Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2016
September 11, 2016
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Old Testament Text: Exodus 32:7-14 – “God Changed God’s Mind!”
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 worshipped 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 for ever.” ’ 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Where were you fifteen years ago today? Do you remember? We were in the process of moving into the parsonage at Meito Lutheran Church in Nagoya, Japan. Boxes everywhere, no TV, accept a little 2 inch handheld TV that depended just how you held the antennae.
What did you feel that day? What did you feel for a week, a month, or even a year, or two? How do you feel about the conflict that has continued for more than 15 years, SINCE that horrendous day? We all know that there has been conflict for far more than 15 years in the Middle East. I know there are as many opinions on the cause of conflict and the justification of more and more killing than we can count. It was typical to see the media explode in the blame game from that day on, and it continues to today.
But as a person familiar with the central theme of Monotheism in Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith, I wonder how God feels about how we humans have so frequently and efficiently killed in the name of faith and religion, and then laid waste to God’s planet? Especially after all the good things God has provided for all people no matter what religion they hold as precious.
The pain and violence that is heaped upon each other is now based on more than just religion and intolerance. Those issues may be the foundation to the hate and violence we see, but today I believe the root of the violence and hate are based on more immediate, or modern events. Ill-conceived boarders drawn up by foreigners who were totally ignorant of the fact those boarders drawn on a map mean nothing for tribal peoples. The control of the water rich lands, are now even more important than oil rich lands. Acts of violence will now demand public retribution according to the need of individuals protecting turf and their rank, and the politics of the west, or else they are viewed as week; this is particularly dangerous in the age of Social Media. The very rich in the west, perceiving of an enemy in a far off land, will justify taking very violent means to destroy perceived enemies resulting in the daily slaughter of innocent ones… for example, the children in Syria we have finally seen in the news… the list continues.
But one issue that pains me is that all three of the monotheistic religions, talk about the abundant mercy and love of God. Peace is central to all three faiths. This is reflected historically in their use of similar greetings meaning “peace be upon you”: Shalom Aleichem in Judaism, pax vobiscum or “The Peace of the Lord with you” in Christianity, and Salaam Alaikum in Islam. Notice the similarity between the Hebrew and Arabic. Yet all have turned from these truths they share, and turned to violence to satisfy their desire for power, authority, intolerance and greed. God’s Word, Law, or Prophesy have nothing to do with the violence we see all over the world. (Judaism = Law, Torah, Christianity = Saved by grace through faith, worship is a response in thanksgiving for that grace, Islam = To Submit)
Look at today’s text from Exodus chapter 32. I suggest we discontinue referring to this text as: “the ‘golden calf’ incident and begin calling it the “God changes God’s mind at the request of Moses,” incident.”
Moses is up on Mt. Sinai, and he has received the Commandments from God. Not surprising, Moses is engrossed with the moment, but God notices that there is trouble at the foot of the mountain, and God is not pleased. God is so displeased; he has immediately disowned God’s own people and called the rebellious Israelites, “Moses’ people, whom Moses has brought out of slavery in Egypt! Like little children in a waiting room, the Israelites couldn't wait for Moses, and they have built themselves a golden calf to worship. Some will call this idol worship, but this is much more serious than that. The calf was built by the people and represented something about the people. Like a calf, the people are about to begin a new life. Since the calf is built by the people, and they are about to begin a new life without their real God, the calf really represents them! They are only bowing down to an image of themselves and their fears and is a representation of themselves beginning a new life…
Have they not seen all that God has done for them? Did they turn the Nile to blood, bring on the locusts, or part the Red Sea? As they have rejected the God who saved them, the God of Israel is really angry.
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.’ It is as if this is a replay of the flood, and Moses is the new Noah. God even tells Moses, “let me alone, so that my wrath may burn against them!” It is as if since Moses is the only righteous person remaining in Israel, and God may as well just start over. God called Israel, ‘stiff-necked,’ meaning haughty, arrogant and stubborn. In a Hebrew way of thinking about it, their necks are stiff and they can’t look back at the damage they of done!
Do you really think Moses wants the title of being the Father of Israel after all he has been through? He didn’t even want this job of rescuing Israel in the first place. Moses diplomatically tells God that if God destroyed Israel in the desert, even if they deserved it, it would betray all that God has done in front of the Egyptians. Well played, Moses!!! Moses reminds God of God’s original promise to Abraham, and pulls God out of God’s own feelings of hurt, betrayal, disappointment and anger in God’s own people and says, “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 for ever.” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
We don’t even have to go as far back as 15 years. Nearly every day in the news we are reminded that, as a whole, humanity, we all, fall short of God’s will for us. That is not shocking news anymore. I can’t ignore all the horrendous things humans continue to do to each other and to the planet, I do think the more shocking and profoundly hopeful news here is that God sticks with us; God continues to claim us as God’s own redeemed children despite it all. Instead of God’s wrath burning hot against us and consuming us (vs. 11), God’s beloved son reminds us there is joy when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:10).
What can we do? Instead of waiting for an Aaron to help us offer burnt offerings and sacrifices to gods of our own making ... instead of waiting for a Moses to intervene on our behalf, we might ourselves and on this day especially pray the Psalmist’s prayer as our own, “Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us” (Psalm 51:10).
Create in Me
G D C G
Create in me a clean heart, Oh God
D C G
And renew a right spirit within me (2x)
C D G Em
Cast me not away from thy presence oh Lord
C D G G7
And take not thy holy spirit from me
C D G Em
Restore unto me, the joy of Thy salvation
C D C G
And renew a right spirit within me
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