First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
October 15, 2017
“Wait For It”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Exodus 32:1-14 (NRSV)
The sacred reading for today takes us back to the early days of our ancestors in faith, the Hebrews. God, through Moses, had liberated them from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh and led them into the wilderness. As they were gathered around the base of Mount Sinai, Moses had gone up the mountain and received the law of the covenant that would define their relationship with God. But he took a long time to come down and the people grew restless. The reading from the Book of Exodus tells us what happened next.
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.
So, it’s been a year. Yep, this Sunday a year ago was my first Sunday as your pastor. It’s been a great year and I’m starting to feel like a true Montanan. We’ve been carrying our Montana Driver’s Licenses for about a year. We voted in Montana’s elections and filed our Montana state taxes. We’ve even stepped outside in the middle of winter at ten below and was grateful that it wasn’t too cold. However, I’ve recently discovered that none of those are what make you a true Montanan. This does….
We just acquired this from my daughter and I was told that, with the faded paint job and cracked windshield, this is what has finally made me a true Montanan. And I couldn’t be happier.
A new vehicle in our driveway means a trip to the DMV…. And the line.
As I was making my way through the zig-zagged line with a bunch of other folks, I noticed that we all had our own techniques for waiting.
Some checked emails or Facebook or played games on our phones.
Some chatted with others in line.
Some just stood there and looked around.
But the prize for being the most creative way to wait has to go to the little girl who decided that the DMV waiting area could be turned into a playground.
The chairs along the wall turned into a climbing gym, complete with dismount area.
The poles that guided the line of waiting people were great to twirl on.
And, the tile squares could be used to play hopscotch.
Waiting is hard. No one likes to do it whether you are waiting on the telephone until the next available agent can help you, waiting at a red light, or waiting for someone to return a text.
Waiting leads to boredom and bored people tend to get themselves into trouble. And that’s just what the good folks at the base of Mount Sinai did. They got themselves into a heap of trouble while they were waiting on Moses to get through with his little God conference up on the mountain. While Moses was occupied with the finer details of “Thou shalt have no other god before me” the waiting people did just that…. Created another god to go before the one to whom they owed their life and their freedom.
Now, I have to sympathize just a bit with the people. Because they were simply doing what they knew how to do. For generations, they were the ones that had literally slaved over creating monuments to the gods of Egypt: temples, shrines, statues – you name it, they had created it, under duress and much hardship. And, there was no doubt that Egypt and its Pharaohs were a powerful and mighty nation. Maybe those Egyptians were onto something. Maybe there was something to Ra – the Egyptian god of sun and radiance. Maybe they should lean on Osiris, the Egyptian god of living since he supposedly had something to do with renewal and growth. So, while they waited for news of this God which has no name or form, they did what they knew how to do—what they had done for years: they created a tangible god out of Egyptian gold.
They had never been this way before, literally. They had never been out of Egypt. Even though they longed to be free from tyranny and enslavement, once they were in the wilderness and waiting for God to put the next piece of their journey together, insecurity set in, impatience took over, fear bubbled up from within them and, in a way, they went back to Egypt.
Before they even realized that it was a sin, they committed the number one blunder: created and worshipped an idol, a graven image, a god other than the one that had created them as a people. While they were learning to wait upon the Lord, they lost their holy imagination and reverted back to the familiar.
Isn’t that what we do when we are faced with uncertainty? We want to do things the way we’ve always done it …. but we expect different results.
When the hard way forward into life surrounds us, how easy it is to turn back to something of our own creation, something we can name and claim and handle and manipulate. When we are immersed in the hard way forward into that which life holds for us, how tempting it is to slide back into practices and theologies that give us comfort for a day but quickly fall apart or become toxic when the going gets tough. We may think we are creating a better representation of God, only to find that we’ve come up with just another form of spiritual junk food that fills but does not provide sustenance.
This God that liberates and renews and restores and resurrects does so mysteriously and elusively and in God’s own time and often in ways that are hard to discern and understand.
The hard way forward into life with all it’s ups and downs, and joys and disappointments, deals with a divine presence who eludes our grasp yet one that entices us with awe and wonder, love and grace, forgiveness and hope.
The hard way forward into life, where waiting for an intangible God to be revealed, knows the pain of absence and the relentless weight of doubt.
Yet, the hard way forward is epitomized by the constant leading of a distant cloud by day and a steady pillar of fire by night.
Because we have such a hard time waiting, because we tend to have a sort of selective hearing loss when it comes to listening to the still-speaking God of our ancestors as that God takes some dear sweet time to be revealed, because we have a bigger image of ourselves and our own ways than we do of God, we forget that our early introduction to the divine power that creates, names and claims us is “I am who I am. I will be who I will be.” We jump too quickly to compile the materials of our own labors and say, “no, you’ll be who we say you will be.” We separate ourselves from that which God gives. We separate ourselves from God and turn inward, into the powers of our own making, the powers that ultimately lead toward death.
And so we wait. Patiently or otherwise. And sometimes we mess up. We fashion and worship other gods, giving time and energy and resources to things and ideologies with which we can dance for a day but eventually fade away. We separate ourselves from the divine that will dance for us for all eternity to give us life, again and again and again. But, we also learn that God waits as well, waits for us to take another stab at it, waits for us to recognize from where our salvation comes, waits for us to live into the faith we proclaim.
I guess that’s one of the advantages of claiming the eternal God as ours. God’s got all the time in the world to wait for us.