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 neighbors, 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 persons 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 neighbors, 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.” Luke 15:1-10
There are seasons for all disciples to wander: to be the widow looking for the lost coin, to be again the lost sheep, and to try to figure out where you are. This journey in Luke is about remembering when all of us are in that season. It is a great period and a great way to start this fall. Jesus takes these ideas of the lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin to say that’s who you need to be. You need to be remembering when you are lost and when you have been wandering. We have all been in those seasons. Whether we’re wandering fisher folk, or we’re students inquiring and asking questions about everything, or just remembering that all of us are broken vessels, trying to find that place where we take that brokenness and move it into compassion. We’re supposed to question, lose our way, and feel that sense of rejoicing at being found. Jesus takes that as a launching point for the next four chapters. It’s amazing. Jesus is going to say this is how the lost sheep lived deeply with intention, this is how those who are lost and have been found live. He gives us all these beautiful attributes of good discipleship: How do we live as found people who have a sense of rejoicing after this feeling in our season of amazing wandering?
I have wandered beautifully all summer. Never, ever have I had that time in my life. Never that I remember. I have learned to see the cicada as a gift. That was huge for me. To really vibrate with that timbre, that sound they make with their wings, to be able to dance and move in the woods with them was awesome. Getting to learn how to do the crow in yoga was huge for me. Closets cleaned, television watched, book written—check, check. This whole book on how love heals.
Nothing will make you feel sicker than to try to remember what it is we truly believe and to wander for hours and hours out in the woods. What I have learned in that wandering about lost sheep is—lost sheep don’t really want to hang out with other lost sheep. It is good to be alone in that. You don’t need other people who are wandering and confused. I’m looking for the shepherd. I’m looking for some answers. I’m looking for some clarity. And when you are in that space, that is what it is like. When people are grieving, they ask, “Tell me how can I negotiate a path through this?” When people are in pain, “I would like some helpful hints for relief from this pain.” When I am questioning everything, I want to feel there is a place that will ground me again. Lost sheep are looking for that rooting, as I, when I am wandering and looking for that rooting.
The second thing I learned about lost sheep is that they spook easily. When you are wandering and wandering, anything that stirs in the bushes can wish you harm. You know you are in that place where every fortune cookie might really mean something. Where all that free-floating anxiety you think might actually be a cancer in your life could be real or some kind of illness not yet manifested. When we are in that space, we remember lost sheep are not hard to find. You can look around you and see them all day long. What’s hard is to keep them in a fold where they feel safe enough to get healing and help—to know that sense of rejoicing. Another thing I have learned about lost sheep is there is nothing like the rejoicing of finding some clarity and hope in our lives. When Jesus talks about that rejoicing, that is real.
One of the places I went this summer was New Hampshire to a community that is starting a whole anti-trafficking program for women around the whole diocese. I took with me Karlee, one of the emerging leaders of Thistle Farms, who is doing beautiful work. I baptized her baby, Skye, a couple years ago. She was talking to the group and in the middle of her talk, she said, “God believed in me enough to come find me.” We have heard a million times, “I believed in God enough. I wonder about God enough.” But the idea that God is believing enough in us to come find us again is a beautiful testimony to what it is like to be lost and found and then rejoicing. God is faithful. God is not the issue in lost sheep’s lives. There are a lot of other issues, plenty, but the faithfulness of a God who comes searching for us is a holy beautiful gift that we are called to remember. God believed in us that much to come one more time looking and gathers these beautiful sheep in a community.
Luke’s Gospel lays out beautiful attributes about what you and I are supposed to do with this knowledge, that it is okay to be lost and amazing to be found. What do we with that? That is the reality of our discipleship. So Jesus starts off and says that the first attribute is you need to be shrewd. Shrewdness is good. He tells the story of the shrewd business guy. The community of St. Augustine’s is about that. We are going to take that attribute as we have bought into this idea of a green burial. We are going to have the first conservation cemetery in Tennessee. We are going to bury each other cheaply, and we’re going to conserve land with theological integrity. We can use those business concepts and turn it around to be good for the kingdom. We don’t need to be afraid of it.
Then Jesus takes the concept of being grateful. He uses the story of the lepers, the tenth chapter of Luke: ten get healed and one comes back and says, “Thank you.” The idea that people got cured, but one was made well with gratitude.
The following Gospel is the story of the persistent widow. So not only do we have to be shrewd and grateful, but we have to be persistent, we have to be dogged. And my persistent thought this whole sabbatical has been about those Syrian refugees stuck in Greece. You’ve heard those stories, and you keep hearing about how they were so persistent, risking their lives to escape, and how there is no place to welcome them. I keep thinking about how I want to go, and I want to figure out something to do to give them hope. I want to figure out how to start a powerful social enterprise for the women who are going to be in Greece for a long time in those refugee camps. It may be taking those life vests and turning them into welcome mats that we can have everywhere as a sign of welcome and have real economic empowerment there. New ideas that build up in us could be lost, then found and become persistent in our dreams about justice. We are not giving up. We are going to keep going. We are going to think of a million new ways to do it.
Then the next attribute is humility. Jesus talks about the tax collector standing and beating his chest, with the Pharisee saying, “I am glad I am not as bad as that guy.” So the idea is we have to be humble. We have to do the work that seems so little, the work that seems as though it may be beneath us, to get us back to the earth. I love that we can never get past the same call to discipleship that is about repentance and humility and knowing how much we are indebted to each other.
The fifth attribute and the last in this cycle is generosity. Zacchaeus is in the tree and this idea of his generous gift is huge. All of us could be more generous of the things we are hoarding and holding onto. So tightfisted, it gets us nowhere, but this idea of generosity we are creating, this beautiful place where there is plenty for all, fills us and keeps us great. It lingers for a moment, then is rooted to rise.
So that’s the story. You and I go through various seasons, and we come back together. We rejoice that God believed in us just enough to come find us one more time. To remind us to be shrewd, to be grateful, to be humble, to be persistent, and generous so that we can be part of a powerful community witnessing to God’s love in this world. And to go seek out all those sheep who are still wandering. Amen.