Who will intercede for us as we worship gods of our own making? Who will plead with God on our behalf while we become supplicants of gods who cannot satisfy us? I find myself wondering this as I read through the story of the Israelites and the golden calf in the context of our self-serving society that places more value on pretty, shiny things than it does on human beings.
Unlike the ancient Israelites, God did not lead us into this wilderness where compassion is rare and condemnation flies freely in all directions. The Israelites became frightened and distrusting when they thought Moses and God had abandoned them. They wanted a God they could see and touch and be sure was present with them as they continued the journey toward transformation and liberation. I can sympathize with them. That was a grueling journey and to feel alone and abandoned would make any people yearn for something tangible, a pretty, shiny god. But, as I said, God didn’t lead us out into this wilderness. We got here on our own chasing the shadows of glitzy and glamourous gods made to please us (or fool us).
We are responsible for a society that values wealth over humanity, quick, violent solutions over slower peace processes, silence over justice, oppression over hospitality, and the status quo over transformative change. We fill ourselves with nostalgia for a past that never existed and yearn for a yesterday that is more fiction than fact. America was never great. However, if we stop focusing on ourselves and our golden calves, America could be better than it is.
The Exodus story tells us that God was angry when the people worshiped the golden calf they had made. God intended to wipe them out for their rather significant transgression. However, Moses interceded and reminded God of the covenant made with the ancestors. God relented and sent Moses back to the Israelites with the Ten Commandments to bring them back into right relationship with God and to build a healthier community.
I’m not sure that God was so very ready to smite the Israelites, but I can understand how those who first told this story might think so. I don’t think it was God who needed to be reminded of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jocob; I think it was the Israelites who needed the reminder. Either way, Moses interceded and the community got another chance.
Now I do think that today God might be angry with those of us who call on God’s name and then go worship lesser gods. At the very least, God has to be disappointed that we still have not figured out how to love one another. We still have not figured out how to trust God to lead us through the wilderness even when we end up there by our own volition. God has reasons to be disappointed, angry, and frustrated with us all.
However, God’s steadfast love endures forever. God will wait patiently for us to turn away from the gods we have made. God will wait for us to recognize the image of God in all human beings. God will wait for us to recognize the beauty and wonder of Creation and take better care of the planet. I’m just not sure how long we want to keep God waiting.
We know better today than those ancient Israelites did. We know that the journey from oppression to liberation is a grueling one and that transformation is often a slow and painful process. We also know that God never abandons the people of God. We turn away often enough, but God does not. God patiently awaits our repentance so that we can live in right relationship with God, with our neighbors, with ourselves, and with creation.
Isn’t it time we stop making false gods? Isn’t it time we put away our attraction to quick fixes and instant gratification? Isn’t it time we roll up our sleeves and commit to working for justice, for peace, for liberation of all God’s children? Does it really matter so much what country someone was born it? Does it really matter what name a person calls God? Does it really matter how poor or wealthy a person is? Does it really matter which labels of division we place on one another?
The Apostle Paul tells us to turn our attention to things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Maybe we should try that before we find ourselves in an outer darkness littered with the tarnished, dented gods our hands have made.
RCL – Year A – Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost – October 15, 2017
Exodus 32:1-14 with Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or
Isaiah 25:1-9 with Psalm 23