“Rejoice with me because I have
found my lost sheep.” LUKE 15
I often begin my day with a morning walk with God at Gale Woods Farm near our home. Rolling hills, a wooded path, a lake and pastures with grazing cows and playful sheep are the background to this life-giving routine.
Today as I was ending my walk, I came upon a baby lamb that had somehow gotten out of the fenced in sheep pen. He was running around, panicky and with terror in his eyes at his newfound freedom! He ran up and down along the fence, baa-ing back toward all his friends safely at home in the sheep pen, saying, “Help! It’s scary out here. I’m alone and exposed! Get me back in there!” (Yes, I speak sheep.)
So, my pastoral instincts kicked in, and I turned to approach the little lamb to help it find its way back into the safe fellowship of lambs inside the pen. All of the Christian portraits of Jesus cradling or carrying a lost lamb on his shoulders flashed through my mind. “Be not afraid little lamb, Pastor Jeremy to the rescue!”
He ran the other way.
I chased him a bit. That didn’t help.
Then I flagged down an employee on a lawn mower, who joined me in the futile attempt to corrall the panic-stricken, surprisingly quick little marshamellow. For 20 minutes we chased that scared little lamb up and down and around the perimeter of the pen, trying to help him back inside. But he evaded our help.
Deep down inside, his sheep senses told him he belonged back inside where he is cared for by the shepherd, surrounded by family, nourished with food and water, and safe from the dangers outside the fold. But the scared, stubborn little lamb refused all our repeated attempts to bring him back in! Another employee remarked, “I’m not sure what’s wrong with the little lamb; usually they run right up to us when we approach.”
Ah, the life of a pastor! Chasing scared little lambs who aren’t always ready to be rescued.
Every week we come upon lost, scared, lonely people out wandering into trouble. Deep down inside, many know they are made to live in community. Many have tasted the bread of life found inside the fellowship of Christians, and life outside the lush green pasture of the Good Shepherd is leading them down dangerous paths of pain and regret. But for whatever reasons many keep running tired circles around the church. When loving arms approach to help them find the door, they run the other way. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time: “Stop! Turn around (“repent”) and let me help you get back home to where you belong.” They are so close and yet so far away.
Every Sunday we join together as the sheep of God’s pasture to be nourished by the Word and the Sacraments, by loving fellowship and mutual encouragement. But most Sundays I can’t help going home with a tinge of sadness, thinking more about all the lambs I didn’t see among us, all those souls outside the pen somewhere, tired, anxious, souls crying out for help, but still running in the opposite direction of rescue.
Well, back at the farm this morning, we persisted and eventually prevailed. The little lamb was back inside the pen and he was happy to be safely among his friends and celebrated with a roll on his back and a meal of lush green pasture. The employee told me, “Good thing he didn’t get out at night, or who knows what would have happened to him.”
As I walked away, I broke down in tears, asking God to break my heart again for the lost or straying sheep in our community God is calling us at MainStreet Covenant Church to be lovingly pursuing and bringing into the fellowship of Jesus. It’s a dark world out there. Let’s shine our lights and keep chasing lost lambs.
Finally, maybe someone reading this today feels like one such lamb who has let yourself drift away from Christian fellowship lately. Maybe you are longing to return, but for some reason are afraid to walk through the door. As a shepherd of God’s flock, I want to tell you that you are missed! God has a special place for you inside his family. I pray you’ll overcome your fears and enter back in to the fold. You are loved! Come on home!
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:4-7)