Luke 15: 1-10
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Holy Comforter. Amen.
The gospels are always talking about sheep and shepherds, but there are very few of us at St. Dunstan’s in the 21st Century who know sheep up close and personal.
I have had a personal relationship with 3 beagles, a mean-spirited cat, 2 rabbits, 2 gerbils and several baby squirrels that fell out of their nests.
But, my favorite relationship was with a dog who supposedly belonged to my daughter when she was 12 years old.
I did not want a dog.
For a few months we had been without an animal (except for the cat), and I rather enjoyed the freedom from the menagerie.
But Alison really wanted a dog.
She made a scrapbook of dog pictures she cut out of magazines.
She showed it to her dad who showed it to me.
So I relented, but there were conditions—Alison had to do everything for the dog, feed it, walk it, clean up after it.
The dog had to be small and short-haired.
We ended up with a small, brown Chihuahua that only weighed 2 pounds when we brought him home.
Alison named him Webster, and she did a pretty good job of taking care of him, but 12-year-olds turn into teenagers and spend less and less time at home.
Webster was no fool and knew who the household queen was, so he loved me best.
Webster grew up to a whopping 6 pounds, and one day the two of us were doing our gardening in the backyard.
I planted flowers and he dug them up.
When I was finished, I called Webster, but he didn’t come.
I realized the gate was open, so I began walking around the entire neighborhood calling and whistling for him, but he was not to be found.
I had a sense of panic as I looked for him.
When I got home, I started to make a lost-dog-sign, when I heard a faint bark.
By calling and barking, Webster and I found each other.
He had gotten into a little room under the house and couldn’t get back out.
We were both happy to see each other and showered each other with hugs and kisses.
Now, Webster was not valuable to anyone but our family.
But, the emotion of having lost something that was dear to me was sharp.
Every day, there are people who are suffering the sharp, excruciating pain of great loss.
Some people have lost everything they own in Hurricane Dorian and have nothing but the clothes on their backs.
There are those who have lost their homeland, their extended family, their culture because they fled from the violence of civil was like our lovely Syrian family.
Others have lost their farms and their livelihood in the floods along the Mississippi River.
Some people have even lost their children when they were separated from them at the border.
These losses are overwhelming, and people who have suffered these catastrophic losses cannot recover all by themselves.
That is when those of us who have the strength, who have the financial resources, who have a voice, must help.
It is so tempting to turn away from someone else’s suffering.
How often have we said, “I just can’t deal with the news right now. I’m in compassion overload.”
It is true that seeing too much misery without the ability to help relieve the suffering can become overwhelming.
But opening our hearts, feeling compassion for another person’s suffering is a spiritual discipline.
At other times, we ourselves are the ones who are lost.
All of us face the inevitable loss of a loved one through death.
There are so many ways to become lost.
We can be lost in a destructive relationship or addictions to alcohol or prescription drugs.
We can be lost in self-righteous pride of achievement or an overarching need to be in control of others.
We can be lost in the fog of white privilege and the poison of racism.
Sometimes we are so lost that we don’t even know we are lost until our lives come crashing down around us.
We lose our connection to the Holy One who lives within us.
And it is then that we need a good shepherd who will leave whatever he or she is doing and come look for us.
When we cannot help ourselves and have made a terrible mess, we need someone who will search for us and bring us home.
When we are the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost dog, we are the ones hoping against hope that someone will find us and help us.
Over and over, Jesus told parables about people and things that are lost—the prodigal son, the man beaten and robbed and left in the ditch, the lost sheep, the lost coin.
And in the same story are the people who help the ones who are lost—the prodigal’s father, the good Samaritan, the good shepherd, and the woman who persisted in her search.
Is it possible that at times we are the lost sheep and at other times we are the good shepherd?
Is it possible that we can feel compassion for others because we understand suffering and have experienced it ourselves?
Is it possible that we know how to help another person because we ourselves have had someone who was a good shepherd in our lives?
Is it possible that because of our human condition, we are prone to be lost sheep,
and yet, because of the grace of God, we have the capacity to also be a good shepherd?
Is it possible that whether we are a lost sheep or a good shepherd, we are beloved of God?