A Sermon for 15 October 2017
A reading from Exodus 32:1-14. Listen for God’s word to us as we hear one more Sunday about the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. Listen.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed the LORD’s mind about the disaster that the LORD planned to bring on the people.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Have you ever seen one of those stage plays where the audience is involved in picking the ending? Usually something like a murder mystery, the actors have rehearsed all sorts of ways to finish the plot. Was it Ms. Scarlett in the Library with the wrench? Or Mr. Green in the Kitchen with the lead pipe? Once the audience chooses which way it will go, the actors spring back into action, as if never missing a beat, to show how the story unfolds. It never goes quite the same way twice. Alternate endings are possible depending on the will of the people.
We forgot we have the power, in pretty much every situation, to influence how things will unfold. So often we feel as if only one way is possible in the story of our lives; but it is not so. Fear often holds us back. Literally moving us out of the higher realms of our brain’s ability to imagine alternate endings. Fear leaves us operating out of what’s often referred to as our “Lizard brain” – the oldest part of our brains that develops first in the womb. It’s an important part of who we are so we can instinctually act when our lives really are in danger. But allowing ourselves to daily live out of our lowest, lizard brains is the last thing needed from human beings by this planet. God gifted us with frontal lobes, the most complex part of the human brain where impulse control, consideration of actions’ effect on others, even reasoning about consequences can take place. The goal is to use the amazing heads we’ve been given so that we can envision possibility number one. Or possibility number two. And even possibility number three, four, five, six, and seven. Endless alternative options in any given situation.
I wish the Israelites at Sinai would have taken some collective deep breaths. To move from operating out of their lizard brains into the higher realms of conscious ability. If we’ve ever given up something we really love for Lent, then we might understand how long 40 days can feel. Moses, the one who has guided them miraculously into freedom, and God, the One who has been present to them all the way, convene forty days on the mountain. And the people below panic. They’ve just been given the commands of God for how they can live connected rightly to God and each other. In awe they saw the thick cloud envelop the mountain. They heard the thunder roll and witnessed the lightening flash. They heard command number one: have NO OTHER GOD’s before me. And command number two: MAKE NO IDOLS! The either have really short memories, or refused to listen in the first place. Maybe it even shows that the commands of God foreshadowed what anyone studying human behavior could guess would happen.
Afraid Moses had been torn to pieces by some wild animal on that mountain, or maybe convinced the ole’ fool at last was smothered by the thick cloud of God; the people demand brother Aaron do something concrete in their midst. They want something tangible to show them the way. Impatient with the wait. Anger certainly on the rise. And afraid they’ve been abandoned. They beg for a god to be made that can lead them out of that harsh desert. The salt in the wound is that even as Aaron collects all their gold for the calf, God had been describing to Moses a sanctuary where a LORD who seems to be passionately in love with the people could dwell among them forever. According to Exodus 25, step one was to begin with “an offering; for all whose hearts prompt them to give.” Specifically, it would be an offering to God of “gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and crimson yarns. Fine linen, goat’s hair, tanned rams’ skins, (and) fine leather; acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7). God wants the finest of all they have for a sanctuary in which the people would be able to lift up their hearts in gratitude to God. Meanwhile . . . the people circle Aaron to demand some new deity immediately!
Tragic. So tragic when our fear demands our one and only imaginable way.
How else might the story unfold? If the people hadn’t let their fear get the best of them, if they could have held on just a bit longer; what other options might had they imagined together?
Our other reading for today offers an alternative. “Rejoice in the LORD always,” the Christians of Philippi are instructed. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The LORD is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:4-6). Wow! If the people could have kept back their fear. If they could have remained a bit more patient; then imagine the party they could have enjoyed! They could have sang and danced at the mountain’s edge. Remembering the LORD God always is near, they could have built a fire as a sign of the fiery column that had led them. They could have sat down to rehearse with one another the first time God provided for their thirst. They could have told tales of the remarkable double manna portion waiting them every sixth morning on the desert floor. They could have taken out a few of the quail feathers and swopped stories of how good it tasted when first they arrived in a rush from Egypt. And Egypt: that flight they finally made?! Aaron might have taken the opportunity to remind them to pour out their requests once again to God. God heard and acted every time in the past. What makes them think this time will be any different? Maybe allow a little gratitude to mingle with their concern just to remember that the One to whom they pray their prayers is nearer than their very own breath. It would have been a completely different unfolding of their story . . . it can be a totally alternate way for our own as well.
It’s been a rough go these past few months. Starting with Harvey, intensifying with Irma, and Maria too. Finding out in the narthex after worship that a church across town was being shot up. And just a week later, the most horrendous mass shooting our country has known. Fires rage out of control in California again. Now more than ever, an alternate way is needed. . . . A heart-felt reflection offered by one of our denomination’s current General Assembly Co-moderators, included these words this week: “Are these tragedies changing the way we live now? Are we giving up a Starbucks or two so that we’ll have some loose change to send to a disaster relief organization? Are we talking in our churches about ways we can do more as congregations? . . . How does our faith in God manifest itself in these days?” (https://achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/what-a-difference-a-tragedy-makes/).
We can get caught up in the fear – there’s enough of it out there. We can grow weary and impatient and even angry during such difficulties. . . . Or we can turn to God. Rejoice in all the ways we see the will of God being lived out as neighbor helps neighbor and compassion is given more room to grow. We can rehearse all the ways we see provisions are being made. And instead of wringing our hands in worry, we can live in gratitude for the gift of each day – for another opportunity to embody God’s ways among this world. We have the power to significantly influence the outcome of these days. How it all unfolds can radically be impacted for good by us. . . . Breathe deep, brothers and sisters of Christ. Through us, let the story unfold another way.
In the name of the life-giving father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)