Soul Imprints

Luke 15:1-13

I would like to start this morning by reading to you a card my wife received last week from one of her former Master students. I read this to you, and risk embarrassing her, firstly and foremost, because I am immensely proud of her. And this is why. Nancy could have seen her profession as a teacher as a career. Her main goal could have been her advancement into the echelons of Brock University. Rather, she stayed true to her passion of teaching. Although many of her colleagues chided her for this, saying that her research was not academic enough because she focused on practical research, children’s physical education, children’s movement research; she was chided, because she did not publish in pure academic journals that, in my opinion, just end up sitting on shelves collecting dust, a chiding, which at one point cost her her tenure to fulltime professor, which she later attained, a chiding that came from being a female in a male dominated faculty, (and chiding is a kind word for what she endured) Nancy stayed loyal to her commitment to the students and her passion for teaching.
So yes, I am very proud of my wife for the imprint she made on so many young lives, an imprint which, in my opinion, changes footprints made in the sands of this life. And the second reason I wish to read this card to you is because it is the only resource I have to honour all those who have, in the past, or still do today, remain passionate about their roles as teachers and the imprint they have made, or continue to make, in the lives of young people at no small sacrifice to themselves.
I share with you what that meant to just one student. I quote:

I am really grateful
for having a mentor like you.
So kind,
so generous,
so thoughtful in every way
and so supportive.
Seldom does anyone meet
a person like you.
I just want to tell you
a big heartfelt thank you.
I want to thank you
for showing me the way.
For showing me the light of the day.
Thank you
for helping me out
without condition or doubt.
You have helped me
in so many ways.
From the bottom of my heart
thank you.

You may have noted from the rhythm of Nura’s words that she is not originally from Canada. Nura came to Canada with her family from the middle east. Unfortunately, her family brought much of their culture with them. Nura has seven brothers. Because Nura is a woman, she is expected to not only cook and clean for them but to do their laundry.
Understand, that Nura is in university and that all her brothers are older than she. These are grown men. Nura is very bright and has a passion for learning. Yet with all of the expectations of her family, she could not put the time or effort into her studies that they required.
Nancy’s saw Nura as a person in her own right, saw her gifts and potential. She took time to understood her struggles. She reinforced who Nura is and encouraged her. And, if I know my wife, she probably told Nura to go tell her brothers that they live in Canada now and they can go do their own bloody laundry.
So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Absolutely nothing. But if we swing our attention back to our scripture this morning, I think there are parallels here. Today’s scripture is about the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. It’s about knowing another’s name and searching for their potential and imprinting the character of the teacher/shepherd on the student/ sheep.
The story begins with a group of scribes and Pharisees who are standing about grumbling about Jesus’ association with tax collectors and sinners. These are, in effect, Jesus’ colleagues in ministry. Scribes and Pharisees whose job it is to teach the people of God, God’s law. Yet, they are in effect saying to Jesus, whom they consider to be a novice teacher, “Why are you wasting all your time with these students? They are hopeless. You should be publishing in the great journals of the day. As a learned person, you are above this.” To which Jesus responded, “Which
of you, having lost one sheep, would not leave the other 99 and go and search for it?” Quite frankly, none of the scribes and Pharisees would ever think to do that. Searching for lost sheep is risky business. Sheep can navigate the steep hills of Judea better than any shepherd can. There are any number of crevasses a sheep could slip into. Along with that, a sheep in those hills has many predators; jackals, hyenas, leopards, foxes, to name just a few. Why would they risk their careers, extend themselves, put in that effort or time on tax collectors and sinners!
They’re just sheep! They’re already lost. What does one more or less really matter? There will be another class next year. The scribes and Pharisees don’t get it.
Here’s where the novice tries to educate the veteran teachers, those entrenched in their ways. Why would you go search for the one which is lost? Because, Jesus says, this shepherd/teacher is God. God has a passion for God’s sheep. God knows each sheep by name. Sees the sheep as more than just a dumb animal, and trust me, having worked a short time on a sheep farm, sheep can be pretty dumb. But God sees each sheep as a creation of God, and to lose a creation of God is paramount to losing a part of God because each creation bears the imprint of the Creator, the recovery of this thing which has been lost, whether it be a person, an animal close to extinction, the land, sea or sky, is to recover one of God’s image bearers.
It is the recognition that God’s imprint on creation is indelible even if it is on tax collectors and sinners. This is a parable whose truth is found in relationship. God does not want to be the teacher who is more comfortable being remote from the students in their class., who stands up front never venturing down into the class, and believes that education is, what I call, information exchange. I will tell you what I know, you do your assignments, spew back to me what I have told you on your exams, I will grade them and decide if you pass or fail. As much as the scribes and Pharisees liked a system like this; learning biblical text and doctrine and keeping the law , Jesus says this is not how God works.
And, for a moment, let us be honest with ourselves here. It is how many of us like our relationship with God to work. I can’t tell you how many students have requested of Nancy to just teach them what they need to know for the final exam, teach them what they need to do to get that ‘A’ and they will do it but not much more. They just need to do well in the course so they can stay in their program. They/we don’t the instructor/God getting too close to them. Seeing them, knowing them, seeing their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities. Let’s just keep our relationship with God at arms length and just tell us what we need to know to get into heaven.
It is our loss. It is the student’s loss for we/they lose the opportunity to be nurtured, guided, nourished, engaged and have the imprint of God placed upon us. This is what Jesus is trying to tell the scribes and Pharisees. There is no other way to be in relationship with God for God is creator. God says, I call you by your name and see you. I want to mentor you, nourish you, nurture you into wholeness. I want to imprint myself upon you soul. And so passionate I am about this, that I will leave the other 99 and go search just for you. You, tax collectors, sinners, scribes and Pharisees alike are that important to me. I am willing to face every predator in life’s wilderness for you. I am willing to take each stumbling step and search every crevasse for you suffering the wounds these sharp rocks will inflict. I will enter the darkness of a cave, have the world shake and block the entrance with a stone, but still I will find you
because you are my child, my creation, my love. And God shows God’s passion for us by being relentless in God’s search, in being insistent, tireless and even downright stubborn in pursuing those who are constantly losing themselves.
Jesus looks over to the scribes and Pharisees. “If we as rabbis believe that God has already found us, that God has blessed us, that since we have been chosen by God, shouldn’t we be willing to leave those sheep who are safe and go look for the ones who are lost; those who need to be recognised and known by hearing someone else call their name; those who want someone to see past the clothes that the predators of this world have torn to shreds and that they possess by having fallen down, to see God’s creation within; to see these tax collectors and sinners as God’s children as well?”
This morning, think back to a teacher who most impacted your life. I bet you can’t remember one fact they taught you. But I bet you remember them because they took the time and effort to know you, could call you by your name, saw you and imprinted your soul with nourishment and guidance.
Maybe we should take some time as well to think of the kind of imprint we leave on the souls of others.

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