The Lost Sheep
A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Sunday, September 15. This is the first Sunday I didn’t bring a manuscript with me. What follows is, more or less, what happened.
WITH THE CHILDREN
The sermon began today with the children. I invited them forward and told them that our theme for the day was ‘lost and found.’ I recalled visiting the Lost and Found at my son’s school last year and was surprised at how many items were left behind: backpacks, lunch boxes, sweatshirts, jackets, shoes and boots. One teacher told me that these items sat there because “no one ever looks for them.”
I then taught the children a song to the tune of Frere Jacques. Using a member of the congregation named Wanda as an example, we sang:
Where is Wanda? Where is Wanda?
There she is. There she is.
We’ve been looking for you. We’ve been looking for you.
Now you’re found. Now you’re found.
After we had learned the song, and practiced it a few times, I stood up and looked around, apparently confused. I appeared to have lost several members of the congregation while we were learning the song. Where, for example, was Nancy, our Church School Superintendent? I asked the kids to help me find her.
We sang: “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?”
And she leapt up in the balcony: “Here I am! Here I am!”
We sang: We’ve been looking for you. We’ve been looking for you.
And she sang: “Now I’m found. Now I’m found.”
Of course, while we were looking for Nancy, our choir director disappeared. When we sang for him, he popped up like a Jack ‘n the Box beside the lectern and sang his part. I then asked the kids if they could all see their parents, and one girl responded, “My mom is gone.”
We sang again.
We were having fun.
I had a very nice conversation with the kids about times they have been lost, what it feels like to be lost (upset, scared, worried) and what it feels like to be found (happy, relieved, excited). One student told a story about a time his parents had forgotten him in a department store.
I then shared with them the parable of the lost sheep, how a shepherd with 100 sheep discovered one to be missing. The shepherd left the 99 and went in search of the lost sheep, and when it was found lifted the sheep to her shoulders and carried it home. The shepherd was so happy she held a party.
Jesus adds that when one lost sinner is found, there is rejoicing and celebration in heaven.
I asked the kids: “How to angels party?” The answers were fantastic.
At this point, the children left for their church school classes and I went to the pulpit. I shared a couple of stories from our summer vacation when we drove a 24 foot RV 4200 miles across the country. Two of these stories I have already blogged about: getting stuck in front of a narrow tunnel on Needles Highway (South Dakota) late at night, and crossing the Continental Divide on a narrow, unpaved and steeply graded road. This was all to say that through our experiences I grew to appreciate some of the “truck culture” of the West and the importance of having the right vehicle for the job.
I was amused when shortly afterward I saw a truck commercial that brought to mind Jesus’ parable. I provided the narration (below) in my best TV voice, but you can click here to watch it on youtube.
A man and his truck and a broken fence.
And a lost calf, and a coming storm, and a flash flood warning.
And the heart to search for as long as it takes.
And the truck that lets him search for as long as it takes.
The all new Chevy Silverado. The most fuel efficient V8 in a pickup.
Strong for all the roads ahead.
It’s the parable of the lost sheep, movingly portrayed. And having recently visited the Charlie Russell Museum of Western Art in Helena, Montana, the portrayal of cowboy/rancher as Christ should not have surprised me (though it did).
I then asked folks who they identified with in the parable: was it the lost sheep, the shepherd, or the ninety-nine? Really – take a moment and answer for yourself. Because there is truth in all three.
a. Not all of us have dramatic stories like that of John Newton who wrote our opening hymn, Amazing Grace: slave trader turned abolitionist. Or like Paul in our scripture reading from 1 Timothy: persecutor and blasphemer turned apostle. But each of us have parts of ourselves we hide or hold back, that we resist giving up fully to God, or do not trust God with. There is a bit of lost sheep in each of us.
b. We may also identify with the shepherd, taking upon ourselves the role (or placing on our pastor the role) of seeking out the lost. There is a danger here, though, because in the parable it is God who seeks out the lost. We put terrible pressure and unreasonable expectations upon ourselves (or our pastor) if we think it is all up to us bring back those who have wandered away.
c. I’ve heard many sermons on the 99; about whether it is really right that the shepherd leave the flock in order to seek the one; whether ‘the individual’ is more important than ‘the people.’ I cited biblical scholar Ken Bailey who points out that “it is the shepherd’s willingness to go after the one that gives the ninety-nine their real security. If the one is sacrificed in the name of the larger group, then each individual in the group is insecure, knowing that he or she is of little value. If lost, he or she will be left to die. When the shepherd pays a high price to find the one, he thereby offers the profoundest security to the many.”
Having said all that, I suggested that we might find ourselves in the missing character in the parable: the truck. For, (in my best TV ad voice)
This is our God.
This is our God. And THIS is God’s church.
And there broken fences, and lost sheep.
And there is a storm coming, and flash flood warnings.
And God has the heart to search for as long as it takes.
And we are the church who helps God look for as long as it takes.
The all new community of God.
Strong, for all the roads ahead.
I finished by appealing to the congregation (as I appeal to you, dear reader) that if there was anyone whose name had been laid upon their heart during this service – someone who they have not seen in church for a while, or a friend who they think might find something here they need, to please reach out and be in touch with that person during the coming week.
We concluded this part of our service by singing Brian Wren’s hymn I Come With Joy.
[I want to give special thanks to my colleagues in the new Lower Westchester Lectionary group for the stimulating conversation earlier this week. The germ of the children’s message came from The Minister’s Annual Manual, published by Woodlake. The quote by Ken Bailey is cited in Justo Gonzalez’ commentary on Luke in Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. The Chevy commercial is available online.]