One Step Forward, Two Steps Back…

Kenora            Proper – Ordinary 28A            Pentecost + 19             Trinity + 18

11 October 2020

Exodus 32:1-14

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Philippians 4:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

God of heaven and earth, we sing your bounty and your goodness in the abundant harvest, in the changing seasons, and in the wonder of nature. With generous hearts, may we share what we have received with those who have little, so that none may hunger or thirst and all may know your wide justice; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I’ve been thinking of how fear colours our perceptions of the world around us, even to the point of encouraging us into pathways and patterns that are less than healthy for us, and for the ways in which God wishes we would live in order to have a fulfilling relationship with each and every one of us.

Today in the reading from Exodus, the people go to Aaron and demand that Aaron craft for them a ‘god’, an image to worship because, in their minds, Moses has been gone longer than is considered reasonable, and so, he’s not coming back. 

This as a fear filled reaction, by the Hebrew people and the knee jerk next step is to return to something they feel is ‘familiar’ because of their generations spent in slavery, in Egypt. Its familiar. It’s ‘comfortable’ to them.

This would be equivalent to a dieter, someone desiring to make drastic changes in their lifestyle through diet, exercise, etc. and they’ve hired a life coach to help. But they’re really struggling with the new regimen and foods to encourage weight loss. They get frustrated and turn to all of the oven baked macaroni and cheese they can get their fork into. Its filling, it’s familiar, but it’s not going to aid them in sticking to their goal of losing weight, of changing their lifestyle – especially if, out of frustration, you eat the whole thing!

But this is what we see, today, by the people at the foot of the mountain.

The people go to Aaron. They proclaim that their life coach is missing, gone, AWOL! He’s not coming back, and they want to get off the bandwagon. They want to return to something that is comfortable, familiar, but also absolutely bereft of God’s participation in and through their lives.

“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.”” (Ex 32:1)

And Aaron, well, he gives into the demands of the mob, and creates an Egyptian image for them to bow down to, and to worship.

And I bet we all look at this and we feel that we have trouble relating because we just don’t worship the gods of Egyptian antiquity. Unfortunately, the man-made gods that pull our attention away from a life shared in and with God are far more insidious and more subtle than a calf made of gold.

How many of us “chase the almighty dollar” hoping to give our families “all that we never had growing up”? Or know someone who does participate in that chase?

How many of us know someone who looks at the idea of coming to church on a Sunday, quite frankly, as an inconvenience. Or we know someone who has ‘something better planned’. Or we hear that immortal excuse “I don’t need to go to church to worship God.”

Now, I’m not necessarily meaning those of us who are here, today, but I’m thinking that we all know at least one person who fits this bill.

The tragedy in this line of thought is that God really does want to have an ongoing, intimate relationship with each one of us.

God wants to be the guide, the advocate, the Jiminy Cricket to our Pinocchio, and yet, we get distracted, bored, and we reach for the first familiar thing that pulls us away, that provides a moments entertainment to ease our boredom.

Moses has been up the mountain for quite some time.

As this is when formal worship of God is first formulated there are a lot of details to work out. So, God and Moses are working on it, keeping in mind the part where the people are afraid of God, and want to keep God at arm’s length and so, they need to have formulaic patterns of worship through which to approach God.

But we know something the ancient Hebrew people have yet to learn on their forty-year trek from slavery to freedom; from Egypt to the Promised Land. We know that in this place, we come face to face with God who knows each and every one of us.

We come face to face with God who calls each one of us by name. We come face to face with the creator of the universe who encourages us to lay down our burdens of fear, of doubt, of disappointment, sin, and error.

We’re encouraged to leave them behind, and to be filled with the love of God for each one of us. Love to be carried out into the world, and to be shared with all whom we meet.

God’s love is always found in such places: on the sacred mountain, the temple in Jerusalem, in the desert, in a life of slavery, and here in the practice of our lives of faith, because this is where we gather together to be in the presence of God. And this is where God welcomes us home with open arms.

At the same time, this isn’t what the ancient Hebrews saw because its outside of their experience. Their ancestors talked directly to God, and to God’s messengers.

Our gospel for today, also talks about what it means to actively turn away from a rewarding relationship with God. Jesus tells us of a wedding feast, and how the invited guests all offer excuses, abuse the messengers, or just ignore the prompt to come to a free, all you can eat banquet.

“Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.” (Mt 22:1-3)

The people turned their backs on the beneficence, on the generosity of God, of the king, to do their own thing.

Another simile we can see today.

Yet the king isn’t cowed. Time and again, he sends to those who are invited, and yet his invitation goes unanswered.

So, he seeks out guests who will honour the day, and appreciate the feast. “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’” (Mt 22:8-9)

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. We celebrate the gifts of God: love, family, garden and farm produce, and the means to get through the winter, to the next season of planting.

And primary among all of that is God, God’s action, and God’s will to see it done.

Primary in our lives of faith is God, and our relationship with God, and perhaps the problem, in our lives of substance, and substances is that our perception of God is not necessarily tangible. It’s not something we can see or reach out and touch.

On the other hand, the golden calf is something corporeal, it’s tangible, where those who don’t know God think they are able to perceive God in such man-made figures.

At the same time, God is able to be perceived, but isn’t something that is easily touched, or corporeal in our lives.

[Aaron] 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!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it.” (Ex 32: 4-5a)

The people turned from true divine love, something they have little familiarity with to worship something made entirely from human hands. Something they could see, and touch.

So, today, we give thanks that God never gives up on each one of us, on any one throughout the world who has the potential. to love as God loves each one of us. And when we’re looking for tangible proof of that love, it’s not always there, but we definitely know when it’s not.

The constant repeated theme of love stories is the definition of ‘true love’.

And the constant repeated answer to how do you know when you’ve found your true love is “I don’t know, I just feel it.” And in such a definition, there’s no room for fear.

There’s no room to make a backward step, because love urges us on, it urges us forward. Love urges us to remember Christ’s sacrifice for each one of us, when he faced the passion, the crucifixion and the resurrection so that we are able to be here, today, to give thanks, to set aside the fears of the day, and to remember that we are God’s children, loved and beloved.

The love of God is felt, not always seen, in the effects and efforts of our lives.

It colours absolutely every action we make in this world, as God’s love works through us to all those who have yet to see the point of why we gather, on a Sunday morning, together, to worship God, to be rejuvenated by the love we feel, here, and to carry that love, that forgiveness, that lack of burden into the world to be shared as freely as it is given.

Love, and thanksgiving are the parts of our worship experience that will never change as we gather in places like this, surrounded by those we love, and surrounded by God’s love.

God’s love is constant, and is as tangible as we allow it to be in our hearts, because we just know it is there, and that it is true.

So, we give thanks.

We come together to share our act of praise and worship with each other, to bolster each other in our lives, in their lives, together and apart, and we give thanks, not just today, not just when families gather to celebrate the harvest, but absolutely every day when we remember all that God has done for us, and that starts with loving each one of us, and calling us by name.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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