Herding Cats

What did we ever do before we had travel apps, google maps and Wayz?! One of the ways in which Dave and I are really different, is our sense of direction. He doesn’t have one. He will readily admit that. He can get lost even if he’s been to a place several times before. Me, on the other hand, once I’ve been someplace, the directions tend to park themselves in my brain and I can usually get back there, sometimes even by different routes. What we have in common though, is that we both hate, I mean hate, being lost. It causes me tremendous fear, anxiety and consternation.

We were talking about that the other day, can’t recall where we were going, but we didn’t get to the end of the driveway before plugging in the GPS. We talked about how it was in the old days, when we had to consult maps and how fun it was to get a ‘trip-tick’ if you were an AAA member, a little booklet of individual maps each pointing to a different leg of a trip. Now, getting lost seems like a thing of the past. The GPS makes us feel invincible, giving us courage to wander, be free to roam without worry.

It’s interesting to use a GPS when you are walking. I like to see myself represented like a little moving dot on my phone screen, letting me know I’m going in the right direction, it lets me be aware of my destination, if not my destiny.

All this came to mind because of a comment I read about today’s gospel, featuring the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The writer made the following statement:
“I’ve never known a sheep to be lost. The sheep knows exactly where it is, and is quite delighted to be there [–provided it’s not in danger]. It’s joy may be in being in that ‘wrong’ place, like a dog whose favorite place is simply running with ti’s nose in the wind or on the ground, delighted just to be on the run. Most of my own lost sheep have no interest in being found and even less interest in repenting. Yet great is the delight whenever they return…”(Comment, Working Preacher 9/10/2019)

This made me consider something I hadn’t before. That it isn’t the sheep intention to get lost (it isn’t the coin’s either for that matter! It’s just something that happens when sheep are most like sheep. The smell of the air, a sprig over here, something that sparks curiosity over there… and suddenly, “hey, where did everybody else go?” sheep, dogs, animals, people… wander.

We have a cat that visits the church sometimes. Her name is Bella. I got to know her because her owner was parked here while Bella was in the memorial garden. I thought it was a bit much to drive your cat around, but then her owner explained that Bella is pretty much an outdoor cat that really likes to roam. So they put a GPS tracker on her collar, and when she gets too far away from her home base, or too close to the highway, then they go looking for her to bring her back.

Bella comes here, apparently, “because of the birds.” See, Bella isn’t lost; Bella is just being a cat. She is not aware of the distress she causes. When she’s gone for a while, the owners check in on the GPS to find her. Once found, her owner will scoop her up with joy. There’s not wagging of the finger, to reprimanding, no shaming. Bella’s owner doesn’t scold her either… remember, she’s a cat. Wouldn’t do any good. Her owner goes out of her way to bring her home, because Bella, like her name, is precious in her sight.

How much more precious are we in the sight of God?

That’s the point that Jesus is trying to make to the scribes and Pharisees who are grumbling and complaining about how he eats with tax collectors and sinners, the great wanderers of their time. With their comments, the scribes and Pharisees reveal that they are aware of the faults of others, but not at all aware of their own actions. You see, they’ve already written them off as lost, not worth their time and effort. Why would you go out of your way for them? Why even acknowledge them? You risk contamination. You risk guilt by association. You risk condemnation.

So Jesus tells them a couple of parables about being lost and found, to answer for his choice of companions. He does this to let the sinner now knows that he matters; so that those beyond the pale can hold their heads high, he lets the prodigal know he can come home. The tormented can now have hope, and the ignored can now be heard and seen, not just reviled.

No longer cast into the shadows of prejudice and shame, the lost can come forward into the light. He does it because even wanderers are precious, even the lost have value, even the despised are worth redemption. Jesus goes to them because, once the lost are found, it brings God tremendous joy.

Of course, as we know, Jesus’ message will be received with scorn and skepticism. Jesus’ actions in reaching out to the lost are deeply disturbing to the rest of the flock —and no wonder: he is upsetting everything they’ve stood for, the rules, the regulations, all those things that keep polite society going, making a mockery of tradition. Those who are committed to preserving the status quo find everything Jesus does is an affront. His behavior Is outrageous. Well, no more outrageous than putting a GPS tracker on a cat!

That’s what you do for those you love. Keep track of them, provide a way for them to get home, a way to stay in touch and when all else fails, and commit to going to get them, rescue them, when they are lost and in danger, even if it takes you all the way to the cross.

I know that when I wander, when my lack of self-awareness turns into selfishness, when my self righteousness blinds me, when I think I can and must control the universe, when I lose my sense of direction, when I am anxious and afraid, I am deeply grateful that I can count on a way to get me home. Kind of like Bella, I, too, have a GPS.

Not trying to be overly cute when I call it a “God pointing system”? The cross I wear around my neck reminds me of God’s love for me. It has the power to bring me home no matter how lost I am.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

(This isn’t Bella but a pastel I did of a friend’s cat who reminds me of her)

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