The Lectionary readings for today include two wonderful stories from the Bible - the Old Testament story (Exodus 32:1, 7-14) about Moses and God upon the mountain and the New Testament story of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners and his story of the Lost Sheep.
Among his many amazing talents, Moses would have made a great defense attorney in the modern world. Here is the scene -- Moses has gone up the mountain to receive the laws God has for God's people. The people get restless because Moses has not returned, so they press Aaron (Moses' brother) into service and have him make them a God to worship-a Golden Calf -- and they blame Moses for bringing them out of Egypt into the wilderness to die. God sees what is happening to the people of God and becomes very angry. God tells Moses, "Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have gotten into trouble."
There seems to be some confusion here. It was God who instructed Moses to lead God's people out of bondage into the Promised Land, but now God is blaming Moses for their failure. God goes on to say that God will consume his straying people with fire, but the Almighty will do good things for Moses because Moses has remained faithful.
That's when Moses, the defense attorney, goes to work. (You thought David against Goliath was small against big. How about going up against God Almighty?) Moses reminds God of what the Egyptians will say ("Their God brought them out of a fine land to slay them in the mountains, to consume them from the face of the earth.")
Moses says, "Turn from thy fierce wrath and repent of this evil against thy people and by the way, remember the promise you made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel, your servants, that you would multiply their descendants and you promised these people safe passage to a new home." (In other words, these folks are lost and need to be forgiven and guided.) And the Lord repented of the evil that he thought to do to the people of God. Moses won his case. The Hebrews are lost, but God continues to fulfill the promise of guiding them to Canaan with Moses' leadership.
The second story (Luke 15:1-10) tells us that Jesus spends time visiting and eating with sinful folk, which did not sit well with the self-righteous Pharisees. As they rebuked him, Jesus tells them a story about a shepherd who had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. He leaves the ninety-nine and goes to find the one lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it. This would have been hard for the Pharisees to understand because they even had laws that forbade them from doing business or having social connections with sinners.
The fact that Jesus would share his life with all types of people gives us hope because we are told in the Epistle, "He (Jesus) came into the world to save sinners." (1 Timothy 1:15). Our Lord, as the Good Shepherd, takes delight in the ninety-nine righteous people and gives them the reassurance of God's love, but our Lord is also willing and able to search for the lost soul. And speaking of being lost and sinful, the Apostle Paul in his first letter to Timothy says that "even though he was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insulter of Jesus (because he acted in ignorance) and foremost of all sinners, he has been forgiven and called into ministry." He was lost, but was definitely found.
There are times when we all feel like lost sheep because of our inner feelings and desires or when we have not acted according to our standards. Jesus knows this will happen to each and every one of us, and when it does, he reaches out in love and compassion to guide and direct us back to the fold.
God forgave the people of God in the wilderness and through God's son, Jesus, there is much rejoicing when a single lost soul is found and either finds or returns to the flock.
Thank God for Moses and his counsel to the Almighty, and also for Jesus and his wonderful compassion and insight into the human soul. He has certainly blessed, guided, and sustained all us-straying sheep of his flock.
There is a word of warning. The readings do not say that we can go out and be a lost sheep or soul, having our fling before we are found, but rather that when we are lost, and this happens to all of us from time to time, our Lord loves us and seeks to bring us back in line.
These readings from Scripture are so comforting because we are invited to eat at the Lord's table with him at communion, sinners though we are. We were lost and have been found, forgiven and called to minister to others in his name.
As we think about being lost and then found and at peace, may we also think about the millions of people around the world who have not found any faith or religion or peace. This Sunday marks the United Nations Day of Prayer for world peace. Pray that peace may someday come to the world and stay.