I’ve been thinking lately about one of the first passages of scripture I ever learned: the parable of the lost sheep. In fairness to my second grade Sunday school teacher, I should say that I did not memorize this parable as I was instructed to do. Even then I knew that memorizing long passages of text is a very difficult task for me. In fact, on the Sunday I was supposed to recite it, I froze and cried, afraid of getting in trouble and that the teacher would tell my pastor-dad and that he would be embarrassed by me—BIG feelings for a 7-year-old. Could those feelings line up with the emotions evoked in this story, though?
Luke 15:3-7 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 people who need no repentance.
A pastor friend of mine pointed out to me recently the part of the story that we sometimes forgot to mention when preaching and teaching on this parable: the part where the great restoration happens and is celebrated in the community. Yes, there is celebration when the one lost sheep is found, and yes, there is great rejoicing when one repents in the midst of many others who “need no repentance.” But the rejoicing is not fully contained in the repentance of the one or in the laying of the sheep on its shepherd’s shoulders. The rejoicing is full and complete in the flock and among the great company of heaven. It is in the company of the flock that the fullness of life is restored. In the case of the sheep, it is not fully safe again until it is back in the flock. In the case of the one who repents, it is the community that holds them accountable in that repentance and celebrates the transformation.
So, how are we experiencing that right now?
I am seeing it in social media posts about how people are helping each other. I’m hearing it in your stories about calling neighbors to be sure they have what they need. You are stepping up to support the church and other service organizations like NETWorks so that we can continue to offer help to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the community in this very hard time. You are reading your Bibles; asking good, deep questions; offering to share resources like food and toilet paper. You are celebrating life in the flock, and it is warming my heart.
From time to time, each of us feels lost. Right now this feeling is acute for so many. Lately, it’s almost easier to mark the days I don’t feel a little lost than to keep up with what day of the week it is! But I know that the flock of Embry Hills UMC and our community are here to celebrate and welcome me back into safety when I go astray. I know that if I need prayer, support, or toilet paper, I will receive it! I am grateful for the love of Christ, which seeks me time and time again, when I am near and when I am far, AND for the love and support of the flock of 99 who welcome me home when I’ve been away. I suspect you have experienced that from time to time in this community of faith, too.
Now more than ever, the lost need to know that our place at home is waiting for us when we are found. You matter. The flock matters. Our life together matters. And while we cannot be physically together, getting connected and staying connected is what will keep our flock healthy, safe, and growing. [please insert small group info from source with link to survey for small groups here...]
In the next few weeks, the church staff and Administrative Council will begin to put together our plans for re-opening our building. We do not plan to rush into this but to handle it with caution and the best information available to us on the safety and security of the gathered congregation. Until then, we continue to gather virtually, to pray for each other and the church in our homes, and to support the ministry of the gospel in our community and beyond.
Keep flocking, friends