Who has ever felt worthless, insignificant? Depression eats away at our hearts and minds. So many people, Christians included, feel as if they don’t matter at all to anyone in this world, or even to God Himself. In a world filled with people who seem more popular, more special, more valuable, it’s easy to feel like one sheep among a hundred, one coin among ten.
When this type of thinking takes over we ask ourselves—convince ourselves, really—that no shepherd will miss one sheep. He’ll presume that it went off in search of greener pastures but was caught by a wolf. The shepherd may feel bad for that sheep for a second, but who cares about one missing sheep when the other ninety-nine are safe by his side, valuable enough to hold his rapt attention? Or, who will miss one coin? In Jesus’ parable, that missing coin was worth maybe $5. Who will miss $5? Sure, that $5 could have been lunch or a trip to Starbucks, but there’s still $45 more. That’s something a little bit of creative budgeting will make up for. We do these and other kinds of mental gymnastics, justifying our worthlessness in the eyes of the world and God.
When we think about it in worldly standards, we may be right. What am I among seven billion people? My name is never in the news. I don’t have enough wealth or influence to help starving children in third-world countries. I’m not a Bill Gates or Donald Trump. I don’t entertain the masses. In fact, it may help if I’m gone. There’s one less car on the road, one less Social Security recipient, one less polluter eating a hole in the ozone. By objective, worldly standards, that may be true.
What about spiritually? How do we fare in the eyes of God? Are we just as worthless? I sin a lot. In fact, every time I make up my mind to avoid sin, that I’m not going to give into temptation, I fall twice as hard. In fact, I bet I sin ten times worse than anyone else. Peter’s Words are nothing but an accusation! I’m far from sober and vigilant against the devil, the world, and my sinful nature. My faith is anything but steadfast in the face of persecution. And I don’t feel perfected, established, strengthened, or settled by God. God really must not care about me, either.
If the past few minutes have done anything, they have shown us how infected our minds are. Satan is hard at work, getting us to believe all of those lies and then some. He wants us to be depressed, to always think the worst of ourselves. He wants us so dejected, so self-loathing that we live for ourselves. He wants us to think that this life is as good as it gets, that God hates us, that the world hates us, that it makes no difference what we do.
Today the voice of God silences these Satanic lies. He comes to you through the Words of the Prophets and Evangelists, through the shape of the Liturgy to show you that Satan’s lies couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This morning, and every Sunday morning, you began by confessing your sin. You laid it all out to God: “I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee.” And what did God say back to you? Did He say, “I know! You are not worthy to be in My house.” No! He said “I know! And I forgive you all your sins for the sake of my Son, Jesus Christ.” And in just a few minutes you will sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” And how will He answer that plea? He will answer it in the same way. He will spread a Table in your presence, a table set with gold and silver. He will show you the Altar Crucifix to see what price He paid just for you. He will then deliver that sacrificial death to you in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. “Who is a God like You,” Micah asks, “pardoning iniquity and passing over…transgression?”
As He passes over your transgression He multiplies His mercy to you. He sends His Holy Spirit, the Protector of all the Faithful, to be your Ruler and Guide. He comes to you in the Word and the Sacraments to strengthen your faith, to make you prepared to face Satan, that roaring lion who seeks to devour you with his lies. He is with you always that you pass through the things temporal and gain the things eternal, where you will be wholly and forever perfected, established, and strengthened by Christ Jesus.
You have a God who delights in mercy, who loves you. Yes, that is a plural you, but it is also a singular you. Individually God loves you, sent His son to die for you, calls you His dear child. Were you the only person on earth, Jesus Christ would still die for you, God would still prepare a heaven just for you.
To prove that, today Jesus has told you a parable about ninety-nine unlost sheep and nine unlost coins to show you just how valuable you are. You aren’t just one among many, one that can go missing without any consequence. If you are lost, God is beside Himself. He does not know what to do. He stops at nothing to find you. Almighty God hunts through woods and miry bogs, amid wolves and roaring lions, and ultimately lays down His own life, all to rescue you. And when He found you, He did not scold you but put you on His shoulders and rejoiced. He got on His hands and knees, dug through the dust bunnies and spider webs of the remotest corners of the house to restore you, the coin that rolled away. And when He found you, He gathered together the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and cried out, “Rejoice with me, for I have found My child who was lost!”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.