Monday, September 11, 2006

Good Shepherds and Lost Sheep

On September 11, 2001 I was a senior in seminary. I had one class that day, a homiletics course in the afternoon. That morning I turned on the TV, just to kill some time before I had to leave, and I saw smoke coming from the first tower and the reporters weren't really sure what had happened. I watched as the second plane flew into the second tower. Then there were reports about another plane and the Pentagon, and another plane that crashed somewhere in a farmer's field but details about any of this were sketchy.

8 days later it was my turn to preach in the seminary chapel at our regular Wednesday, noon Eucharist. We always used the propers for the previous Sunday but weren't necessarily bound to the lectionary. I found the lectionary gospel reading appropriate and below is what I preached.


September 19, 2001
Luke 15. 1-10
Thomas Arth

Wouldn’t it be nice to be a sheep?
Sheep don’t fly in airplanes.
Sheep don’t work in office buildings.
Sheep aren’t compelled to risk their lives in order to save others.
Sheep don’t watch television.
Sheep don’t feel so deeply when others,
hundreds of kilometers away,
are tragically slaughtered.
If only we were sheep.
We might have avoided the pain, sadness, fear,
anger, despair,
and a host of other emotions
that have engulfed us these eight days.

But I guess sheep do get lost.
That may be a description of what has happened to us
in the wake of last Tuesday’s horrible events.
The people of the world whose hope and love is for peace
have become lost.

"The darkness is still there and the chaos still returns!"
is the way one theologian put it.
We’re not strangers to
injustice, un-peace, and the disintegration of creation
but it doesn’t always hit so close to home.

Polish composer Henryk G√≥recki’s third symphony is titled
‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.’
I’ve listened to this piece,
at home and in my car,
about a dozen times since last Tuesday.
It begins with the double basses playing a long, slow, quiet melody.
It sounds like a groan.
Slowly and steadily,
bit by bit,
the rest of the strings join in.
The music builds from what was a whisper
to a pitch and intensity that becomes a wail and scream.
In the third movement a solo soprano sings the words of a Polish folk song.
The music and the words
capture some of the emotion that I’ve felt these days.
The translation goes like this.

Where has he gone
My dearest son?
Perhaps during the uprising
The cruel enemy killed him

Ah, you bad people
In the name of God, the most Holy,
Tell me, why did you kill
My son?

Never again
Will I have his support
Even if I cry
My old eyes out

Were my bitter tears
to create another River Oder
They would not restore to life
My son

He lies in his grave
and I know not where
Though I keep asking people
Everywhere

Perhaps the poor child
Lies in a rough ditch
and instead he could have been
lying in his warm bed

Oh, sing for him
God’s little song-birds
Since his mother
Cannot find him

And you, God’s little flowers
May you blossom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily


This week many have cried with thoughts like these.
Where have they gone?
Why did the cruel enemy kill them?
Mothers and brothers and daughters and husbands have asked
Ah, you bad people, why did you kill them?
They’re gone and a river of tears won’t bring them back.

But the song is both elegy, and redemption,
for the mother prays that,
though her son is lost,
he may hear the song of the song-birds
and sleep happily among the blossoms of God’s little flowers.

When sheep have lost their way,
good shepherds go to find them.
Then they can lie down in green pastures,
where God’s little flowers bloom
and be led beside still waters,
where the little song-birds sing.

When those towers in New York were burning
some shepherds ran in to save the lost
wearing firefighter’s uniforms
lugging cases of emergency medical equipment
and they ended up giving their lives for the lost.
The parables in the gospel reading don’t begin with
"The kingdom of God is like . . ."
they come as a response to the Pharisees’ and scribes’ grumbling
because Jesus ate with sinners.
So, we could simply make Jesus the shepherd and the woman,
looking for the sheep and searching for the coin.
The one who comes to save the lost,
the physician come to heal the sick.
And he certainly is.
But maybe we could expand on that.
Maybe the reign of God is like . . .
A shepherd looking for a lost sheep.
A woman searching for a lost coin.
A firefighter who risks his life and runs into a burning building
because someone might be lost.
A priest who goes to the site of a disaster
because someone needs last rites.
A mother who stands behind the barricades
clutching a picture of her daughter
waiting for any word or sign.
The reign of God is like
a shepherd who goes to find the lost.

In the midst of the evil that can seem to overwhelm us
the reign of God breaks in.
The faith that the Holy Spirit forms in us,
enables us to affirm the world
even when it makes us cry.
God’s grace, through eyes of faith,
enables us to see the world as it can be.
The reality that God intended from the beginning,
the reality realized in Christ,
the reality that is being achieved through the creative Spirit
is the world as it can be.

We can hope because we’ve been washed
and became part of that reality.
The font is a reminder that we have been found.
And we can hope
because we get a foretaste of that reality
when we have our meal together.
At the table we get a glimpse of what it’s like to be found.

In a world where we have just witnessed the un-peace that exists
where un-peace is even permitted,
we can reject and resist it
and believe that peace is possible
by the grace of God.
We are part of the world that is becoming.
John Newton wrote the line
"I once was lost, but now am found."
Maybe it should say
"I once was lost, and I’m being found."
I wouldn’t presume to say that I’m there
but I’m on my way.
We wouldn’t presume to say that the world
has become what it can be
what it was created to be
but it’s on the way
it’s becoming.

The world seems lost — is lost.
I feel lost.
Maybe you count yourself among the lost.
But the Good Shepherd has gone to find us.
And we will be found.

Oh, sing for him
God’s little song-birds
Since his mother
Cannot find him

And you, God’s little flowers
May you blossom all around
So that my daughter
May sleep happily

1 comment:

Kevin said...

wonderful words, Tom.

kgp