By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
October 12, 2008
Read: Exodus 32:1-14 and Matthew 22:1-14
So what in the world is going on for us today? There is much anxiety on and about Wall Street, the stock market moving up and down at alarming speed. In just a few weeks, we will be participating in a national election and there is some fire in the belly regarding just who one might be voting for. There is much fear and anxiety about the future in the air all around us. Who will lead us through and out of this seeming mess we find ourselves in? Who will ensure that there are jobs to be had? Who will ensure that our future, our children’s future, is taken care of? Who will lead us through?
Thousands of years ago, the Israelites stepped out in faith to follow Moses through the desert wilderness to the promised land. Today’s outtake of part of that story is not a particularly shining moment in the life of faith of the Israelites. They had been led out of slavery in Egypt, through the miraculous parting of the Sea, experiencing manna from heaven for food. All quite extraordinary experiences. Then Moses took some time out to go and talk to God. Apparently it seemed to be taking a very long time. The people became worried, anxious and fearful. What happened to our leader, Moses? Where is he? Who will lead us out of this mess?
Do you remember those 7-UP commercials from a while back? They had a whole string of them – a group of young people out in the desert or along some abandoned byway, and it’s oppressively hot and the sun’s beating down and everything’s dry – people can hardly move, it’s so hot; they can hardly breathe, they are so thirsty. And then somebody pulls out the ice cold 7-UP, all dripping with perspiration, and as they open it you hear that “chi-chish”. And all of a sudden the rainclouds burst, it’s raining and people are smiling; people are happy and they’re dancing and they’re drinking…. Remember those? Ah, good times with 7-UP.
What about those messages? They go straight through the thirst, right to the drinking. The first and foremost concern is the thirst-quenching. We tend to want instant gratification nowadays, we want answers, we want to know the outcome, we want to be prepared. But life just isn’t that way. Other people don’t always do or say what we think they should do or say. We want our leaders to be solid, trusting them to lead us into secure territory. A deep and abiding trust in one’s leader makes a difference when times are tough or uncertainty abounds. And right now, times are tough and uncertainty abounds.
The Exodus reading opens with the Israelites asking Aaron to make gods for them—visible, tangible figures that will lead them through the desert. Aaron, somewhat surprisingly, complies with this request. The people hand over all of their gold jewelry to Aaron who uses it to cast a golden calf. The people seem to be satisfied with this, and they begin celebrating early the next day.
In the scene on top of the mountain, God abruptly tells Moses to “go down at once,” indicating that the people have really messed up. In describing the actions of the Israelites at the base camp, God states that the Israelites “have acted perversely; 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 worshipped it and sacrificed to it”. After this litany of offenses, God then outlines God’s plans to destroy the people and start all over again, fresh, with Moses.
The stage has been set for the defining moment in Moses’ life and career. Should he choose God’s side and become the founder of a new, improved, nation or should he side with the Israelites? It hardly seems to be a difficult decision; after all, Moses hasn’t done anything wrong. He has done what God has asked, leading the people out of slavery, helping to establish a new covenant in the wilderness—enough for any successful career. The people, on the other hand, haven’t fared as well. God’s thunder and Moses’ voice is still echoing in their ears and they turn to Aaron to request new gods. Whose side are you standing on, Moses?
Astonishingly, Moses sides with the people. In the remainder of the passage, Moses mounts a case before God to save the Israelites, regardless of what they’ve done. “O Lord,” he says, “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?” The reason for God’s anger is clear to Moses. The people are worshiping idols and have apparently turned their back on God. In this rhetorical question, however, Moses makes an altogether different point: the people of Israel are not his people but God’s people. It was not Moses, but God who brought them up out of Egypt. Moses is not going to let God off the hook easily here, allowing God to shove God’s chosen people aside the first time they get into trouble.
Now that Moses has refocused the conversation to examine God’s role rather than the people’s sin, he becomes even bolder, asking, “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?'” In other words, “Think about your international reputation, God. After seeing your ingenious Red Sea escape route, do you want the Egyptians to say you’re crazy?”
“And the Lord changed His mind”.
So here we have a very powerful story about how God is present with and through God’s people. We may not be so different right now. Perhaps this economic crisis is evidence that we have made money our golden calf over these long years. Perhaps we have put our faith in human leaders over these long years.
Yet it is not our human leaders who bless us with life and every good thing – that alone comes from God. It is in God that we need to place our primary faith and trust, refusing to bow down to the illusion of safety that comes from idols and false gods. While we can idolize just about anything – wealth, beauty, health or pleasure – these false gods of misplaced hope don’t deserve our trust.
The living Christ invites us into the wedding banquet. The living Christ offers us a wedding robe to wear. The invitation, the robe, are gifts. We choose whether we wish to accept those gifts or not. If someone hands you tickets to a show, you can either take them and go, refuse them, or take them and then throw them into the trash can. It is a choice. The invitation is here, now for all of us to enter the wedding banquet, to trust in the One, true, living, awesome God. God is there, even in the mess, in the wilderness, when we thirst, when we hunger, stay the course, be patient and let us put our trust and faith in God. Time proves that unlike idols, Christ’s guiding presence can be counted on. Follow Him. Amen.
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