“God Loves Sinners” – 09-15-13 – Proper 19 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

The lost sheep was found. The shepherd proclaimed, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The lost coin was found. The woman said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Jesus said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Do we get the idea that sinners have value? Sinners are wanted. The search is on for sinners. Paul knows he was a big, big sinner – persecuting early followers of Jesus. As Paul writes his guidelines for church leaders in 1 Timothy 1, he does not mince words about how bad he was. But, he is fast to say that he did not know he was wrong. Paul says, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But, I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.”

Is there a heavy sin abiding in your soul and mind and heart? Take it out. Look at it. Hold it. Weigh it. Do you see the open hands of Jesus waiting for your heavy object? Give it over! Place your burden into the hands of Jesus. Jesus already took care of it. Already! And now Jesus can say to you and about you, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” If Jesus notices that you are not looking very relieved he will look you straight in the eyes and say, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Now dance! Dance! There is a party in heaven going on and the party is in your honor. You are free of the thicket in which you were caught. You are the valuable coin which was found in the dim room. See those angels dancing, being careful with their wings so as not to bump into other wings in the dance.

It is as if the Psalmist of Psalm 51 wrote the words just for you centuries ago. Listen. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin. … Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me, and would have me know wisdom deep within. Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; that the body you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my wickedness. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Does not a clean heart feel like a giant relief? Are you letting yourself feel that relief or are you clinging to that guilt and disapproval of yourself because it has become part of you. Cut the cord. Let it go! I shall let it go! You and I can be new persons – persons we don’t even recognize. What shall we do with our new selves? We may need to look for a group called Sin-Let-Go Anonymous! We should be floating, we can be that free! Oh, the angels are singing about our release!

How does our Old Testament lesson fit this picture – Exodus 32:7-14. This is the account of Moses pleading with God not to be too harsh on the Israelites who became tired, disappointed, disillusioned, and neglected while Moses was with God on top of the mountain for 40 days. Would you and I not get tired and lose our sense of loyalty at this desertion.? How could God expect this mass of people to be waiting in a trusting mode. They talked Aaron into forming a golden calf so that they would have something they could see to worship. God was not visible. Moses was not in sight. They needed something tangible.

But, obviously, God expected more loyalty, more faithfulness. Imagine how guilty Aaron must be feeling. He had been persuaded to do something that he knew was wrong. But he was the leader in Moses’ absence! Should he not have been stronger? Remember the coaching of Jesus centuries later when Jesus says that we shall be persistent in asking. You know even God gets tired of being pested and he gives the requester what the requester is requesting. When we do that, we find that the favor we were asking was not such a good idea anyway. I think that is how Aaron must have felt. Possibly, he could have been pested by the Israelites beyond his endurance level. I don’t even want to think about the possibility that he thought it was a good idea. He was being left out of the closed door conference on the top of the mountain. By default Aaron is the person who was left to babysit – Israelite-sit we could say.

Imagine that you and I are Aaron. Would we be harboring a grudge toward Moses and God? I think that I would be harboring resentment. I am a bit prone to first reach toward revenge – at least I was. I like to think that I have improved with God’s help. How would I have handled this dilemma of Aaron, especially if he knew how to take bits of gold or whatever metal it was and to shape it into a calf? Wait, we can’t shape hot metal with our hands. Was there a mold of some sort – a golden calf mold? After doing a bit of research, I learned that there could have been a wooden calf-shape over which the melted gold was poured or there could have been a mold of some sort with additional shaping done with a tool. Regardless of the method, the calf was later “burned” and ground into powder by Moses. Not only that, he placed this powdered gold in water and made the Israelites drink it. This is scripture.

The interesting thing about this account is that when God was angry at these people, Moses pleaded with God and God swallowed his own anger. So Moses left the top of the mountain with the two tablets of The Ten Commandments in his arms. But when Moses came close enough to this mass of Israelites and saw their revelry, he himself became so angry that he slammed The Ten Commandments on the ground where they broke into pieces and he ranted and raved and burned the calf in the fire as I have described. When Moses, in his anger, confronted Aaron, Aaron’s story went like this: “I did ask the people to remove their gold jewelry and give it to me and as the gold melted this golden calf appeared.” Aaron reminded Moses that his absence had been long. There was no communication. Aaron and the people did not know what was happening between Moses and the Lord on the mountain top.

Paths of thought which we can pursue include the lack of communication, who or what was found in this episode, who repented, who was forgiven? Remember, Jesus had not yet come to live as a man on earth. The Israelites could not hand their sin to Jesus and accept forgiveness. These people had to work out their salvation somehow. Moses and God took care of the punishment. The Levites (descendants of the son of Jacob named Levi) came forward when the whole body of Israelites were invited to seek atonement. The method was for the Levites to slaughter their sisters and brothers, the Israelites who did not come forward to seek forgiveness. Then Moses made himself the atonement between God and the Israelites.

Moses first asked God to forgive these people’s sin. He added to God, “If you will not do that, blot my name from the book you have written.” Moses was willing to be the sacrificial lamb in this situation. But then who will be found? Surely, we can’t say the golden calf as we earlier spoke about the one lost sheep that was found or the lost coin which was found. The golden calf was destroyed when discovered. Was there some lingering or hidden value in this calf? I don’t think that there was rejoicing in heaven when the calf came into being from non-existence.

Who repented? It seems as though Moses is the one repenting. Oh, and the Levites who responded to the call of Moses to come to him if they were “for” the Lord. Sounds like the parable of Jesus with the Lost Son – the son who had learned his lesson the hard way and was asking for forgiveness; the son was repenting just as Moses was inviting the Israelites to repent.

But, who was forgiven? Exodus is very exciting reading. Instead of grabbing a novel for your next reading session, reach for Exodus. We are in Chapter 32 today. Start there! Read until you get to the strange outcome concerning forgiveness and unforgiveness and what, ultimately, was the stumbling block – the sin as God declared it and the punishment that fell to the surprised sinner.

I am moving to the path of communication. Why did God not text a message to Aaron and the Israelites who were waiting for a great length of time without hearing a thing from God and Moses? Of course you are right. Texting was a thing of the future. But God has his own methods of communication. Why did he not send an angel to Aaron or one of the Israelites or all of the Israelites? Surely, angels were in existence. A disappearance of forty days and forty nights would be very puzzling. Faith would become thinner and thinner until the thread breaks.

Think about ourselves. Are we inanimate as the lost coin? Then it is not our fault if we roll and get lost. Do you agree? Are we mindless as a sheep who follows one green blade of plant after the other until we tumble from the edge of the cliff. Oh, I know. We are like the lost son – yes a person with a mind and a will of stubbornness and selfishness. That is us. Well, at least it is me. Were you ever lost? I was. Thanks be to God for communicating with me. I am sure there was rejoicing in heaven over one lost sheep who was found. What about you? Was there rejoicing in heaven when you were called and repented.

If you are still lost, let yourself be found. Listen for the word of the Lord coming to you however God chooses to come to you. Let us let ourselves be found and know that we are loved. We are loved sinners who are invited to repent without ceasing! Amen.