“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders.” Luke 15.4-5.
Unusually, today’s post didn’t start with the text of Scripture that heads it, but with the liturgical response with which I start my daily devotions.
I use as my devotional framework the Church of England’s Prayer During the Day from Common Worship: Daily Prayer, and in that liturgy each day begins with the call “O God, make speed to save us” and the response “O Lord, make haste to help us.”
So yesterday, I said those words as usual and then paused to set my heart and mind on God; but as I did so, I received a picture in my mind’s eye. It was of an arid, stone-strewn landscape under a blazing sun. The horizon shimmered in the scorching heat. There was neither water nor vegetation, just the odd thorn bush. And stumbling through this wilderness, in a state of near collapse, was a sheep – separated from the flock and utterly lost, bleating in desperation.
And I suddenly made the connection. That opening call and response of my Daily Prayer is – or is meant to be – the bleat of all God’s lost sheep. Each morning I and lost sheep everywhere are uttering a “Baaaa!”
I returned to my picture. I saw the sheep’s legs fail it; saw it sink to the ground; saw it’s eyes close. But then I saw a shadow fall over it and, oh yes, I saw the shepherd’s strong arms scoop the sheep up and drape it across his shoulders. I saw him carry it to water and pasture. I saw him restore it to the flock.
“O God, make speed to save us.” That is salvation. To be found by the shepherd and carried back to where I belong. “O Lord, make haste to help us.” That is the help I am in need of – and in need of daily. That is why this call and response is there every day. For the fact is that however close to the Shepherd I try to keep myself, I stray. That is my nature. I am not lost just once and found just once: I have been lost and found a thousand times and I will continue to be lost and found my whole life through. But I will always be found – and found before it is too late. My “Baaa” is a recognition of my plight, but the Shepherd has already promised “Before they call, I will answer.” (Isaiah 65.24). As soon as I begin to wander he comes after me. This morning, as every morning, he’s on his way; so I can call out with confidence …
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
… knowing that indeed he will.