I have to admit that when I looked over the lesson I was scheduled to teach the children’s large group, I saw it and sighed in relief.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep.
I know this one well. Easy story to engage the kids. Cue the cotton balls and glue sticks. Check.
And then the Spirit convicted me, inviting me to spend some time praying over the lesson rather than defaulting to doing it out of muscle memory and my own strength.
All those precious little sheep, being led to worship Sunday by Sunday by their parents or caregivers. A squirmy, squirrelly flock, to be sure. But a flock of impressionable little souls entrusted to our care by the Over-Shepherd. Several rows of seed beds ready to receive the sown Word of God that is able to save their souls and steer their lives to the Savior.
What a privilege, what a tall task. The lesson that had looked like a walk in the park suddenly became weighty.
My husband and I have a unique vantage point as we have been called to college ministry. This means that while we serve our Church in other avenues such as women’s ministry, young adult ministry and pastoral care, our hearts have a homing device for college students.
We see all kinds of lost sheep being pursued by the Shepherd. Some of them, having grown up in the Church, have taken their cues from the younger brother. They find themselves far from the fold in the particular pigsties of their choosing. Others have taken their cues from the older brother, staying but shakily standing on their own good choices, morality, and proximity rather than on the solid ground of the atoning work of Christ.
No matter to the Shepherd. He will have His sheep. He will pursue them whether they stray from Him in the far-off villages or stay distant from Him in the first row of pews. He will shake their self-indulgence or self-righteousness until they seek safety in a Savior.
After all, that is what Christ was communicating to the original audience in this series of parables.
To the Pharisees, who knew the law but didn’t know the lawlessness of their self-righteousness, Christ gave assurance. The heart of God is like a father who pursues his outwardly compliant children through carefully constructed corridors of correctness because he longs for intimacy and dependence.
To the disciples, who felt found at the time but would scatter as scared sheep when suffering sought their Savior, Christ gave assurance. I’ll gather back my hiding flock and fill them with a power source that will send them out boldly as shepherds.
To the hedonists and here-and-now pleasure-seekers who chose short-lived pleasure over the presence of the father, Christ gave assurance. When you come to the end of yourself and decide to turn towards home, I will run to meet you, eagerly celebrating your return.
All those little sheep I get to teach tomorrow will find themselves in their own stories one day. But the Shepherd loves His sheep. He will stop at nothing to have His own.
This lesson goes far beyond cotton balls, leading to Christ. I cannot wait.