By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications
“[Jesus said,] ‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.’” ~Matthew 18:12-14, NIV
Jesus shows abundant hospitality throughout the gospels. He was regularly welcoming, associating, and drawing near to people who were overlooked and neglected. On this particular occasion, the disciples had just asked Jesus who was the greatest among them. His response: to welcome one of the children who was nearby and to share a story about who is most highly esteemed in God’s kingdom.
The parable of the lost or wandering sheep continues to be an inviting story. This earthly narrative with heavenly meaning details a sheep wandering away and a shepherd leaving the rest of the flock to go find it. Jesus surely wasn’t stating that those who remain faithful to the flock don’t matter in God’s family, but was emphasizing that God’s love stretches beyond human expectations to care for those who are wandering and lost. By sharing this story, Jesus was providing a snapshot of his mission to care for all people, especially the most vulnerable.
After reading this parable recently, I was blessed to remember how great the love of God is for you and for me. I was also drawn to an untold parable behind the parable; a story of how the flock responded after the lost sheep was returned by the shepherd. I invite you to reflect on the following poem.
When the lost sheep was brought home
did the flock grumble and groan,
or with love did they have a great party?
Did any try to heap on guilt,
trample on the bond they had built,
or did they hold back their comments
when they saw the sheep’s tired face.
Did they poke at his pain or shame,
did they play the blame game,
or with gentleness did they help him heal?
Did those near the fence keep their distance,
look at him with concern and resistance,
or did each one offer greetings with joy?
Were any of the flock still troubled
by how the sheep could have stumbled
or did a new peace fall on one and all?
Were any focused on the wrong done,
contending he had lost, they had won,
or did they remember their call
to faithfully care for each other.
Did any jump to ask why and how—
the questions they had, even now—
or with kindness did they wait
for the sheep to share?
Had any of them kept track of the time
from the moment he left until he was fine.
Did they grow in patience and in grace?
Did anyone try to send the lost sheep away—
begrudging that he chose to stray, not stay—
or did they remember the goodness of their shepherd?
As followers of Jesus, are we ready for who the Lord turns or returns to us? There are many ways to assess our life and ministry together, and the litmus test of Paul noted in Galatians 5:22-23 seems as good as any: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” From your corner of the pasture in your congregation, in your community, and in the Church of the Brethren as a whole, let us consider:
> Which fruits of the Spirit are most present among us?
> Which fruits of the Spirit can we grow in?
> How will we welcome those who join us?
From my vantage point, faithfulness abounds as leaders, members, and supporters of the Church of the Brethren have a detailed history of offering time of service, talent in leadership, and treasure of resources to sustain all the work that we do. I have also witnessed love among us through how we care for one another and by how we value the work that we are able to do together.
Regarding the fruits of the Spirit we can grow in, the answer could certainly be ALL. Just like growing in faith, attending to the work of the Spirit among us is a journey and a process, not a destination. But what fruits could be riper among us?
The “how” question, we start in reflection and carry out in community. Just as we prepare our homes thoroughly and carefully for guests—whether for lunch or for a more extended stay—so also do we prepare the environment for our life together so that whoever joins us feels welcome. If I can expand how we interpret “priesthood of all believers,” this involves seeing that each of us is able to minister to one another, but also that we serve on the “welcoming committee of all believers.” Jesus is calling people to turn and return to him, and whenever we encounter them, it’s our responsibility to be ready to receive those whom the Lord brings.
Within the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we provide opportunities for the people of God to grow in discipleship and leadership formation and to embody and articulate their faith. We are cultivating relationships with partners around the world and living a life of serving in community. Together we are engaging our neighbors and sharing the holistic peace of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your self-less service to Christ and his church.
As the flock of Jesus, may love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control be abundant in our life together and in how we welcome the people the Lord brings to us.