Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; Timothy 2:1-7
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
The little sheep had been enjoying the delicate, dew-laden grass of the early morning when he realized he was all alone. He looked around and seeing none of his sheep friends, much less the shepherd, he began to bleat. He bleated and bleated, louder and louder but no one came, no one seemed to hear him. The fear began to rise inside him and his breath began to quicken. He had followed the flock that morning not really paying attention to where they were or where they were going. They always went somewhere, and the shepherd always guided them back home again. He hadn’t had to worry about where he was because he was always with everyone else. That was the lesson his mother had taught him when he was little—never get separated from the flock.
He remembered the day she had talked to him about life—the lessons she had imparted. He had only been a little lamb then and he had liked to run and jump and play with the other lambs but what he liked most of all was to play tricks on his mother. He would hide from her under the belly of an ewe while she called and called for him and then pop up and say “boo”! or “baa”. His mother would chide him for worrying her and told him he needed to be more attentive to the shepherd and he had protested that he couldn’t always see the shepherd because the sheep were so much bigger than he was and hid the shepherd from his view. That’s when his mother told him that he should never get separated from the flock.
“But why, mother?” asked the little sheep.
“Because there are dangers out in the world and if you stay with the flock then you will be safe,” said his mother.
“Why does the flock follow the shepherd?” he then asked.
“Because the shepherd leads us to green pastures and still waters. He uses his rod and staff to keep us safe when an enemy approaches. He loves us and cares for us. He is our salvation,” said his mother. “Just remember stay with the flock and always follow the good shepherd.”
He had done that. He had stayed with the flock and followed the shepherd and his mother had been right. He was well fed and safe and cared for. He trusted the shepherd. And then today, he had gotten distracted by how delicious the grass tasted and the cool breeze on the hilltop where he was grazing. He had followed his nose as it picked up the sweet scent of the grass and flowers instead of following the shepherd. He had wandered away from the flock and now that his belly was full and he was ready to lie down in this green pasture, he realized everyone was gone and he was all alone, and he began to cry.
It had been a long day and not without peril. There had been dangers in the forms of wolves and swift flowing creeks. The shepherd was tired as he led his flock. He had many sheep, but he knew them all. Most people thought that sheep looked alike—and to some extent that was true—but each sheep had some little thing that differentiated them from one another, and he had named them all. There was Wooly who seemed to have three times as much fleece as any other sheep, P-Toot who tinkled and tooted so much that the other sheep wouldn’t graze near her, Gimpy had hurt his leg when he was little and now walked with a limp, and of course Fred never left his side. Each of his sheep had a story and he knew their story and loved them all the more because of it. So, on this particular day, as he was bringing the flock back home from grazing, he noticed that one of them seemed to be missing. At first, he wasn’t quite sure which sheep was missing but he knew someone was. As he gazed at the flock, he soon realized it was little Loki. He knew Loki liked to play tricks and hide from the shepherd and his mother, so he walked through the flock carefully looking for this little sheep, hoping he would jump out at any moment and “baa” at him. But Loki didn’t jump out and the shepherd couldn’t find him anywhere.
The other sheep began to notice the concern of the shepherd. At first they thought that there might be danger lurking near them, but soon they realized that the shepherd was not carrying his rod and, instead, seemed to be calling for a sheep. “Was someone lost?” “No, he is just calling for Loki,” said one of the sheep. Of course, Loki was always playing tricks and hiding or getting distracted by a butterfly and wandering away—surely, he was close by. But the more urgently the shepherd called, the more concerned many of the sheep became.
Most of the sheep were conditioned to follow the shepherd. They trusted him and loved him. He provided for them and kept them safe. Now, he was leaving them behind in the wilderness and they were a bit bewildered; and then one of them simply started following him. Because that is who they are—followers of the Good Shepherd. They are a bit like Ruth, “Where thou goest, I will go.” It wasn’t difficult—you follow the shepherd and if you can’t see him, then you stay with the flock that is following him. So, that is what they did. One by one, they followed the shepherd as he went in search of the lost little sheep.
The shepherd had gone to search for little Loki—he called him and called him, retracing the path he had led them on earlier that day. And when he looked behind, him he noticed 99 sheep where right on his heels. Even when he was going after one who was lost, the others continued to follow him, and he smiled in his heart knowing it was their faith that guided them. He couldn’t leave them even if he wanted to; they were always going to follow him.
As the sheep continued to follow the shepherd, they also began to grumble amongst themselves questioning why the shepherd would go in search of one little sheep when he had 99 others. they especially questioned the pursuit of this particular little sheep. Didn’t the shepherd realize that Loki was a little troublemaker. He had only himself to blame for getting lost. They didn’t want anything bad to happen to him necessarily, but he had made his own bed—they shouldn’t have to suffer for it. Anyway, he was so annoying.
Hadn’t they commented on how much quieter the day had been? Now they realized it was because Loki had not been there—and, really, the day had been so much more pleasant because of his absence. Loki was always getting into trouble because of his bad behavior. Did they really want to go to all this effort to bring him back? They were tired and wanted to lie down and rest, did they really have to be so put out by one little sheep?
The shepherd heard the bleating of his sheep growing louder and he knew they were grumbling and irritated. But he continued onward, though he started to softly sing and “coo” to his flock—quieting them as his encouraging sounds comforted them. The shepherd went over a small rise in the countryside and stopped short. There in the middle of a valley was Loki. He was lying down, sleeping peacefully. The shepherd strode quickly to the little sheep and scooped him up in his arms. Little Loki woke up bleating for joy as he had been lost and was now found! In that moment, he knew he need not ever been afraid and should have trusted that the Good Shepherd would always come for him—no matter how lost he became or how bad he might act. He was beloved and he need only trust in his belovedness. Even the other sheep began to rejoice—their grumbling became bleats of joy as well—when they saw how much the shepherd loved Loki and Loki loved the shepherd.
That is the trust the Good Shepherd exercises with his sheep and the sheep with their shepherd. It is the relationship of belovedness that we have with Jesus and he with us. In the parable, the shepherd upon finding the lost sheep rejoices; the woman upon finding the loss coin throws a party. There is joy in finding what has been lost. There is also joy in our fealty, devotion, and allegiance to the one whom we follow—the one who is always seeking us.
A shepherd lost one of his 99 sheep and goes to look for it. A woman lost one of her ten coins and searches diligently for it. And Jesus reminds all those who would grumble about his eating with sinners and the undesirables of society, that God is like that. God loves all of us—the sinner, the poor, the oppressed, the wealthy, the distracted, the annoying, and even the grumbling judgmental ones who seem to be a little lost themselves. Regardless of what kind of sheep we are, our job is to follow Jesus and maybe when we do, we find that as much as Jesus saves us; we, too, save Jesus—by continuing to preach his word, do his work, gather with his flock. We may not be Jesus in this world, but when we lift him up and carry him so that others may know him too, then we participate by following him and finding all those who are lost. Amen.