32 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.” 2 Aaron 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.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He 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!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They 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.
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 worshiped 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 forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
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.”