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16. Sunday after Pentecost, 09/12/2010

Sermon on Exodus 32:7-14, by Jennifer Gold

 

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." 2Aaron 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." 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He 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!" 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord." 6They 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.

7The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they 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!< 9The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now 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." 11But 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? 12Why 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. 13Remember 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.'" 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. NRSV

WHO IS YOUR GOD?

Who is your God?

Today's Old Testament reading from Exodus is one of my favorite because it is a challenging thought-provoker!

And the question that begs to be answered on two different levels is:

Who is your God?

And we can explore the answers to that question in today's text depending on where we're standing in the story-

Up on the mountaintop observing the intense conversation between Moses and God AND/OR down in the valley amidst the people of Israel.

Who is your God?

Keep that question in mind as we explore the text for today.

To put the story for today in its context, basically this is what is happening:

Moses is up on the mountain receiving the 10 commandments from God, while the people of Israel are in the valley below breaking them!

"They're Not MY People, They're YOUR People!"

And one of the most interesting things in this story is how God reacts.

Here is a picture of Moses and God up on the mountaintop arguing over who is responsible for the mess they see in the valley!

And if you look closely, you can see the subtle humor in the text:

Vs. 7 The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! YOUR people, who YOU brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely..."

It's kind of humorous because in vs. 7 God refers to the Israelites as "your people" meaning Moses' people.

But then in v.11 Moses, resenting that and not willing to take full responsibility, makes this quite daring reply to God, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against YOUR people, who YOU brought out of the land of Egypt...?"

Moses, in effect says, they're not just MY people, they're YOUR people!

Reminds me of parents with children - ever done that with your kids?
In anger say, "Look at what YOUR son has done!"

Well, here you have God and Moses, the parent leaders of the children of Israel arguing "They're not my children, they're your children!"

 

New Form of Worship

Meanwhile, down in the valley we get another picture.

Here we have a people frustrated with the amount of time Moses is taking with God, and so they turn to Aaron (Moses' assistant) who himself seems a bit frustrated with his brother Moses.

In fact, he seems perfectly willing to give up his assistant-to-Moses position and become the leader.

But Aaron caves in to the whims of the people.

He's the leadership left in charge and he's not leading, actually he's following as he is easily persuaded and gives in to the people's desires.

The people are tired of having a "god" without a face - a "god" who is not visible.

So Aaron makes for them a golden calf.

Why a calf?

Well, they had just come from Egypt where they worshipped two sacred bulls.

And scholars know that in ancient times the bull was the symbol of the Canaanite power and fertility religion.

So when the Bible says in vss.6-8 that the people were offering burnt offerings and sacrifices, eating and drinking, dancing, rising up to revel and acting perversely, the implications are pretty obvious that the people were having a pretty rowdy drunken sex fest form of "worship" around the golden calf as a way of guaranteeing their own continuing existence without having to follow the ethical demands of God.

But on top of it all,

Aaron builds an altar to the Lord - the Lord God- in front of the golden calf!

In an effort to keep the people and God happy, Aaron consolidates their old religion with the new one by building an altar to the Lord before the calf and constitutes a new liturgical practice - a new form of worship!

Aaron tries to combine two exact opposite kinds of religions keeping one foot in Egypt and another foot in the Promised Land- the people are trying to serve two masters which cannot be done.

And who was to blame for all of this?

Well, according to the people, Moses!

Moses, who clearly is still on the mountain with God, has been forgotten: "We do not know what has become of him" they say in (vs. 1).

Oh how quickly they forgot their leader, Moses!

But they didn't just forget about Moses, they forgot about God!

And we are no different today.

Who (or What) is your god?

In today's society, it is just as easy - actually it's probably even easier - to get caught up and to "revel" in material things and earthly concerns - to worship the golden calf of consumption, freedom, self-indulgence, easy credit, borrowed wealth and artificial happiness and everything that all leads to.

Theologian, Paul Tillich, once said, "Your ‘god' is that which consumes you ultimately."

So, who (or what) is your god?

Who or what is it that consumes you the most - money, power, work, school, achieving, impressing your friends/family, football, alcohol, drugs, sex or any other addiction, self-image, and the list can go on?

Societal pressures make it easy to become fixated on the things of this world rather than the things of God.

Like the early Israelites, even though they had seen the invisible God in action, they and we still want the familiar visible false "gods" that we can see and that will give us what we think we desire but really only lead to destruction.

Our great temptation is to make the one true God into our own image and make God convenient to obey or ignore according to our own desires.

And how easy it is to fall into sin when we take our focus off of God who, now you know why said, "You shall have no other gods before me."

Moses Pleads with an Angry God

When the Israelites had taken their focus off of the God who had saved them and focused on the false god they created, it didn't just grieve God, it made God angry.

And as a result of God's anger, God was ready to curse the whole people of Israel and to give the promised covenant to Moses when God said, vs.10 "Now let me alone (Moses), so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you (Moses) I will make a great nation."

Now God's offer to Moses had to be quite tempting.

A lot of leaders would have taken God up on that offer because many quit and start over, but not Moses.

Moses rejects the opportunity to found a new nation, a new dynasty based on him - Moses rejects selfish glory by not accepting God's invitation to receive the promised covenant.

And why?

Because Moses loved the people.

Even in their sin, Moses loved the people - a true pastor's heart.

But more important than that, Moses loved God, so Moses gives the glory back to God by prayerfully begging God to change God's mind - to turn from God's wrath against them.

After all, they were God's children.

Yes, they had been bad - very bad - but were they not still little children?

Moses reminds God that God cannot deny the people whom God created,

and to remember the covenant God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

So Moses appeals/begs to God in prayer saying in v ss. 12-14: Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 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.'

And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Who is Your God? - A God of Wrath or a God of Love?

Moses begs/pleads/implores God in prayer and God changed God's mind - wow!

It teaches us something about the power of prayer but even more importantly it teaches us something about the nature of God.

The heart of Moses for the people touched and changed the heart of God and God's mercy and love prevailed!

God's love and forgiveness wins out over God's wrath!

So when you ever question, "Who is your God?" - a God of wrath or a God of love?

God's love always prevails and God assured us of that when God became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus.

Though it is not an excuse for our behavior, God knows how easy it is for us as little children to become consumed by the false gods of this world.

It is part of our sinful nature as human beings, and as we confess, "We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves," we are deserving only of death.

And it angers God so GOD chose to do something about it!

God stepped down from on high and became flesh - became the visible God in Jesus, to teach us how to live and to love when God assured us of His love by forgiving and carrying our sin and putting it to death on the cross of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross and died, God said - "I LOVE YOU THIS MUCH!"

Even in our sin, God loves us and forgives us!

Having been justified - made right in the eyes of God, we are free to let go of the things of our world that consume us, and through which we try to justify ourselves.

And as we are consumed by God's love for us, all other false "gods" in this world become meaningless!

So who is your God? (pause)

It is The One True God who loves you - who loves you to death!

Amen.

 



Pastor Jennifer Gold
Zion Lutheran Church of Helotes
San Antonio, Texas
E-Mail: jgold@zionhelotes.org

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