Exodus 32:1-14 |:| Being Defined By Our Story and Not Our Golden Calf
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; October 12, 2014 @ 10:30 a
In the past four weeks we have journeyed with the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness. We have recalled their stories and heard about their struggles to understand where God was bringing them and why it was not an easy path.
They struggled to be freed from enslavement and now are struggling in the wilderness – what was God bringing them to. They heard God would be fulfilling the promise made to their ancestors, a land of milk and honey.
Where we find the Israelites in the text today we see them doubting all leadership that led them out of Egypt. Moses had gone up the mountain to speak with God and had not yet returned.
As time passed the Israelites grew anxious and needed a symbol of leadership, something to calm their growing fears and sense of uncertainty. They turn to their High Priest, Aaron, and ask him to make them a god they understood.
A god they had seen to be powerful in Egypt – one they knew to be tangible. Aaron in the midst of leading this wandering people responds as he knows how to in that moment. Gathering their jewelry Aaron works to answer their request and fashions a god they can touch, a god they had seen work for those who once oppressed them.
Surely if this god worked for those who enslaved them it could capture enough power to carry them through their wilderness journey. We even see the Israelites attribute their exodus to this golden calf. Their seeing led them to believe, but that is not all this golden idol brought for them. It brought about their forgetfulness.
They forgot how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel led them out of Egypt. How their God met their needs – made water no longer biter, fed them quail and manna, and quenched their thirst when there was no water. God heard their grumblings and cared for them in unexpected ways.
As God brought them further into the wilderness God began to move them into a new way of living. With the Ten Commandments it was not a dictation of how they were to act, but a proclamation for how they might live in peace. God was moving them into a new reality – far different from the lives they knew most recently in Egypt.
God was drawing them nearer to God’s self, which can be a difficult thing to understand, for it always requires transition and change. With all of this it is understandable why the Israelites wanted to fashion a god they had seen to be powerful, visible, tangible. They needed something familiar. They needed a god to calm their nerves and they wanted control of that answer.
It was not out of active disobedience or a desire to create an idol that the Israelites did what they did. It was out of impatience, confusion, and a deep desire to appease God that their fears produced an idol and practices that were not what God had called them to.
They didn’t retell their story of how they got where they were – their fears drowned their ability or desire to recall their collective story. Had they taken time to draw closer to God, recalling their story of being freed, fed, thirst quenched they would have found a pause which could have created space for them to remember who they were, who their God was, and find patience for their leader to return from the mountain with a word from the Lord.
In our world today it can feel like we are wandering in the wilderness with no hope in sight for transformation.
Just this week we have heard of Vonderrit Myers Jr being shot at 17 times, finally being killed, the death of Thomas Eric Duncan from Ebola in Dallas,TX, after turning down a date a 26 year old woman in Queens, New York City was attacked by the man she declined a date with, in this election season we are seeing people tell us how to think and how terrible of a leader their opponent would be & how they would lead this city/state into disarray.
How can there be such violence? Where can there be peace when this country has declared war on ISIS? What healing can there be when over 4,000 deaths have been attributed to Ebola, and now one on US soil? When politicians know what is best for us – yet narrow us down to a few key issues when we are far more complex – how can we believe in our leaders?
God can seem so far. God can feel invisible. With all of this pain, death, illness, and war it can overwhelm us to the point of normalcy, to the point where any attempt at action seems futile. Our wilderness is quite different than what the Israelites experienced, but a wilderness nonetheless.
With vast expanses of hardship we can find ourselves looking to build our own golden calfs. Anything that will allow us to feel closer to God. Perhaps something that creates a sense of holiness. An experience which brings about temporary relief to our anxiety.
The fears in life are powerful. They lead us to turn to tangible replications of what we have known to have work in the past. Much like the Israelites we wish to draw near to God yet our fears create barriers keeping us from the extravagant love of our God.
Fears supported every time we turn on the news, come to stoplights and see those asking for support, talk with loved ones who are in pain. Our fears are real, so were the Israelites’.
Similar to the story we read today, we have a choice of telling our story and remember how God has been faithful to bring us out of enslavement, dehydration, hunger, and isolation.
