This year my birthday came and went in a blur of activity that had little to do with celebration. I was so involved in the distressing circumstances of my mother’s health, her 12 day hospital stay followed by moving her from independent living to a nursing home; I really didn’t have time to celebrate anything. Birthday wishes came in the form of phone calls and cards and both my sons and my brother and sister-in-law sent gifts, there was a lunch out with cousins but it all passed in a haze.
On the evening of my birthday, my son Kevin gave me a beautiful card with a “Bed, Bath and Beyond” gift certificate tucked inside. I read the card, we hugged and I promptly put the card on the shelf and the envelope with the gift card in my kitchen organizer. Then, I forgot about it. In the meantime, I was sorting through my mother’s paper work, straightening out her desk, now in my guest room and was trying to get myself organized too by shuffling through papers, filing paid bills, shredding excess stuff I didn’t need and throwing a good bit of extraneous junk out I knew had little value. Or so I thought. A day before the trash was to be hauled away, now a week and half after my birthday I suddenly remembered the gift card. Where had I put it? I thought I knew but when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere, drawers, boxes, my organizer, the car, my wallet, every pocket of every pair of pants I thought I had worn in the previous two weeks and still, no gift card. I asked Kevin if he had given me a gift card for my birthday; maybe I just imagined the gift or had dreamed it. Assured there had been one and I wasn’t losing my mind, I now knew I had lost it, gift card and mind. There was only one place it could be. You guessed it…it had to be in the trash barrel waiting at the side of the road for pickup and now, it was Friday morning…trash day.
Well, I’ve always had a fear of becoming a bag lady and finding myself picking through the trash for my next meal. But, I swallowed my aversion to what I was about to do and went and pulled the trash barrel back into the driveway, tipped it, pulled the bags out and one by one opened each bag up. I was rummaging through the third bag and, lo and behold, I found the missing gift card. When I later told Kevin I had found the card and where I had found it, he asked the question, “Why did you do that? It was only worth $25.00.” What I told him was this: yes, the card in and of itself wasn’t worth all that much and maybe not worth enough to rummage through trash but, it was a gift and it was from him and that made it priceless. It was worth the effort because it was a gift from him and he was worth the effort.
We often forget our value in the eyes of God. We forget, too, that we are all undeserving of God’s abundant grace, love, and forgiveness. We come to our redeeming God as sinners, every one of us. We don’t always live up to the hope God has placed in and on us. But it is God who has claimed us as one of God’s own and God who has named us as worthy to be found when we’ve lost our way. God found us to be worth any effort – even a sacrifice based in love.
Jesus tells this amazing parable – the first of three on how much we are loved by God. Jesus describes God’s love and forgiveness by making the analogy of someone who seeks out a lost sheep. The shepherd willingly leaves the 99 just to find the one who has strayed.
That’s us…the one who has strayed but will never be abandoned. God’s desire to find us, to reach out to us, and to bring us back into the fold like a shepherd who leads a stray sheep back into the sheepfold is all encompassing. That’s the kind of love we are called to be and to live out…with God’s love as an example of the love that surpasses any we could imagine. We follow the example of the Great Shepherd seeking out the lost, the hungry, the needy, the lonely, the ones who feel set apart by circumstance or health, ability or color, race or gender. They are all worth our greatest efforts because God loves them too. God invites us to reach out and be the grace and love we ourselves know and enjoy in our relationship our divine creator who is our shepherd and savior, our redeemer and healer. And what an opportunity we have today to offer our love and to give our energies by visiting some of our members. Perhaps the ones we will visit today are feeling lost and alone. They might be wondering if anyone cares about them. Our visit tells them they are loved and we do care and so does God. We bring hope. We represent this ministry of relationship. They matter to God and to us. Now, there’s something to celebrate. Amen.