Actually in the reading from Exodus, I was a little afraid of how close God came to just getting rid of the whole bunch of them. They had completely turned their backs on God. They even created an idol, a golden calf, to worship and had even sacrificed to it. A stiff-necked people God called them. I can’t help but think that God thinks the same of many of us today, a stiff-necked people who have completely turned our backs on God. Oh maybe we haven’t created a golden calf, but there are many new idols that people are worshipping; I know people who practically worship the phone, ipad or computer…can’t live without them. Can’t go more than a few minutes without checking in. Or maybe the idol is an ideal or political view that is so far from what Jesus taught but they are blinded by hate or prejudice. I hope we all realize that golden idols don’t have to be large to be real. The little pocket sized idol can be just as dangerous to our spiritual life because we think they don’t really hurt anybody and that we can handle them. But they can grow into big idols if we don’t get rid of them now. We don’t need golden idols, we have Jesus.
As the reading continues, Moses implored the Lord and talked God out of wiping out his people. We’ve heard before that Moses was a stutterer and was afraid to speak, but if I ever needed anyone to speak for me, I would call on Moses. Anyone who could talk God out of wiping out his people after they had turned their backs on him obviously had a gift of persuasion that the best attorneys today could only dream of. And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Then there’s today’s gospel. I would like to focus on the ninety-nine sheep. Everyone usually focuses on the one lost sheep who was lost and is found. But I think there are a few lost sheep who just hang around with the large group, pretending to be found. They act like everything is OK. I mean they come to church every week, they are in the bible study, the men’s group, the ladies’ auxiliary…but still feel lost inside. I was talking to a friend who has been a member at one of the large mega-churches in town for over ten years and he mentioned that he has never met the pastor. I think one of the things I really like about St. Michael’s is that it is not a huge mega-church where you can get lost in the crowd. People know each other and look out for each other. The pastoral staff has made new and existing members feel welcomed and a part of the flock. When someone does feel lost, there are always people around to come to their aid. We are getting a new shepherd, but our new priest doesn’t need to worry about finding lost sheep all by himself.
Another thing to remember about the ninety-nine sheep is, the angels rejoice when we repent as well. We may not be turning our lives over from a horrible life away from God like that one sheep, but when we ask God for forgiveness, angels still rejoice. I remember as a young man in the Catholic church standing in line for confession trying to figure out how many times I had lied to my parents or punched my brother and I would see the same old ladies and sometimes the nuns in line and wonder, “What could they be confessing? All I ever see them doing is praying and going to mass? Do they even sin?” Now, all I know is, we all sin, in some way, every day. And sin, hurts God and us. And we need to repent. And when we do…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. So we have a choice, stiff-necked people or people who bring joy to angels.