The Lost Sheep – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xIn July 2011, our brother Tom and I spent a few days in Rome.  In many ways, the highlight of our visit was the pilgrimage we made, deep underground, into the Christian catacombs.  I remember it was a very hot day, but as we walked down and down, through the intricate labyrinth of tunnels, the temperature plummeted.  I remember shivering with cold, but also with awe.  We were on holy ground, for on each side of the tunnels were recesses for burial chambers.  Here, in the very first centuries after Christ, Christians buried their dead.  As my eyes slowly got used to the dim light I began to see that the walls were covered with a plethora of beautiful colored frescoes.In this place of the dead, these frescoes depicted hope – the hope of the resurrection.  Rome was still a pagan city and those first Christians had to be careful.  So the iconography was not too overt.  There are no crosses.  The most popular image of all, the one which conveyed most comfort and hope, is the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

We were in the Catacomb of Priscilla, and there is a particularly beautiful and famous image there, and I remember it took my breath away when I first saw it.  There is Jesus, as a young shepherd, carrying his lost sheep on his shoulders – and there are two other sheep looking on in rapt attention.  Here is Jesus, who has come looking for the lost, rescues them, and brings them safely home.  So, those early Christians buried in the catacombs believed that when they died, Jesus would gently carry them on his shoulders, safely home to heaven.

The parable of the lost sheep we’ve just read is full of tenderness.  We sense just how much the shepherd loves and cherishes each one of his sheep – so much so, that when one of his sheep gets lost, he goes looking for it, and never gives up until he finds it.  And the joy he feels when he finds it.  He brings it home gently carrying it on his shoulders and says to all his friends, “I’ve found my sheep!  Come rejoice with me!”

I think probably, of all the things that I have learned about God in my life, the most life-changing is the realization that throughout my life God has been looking for me – and he’s never given up!  I haven’t always known that.  I’ve often felt that it was me seeking God, longing for God.  But I now believe that my seeking after God is actually a response to the God who has been seeking me, from the day I was born.  St. John, in his first letter (Ch  4:19) puts it like this: “We love because God first loved us.”  Theologians call that “prevenient grace.”  I think I prefer “amazing grace.”

God is the shepherd who comes looking for his beloved until he finds them.  God is the father who saw his son, while he was still far off, and filled with compassion, ran up to him, put his arms around him, and kissed him.  “My son was dead, and has come to life: he was lost and has been found.  Come and rejoice with me!”  There is something wonderful – but also frankly sometimes scary – that God comes down to find us.  And God doesn’t wait to be found!  He comes looking for us.

There is a beautiful Christmas antiphon from the Wisdom of Solomon that says, “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, your almighty Word leapt down from heaven from your royal throne.”  Because God loves us, delights in us, and longs to find us and bring us home.  As Psalm 18 puts it lyrically, “I love you O Lord my strength, my rock, in whom I put my trust.  You brought me out into an open place, you rescued me, because you delighted in me.”  However much we may try to run away from God’s love, escape God’s quick-eyed love, God never gives up.  “I stood there, saved, surprised to be loved,” wrote C. S. Lewis.

To know that God is always drawing near to us, longing to catch our attention, that God is always seeking us, that our movement toward God is always a response to the God who calls first, can transform our prayers.  For a long time, my prayer was about me trying to get God’s attention – saying the right words, getting in the right position, and hoping to get some kind of response from God.  But what if prayer is not our trying to get a conversation going with God, but actually continuing a conversation which God has already begun!  That can be transformative.

In the corner of my cell I have a prayer corner, with an icon, candle and chair.  At one stage in my life I would wonder – how am I going to pray today?  Now, I pause at the threshold, knowing that God is already there, waiting for me, inviting me in – because he delights in me.

The image of Jesus the good shepherd, found all over the catacombs, is one you may like to have in the place where you pray.  As you pray with it, perhaps reflect on your own life.  Have you experienced God coming looking for you?  Or, have you had a time in your life where you were running away from God?  “Leave me alone, God.  What I hear you calling me to do or be, is just too hard, too frightening.  I’m OK just as I am.”

Or maybe at one time in your life you’ve been lost.  You’ve made bad choices, been in a far country like the prodigal son.  Do you know what it is to have been found, rescued?  “I stood there, saved, surprised to be loved.”  If you are feeling rather lost right now, come to Jesus, receive him in bread and wine and ask him to rescue you, and carry you home.

Wherever you are in your life of faith, give thanks.  Give thanks for that love divine which came down to seek us and find us.  Give thanks for that amazing grace, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who has rescued us, and brought us home, where we shall rest secure with God forever.


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  1. John McDargh on February 27, 2021 at 05:13

    Thank you for a powerful reminder of this great truth , Geoffrey.. I am brought to mind of a quote attributed to Pascal “You would not seek Me if I had not already found you” .. In my own prayer corner at our home I have my favorite icon of the Good Shepherd that was commissioned by an Episcopal parish of that name in Conn to be painted (the Orthodox would say “written”) by Franciscan iconographer Robert Lentz.. Lentz accepted the commission but on one condition.. “I don’t paint cuddly little lambs” he apparently told the rector. “I grew up on a farm and lambs are easy to love” .. So in this icon Lentz painted Jesus as a middle Eastern shepherd with a goat.. Goats are stubborn, eat anything, often bad tempered, smelly and well.. perpetually horny. … in other words a lot like us some of the time and some of us all of the time. A simple search for Robert Lentz OFM icons on the Trinity Icon site will find this icon. Grace and peace.. John

  2. Annette Foisie OSL on September 28, 2019 at 09:33

    Dear Br. Geoffrey, Your wonderful teaching today reminds me of an old hymn, 1887, in the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal; I have loved it for years:
    * “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; It was not I that found, O Saviour true; No, I was found of Thee.
    * ‘Thou didst reach forth Thy hand and mine enfold; I walked and sank not on the stormy sea; ‘Twas not so much that I on Thee took hold, As Thou, dear Lord, on me.
    * ‘I find, I walk, I love, but O the whole of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee; For Thou were long beforehand with my soul, Always Thou lovedst me.” Amen.
    Blessings, Annette

  3. Ruth West on September 22, 2013 at 20:35

    I remember a publication called THE HOUND OF HEAVEN in which is emphasized that God is always “on our trail”, seeking us, we who were
    lost. I praise His Holy Name that He did not give up on finding me. Thank you for this good sermon, Br. in Christ.

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