Written and delivered as the talk at St Thomas Werneth.
Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.
In April this year my husband took me and our children to his friend’s farm. I was excited. Not only were we going to have a bit of an adventure, we going to see his brand new lambs that had just been born. I hadn’t met a real life shepherd before. I’d only seen the glossy ones that they show on BBC1’s country file, all clad in matching jackets and mudless wellingtons.
The weather was typically British, the wind was whistling, the rain was coming down but my family and I were so excited to be on the tuffty Saddleworth hills we didn’t feel the rain or the wind. We squelched up a soggy hill and met Dave the shepherd. He was rosy cheeked with his crook in his hand. He was well weathered, his clothes were accessorised with the landscape, grass stuck out of his boots, hay on his jumper, dried mud was his sunscreen. It seemed like the weather had no impact on him, he was there to do his duty and look after his beloved sheep and their new additions.
As we entered the first field the sheep recognised him immediately. They trotted up to us and mulled around their feeding trough. He fed them and they were a blur of chocolate and white noise. After they were distracted with the food, Dave led us to see the lambs. He had a great system of identifying the new borns. As soon as a lamb was born he would put a plastic red coat on them. He explained that by identifying the lambs he could see if any had become separated from the flock and their mothers.
Whilst we were walking around his farm we saw a bright speck of red. The little plastic coat of the small lamb was blowing in the increasingly rough weather. Dave suddenly changed his walking pace and made the uneven, beveled ground look like freshly laid tarmac. He effortlessly scaled the hill until he reached the tiny lamb tucked down low in the long grass sheltering from the wind. He softly scooped up the lamb, tucked it under his arm and located the mother and reunited them. The mum and lamb baared at each other in acknowledgement and relief.
In today’s Gospel we heard Jesus describing to the Phrasiess why he sits and eats with sinners. The parable of the lost sheep is such a simple but effective way to understand how Jesus cares and loves every single person in the world. Like Dave the shepherd who I mentioned before, Jesus actively looks for those who have gone astray, or those who are indeed lost. There is a small detail in the description of finding the lost sheep which I love. “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders”
The act of laying the sheep on his shoulders and carrying it back is one of complete love and devotion. Maybe we can reflect on the time that Jesus had found us? I remember feeling so lost and asking for Jesus’ help. I was at the bottom of the pit, far from the flock, but he picked me up. At first I was so surprised by his act of love that I couldn’t move forward. This is where he picked me up and placed me on his shoulders. I wonder if you can remember a time where Jesus picked you up and carried you back to better pastures, back to his beloved flock. There is one thing for certain though he is always searching, always looking out for us, and like sheep who wander away easily we are always in need of our good shepherd.
The joy that Jesus feels when we are returned is shared through heaven! What an encouraging thought! We are so valued, so loved, so cherished that there is a party in heaven when we are found! This is reflected in the way that Jesus in the Gospel today had been sitting and eating with sinners. His celebration of their repentance and turning to the kingdom of God is shown by the sharing of food, a heavenly celebration brought to earth in the form of sharing bread and wine. A celebration that would become the centre of Christian worship, the Eucharist, the thanksgiving for Jesus saving us and returning us to his flock.
Jesus uses another parable to help the flummoxed Pharisees try to understand. Perhaps he chose the use of a lost coin to help them relate more to the money and stature that they held close to their hearts. Once again Jesus is saying that God is actively searching for us, the light that illuminates the floor to find the coin is Jesus, guiding and calling the lost so they can be reflected by his light and his love and they can be held in the palm of the hand of our Heavenly Father.
I think Dave the shepherd, who I mentioned before, had thought about the use of light reflecting on the bright plastic coats of the lambs in his field making them easier to find.
Reading the Old Testament passage in the book of Jeremiah also shows the need for the light of God in the world. The prophet says, “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void, and to the heavens, and they had no light.” It seems that the people have gone astray in the reading, and God is looking for them in the desolation. The people are chastised for not having understanding, for wandering away, but God is still actively seeking, still looking for the lost, still bringing his loving light, which is confirmed by the parables told by Jesus.
There is one thing that we can take away from the stories we’ve heard today. That Jesus has an unconditional, equal love for every person. Jesus shows equality and spreads a message of love, not just for the holy, but for everyone, regardless of their sins, their past, their gender or sexuality. Jesus sits at the table with everyone who repents and turns to Christ. There is always an empty seat waiting for those who are lost, who are yet to be found, who have wandered away from the flock. And like dave the shepherd, Jesus searches in any weather, at any time of the day to find those who are in need of his fatherly care.