankey confessed he had absolutely nothing in mind. It was precisely at this moment the “inner voice” said, “Sankey, sing the hymn you found on the train.” He replied, “That is impossible; there is no music for it.” But the “voice” insisted. Sankey protested, I can possibly bluff my way through the first stanza, but what of the rest?” To which the “voice” replied, “You take care of the first and leave the rest to me.

As calmly as if he had sung it a thousand times, he placed the little piece of newspaper on the organ in front of him, lifted up his heart in a brief prayer, and laid his hands on the keyboard, striking a chord in A-flat. Half-speaking and half-singing, he completed the first stanza:

There were ninety and nine that safely lay, in the shelter of the fold;

But one was out on the hills away, far off from the gates of gold,

Away on the mountains, wild and bare, away from the tender shepherd’s care.

The vast congregation listened in a spirit of hushed expectancy as he sang the five stanzas of this magnificent new song. When the echoes from the final notes of the last line, Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own, died away, Moody walked over to the organ and said, with tears in his eyes, Where did you get that hymn?” Sankey replied, “That is the hymn I read to you yesterday on the train.

While the song has not been altered in so much as one note from that day, 139 years ago, to this, The Ninety and Nine became the most famous tune Sankey ever composed. And much to my sorrow, this song now appears in very few hymnals.

A final musical note– if you’ll pardon the pun– Today the famed portable folding organ on which Ira D. Sankey composd his spontaneous melody to Elizabeth Clephanes text sits in the chapel of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota..

This gospel song is our insert. May it serve as a lasting reminder of our unending gratitude to God that we safely [lie] in the shelter of the fold.