Monday, November 24, 2014

Who Brought You Out of the Land of Egypt?

Sermon for Year A, Proper 23
October 12, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

Who brought you out of the land of Egypt?

Some of you know
that I was at the National Storytelling Festival
in Jonesboro, Tennessee last week.

Over 12,000 people from all over the world
gathered under enormous tents to listen to stories
from early morning into the night.

One of the storytellers I heard is a man named Tom Lee.
He is from Connecticut
and has told stories in many places
including recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
when they opened a new Egyptian exhibit.

He shared a piece of information
that relates to our Old Testament reading this morning.
In the reading from Exodus
Moses has gone up on the mountain to talk to God.
And the story goes that he will soon return bringing the stone tablets
upon which the ten commandments are inscribed.
At the end of chapter 31 in Exodus,
it says,
When God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai,
he gave him two tablets of the covenant,
tablets of stone,
written with the finger of God.

Now if you are like me,
and have seen the old movie with Charlton Heston playing Moses,
you have a very vivid memory
of Moses coming down off that mountain with these two huge,
no doubt heavy, stone tablets.
The weighty word of God.

But what storyteller Tom Lee shared is that those tablets
were probably only about the size of the human hand.
That was the pretty standard size for stone tablets in that era.

Tom Lee also noted that the modern day iPhone
is just about that same size.
The size of the human hand.
(Tom Lee also predicted that iPhone 6 Plus will be a bust---
because it’s too large!
It doesn’t fit neatly into your hand!)

Regardless of the size of the tablets that Moses carries off the mountain,
there is trouble by Chapter 32.

Big trouble down at the base camp.
Golden trouble.
The people  got tired of waiting for Moses to get back.
They probably were scared too.
What happened to Moses up on that mountain?
Who’s going to protect us, lead us, help us now?

Sometimes we do really silly and stupid things
when we get scared.

The people went to Moses’ older brother, Aaron,
and they said,
it is time to go to Plan B.
Moses is not coming back.
We are tired of waiting.

So Aaron gave them what they wanted.
He created a golden image,
a calf.
Here you go.
Here is the one who led you out of Egypt.
The golden calf.
Here is the one who will lead you out of the wilderness.
The golden calf.

Really, Aaron?
Was Aaron just trying to calm the people down
or had he too lost faith?

I don’t think the Hebrew people really thought the golden calf
was equal to God,
to Yahweh,
but they needed something tangible.
They needed something they could see and touch
to give them hope.

Moses had been that tangible something.
Moses had negotiated with Pharaoh.
Moses had led the Hebrew people out of Egypt,
through the Red Sea.
Moses had freed the Hebrew people from slavery.

But you see Moses had not done any of those things.
That’s the point of the story.
God had done those things.
God had worked through Moses to save the people.

But God was not visible.
Moses was visible.

And now Moses is not visible.
And the people want something they can see.
Seeing is believing.
So a calf, forged out of gold, is made visible.

God is not a happy camper.

God tells Moses you better get back down there.
Because your people seem to have a very short memory.

God is angry.

Now I don’t know about you,
but I don’t really like an angry God.
I’ll be honest.
It makes me uncomfortable.

Maybe because I know that on occasion I am not all that different
from the Hebrew people.
I too can have a very short memory
of all that God has done for me.

This story in Exodus tells us that God is about to unleash disaster,
hot wrath against those stiff-necked people,
those ungrateful people.
Now stiff-necked means stubborn, obstinate, disagreeable,
I might have been stiff-necked--a few times.
Many times.

And what God is about to do is not going to be pretty.

And what does Moses do?
Moses knows his people have acted ridiculously
but he still asks God,
“Change your mind.
Don’t do what you are angry enough to do.
Change your mind.
Do not bring disaster on my people.
Because my people are YOUR people.”

And as incompetent or ungrateful and stiff-necked
as we can be,
give us another chance.

Our memories are short, aren’t they?
How quickly we can forget all that God does for us.
How quickly we can get lost in a log-jam of complaints
and forget to count our many blessings.

God says wait.
And we say no, now.

God says trust in me
and we say I tried that once but it wasn’t for me

God says you’ve made a mess
and we say it wasn’t my fault.

When my nephew Patrick was a little boy
he loved matchbox cars.
he would run them on the floor, up the wall, across your leg.
And one weekend he and his brother were staying with my parents,
their grandparents
and they sat down for dinner
and Patrick was running his car all over the dining room table.
My mother had reached her tipping point.
Let’s just say her “hot wrath” was being aroused!

“Patrick, you need to put away your car until after dinner.”
Patrick looked at his grandmother and said,
“You’re not my boss.”
To which my mother, his very loving grandmother said,
“Oh, but I AM the boss of this table.
So put away the car.”
And Patrick paused,
looked at his grandmother and said,
“Okay...but I AM the boss of this car.”

We like to be the boss.
We like to be in control.
So did the Hebrew people.
The invisible intangible God makes us uncomfortable at times,
We like things we can see and touch and hold.

We are good at creating  golden calves.

Splenda God
Sweet and Low God
Equal God.

Oh we’ll take artificial if it is quicker and easier and oh so modern.
Even if those false gods leave a bad and bitter aftertaste,
even if they threaten to destroy our health and happiness--
our families and our peace.

God is the real sweetener.

God is the one who leads us out of Egypt.
God is the one who ferries us across the Red Seas of our lives.
God is the one who walks right beside us through every wilderness.

Change your mind,
Moses asks God.
Remember, God, we are your people.
We make a mess of things sometimes.
We forget.

Now help us remember,
you are our God
and we are your people.

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