This is the time of year when parishes wake up from a long summer nap and get cracking. Vacationers return and we are glad to see them and each other. Parish Lifelong Faith Formation programs crank back up and DREs and catechists are busy organizing classes and greeting the kids. The choir starts practicing again after winging it through the summer. Committees begin to meet again.
It’s very satisfying to look around and see the church doing what the church is supposed to do. Lots of people are helping out with this or that, taking responsibility and sharing leadership.
Then this Gospel selection from Luke appears and there’s a problem. Now here’s the problem: We are doing church, and that’s good. But we have followed Jesus to worship together, to be renewed, so that every week we can follow Jesus out — out to the school and the hospital and the bank and the office and the neighborhoods. We gather together to follow Jesus, then we split up and follow Jesus out to seek the lost, the broken, the bleating, the alone.
Jesus seems to care inordinately about the ones who aren’t here. Jesus came to save the lost — lost sheep, lost coins, lost brothers, lost prostitutes, lost loan sharks, lost weaklings. Jesus came all this way looking for them. And those we have given up on or forgotten about or dismissed because of their unworthiness are the very ones that Jesus has headed out to look for. He looks back over his shoulder to see if we are following him.
Remember what happens every-time somebody who was lost gets found? Amazing grace. Celebration for all because we are so inextricably bound one to another, church leader to stranger, hungry to full, joyous to mean-spirited, faithless to faithful. What happens when the lost sheep gets found is that the joy is contagious. And the 99 sheep have an excuse to throw a party, which is what we come together to do every week.