Imagine with me that you have taken your family to WildWater Adventure, the waterpark at Michigan’s Adventure. It’s a beautiful summer day. There are thousands of people cooling off in the pools and waterslides. Your family is young. You children are too little to go on the regular waterslides, so they spend their time in the kids’ area. Everything is going great. The kids are all smiles. The parents are almost relaxed, although we all know that parents never can fully relax while their kids are near water, right?
About an hour into your time there, your five-year-old has earned enough trust to explore the kids’ area on his own. He walks up the short stairs, plops down on the slide, scoots down, runs around to the stairs, and repeats. He’s loving it, and you’re loving watching him love it. A few minutes into the cycle, you watch your son go up the stairs, but then you don’t see him come down the slide. You sit up in your chair. You squint your eyes, scanning the pool to see if somehow you just missed him. Then you hastily walk up the stairs to see what he’s up to at the top of the slide.
Only he’s not there either. From the top of the slide, you scan the pool again, still not seeing him. You catch your spouse’s eyes and mouth, “Any sign of him?” Your spouse’s head shakes back and forth, a clear and now frightening “no.” You’ve gone from having a great day to realizing that your son is now lost in a place with thousands of people and lots of places to drown. It’s horrifying.
It’s crisis time. You hurry over to a lifeguard and say the words you never wanted to say, “Excuse me. My son is missing.” The lifeguard radios all the rest of the staff with a description of your son, and now the whole staff is alert and looking for the boy. A few minutes later there’s still no sign of him, so they up the ante. They call out the description over the loudspeakers so all could be looking for him and they begin emptying out the pools, everyone on high alert.
Finally…finally, they’ve found him. He was lost — he somehow wandered off the backside of the kids’ swim area and had made his way by himself to the other side of the waterpark. The relief you feel is palpable. You hug and kiss your lost son, tears welling up in your eyes, and you say, “Don’t you ever do that again! We were scared sick. We thought we lost you, but we’re so happy you’ve been found!”
That feeling — the one you are feeling right now when you imagine yourself in that situation — that’s the kind of joy, relief, and care God has for anyone who was spiritually lost but now finds themselves at home, belonging to God and belonging to the beloved community. In today’s parable Jesus shares how the shepherd will do all it takes to make sure his lost sheep can make it safely home. The lost being found is a reason for celebration. It’s the reason for a feast where all of the community gathers to celebrate how the lost can be found, can find their way to a home that rejoices in their arrival.
Jesus says that’s the feeling in heaven — the very way God feels — when even one lost sheep comes home. The Children in Worship story we heard ends like this, “When all my sheep are safe inside, I’m so happy….But I can’t be happy all by myself, so I call all my friends, and we have a great feast.”
All of us have been that lost sheep at some point in our lives. Maybe you are right now. Maybe you know someone who feels lost, outside, alone. Know that Jesus is in the business of finding and loving the lost sheep. He’s on a mission to welcome them to his table. So, come. Bring your friends. We once were lost, but now were found. Rejoice! This feast is for us too.