Let Me Tell You About Sheep
Episode 33 – September 17, 2019
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Bri-anne is experiencing ennui as the Canadian election is called. A dude loses his sheep. A woman loses her coin. Bri-anne looses her kid. At our deepest level, we are seeking reconciliation with God. Reading by the Rev. Joy Cowan. Music by David Ford and Calexico.
David Ford – “To Hell with the World”
Calexico – “Hush”
Reading No. 1
Luke 15:1-10 The Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Lost Sheep
Read by Rev. Joy Cowan from Regina, Saskatchewan
Reading No. 2
Parable of the Prodigal Son from The Message
When my kids were little, I used to take them to this indoor playground in Toronto. It was amazing. I’ve yet to find another indoor play centre that is as awesome as this place was. It wasn’t that big at all. It didn’t have the most stuff. But the owners took the time to talk to the parents and caregivers coming in. I knew a lot of the adults who came with their kids. I had a good rapport with the staff. We felt safe there. And they had really, really excellent (and free) coffee.
The week my oldest son started Junior Kindergarten, I waited for a rainy day and took my youngest to this play centre. I had been up late the previous night writing an assignment and was very tired. So I plunked Simon at the lego bin for a moment and went to get a coffee, which is within eyesight of the play area. The owner came over and we spoke for about 20 seconds and I walked back — but Simon wasn’t at the lego. He wasn’t on the trampoline or in the book corner. He wasn’t on the slide or playing with the blocks. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I started to panic. Other parents rushed over and started searching too. After not too long, we found Simon — curled up under a turtle shell, looking at a book, unaware of any panic. I started to cry. Everybody else started high fiving each other. The music mix was changed to a crazy 1980s dance playlist. It was time for a mid-afternoon party!
Michael Jackson aside, I was thinking about this day as I pondered what to say about these two stories Joy read for us. There is actually a third story linked in with the first two — the story of the prodigal son, which we will hear as a second reading a little bit later on.
But for now…we have a shepherd who lost one sheep among 100 and a woman who lost one coin among 10.
Now, I grew up around sheep. My friend had a sheep farm. Let me tell you about sheep.
Sheep are lovely. They are gentle. They are fluffy. They have many very fine ovine qualities.
But they are also dumb as bricks — and that might be insulting to bricks. I have no scientific data to back this up, but I’m pretty sure the chickens would the sheep at a chess match. Adult sheep are not very social with people, but quite social with each other. They can recognize each other’s faces…until they get sheared. Then it’s like a Superman/Clark Kent crisis, except it’s a whole herd who doesn’t recognize each other. So, there’s three days of chaos as the sheep fight to re-establish their hierarchy.
So yeah, sheep are great. But intelligent, they are not. It always used to confuse me when we’d sing about just wanting to be a sheep during Vacation Bible School.
Sheep don’t have the capacity to try and deceive their shepherd. It would be unusual for a sheep to wander away from its herd — because it’s a lot easier for a predator to pick off one sheep than to take on 100. So, quite frankly, the herder would have messed up pretty badly if he had lost one of his sheep.
Know what’s even dumber than a sheep? Inanimate objects without brains. Like a coin. A coin cannot lose itself. A coin has no agency. It has no will — although given the amount of change I have lying in my seat cushions, it does sometimes feel like my money is trying to hide. But a coin is not able to hide, nor is it able to aid in its own finding.
The traditional Christian reading of our texts today, finds the character of God being played out by the shepherd and, in the story we’ll hear later on, the father.
[Oddly, the woman never seems to be equated with God, despite following the same parallel structure. Hmmm…]
Like the shepherd searching ceaselessly for the one lost sheep, and the woman tearing her house apart searching for her lost coin, or, as we’ll hear later on, the father keeping watch for his son to return, so too does God ceaselessly search for us, sinners and those separated, until there is repentance and then reconciliation with God.
Have I mentioned sheep are dumb? They also care exactly not at all about being reunited with their humans. And a coin — it can’t care about anything.
I’ve been really enjoying Amy-Jill Levine’s book, “Short Stories by Jesus”. Dr. Levine is a New Testament professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I enjoy her work partly because of her snark, — calling out Christian interpretations of stories told in first-century Jewish contexts — but also her manner of deconstructing Christian scripture, pulling out the threads in order to weave and even fuller tapestry of wisdom and meaning.
So here, with gratitude to Dr. Levine, is another layer, or perhaps a few more squares, to add to a complex quilt.
Sheep aren’t smart and coins aren’t alive.
Sheep and coins can’t lose themselves. It was the shepherd who wasn’t paying attention who lost his sheep. It was the woman who was distracted who lost her coin. It was me who left the room to get coffee, to take care of my own needs, and then lost my child, albeit temporarily.
And the rejoicing came after the searching; the effort to correct the error, the lapse of judgment, the distraction. There is rejoicing because even though mistakes were made, there was repentance. Not in the modern usage, which is more like being sorry, but in the original Greek term we find in Luke, metanoia — a change of heart and mind. Regret over past deeds and a change in behaviour moving forward. So, if we’re gonna move along with this perspective of our reading today, it is the shepherd and the woman who represent the repentant sinners and they have received a wake-up call about the cost of distraction and not taking care of that which is most valuable. I definitely brought Simon with me to get coffee the next time we went to the playgroup.
But the thing about these two different interpretations is that regardless of who plays which character in the story, the end result, the thread that holds everything together, stitches us right into the same place. Because, in both instances, rejoicing comes with reconciliation…when what was lost and who was searching and who was at fault are reconciled once more. If sin is anything which separates us from God — that keeps of from experiencing communion with the Divine — then reconciliation becomes the opposite of sin and something, I truly, truly believe, is part of the life force, the very fabric that binds creation together. Different Christologies will have different interpretations about how that reconciliation comes about, and all of that would be enough to fill multiple podcast episodes. But the pull for humans to be reconciled with God…I have yet to see much evidence that this draw towards reconciliation isn’t a universal phenomenon. Every religion or faith I’ve ever studied has some element of reconciliation at work. Even secular humanism posits themes of reconciliation. We seem to be naturally hard wired to seek connection and communion, with each other, with creation, with the divine and even ourselves. When we’re reconciled, there is rejoicing, on the deepest most fundamental level.
In a few moments we’ll hear a song called “Hush” by Calexico and these words:
Reconcile and resurrect, tombstone rose
Growing up and over the gates to where our children play
The future wraps ‘round like vines
Inside these arms
Reconciliation. I wrapped my arms around Simon and he snuggled in. He was lost. I lost him. He was found. We found him. God was wrapped around us. Everything was alright.
Photo credit: Natanja Grün