This week our skipping through the stories of the Jewish Scriptures takes us to Sinai. Not to the giving of the law but to what happens while Moses is up the mountain having his visit with God. Suffice to say that it does not go so well down on the plain…
The reading is Exodus 32:1-14 and can be found here.
Text This Week resources linked to this passage are here.
So Moses has led the people of Israel out into the desert. They have been less than happy with his leadership, whining about the lack of food and water and thinking that maybe they were better off as slaves in Egypt. Now he has been gone for a while and they start to wonder.
Is he ever coming back?
Apparently some have decided that Moses is NOT coming back and so it is time for a new plan. And so they start to cause trouble. I note in the WP commentary that the verb used as they gather around Aaron is also used in another part of the story where it is an explicit threat. Maybe Aaron is an unwilling part of this foray into idolatry? But at the same time the text makes it seem that Aaron is fairly easily convinced to follow a new path. At the very least we are not told that he raises any objections. In fact it almost appears that the making of the Calf is his plan from the beginning.
Earlier someone posted this link in the Narrative Lectionary group on FB which suggests how the rabbis have wrestled with this willingness of Aaron to be led (or perhaps to help lead) astray. The suggestion they make fits quite well with the explanation Aaron offers to Moses in the second half of chapter 32, which is not part of the suggested reading for this week.
One of the questions I always ask as a part of my sermon prep is “why do we still read this story? What is God saying to us today through these ancient words?”. As I ask that today I begin to wonder if we are still that impatient, if we are still so willing to turn aside and find another path when God seems slow to respond.
If we are honest I think we know the answer to that one.
Then there is Moses. Remember him, still up on the mountain communing with God? His response is a potential sermon too. One of the wonderful things about people like Abraham and Moses is their willingness to argue with God, even to change God’s mind. I notice that we are not really encouraged to argue with God in this way. Instead we are taught to accept that “God’s ways are not our ways”. Moses has nothing to do with this. Even though Moses has despaired about this troublesome group of people he is quick to tell God that they should not be destroyed.
When do we feel we should argue with God and change God’s mind?
Which brings us to the other main character in the narrative. How do we preach God in this passage? God as the one who forgives (after being shamed into it by Moses and even then it is not really a whole-hearted forgiveness). Or maybe we could preach the jealous vengeful God who wants to destroy the people for their lapse. Remembering of course that 12 chapters earlier in the commandment against idolatry God self-describes as “…a jealous god, punishing children for the iniquity of parents…”. Sometimes God is not who we want God to be.
And then there are seasonal issues. In Canada this weekend is Thanksgiving weekend. Where is the link between a Golden Calf and Thanksgiving? I think it is in the fact that it is so easy for the Israelites to forget to be thankful (a recurrent theme in the Exodus account). Or maybe you are serving a church which is going into the Stewardship drive. I confess that a passage about an idol sets up some tempting topics for a stewardship drive but am not sure that is the wisest approach.
Where are you headed this week?
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Fordo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings
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