In this 1951 sermon, theologian and mystic Howard Thurman (1900–1981) reflects on Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, starting with the sheep’s perspective. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Luke 15:4–7).
A sheep was enjoying his grass . . . and then when he started feeling chilly, he didn’t recall, but the only thing that he remembers is that suddenly he became aware that he was cold, and there was a throwback in his mind, and he realized that he had been cold for some time. But, the grass was good. Then he looked around, and he discovered that he was alone. That everybody had gone. That is, that all the sheep had gone. And he began crying aloud.
And then the shepherd, who had many sheep, missed him when he got back to the fold, and he left his ninety and nine . . . to try to find this sheep that was lost. And Jesus says, “God is like that.” Nothing heavy and theological about that. Very little that is dogmatic, technically, about it. Just that here is a shepherd who loves his sheep, and one of the sheep in doing the most natural thing in the world—and that is to eat the grass—did it with such enthusiasm and over a time interval of such duration that he didn’t know when the shepherd called, and he was lost.
And why was he lost? He was lost because he was out of touch . . . with the group that sustained him, the group that fed him, that gave him a sense that he counted. That’s all. And as soon as he was out there alone, he said, “I’m just here by myself. Nothing but me in all of this? And I want to feel that I count with the others.” There’s a certain warmth in that. There’s a certain something that is creative and redemptive about the sense of community, about the fellowship.
Thurman speaks of the pain of being separated from our communities:
Insulation is something that is spiritual; . . . there’s something inside of me that pulls up . . . the drawbridge. . . . Sometimes I do it because I’m afraid; sometimes I do it because I’m clumsy and awkward, and I don’t quite know how to establish a relationship or relationships with my fellows that can float my spirit to them and bring their spirit to me. . . .
Now, Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community with their fellows, and when they have found it, when they have found their community with their fellows, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning. . . .
The lost sheep. The searching shepherd. And the cry of anguish of the sheep was the voice of identification that the shepherd heard. That is how God is, if we let him.
Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables, ed. David B. Gowler and Kipton E. Jensen (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 22–24, 25.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on God’s acceptance of us.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.
Story from Our Community:
I recently retired from working as a parish priest in the Church of England in order to focus fully on mental health counseling. My calling is to heal the sick of body, mind, and spirit. I have been walking through a dark night of the soul since 2011, a deconstruction that continued for far longer than I thought possible. But it was only in this darkest of years that reconstruction has begun. Reading your daily meditations has been part of that reconstruction process. Thank you for introducing me to others who think so broadly and so beautifully. Your work enables mine. —Karen H.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.