A children’s sermon preached by the Rev. Valerie Ann Hart at Faith Episcopal Church, Laguna Niguel, California on April 17, 2016.
Once upon a time there was a young lamb named Sophia. Sophia loved to play and explore. She was not content to just stay in the midst of the flock, she wanted to know if there was something interesting behind the big rock, or what was on the other side of the stream, or where the narrow path led. Sophia was so busy running and jumping with her friends and checking out the next new thing that she didn’t listen very carefully to what the older sheep were saying when they talked about the Shepherd.
One day she was following an interesting path that had yummy green grass along the side. She munched some grass then ran down the path for a while until she found some good looking grass. She munched some more grass and ran further down the path. She was having a wonderful time, enjoying the sunshine, the fresh grass and the adventure. She was having so much fun that she didn’t notice that the path was getting smaller and smaller. She didn’t even realize that there wasn’t really a path anymore, just patches of grass here and there. She danced around, climbed on rocks and ate more grass. Then she noticed that it was getting dark. She turned to go back to the flock and couldn’t find the path. She looked this way and that, but didn’t see any path. She looked at the rocks around her and they all looked the same in the twilight. She didn’t remember how she had gotten to where she was. Then she realized she was thirsty and she didn’t see any water. So she got very quiet and heard water running. She followed the the sound and discovered a small stream behind some rocks. She drank some water as the sun set. Frightened and alone in the dark she curled up under a large boulder and tried to sleep.
When the sun came up the next morning she looked around and everything looked strange – nothing that was familiar. She realized that she was lost. For a while she just lay there, crying, but there was no one to hear her and no one to comfort her. It was then that she remembered overhearing the other sheep talking about the Shepherd. She didn’t remember much, just that each sheep will recognize the voice of the Shepherd, and that the Shepherd knows each one’s name. Sophia decided that she needed to find this Shepherd, so she got up and started walking. She thought she would follow the stream so she would always have something to drink, but soon the stream dried up. When she got hungry she searched for grass, and found very little. But she kept walking.
One day she walked over a hill and down below she saw a flock of sheep. She didn’t recognize them, they were not the flock she had left, but they were sheep so she ran toward them. She was so excited and happy to have found them, but they all ignored her. She wanted to ask how to find the Shepherd, but she didn’t get a chance because no one spoke to her. She started eating some of the grass because she was very hungry, and even though they let her stay, the sheep were so busy talking to one another no one spoke to her. She stayed with them for a few days, but continued to be ignored, so she decided that it was time to move on.
She ate a bunch of grass, drank some water and headed out. She didn’t know which way to go, so she just wandered wherever it felt right. It didn’t take long before the pasture lands dried out and she was getting hungry, but she kept walking all day and hiding in the rocks at night. Finally, she came across a river and followed it. There was good grass growing on the bank and water to drink as she walked along. One day she saw a flock of sheep on the other side of the river. She knew that it must be possible to get to them, but she couldn’t find a way. She called out to them and asked, but no one responded. She longed to be with them, hoping they could help her find the Shepherd, but couldn’t figure out how to get across the river, so she sadly continued on.
A few days later she came upon another flock. When she walked up to them they looked at her in a funny way. She heard someone say, “We don’t let her kind in our flock.” She didn’t understand what they meant until she heard a very young lamb ask, “Why is she so skinny and dirty?” Then she realized that her wanderings had changed her. Her cute fluffy white fleece was stained and full of briers from wandering in the wilderness, and her days without food had left her little more than skin and bones. Sadly, she walked on. She didn’t want to be with sheep who didn’t want her.
The next few days were difficult. Now she truly felt alone. What flock would want someone like her. She felt like giving up. She began to be afraid that even the Shepherd would not want her now, since she was so ugly. But she kept walking and thinking about the Shepherd.
She was still following the river when she went around a bend and saw a flock of sheep enjoying a fertile pasture. She hesitantly went up to them, because she was hungry and hoped to have a little grass to eat. Two of the sheep saw her and ran up to her. The first said “Welcome, come join us. We have more than enough grass.” The other said, “Are you hungry? Let me show you where the best grass is?” Once she had eaten her full some of the other young sheep came up and asked her to play. She forgot about how dirty she was, and with each passing day she felt healthier and stronger.
One day she heard a voice. It sounded familiar. She ran toward it and there was the Shepherd who opened his arms to her and said, “Sophia! I’m so happy to see you! I’ve been looking for you!” He picked her up in his arms and she knew she was home.
Then the Shepherd looked at the flock around him and said, “Thank you for welcoming my lost sheep and taking care of her.” To which the sheep replied, “We loved meeting her. Can she stay with us?”
And so it was that Sophia stayed with that flock and followed the Shepherd wherever he led. I’d like to say she never got lost again, but there was the time that Suzy wanted to explore that canyon, and the time that Mary Jane invited her to climb that hill, and one or two other times when she wandered a little too far off. But each time, the Shepherd watched from the hilltop and as soon as Sophia realized she was lost again, and called out for help, he, or one of the sheep that he sent out, came to her and brought her home again.