September 11, 2016 – 17th Sunday after Pentecost
I have a friend, Catherine, who is a shepherd. She has sheep. She has twenty of them. Catherine counts her sheep when she moves them from the pasture to the barn at night. She doesn’t count them in a line, one at a time. Sheep, she says, do not stand still to be counted. So she counts them in batches. She has “nine black sheep. Seven white sheep. Four little lambs.” It’s easier to keep track of her flock that way and she has a better idea of who she’s looking for if a sheep is missing.
Last summer Catherine had a lamb who was missing one night. A lamb is particularly vulnerable to predators so Catherine went out to the pasture to look for the lamb. It didn’t take long to find her. She was a ways out in the pasture, “off by herself, head down, grazing.” It’s not typical sheep behavior—to go off on one’s own, to not travel with the rest of the flock when the flock is moving. But this little lamb went missing a number of times. Sometimes Catherine had to look for a long time to find her. But she always found the missing lamb, “off by herself, head down, nibbling away.”
Knowing that story about Catherine’s flock makes me wonder about how someone keeps track of 100 sheep. The 100 sheep Jesus talks about in the parable. How do you notice one is missing? I can see missing one of ten coins. It’s a lot easier to count to ten plus coins don’t move around like sheep do.
Just like Catherine searching for her missing lamb, the person responsible for the 100 sheep and the woman who has lost a coin go looking for what is missing.
What is puzzling to me is that the 99 sheep are left in the wilderness while the sheep owner goes to look for the one missing sheep. Unlike Catherine who puts her sheep in the barn before she goes to look for the missing sheep, the 99 sheep left in the wilderness are likely to wander, just because they’re curious or hungry or they’ll get scattered by the presence of a predator. So when the sheep owner comes back with the one found sheep, wouldn’t it be likely he’ll have even more missing sheep?
Then there’s an indelicate question of whether lamb chops will be served for the feast which celebrates the return of the missing sheep. For someone who raises sheep, the party food likely diminishes the number of sheep in the flock. Same thing with the woman and the coin she recovers. Isn’t it likely the party will cost as much as the value of the coin that was lost and then found?
There’s an extravagance here. A joyful, rejoicing extravagance. In these ten short verses, the related words rejoice and joy are used five times. It’s an extravagance that goes beyond the value of the one sheep or the one coin.
The editorial comment on each parable is about the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. Neither the sheep nor the coin repent, so the link to sinners repenting seems a little odd. Maybe this is another of Jesus’ arguments from the lesser to the greater. He used this with the bent over woman that we heard last week. If you will give water to your ox on the Sabbath isn’t setting a human being free on the Sabbath of even greater value? Similarly, if a person rejoices exuberantly when they find their missing sheep or their missing coin, how much more exuberantly does heaven rejoice when one lost person is found?
The last line in the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” imagines when all is as God intends it to be and we, God’s creation, are “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” There’s a kind of getting lost that’s about being caught up in rejoicing and joy. I wonder if that’s another way to understand the joy of the angels—when we live as God intends for us to live, when we find that our truest self is being connected to God there is great rejoicing.
In the Godly Play class most stories from the Bible include a question at the end of the story that asks how this story is about you or where you are in the story. This morning I invite you to ponder how these parables are about you or where you are in the parable.
I wonder what of value you have lost? It could be something that had monetary value or maybe the something or someone you lost had a different kind of value—perhaps a spiritual or emotional value.
What happened when you looked for it?
What did it take for you to find it again? Or if it was not found, was there something of value that you began to discover in its absence?
I wonder if you have experienced joy or rejoicing?
I wonder where God was in the losing or the finding or the rejoicing?
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 https://ucucc.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/a-sheeps-new-year/, accessed 10 September 2016.