Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them 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 neighbours, 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 people who need no repentance. ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
I worried about some strange things as a child; many of them to do with God. Watching the first space shuttle take off, I worried about it hitting an angel or, even worse, hitting God. On Palm Sunday, I worried about whether any of the disciples remembered to return the donkey to its owner. I worried about the sheep in this parable too, not the lost one, because it gets found, but the other ones. The sheep left all alone whilst the shepherd hunts for that one, privileged, lost sheep.
I have rather different worries today. I worry about the ever-evolving family at church. We rejoice, of course, when a new sheep finds our flock, we welcome them in with joy, rejoicing in their presence. We should also, though, be rejoicing in the wonderful people already in our church family, even if there are not quite 99 of them. Affirming and appreciating all they do for our community just as joyfully as we affirm and appreciate the new sheep.
What I worry about more are the people who fade out of our fellowship, our church family. How often do we fail to notice the lone sheep that has wandered off? They, too, are a lost sheep and we must go looking for them. We must not be so focused on the front door that we miss those drifting out of the back one.
We are all shepherds with sheep. Not all of our sheep are in church. There are sheep that we forget until a Christmas Card or postcard arrives; sheep we mean to phone, or email or pray for, but we just forget. There’s always tomorrow…right? I wonder if you can think of a sheep you have lost track of. A sheep that needs to be found. Maybe you can track them down and rejoice.
God of wandering sheep, We rejoice that you found us, that you never stop bringing us back to the fold. Keep us from drifting and wandering, make each one of us a sheep dog, attentive to your whistle. Amen
The Rev’d Jo Clare-Young is minister of the North Yorkshire Coast Pastorate of the URC.