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What They Didn't Teach You at Sheepherding School
a homily based on Luke 15:1-10

by Rev. Thomas N. Hall

Ever misplaced or lost something that you've valued a lot? In my home, I'm constantly searching for fingernail clippers, my favorite hairbrush, the car keys, mail, tee-shirts, socks, paper clips, my dachshund Penelopee, warmed up cups of coffee, and ties. Once I got all the way home from an evening church service, had brushed my teeth, had my p-jays on and was just beginning to doze off to lala land when the phone rang.

"This Tom Hall?"

"Why yes, how can I help you?"

"Well, this is the church janitor. Could you come and pick up your daughter? She's sleeping in the fifth pew from the back."

About that time I felt like turning to my wife and saying, "Ohhh, Dixie, my exquisite wife, someone wants to talk to you."

So each day for me is a new adventure, searching for valuable things that I've misplaced or lost the day before. That's why I can appreciate Cory Luxmore, who flew all the way from Great Britain to Philadelphia to give us a rare journal of Debbie Logan-a sharp-witted woman who lived through the War of 1812. Her diary gives us a detailed picture of Philadelphia as it appeared 200 years ago. Her journal reveals the fears that Philadelphians had when they learned that the British had torched Washington DC and were reported to be heading toward Philly.

So Mr. Luxmore, with his 200 year old diary in hand, left his taxi and entered his hotel. However, ten minutes after he entered the hotel, Luxmore realized that he'd left the priceless diary in the cab. Where was the diary? The Inquirer picked up the story .Television and radio did the same. Someone offered a $1000 reward to anyone who found it. But Debbie Logan's diary never dialed 911. The reward was still unclaimed-until this Monday.

A guy changing light bulbs in a hallway at 40th and Pine, noticed this black bag on the radiator. "1 looked inside," he said, "and saw these little books, and they all seemed old. It was really spooky looking at all these old things."

So on Friday, at 11 :00 am, Luxmore--the guy who left the diary in the taxi cab-and Tom, the guy who found it while changing light bulbs, decided to throw a big party to celebrate the lost diary, though the absentminded professor wasn't sure he would be taking a taxi cab this time.

Jesus tells us two little stories, the first about a shepherd, like Luxmore and Hall, who discovers that something is missing. It’s evening and he’s counting sheep. "Okay, sheep, keep it moving, single file . . . 96, 97, 98, 99 . . . 99 . . . 99.

"Hmmmm," he thinks to himself. "I'm one sheep short here."

Now, we would think that one sheep missing would be no big deal; ninety-nine present and accounted for. What's one stupid sheep? A one-percent loss; most shepherds could handle that. Learn from our mistakes, we would say. Develop a better accounting system maybe. Outsource to someone who will ensure a 100% return. But don't lose sleep over a tick-infested, runny-nosed, sheep that's wandered out in the desert somewhere. Lost. Lost. Lost. But dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Why, that dumb sheep should have . . .


• should have stayed with the flock

• just said "no" . . .

• been more careful . . .

• listened to her parents . . .

• finished school . . .

• stayed in church . . .

The shepherd surely must have remembered the two basic rules of sheep herding:  


This law reminds us that sheep do not score high on animal intelligence tests. They don't fetch Frisbees, bring newspapers, jump through hoops, chase rabbits, or bark at strangers. They need constant supervision. Any shepherd knows that. That being the case, would you think of leaving ninety-nine non- thinkers back at the ranch while you gallivanted after some wandering sheep? Would you turn your sheep business over to a guy who took off every time some black sheep wandered away? Can you imagine how embarrassing the next shepherd grange meeting would be? "Hey, Levi," one of them would yell. "What's worse than one lost sheep?" And then the rest would yell, "ninety-nine lost sheep!" Harrr Harrr. It was true enough. Dumb shepherd.




