Sermon, September 15: God Is Like…

Jesus told some tax collectors and sinners 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? 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.

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Or: “once upon a time there was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep and one of them went astray. His colleagues assumed that this was caused by a certain carelessness on the shepherd’s part. After all, years ago – when the shepherd was a farmer – he had often been seen tossing wheat seeds in the middle of parking lots. He had a reputation for being a little odd.

Be that as it may, the ninety-nine sheep wanted to help, and so they immediately sprang into action – or into discussion, anyhow. One group tried to win over another by deciding to celebrate the contributions of all sheep, even the ones who might be goats in sheep’s clothing. And, since they hoped to convince the One True Flock to take the lost sheep back, it was important not to engage in any action at all that might offend any of them.

Meanwhile, over at the edge of the flock, a few sheep huddled together, brooding over the shepherd’s departure. They just stood there and wondered where she was going, as they watched one lonely figure made her way toward the horizon and listened to the wolf howls in the distance.

But that’s not all there is to this story because this is not a story about the flock. It’s a story about the lost sheep, and next will be a story about a widow and her lost coins and do you remember last week’s lost son? Are they all about being lost?

In order to get closer to the meaning of all this, we need to notice the inconstancies in the first story and what they might mean. For example, did you notice how this shepherd was not running the business like it was a business? He was neglecting the numbers, ignoring the bottom line, risking the larger loss by chasing one small profit. He acted as if one dumb sheep were a member of the family! I have wondered: odd as it might sound to our worldly ways – could that be what Luke is saying?

Actually, the shepherd was also acting like that father of two sons from last week – the one who let the younger one throw away his half of the family fortune and then welcomed him home with a big party. It is hardly cost-effective to celebrate like this. Still, I wonder about this joyful extravagance: could that be what Luke says God is like?

You know, these stories are turning out to be the kind that seem simple only until you read them carefully. So, what I’m wondering now is: who is really lost in the shepherd story? Is it the single sheep nibbling along –  head-down, ignoring everything until she suddenly realizes she can’t hear or see the others and no one is answering her cry for help? Or is it the shepherd who went charging out in the darkness, abandoning the flock in his need to find the missing one? Or is it the ninety-nine who find themselves out in the desert without a shepherd?

And then I wonder: who are we to identify with in the story? Am I the sheep worth dying for? Are you the shepherd, searching and searching and then celebrating?

Loss is devastating and life-altering. There were times in my life when it seemed like I was lost. And darker times when it seemed like God was lost. I would say that, at one time or another, I may have played every part in this story. And I’d expect, at one time or another, that most of you have played every part, too.

What’s amazing to me is to think about how God has played every part, too: God, the treasure lost and found. God, the searcher and the searched for. God, abandoned when we go seeking some distraction. God, who seems to abandon the many to seek out the One. God, who invites the neighbors in to celebrate extravagantly.

The bible says that there is some bit of God in each of us. If this is true, then we are all the searcher and the lost, all at the same time. And I wonder if that isn’t Luke’s way of saying we are all so connected together that we are part of each other and part of God and remembering just that sets off a shiver of contagious joy. And I know that that is what God is like!   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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