Wednesday, November 12, 2008
"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 it is found?" Luke 15:3
The first time I ever traveled to Ireland, I was fascinated by the sheep herds. It seemed that they were not penned in any where, and scads of them roamed across hillsides and up craggy outcroppings, seemingly unwatched and untended. They were everywhere on the west coast of Ireland, and they seemed to have the run of the joint. I also noticed that many of them had a blotch of color on their dirty white coats. There were a variety of different colored blotches among any one gathering of sheep. It seemed like a very random situation. My foreign eyes thought nothing was under control. Mark and I were traveling about, staying in bed and breakfasts up and down the misty, cold, west coast country. We asked one hostess about the sheep and their blotches. I came to learn it was a very complicated, controlled system. Each color signified a particular sheep owner in a particular area. They herds did run together but the shepherds had devised a system whereby they knew how many sheep each owner had, they rotated the watching of he flocks and they counted on a daily basis. They would leave the comfort of warm fires, gathering the border collies to round up all the sheep if there was any alarm over sheep who were either missing or unaccounted for. They talked several times daily, keeping each other up on the weather and other threats to their livestock. It was a level of intimacy and care I would have never guessed as an outside observer.
Jesus says that God functions as a careful, tender shepherd. One that is constantly watching over the sheep. Now, sheep aren't the brightest animals and they get caught in the thickets and get lost regularly. But God is intimately active with the least of us, they ones who stray and wander, the ones who can't seem to stay with the herd, the ones who never get the lesson, even when it is taught over and over. And still God and heaven rejoices when one wanderer is retrieved. Today, I want to remember that insiders understanding of God. In this seemingly random and out of control world, I need to remember how carefully and completely we are cared for - for the least to the greatest. I pray that I can accept that kind of intimacy and care in my life, and share that care and kindness with others. And I pray that we can all, know we are cared for tenderly and completely. That we might have a sense of being known and loved intimately, by a shepherd who would leave the comfort of a warm fire, dry and come find us when we are lost.