We have a shepherd who leaves his flock to pursue a wayward, derelict sheep. What do you think he'll do when he finds it? Mutton steaks? A new 100% wool suit? That's what he should do. Know what I'd do? I'd smoosh that sheep into a big old fur ball and play soccer all the way back to camp. But what does this crazy shepherd do? He heaves this 100 pound wanderlust up on his shoulders and carries it all the way back home!

It gets worse. When he finally arrives back at the ranch, he sends out these Hallmark invitation cards with a picture of a sheep and when you open it up, out pops a shepherd inviting you to a found sheep celebration! The crazy shepherd is going to throw a celebration for a sheep! Baaaaah Humbug!

Remember Law #2-never spend more energy and resources on someone than they're worth. His celebration far exceeds the importance of the find. Everyone knows that there is no sheep in all of God's green earth that is worth throwing a party for.

We don't even have music for such occasions. The celebration is more expensive than the sheep is worth! It's quite clear that we have a very weird shepherd on our hands.

That’s the first story, but the second story is almost as bizarre. This time Jesus talks about a woman who loses a coin and drops everything in order to recover the loss. God as cleaning lady unties her apron, rolls up her sleeves, and drops her pail and mop in search of an old nickel. She pulls out the cushions on the couch, gets on all fours to peek under the stove, feels behind the bookcases, and sweeps through inch thick dust bunnies until the missing coin is found. So beside herself with finding the lost nickel, she calls the neighbors and her friends in order to celebrate. For a plugged nickel! The party favors and cake cost more than the nickel she has found!

How in the world can such a shepherd and cleaning lady mirror God to us? Like the crazy old shepherd and cleaning lady, God also delights in finding lost things. God is always searching for the strays, the losers, and the ragamuffins. Not only that, but it doesn't even matter if the other 99 get lost while he's away on another lost-and-found mission; he'll get around to gathering the rest too, because Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Sheep aren't noted for searching diligently for their shepherd when they get lost. Sheep don't go on some long journey to find their god-shaped shepherd. All lost sheep can do is bleat. All coins can do is collect dust. But finding lost things is God's cup of tea. And when lost sheep, coins, and prodigals are found, our great Shepherd sends out the Hallmarks to us, inviting us to celebrate.

Are you lost this morning? Was Jesus thinking about you when he told these stories? I think it's possible to sing in the choir, serve on our committees, play in our orchestra, and yet to be very alone, very away, and very lost.

What do we do? Same thing as that old diary did. Same thing as that old sheep did. Same thing as the coin did. Get found. All we can do at times is to stand around like a lost sheep bleating in the desert of death, or lie like a lost coin in the dustbin of sin. But in the power of Jesus’ resurrection, God puts us on God’s shoulders rejoicing and brings us home. And once we’re home, we find that we can look upon other lost ones with a new sensitivity.

Listen to a modern sheep’s story: sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gathered one night for their weekly AA meeting. They had been meeting on Wednesday nights for several years and knew each other well. Nobody fooled anybody else. Everyone was there because they had made a slobbering mess of their life and was trying to put the pieces back together. The meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer and a moment of silence. Then the prologue to AA was read by one of the members and the Twelve Steps by another.

"The theme I want to talk about tonight is gratitude," said the appointed leader, "but if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it."

Immediately Phil’s hand went up.

"As you all know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days."

The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.

Phil continued, "You all know the buzz word H.A.L.T. Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and . . ."

His voice cracked and he lowered his head. Around the room were moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.

"Same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year."

"Thank God you’re back."

"Boy, that took a lot of guts."

"Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why."

As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck, and cheek.

"You old ragamuffin," Denise said, "Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split!"

The gospel of the crazy shepherd and cleaning lady is not for the insiders who have their act together or for those who know they are upright, nor for those who boast, "All these commandments I have kept from my youth," but the gospel of the crazy shepherd and cleaning lady is for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt out; for donkey peddlers and sinners, for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it together, for those whose cheese keeps falling off their cracker, and for the rest of us who know that it is by grace that we are saved, or should we say, found. Amen.