A Lesson Learned: Jimmy the Goat


The text for this sermon is Luke 15:1-10.  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on September 16, 2007.


Dear Friends in Christ,

The fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel contains three great lost and found parables:  the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.  Today our gospel reading covers just the first two, probably because the length of the reading is about right for a Sunday morning worship service. 

There is a common thread that runs through these three parables:  something or someone is lost;  someone becomes almost irrational in their longing search for what is lost; and, there is tremendous joy when the lost has been found.

When I think of parable of the lost sheep, I cannot help but remember a little African pigmy goat named Jimmy.  Jimmy became a Lutheran when we were in need of a little sheep to participate in our choir musical on a Sunday morning in 1976.  I was the youth pastor and the one playing Jesus, complete with long hair, beard, robe and sandals.  The heart of the musical was the parable of the lost sheep. I was  selected to go find and purchase a lamb or young sheep at a good price.  In Los Angeles County that was difficult and I ended up purchasing this little African pygmy goat for a pretty reasonable price.

I still can’t believe that the church allowed us to do this.  We covered the first 4 pews with plywood and then put a piece of carpet over that to look like grass.  I had about 10 children sitting around me listening to the stories…the lights would fade over us and come up on the chancel where the drama of the story would take place…meanwhile the adult choir was on risers behind the drama.

I still remember the action on stage when the teenage shepherd was looking all over for that lost sheep and then came the dramatic moment when the sheep was found.  The shepherd came on stage holding little Jimmy, this small pygmy goat, and wouldn’t  you know, right on cue it seemed, he let out his little bleat…Then hundreds of balloons were released to rise up to the top of the church and the choir sang their hearts out.  Well, you have to realize we were near Hollywood.

Our congregation owned our own camp, so we retired this great little actor to the camp to be the mascot.  He was named “Jimmy” by the teenagers for a couple of reasons.  Because I was driving a GMC Jimmy at the time and they thought it was hilarious to name a goat after me.

Jimmy became beloved at the camp for all ages.  He was gentle and loved kids of all ages to pet him. 

Here’s the part of the story that I really want to tell you.  Jimmy was at camp when a giant rainstorm came and caused a devastating flood to wreck the camp.  It was so fortunate that it was winter and no kids were in camp.  Thanks be to God that the caretaker family, the husband and wife and their two young children, had practiced an escape route as part of the accrediting for the American Camping Association, and so were safe.  But Jimmy was nowhere in sight.  He was presumed dead.  A few days later when folks from the church were able to get to the camp site and view the rubble that was all that remained of the two dormitories, the lodge and the caretaker residence, they saw a most amazing sight.  Across the valley, on the other side of the still raging river, on top of a mountain of debris, was Jimmy, alive and well. 

The next Sunday in church, not only the caretaker family, but Jimmy was brought into that Lutheran service for a joyous celebration!

I want to lift up something very important about Jesus’ parables of the lost and found.  You and I would do well to read those parables closely and see that the real message is about the heart and nature of God.  It is God’s need and desire and inclination to find us.  We can certainly dwell on who the lost are, whether it’s us here today or folks out there.  It’s better to stop and just enjoy this great truth that the universe is driven by the need of God to find all of us in our lost-ness.  God wants no one to be lost.

Does it make a difference to you that Jesus reveals how overjoyed God in heaven is whenever anyone who has been lost is found?  Whenever anyone who has lost touch with the faith returns? 

When I think of Jimmy the African pygmy goat and his story, I think that if God could care for one of the least of his creatures, how much more does he care for all of us who have been created in His likeness?

Let me end with a cute story.  A pastor posed this question during a children’s sermon, “Would you go after the one lost sheep or stay with the ninety-nine?”  One boy quickly responded, “I’d go after the one lost sheep, but I’d take the other ninety-nine with me.”