As a community that is diverse and holds many theological views, we come together around the shared story of how God’s love transforms and liberates us to a place of gospel proclamation. When we feel our story fleeting we need to join our voices together to remind one another of how God has called us to bring about glimpses of the Kingdom of God – to each other, to this city, to ourselves.
There are great pains in this world, so much so that our hope in telling the story of radical love can seem so minute and even counterproductive. It can be far easier to build our golden calfs out of our money, time, resources, and ideologies. Golden calfs that we don’t intend to draw us further into fear and farther from God’s presence but they do.
When we look at the world our actions certainly are a drop in the bucket. When we pause to retell our story we are reminding ourselves that God does not call us to save the world. God calls us to look at the piece of the world we have been entrusted with, our city of Denver and our homes surrounding this city, and care for it.
When we look at our actions within this scope they are no drop in the bucket – they are emotional, visible, tangible actions of God’s loving transformation. Each of us have the opportunity to change the piece of this world we have been entrusted with.
In our lives when we give up our comfort to join those who don’t have consistent access to food; for those who deal with mental illness daily, for those who don’t have a home to offer hospitality to another; for those who are incarcerated and returned to the same environment that resulted in their incarceration without resources to make new decisions; for those who work three jobs and are still below poverty lines; for those who only know harm in their homes; for those whose days are filled with slurs, hatred, bigotry from bullies who take all shapes and forms.
When we leave our various areas of comfort, majority, and power we risk actually living out salvation in the here and now. Joining together with those in our city to care for our neighbors, to bring healing – physical, emotional, and spiritual – to those who are in deep pain the Kingdom of God takes root.
The world is overwhelming but let us remember to retell our collective story as followers of a God of transformative love. By retelling our story we learn that we can risk together because we are determined to be united by God’s love. When we develop mutual trust along with a confidence in God’s power and the truth of the gospel we allow for our diversity to be an asset and not a liability.
The Israelites forgot to tell their story when they felt God had left them, as did their leader Moses. They began to associate their portion of the wilderness with all of the wilderness, allowing their fears to draw them further away from God.
Feeling that they needed to do something they returned to the ways of their oppressors rather than taking pause to remember the ways God freed them, fed them, quenched their thirst and proclaimed that peace was possible within their communal life.
When we forget to tell our story we neglect the transformative work of God in our individual and collective lives. It becomes easier to build our golden calfs than to do the work of justice, peace building, and hope giving.
Our story is a rich one, Calvary. Our story is one of offering hospitality to the families who know their home through Family Promise; one of caring for education of youth in Denver with the work of DICP; supporting refugees in deep transition as they come to call Denver home with the care of ERIS.
Our story is one of being open to all and closed to none, which means we lean into God’s love so that our diversity is an asset and not a liability.
Our story is worth telling so that we don’t forget that we can actually change the piece of the world we have been entrusted with, so that we don’t forget that God is near even when we can’t feel or see God’s presence, so that when we want to return to our old ways of being – creating golden calfs – we can pause long enough to free ourselves from the bondage of fear and live further into the journey God is forever drawing us to.
The journey of living into action which changes our thinking. The journey of being drawn into the loving presence of God and being known from that deeply liberating space.
Creating golden calfs are natural expressions of the journey from wilderness to the promise land. God remembered the promise to the Israelites after all of their complaining, uncertainty, disbelief, and creation of a golden calf which they called their god.
God remembers the promise to us, the promise of salvation – in our mind, body, and spirit – in the here and now, no matter how much we resemble the ways of the Israelites in our own complaining, uncertainty, disbelief, and creation of golden calfs.
Don’t let the pains of the world become so normal that action seems pointless and don’t let the building of your golden calfs keep you from remembering to pause and tell your story once again. The story of God working with humanity is seen in the story of the exodus we read today and the story of our own lives that we live out each day.
May we continue to risk the comfort of building our golden calfs for the greater peace of changing the piece of the world we have been given.
Calvary, we are and will continue to change the world as we remember to tell our story and care for this city with the transformative love of God.
Be encouraged, for our story is worth telling – so go and live your story moving further into the presence of God and bringing about the Kingdom here on earth.