A woman pastor from the Netherlands came across my path recently, and meeting her was a mentally and spiritually stimulating and uplifting experience.
Trained in the reform tradition, she found herself drawn not to large congregations, but to smaller groups, groups of carers and caregivers, or those in need of care. To this end, she immersed herself also in the catholic tradition, so that little would estrange from those groups who would benefit from her spiritual support. At the moment, in Holland, she is the pastor at an institution for the mentally disabled, among them sufferers of dementia, Alzheimer’s and some bad cases of epilepsy.
Her sermons in this institution, she told me, however well prepared, were subject to surprising responses and sometimes interjections from her listeners which could change the whole tone and even theme of the homily. I’m learning to think on my feet, she laughed. And told me the story of the parable of the lost sheep.
She had based her sermon that morning, she said, on Luke 15, and was telling the story of the lost sheep with lots of drama : the weather was wild, but the shepherd left his 99 other sheep out in the open and went off to search for the one, poor, lost lamb. And could not find it, and kept searching, until at last he heard a soft bleating, a solitary mmaa-aaa…
Her audience had been so quiet, you could hear a pin drop, and she was thrilled, she said, with the impact she was making, assuring her listeners that Jesus would not let one sheep go astray. But at this point an elderly man rose and interrupted her without apology or preamble : That is not the sound a sheep makes, he said. A sheep bleats baa-aaa. What the shepherd found must have been a small goat; it’s a goat that goes mmaa-aa !
And so, laughingly, she ended her story (and her sermon), with the shepherd going home with a kid over the one shoulder and a lamb over the other…
With what grace and love was the parable retold, reflecting the love and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And giving new meaning, so I thought, to Matthew 25 : 31 – 46.