The Pas Propers / Ordinary 24 – Pentecost + 14
15 September 2019
Psalm 51:1-11 pg 770
1 timothy 1:12-17
you seek us in the hidden places of our ignorance
and in the forgotten corners of our despair.
Gather us into your loving embrace,
and pour upon us your wise and holy Spirit,
so that we may become faithful servants
in whom you rejoice with all the company of heaven. Amen.
Have you ever noticed how many times we see God’s anger burns against the Hebrew people, in the book of Exodus?
How many times Moses negotiates God’s patience and understanding, love and forgiveness for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Today’s reading only looks at one of the most significant times because it’s one of the first times we see Moses ‘go to bat’ for the people before God.
Often in our lives, in the lives of the Hebrew people, we get the impression that not only is God distant from each one of us, but that God would prefer punishment over embracing us as God’s children.
But we can see that this isn’t the case, in today’s passage. Or perhaps we’re given this passage so we can see that humanity, that each one of us is able to change God’s mind, adjust God’s plan so that life is found, instead of death.
And this is interesting, because we, as humans, remember more of the negative than we do of the positive, in our lives, in our memories, in our experiences. We focus on the negative, the things that hurt, that draw us away, that encourage us to think we’re alone, or that we ought to be miserable, in life.
But if God were truly distant, then God would be as ignorant of the ignorant actions of the Hebrew people, as Moses is in their formation of, and praying to the golden calf.
“7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 32:7-8)
And I think that for God the most hurtful was the assertion that their salvation from Egypt, from a life of slavery is due to this man made item before them.
“8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 32:8)
But all this passage shows us is that God is honest with us when a few chapters later, and in the long form of the law, we see God declare that God is “a jealous God” (Exodus 34:6-7)
At the same time, we have over 30 chapters before this vignette on the mountain of the people praying to God for help, for freedom, for liberation from their slavery in Egypt.
We have chapters of Moses declaring that he’s not the right man for the job and God overcoming each and every one of his objections.
We can see how God turned the heart of Pharaoh, and then destroyed the Egyptian army to ensure that there was no going back for the Hebrew people, once they were set free, and there would be no retaliation by the Egyptians.
So, since we’re reminded that God is always with us, watching over us, guiding us in ways a lot more subtle than parting the sea, so we can walk by on dry land, then we need to remember that not only do we have a temper, but so does God. Or more subtle than the passage of the angel of death, the darkness, and the rest of the plagues.
It came up in bible study, this week, how we envision God, so, I want to ask, how many of us still envision God as an old man, bearded, and sitting on a throne, with a lightning bolt in hand?
This was the image of God that was popular over 500 years ago, and it’s an image of God we often imagine when we feel God is distant, or when we feel that God is only out to judge us on our actions in and around the world.
God wants us to remember who the author of our salvation is, as well as who is the author and finisher of our faith.
At the same time, God isn’t unapproachable. Rather God surrounds us and fills us, at all times and in all places. God is available for us to return to God, to ask for forgiveness, and to receive God’s absolution, always.
And this is the case because the one time God isn’t with us is when we allow our own arrogance to come between us and God, and God respects and loves us enough to allow us to branch out on our own, to see what kind of a “stiff necked people” we are, and encourage us to return. (Exodus 35:9b)
Paul tells us, today: “. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:13-15)
And not only does Paul remind us of how far he’s come in his life of faith and service to God, but he also reminds us of God’s action through Jesus Christ.
Jesus who came to save sinners, who came to heal lives, who came to remind us that our salvation is not because of a calf molded from gold by our own hands, or any other man made object, but rather it’s because of God’s action through Jesus Christ on the cross and through that same cross.
Each of our own journeys can be echoed in the journey of the Hebrew people from slavery to freedom.
Each of our own journeys is seen in Paul’s redemptive words
Each of us, in the words of Jesus was lost and now is found. (Lk 15:6b, 9b) in both cases, we find that there is much joy over the found.
So, imagine the joy in heaven when Paul turned from his path to persecute the Israelite followers of Jesus and began, instead, to proclaim the love and redemption of God for all who believe?
Imagine, if you will, the joy in heaven when the Hebrew people pitch tent at the foot of the holy mountain before Moses goes up the mountain to discern the will of God?
And in that use of imagination, we are unable to maintain the image that God is a grumpy old figure who is looking to punish humanity for errors and indiscretions. Rather God is looking to love and to embrace each one of us, no matter our history, no matter where we find ourselves, or in what circumstances, there is always a reason to rejoice, to give thanks, to be aware that God is with us, supporting us, loving us, searching us out, and finding us.
We find it so easy to see God as being vengeful and destructive, especially as climate change begins to grip our storm systems and we experience “the worst July on record, on the prairies” or when a former hurricane gains speed over landfall as it continues to wreak havoc on the coastal provinces.
We find it so easy to find the flaws in our own lives instead of seeing the great cheekbones, and the glowing personality.
But here’s a new chance. Here’s a new opportunity to let God into our lives, into our hearts, and to see where God is leading us.
The Hebrew people, at the foot of the mountain have been raised on the periphery, on the outskirts of the Egyptian religious system for generations, and their familiarity with God is still raw, and new.
So, for them to resort to something that seems familiar is natural to them. It’s what they know, what they’re going to gravitate to when their anxiety is up and they don’t known how to approach God except to beg for God’s intervention and to set them free. And the same happens in each of our lives, when we find ourselves in uncertain circumstances, when we don’t know in which direction to turn.
In today’s reading, Moses steps in front of God’s anger so that God can see that the Hebrew people are acting out of ignorance, out of habit rather than out of faith.
Today’s reading reminds us that “Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand… Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, … 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (Exodus 32:11-14)
I once used an example with the kids asking them about the first time they ever strapped on a pair of skates, if they could skate and play hockey like a pro, like their hero’s. They admitted that they couldn’t, and this reminds us of this passage, today, as well.
We are the children of God; but how that looks in the world around us, depends on how we interpret that role, how we use the gifts of our lives for the benefit of God. Both in the world, and for the benefit of those who need to be reminded that God is a God of love who longs to be a part of every aspect of our lives.
And these are roles we need to grow into, roles we need to learn to hone our skills to make our own, and through which we need to reach out to those who don’t have the same vision of God’s love for each of us, for them and for the world as we do.
So, today, we find ourselves remembering our first steps in the faith, remembering how our rolls grew as did our confidence, and remembering that we are at all times the children of God. Because that is when heaven rejoices, as well, when the lost is found, when new relationships are formed, when we grow in the love and trust of God and each other. (Lk 15:9b-10)