Sermon. October 11, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
The Exodus story is about the golden calf. There are two things especially about this passage that I want to lift up: Anxiety and Covenant. The people are filled with anxiety. God, although angry at how the people act in their anxiety, remains faithful to the covenant.
Moses is delayed in coming down the mountain. This delay causes the people, who are out in the Wilderness, to be filled with anxiety. They say to Aaron, “as for this Moses, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” We are out here alone in the Wilderness, and the leader who brought us here is missing.
“Who shall go before us?” they ask Aaron. Who will lead us through the Wilderness and out of Wilderness, now that Moses is gone? We need a leader, Aaron, and we need this to happen right NOW.
We have a solution, Aaron, “make gods for us.” Come on Aaron, do it NOW. Solve this challenge for us, do it quickly, help us to not feel so anxious, so alone.
Aaron REACTS to the people’s anxiety. He comes up with a solution, which is the golden calf. The people worship the golden calf as their demigod.
When people are filled with anxiety they turn to demigods and demagogues. Demigods, which means “half god” are those things we might turn to for comfort that are less than God, who is our Ultimate Concern.
Demagogues exploit emotions and prejudices to arouse some against others. They whip up the anxiety of people, and as the crowd’s anxiety and passions increase, reasoned deliberation is shut down.
The people basically call Aaron to create a demigod for them (the golden calf) and to be a demagogue for them. Aaron, to lessen the anxiety of crowd consents to the task.
The number one job of a leader is to be a non-anxious presence, especially when there is anxiety among people in the group. In the face of anxiety, the leader needs to remain calm.
Aaron fails. He takes on the groups anxiety. When the leader acts from anxiety the whole system becomes anxious.
When the people worship the golden calf they are basically saying, “we no longer trust God, we no longer trust the one who liberated us from bondage.”
This breach of trust by the people angers God. God tells Moses, “Go down at once!” Then describes to Moses the breach of trust the people have committed. God’s wrath will consume them.
Now notice how Moses RESPONDS. He does not react, he responds.
God does not act from anxiety. God is legitimately angry. The people have breached trust with God.
Moses respects the anger imploring “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people…” Moses doesn’t discount or try to negate God’s anger. Moses asks why, which implies deep listening when the why is shared.
Moses then makes several points. The people are identified as those God brought out of Egypt with great power. God has self-identified as the One who brought the God’s people out of bondage.
Moses points out that should the people be destroyed in the Wilderness it would be a public relations disaster. The Egyptians and their domination system are sure to use that as an ideological weapon against the God of liberation.
Moses also asks God to remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob). This is to remind God of the covenant.
Moses responds to God’s legitimate anger with a non-anxious presence. Moses remains calm.
God’s mind is changed. Disaster is averted.
Regardless of the difficulties we face, and the anxieties that these difficulties might cause within us. God’s covenant with us is unbroken. The Holy Spirit is guiding us through this Wilderness time.
Yes, we are in the Wilderness, in transition between settled pastors. I have successfully led more than ten congregations through the pastoral transition Wilderness. Things are going to work out. God is with us through this process.
Yes, we are in the Wilderness, in a pandemic. With the Executive Council, as well as with the Board of Deacons, the weekday Prayer Circle, and this weekly Worship video, the spiritual life of the congregation continues to be nurtured and sustained. The Holy Spirit is guiding us through this difficult time.
From the Trustees I understand that our church finances are solid. Unlike many other congregations we do not need to worry about that.
We are God’s people. God is with us through this pandemic.
We continue to work on the challenge of being connected with one another AND being safe as we connect. Our connection to each other is based on Jesus’ love commandment: to love one another as Jesus loves us.
Yes, our nation is facing a crisis whirlwind right now. The public health crisis of the pandemic. An economic crisis leading to increased food insecurity and hunger. A coming to terms with the crisis racism causes among vulnerable people. A crisis that threatens to divide the social and political fabric of our democracy.
Crisis is said to be a time of both danger and opportunity. The danger of crisis is that in anxiety people will turn toward demigods and demagogues.
One way to think of an anxious people is to see them as being drunk in anxiety. The way forward isn’t to become drunk ourselves. The way forward is to remain sober.
This means being a non-anxious presence. This means staying calm. This means understanding that we meet crisis as an adaptive challenge rather than as a technical challenge.
I once had a landline phone. I now only use my cell. My old landline number no longer works. My cell number does. The way I made and received phone calls has changed. I still can make and get phone calls. Going from a landline to a cell was a technical change.
Before the pandemic we were able to get together with others in the congregation through many in-person met ups. Some formal and planned, but many informal and unplanned.
During the pandemic our ability to do this safety is very limited. This is an adaptive rather than technical challenge.
We might connect on Zoom. We might connect by phone. At times we might even meet in person. But we need to plan so that these connections continue to happen and continue to be safe. Unlike before, we can’t count on the connections just happening informally and unplanned.
Knowing that God is present with us, and that the Holy Spirit is guiding us can center us during a time of crisis. God’s love for us sustains our ability to be a non-anxious people during a time of increased social anxiety.
The Church is called be a non-anxious presence for our community and our nation.
Loving one another and being a people of the Jesus Way, we all have a role to play in meeting the adaptive challenge of staying connected as a congregation during the pandemic. Together we can adapt and meet the challenges this presents in a calm and calming way.
There is no need for demigods. Our trust is in God.
There is no need for demagogues. Our hope is in Jesus Christ who leads us to be the Beloved Community for one another.
Trusting God, guided by the Spirit, loving in Jesus’ Way.
Let us close with a version of the Jesus Prayer.
As we inhale we say:
“Lord Jesus Christ.”
As we exhale we say:
“Calm our hearts and minds.”