Jesus was a teacher, long ago, of love and compassion. When Jesus spoke to his followers, it was often about how to share more, love more, and forgive more. Jesus also talked a lot about the great, unfolding mystery named Love. He called it God, the way many other people do.
Sometimes, Jesus’ followers needed help to understand his teachings, so he told stories to help them understand. We call those parables.
This is one of the parables that Jesus told his followers. It’s about a shepherd. (Someone tell me what a shepherd is.)
A shepherd is someone who cares for sheep: who makes sure their bellies are full, and they’re safe from predators—because a lot of critters would hurt sheep, if they could.
In the days when Jesus told this story, a shepherd wouldn’t have had a fancy pen, or corral, for her sheep. There was no fence to create a big space for her flock. Instead, she would have had to take her sheep out into the hills to fill their bellies.
In this parable, the shepherd didn’t have just one or four or ten sheep. She had ONE HUNDRED sheep! (Can you imagine how loud and smelly it would be if there were 100 sheep here in our sanctuary?)
At the beginning of each day, the shepherd took all one hundred sheep to the hills of green grass, and counted to make sure they were all there. At the end of the day she brought them home again, counting to make sure that all one hundred sheep had come home.
The shepherd came home one night, counted her sheep… and saw only ninety-nine instead of one-hundred. She counted again to make sure, and then again. And even though it was cold and dark, and there were critters in the hills that might hurt a shepherd, too, she left the ninety-nine sheep who were safe at home and went out to find the lost sheep who was in danger.
When Jesus told his parable to his followers, he was trying to tell them two things:
First, that the great unfolding mystery that we call Love, and that some call God, loves each of us so much that Love will always, always, go to those who are left behind or in danger.
Second, we understand ourselves to be part of the great, unfolding mystery called Love. Most of us who are Unitarian Universalist want to be like that great unfolding mystery; we want to be Love’s partner and its helper. That means we are the shepherd: when everyone else is safe, we’re called to notice the few who are in danger, and to go out into the cold and dark to be with them.
Love doesn’t rest and wait; Love—in the form of the shepherd—leaves comfort behind to be a helper.