Sermon preached at unknown location – but the manuscript is appended ‘Swindon’; exact date unknown, but headed “Trinity 5” so likely to be in July.
You’re on the bus. Suddenly you find that you are one penny short of the fare. You look in your pockets. You turn out your purse. Very embarrassing. All the people behind you in the queue are becoming more impatient. That one penny becomes the most important; all the others just aren’t enough, however many you may have. Then at last, you find one under some old toffee papers. Oh, the relief! Oh, the joy! You can sit down and enjoy the journey. How important is one penny.
People are important, too. Let’s suppose you’ve had a row with your teenage daughter. She has stormed out of the house at eleven o’clock at night, promising never to come back. Do you go to bed? Do you say to yourself, “oh, she’ll come back. There’s nothing for me to do”? No. You wait up, worried and anxious. Perhaps you go out into the dark streets and call her. You do this, because you love her.
But what about people you don’t like? Can you do the same for them? The outcast is hardest to love. We all have to deal with unpleasant and difficult people. Their nastiness is often a silent plea for love – but often the heart is closed. A horrid man is often one who has never learned nor been able to love himself. Never having received love, he cannot give it to others.
Like the lost sheep, he has wandered away from his fellows and no longer has the joy of fellowship nor the support of brotherhood. Only the good shepherd cares enough to find him. He goes out to where the sheep is. He does not stand at the door of the sheepfold vainly calling for him to come home. He looks and searches to find him where he is, and then carries him to where he should be. Even more, he rejoices and invites others to share that joy.
Do we do the same for people? Our society is very good at punishing the offender, the sheep gone astray, but we are very bad at receiving back into our lives the newly-released prisoner.
How about the friend who has hurt you? Do you look out for your friend, invite him back to your home? Do you wait instead for him to come and apologise? Who is the first to make it up after a family row? Do you say to yourself, “he started it, he must do it first”?
Only your love for him will help him to realise that he is in fact loveable and valuable to you. That’s very hard, but no less than the full demand of the Gospel. “Because you cannot do all this in your own strength, pray earnestly for the Spirit to give you the strength you need.”