Losing, finding, and rejoicing. On a very superficial level, this is a timely parable for me to be hearing, a little bit of synchronicity – because I lost my one and only travel coffee mug this week, and when I eventually find it, believe me, I’ll be rejoicing because it means I won’t have to buy a new one. This would be the shortest homily in the world if that’s all the depth there is to these two rather delightful little parables – but as usual, in accepting only what appears on the surface, we short-change ourselves just a bit. So, to start us off here, I think a story from my first parish appointment as a priest is in order.
Just to give a bit of perspective, this was a small country parish that hadn’t quite turned the musical corner into the 21st century, and still used the 1938 hymn book – and to my great dismay had a particular fondness for the section at the back called Evangelistic Missions. Well, about twice a year we’d have Favourite Hymn Sundays when in the context of a service of Morning Prayer we would sing as many of the congregation’s requested hymns that could be comfortably squeezed in. One older gentleman in particular, who was surly and demanding and really pretty humourless most of the time would always – and I mean always – request the old Evangelistic hymn, There Were Ninety and Nine…. and then I would watch in utter amazement as this crusty old soul melted into tears with the memory that Jesus the Good Shepherd had, in some way, at some point in his life, come looking for him – had saved him from himself in some significant way – and as a result he knew, and knew without doubt, that despite all his numerous failings as a human being, Jesus counted even him among the beloved, and worthy of the effort.
And that, I think, is the where the beauty and strength of these two parables reside….not in what’s said, but in what’s certainly implied. Of course the parables highlight the extravagant commitment of the owner of the sheep to leave ninety-nine to go out looking for one; and the single-minded determination of the woman who lights a lamp and doesn’t rest until the coin is found. Clearly we’re meant to hear something important about God’s uncompromising care and concern in these two images. But for me, this is more evidence of Jesus being, once again, the Great Equalizer – for nowhere in the parable do we hear anything about the sheep’s worthiness or lack thereof. The sheep isn’t defined as a good sheep, or a bad sheep, or a prize sheep, or a sheep that provides the best wool….it’s simply one of the flock, and for that reason alone worthy of care and attention, and more importantly, of seeking and rescuing. Same thing with the coin – it isn’t defined as being any more or less valuable than the rest; it is just one of many, anonymous if you will. And how the sheep and the coin got lost didn’t matter; there is no fault or responsibility attached to that: what matters more is the effort to find them. They each have worth simply and profoundly by being what they are, and as such worthy of a diligent search.
Today on Roundup Sunday this church community rises up with fresh energy and enthusiasm to embrace its mission, both within and outside these walls. It’s a day for personal connections, bread broken and shared, investigation of opportunities to get involved, and enlivened community spirit. Today we think with renewed focus about our identity and mission as Christians within this church family of St. James, in this neighbourhood, in this diocese, and in the world. That being our focus for today, I deeply appreciate the gift of these two simple little parables, because as we all know, our Christian identity and mission have very little if anything to do with buildings, or bank accounts, or status, or shared history …. and a whole lot more to do with how we recognize and respond to the spark of the divine that resides within each and every indispensable part of God’s human family – not because they’re good sheep or bad sheep, but simply because they’re a member of the flock…as we all are.
God, we learn today, is amazingly tenacious. In the chaos of a world that actively denies the mystery that surrounds us on all sides, God seeks to lift us out of that chaos of anonymity and into the joy of friendship with God’s own being; and for each person that we invite or pull or drag along with us into the safety of that friendship, there is overflowing joy in heaven. So for the power and potential to make the angels sing for joy we give thanks to God this day, and together say Amen.
The Venerable Nancy Adams