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Tammy Real-McKeighan

, Spiritual Spinach

It was cold and rainy when James Farrell’s plane landed in Ireland.

Then a junior at Boston College, the 21-year-old English major was studying abroad. He’d come to the Emerald Isle where he’d live in an apartment with four other roommates and study Irish literature at University College-Cork.

“It was the first time I’d ever gone to another country on my own,” he’d later say.

After flying about six hours, James was tired when he boarded a train that would take him from Dublin to Cork. He’d brought a suitcase and a bag with clothes and school supplies.

And he had his $1,800 Martin acoustic guitar.

The guitar was important to James, who’d owned it since he was 16 years old.

He’d used that guitar to earn money, playing gigs in different places. He planned on finding gigs in Ireland.

James boarded the train with his belongings and was still half asleep a couple hours later when the train reached Cork.

He got a cab to the apartment and was talking with a man at the front desk, when he noticed something: He didn’t have his guitar.

Tired and preoccupied with trying to get the cab and reach the apartment, James had lost the most valuable thing he’d brought with him.

“I must have left it in the cab or on the train,” he told the man at the desk.

The man called the train station while James got his bags into the apartment.

“They have it in the ‘lost and found’ at the train station,” the man told James.

Cork had been the last stop on the train’s route — otherwise a sweep might not have been made to see what was left behind.

And James’ guitar might have ended up in some other Irish town.

Not wanting to pay for another cab, James had to figure out how to get to the nearest bus stop — and what it would cost.

In Ireland, they use Euros, not dollars.

James walked in pouring rain to the bus stop.

And while fatigue and nervousness previously shielded him from negative thoughts, they were cascading over him now.

He sat on the bus in dread. He didn’t know where the lost and found place was in the train station — or if someone else might already have claimed to be the guitar’s rightful owner.

James began thinking how stupid he’d been to forget his guitar.

He finally reached the train station — and the lost and found area.

They had his guitar.

He breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“I was thrilled,” he said.

Now, he just had to worry about how to get his guitar — in its soft case — back to the apartment in the rain.

Four years after the case of the lost guitar, James sat in the Tribune office telling me the story.

I’ve never lost a guitar, but I’ve misplaced books, gloves and my purse.

I even lost — and by the grace of God — found a set of car keys I accidentally dropped in a snow drift.

But James’ story reminds me of a parable Jesus’ told about a woman who lost a coin.

We can find the story in the book of Luke, chapter 15, starting in verse eight.

When Jesus is telling this story, tax collectors and sinners are gathering near him.

And religious leaders are grumbling about it.

“This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they say.

Jesus first tells a parable about a man who leaves 99 sheep in his flock behind to go search for one that’s lost out in the countryside.

When he finds the sheep, the man puts it on his shoulders. He calls his friends and neighbors together, saying “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”

Jesus then gets to the point:

“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Jesus gives another example.

“Suppose a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” Jesus asks.

“When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I think Jesus is trying to teach these religious leaders a lesson.

They’re complaining because he is hanging out with an unseemly bunch.

Yet like a shepherd ready to retrieve a lost sheep — or a woman looking for that lost coin — Jesus is on a rescue mission — knowing it’s worth his time and energy to bring even one lost soul back to the fold.

I think it’s sad that Jesus knew the religious leaders could relate more to the joy of someone finding a lost sheep or coin — than the salvation of one of their fellow human beings.

And don’t you wonder what Christ thought about the religious leaders who didn’t recognize these folks as one of their own?

I think the religious leaders missed the fact that they needed rescuing just as much as the sinners and tax collectors.

Are we any different today?

Do we look down on people who don’t measure up to our standards? Have we become so jaded that we think there’s no hope for people who’ve gone down the wrong path in life?

Especially if they’ve gone way down that wrong path?

I’ve read where separation from the flock can cause stress and panic in real sheep

They don’t fare well in isolation.

And a lost sheep is in dangerous territory — more subject to predators and the hazards of rocky terrain, hungry and thirsty for the nourishment he’d normally find at home.

And more likely to face death.

Depending on their circumstances, humans can be subject to all sorts of dangers.

They, too, may face death — if not physically, then spiritually.

It’s a tough world out there and we must be careful. It’s true that bad company corrupts good character, but if we seek God for wisdom and trust in the Holy Spirit for guidance I believe our Lord can help us to help others.

Those tax collectors and sinners were in the best place they could be — next to Jesus.

I think the same is true for us.

We have a Savior who loves us so much he gave his life for us. And he lovingly works to bring us to himself — even after we’ve wandered far away.

He’s the best shepherd we could ask for.

Oh, by the way, James did make it back to the apartment — and felt like he’d passed his first big test while on his own in a foreign country.

It was dark and James was really hungry when he got back, but the apartment manager recommended an eatery just down the street — a place called Jackie Lennox’s Fish and Chips.

To this day, James says it’s best fish and chips he’s ever eaten.

Sounds like James’ lost guitar episode ended pretty well.

I guess you could say it was “all that and a bag of chips.”

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Tammy Real-McKeighan is a reporter with the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly spiritual column.

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