Luke 15:1-10 and Excerpts from Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
September 11th, 2022 10:30 a.m.
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Happy Sunday! It always feels like a special Sunday when we have the choir! Thank you for sharing your voices with us today!
I invite you now as we come to this part of our worship to take a few deeper breaths, to let yourself arrive a little more fully, as we hear whatever word God has for us today and as you are moved, I invite you to pray with me and for me…
Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Have you noticed how we human beings can so easily decide who is in and who is out? How in politics and in families and in communities of all kinds, we human beings have a tendency to create categories of who is good and who is bad and of who really belongs.
There is a human inclination to find big and small ways that we feel okay, treating someone, or some group as other, as outsider, or the ones in the wrong. This comes from a sense of separateness and causes more of it, in our hearts and in the world. We humans can so easily decide that we are on the right side, the good side, that some of us are worthy, that some belong and that some, well, just don’t.
We are in our second week of the series on what we can learn from animals. And last week I shared about my brother’s dog Baby and being wonderfully made, so I hope you have delighted in pondering the idea that you might be God’s art this week.
And today we look to the animals again. And more specifically to groups of animals, to herds and the colonies and the nests and the pods and the packs, we look to the groups of creatures and just like Jesus, we look to the flock.
As you heard, he tells part of our story today with sheep. And he asks whether the group gathered around him would leave the flock to go find just one that is missing? He asks would you go find that one? That one who wandered off or messed up or got it wrong?
And I wonder if Jesus is saying something to us today about how we human beings can so easily decide who is in and who is out? Because we don’t know why that one is off and lost. We don’t know why that person, why that sheep has been cut out.
And I wonder if Jesus is saying something to us today about our tendency to decide what and who belongs.
That is kind of what the frustrated religious and political leaders were asking Jesus when he went into the story about sheep. We read that the frustrated Pharisees and the seething scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
As if to say even they belong. Even those that make us uncomfortable belong.
Growing up, we never had sheep, but we had dogs and cats, parakeets, turkeys and horses. I watched how the horses stuck together in rain and snow and I have learned that a herd can be as complicated as a human family system. Horses like us, love and lose and fear and fight. But do you know what? As one writer put it, “Horse arguments don’t last long!” And that’s true for many non-human creatures. There is a kind of animal grace that they hold or maybe a little more space for falling short, the priority is coming back to the whole.
When our dog Yoda angers our older dog Bodhi, they let one another know and then they let go and move on. And this caused me to investigate all kinds of creatures. Spotted hyenas, for example, live in close-knit groups, and while they don’t always get along, they officially don’t hold a grudge. Scientists have observed that within about 5 minutes of a fight, and I quote, “the erstwhile combatants can often be seen playing, licking or rubbing one another, or engaging in other friendly acts to dissipate the tension.” And even dolphins have been observed in doing something like what could be called “reconciliation rituals”, when after a fight “opponents often engaged in “gentle rubbing” or “contact swims,” in which one dolphin towed another through the water.”
What if the animals can show us about sharing life even with those who challenge us? What if they can teach us something about second chances, about forgiveness? What if we can learn something from them about living honestly with what is and letting go and moving on?
What if there is a special kind of rejoicing, as Jesus says, when we are the kind of place where a funky mix of people feel like we all belong? And what if the message for us is about how we can let the lost parts of all of us, the body individually and collectively, be found and be integrated and feel a part of the whole.
We humans can so easily decide who is worthy and who belongs and I wonder if Jesus says to us that there is space and God willing let there be some grace for each of us.
As Mitzi J. Smith writes of this passage in Luke, a (spiritual home) “Home should be a safe place for those that stray and those that stay. When the shepherd finds the one lost sheep, he calls his friends and neighbors—his community—together to celebrate. Community is a place where we can lose and recover, without judgment.” Isn’t that beautiful? And wouldn’t that be incredible if that were true? And may that be true! That this community can be a place where we can lose and recover and come back.
Maybe that is part of what Jesus is saying with this teaching here and part of what we learn from the animals too? It’s okay to get lost, to mess up, to fail, to falter and then to let ourselves be seen and be found. It’s okay to be about second chances, about forgiveness, about grace. Let us and let this, be a place where each of us can lose and recover, where we can falter and still find a way toward love together, where we can fail and come back and start over. May it be so. Amen.
© Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche