‘Out There’ not ‘In Here’

"Jesus did not wait for the lost sheep to find its own way to the flock. He went out, He went off, He explored, He was inquisitive to know where it had gone."

Quite recently and quite suddenly, my friend Michael died. His suffering was very short, which I’m thankful for. His absence is very marked, which I am not. Michael was many things to many people. He was my friend, my life insurance salesperson and from him, the church can learn much.

In the aftermath of his death, my wife asked me if I have ever been to Michael’s office. I was struck to answer: “no.” He always came to me. Among many family members and friends to speak his funeral was his boss, the area manager for the life insurance company he represented. She recounted his awards for outstanding success in his field; he was one of the best in Canada! She had asked him once to help train and equip new employees. His secret, he told her, was to be “inquisitive about people” and “to go into their world and see what mattered to them” and to be attentive to that. As she spoke, her words resonated, for Michael always came to me, every time, over decades.

In the gospel of Luke chapter 15, the writer tells us of a time when Jesus was surrounded by both social outcasts, like tax collectors, and religious leaders. The latter were grumbling about the former. Jesus responded with a story into which we are all invited. “We are seated in open country, sheep are scattered about, subject to predators at any time, seemingly without a shepherd. Sheep are not smart; they need constant attention. This I know because I have raised them on my farm.

As we watch the sheep, we see the shepherd return to the hillside, with one of the sheep on his shoulders. He had abandoned the vast majority to go after the one that was missing. Strange priorities! Why obsess on one that was missing, when he already had a whole flock? But, as we think about it, if not the first to go missing, when would he have ever left the many for the very few? Good shepherds, like Jesus, pays a lot of attention to the lost. Jesus did not wait for the lost sheep to find its own way to the flock. He went out, He went off, He explored, He was inquisitive to know where it had gone.

What would happen if we thought of Church as far more ‘out there’ than ‘in here’?

My friend Michael only sold me life insurance. He could only help me offset the very temporary risks of dying so my family could have some equally temporary benefit. As followers of the Good Shepherd, perhaps our preoccupation with the flock might need to change. Maybe we should seek after those that are far more lost than found. As we consider our own parishes, are we more obsessed with who is here among us, or who is not? The real action is just beyond the church door! The shepherd did not wait for the sheep to join the flock, he went out into a messy and unfamiliar place, went looking where others were not, and found the one in need.

God of the too-soon-forgotten, raise in me a deeper awareness of what pre-occupies you, what is all around me. May I lose sight of what satisfies my comfort, in my parish, and follow Your persistence in seeking out those whom are otherwise lost, about whom You care deeply and for the sake of whom you left the order of Heaven and entered chaos of Earth. Cultivate in me a deeper, even an insatiable curiosity, to know others in their place, in their story, in their world. Amen

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