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Exodus 32:1-14; Psalms 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9;Matthew 22:1-14 Bigfork Community United Methodist Church October 11, 2020, – 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Can we really anger the Lord? The people of the Exodus stir God’s anger in the Wilderness this week by creating and worshipping idols when they have been told not to do that. The guests invited to a great feast in Matthew stir up anger by refusing to come.
In the Wilderness, the Lord has provided all that the people need, water and manna. They have escaped bondage. The Promised Land lies ahead of them. Moses has gone up to the mountaintop to commune with God and receive the tablets of the Law.
This takes a while and after a while the people go to Aaron to say that while they are encamped here…and since his stuttering brother is takings so long …let us make some idols.
Moses is the law giver and Aaron is the smooth talker, but now the law giver is away. Aaron goes all in with an impatient people and permits it.
God even says to Moses that he is going to smite the very people he has made famous and “Don’t try to stop me!”
The people have judged what the Lord has given them and found it lacking. They want more ease and less hardship.
God says, “What more could I give them? They cried out to me because of their oppression. I heard them. I sent Moses to them. I sent plagues to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt.
“I gave them a cloud of darkness to keep Pharaoh’s army from finding them in the day and a cloud of light to guide them by night. I parted the waters. I gave them water from a rock when they were thirsty and manna when they were hungry.
While I was spending my time coaching you on the laws the people would need to live peaceably in community, they were distracting themselves with trinkets…insisting on entertainment when I have already given them something much more important than that.
Moses finally talks God out of doing something in anger by remembering all that God has invested in their success.
Who will ever follow Israel’s God again if the people who follow him do not reach the land God promised to Jacob? Who will want to know Israel’s God if they all die in the midst of hardship…after they have followed their Moses?
This is going to set a precedent. No one will follow you if it all comes to a sudden end after years of hardship.
This is a very interesting reversal of roles, where God is the short-sighted one and the human – Moses – is the one who points out how all of this will play out.
This is a role reversal, because we humans… and not God…are the short hitters throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve. Sodom and Gomorrah. David and Bathsheba, Herod. Pharaoh. Caiaphas. Judas. And so on.
So when God says, “Don’t try to stop me,” we know that it is God who needs help seeing the long view.
If God needs it, we need it, too. Now more than ever. Always. Someone needs to stop us from doing things we will regret later.
This pandemic is a constant test of this. At the beginning, we were reacting to it like we reacted to 9/11, sorry it happened but glad that it had a beginning and then it was over. We could band together for a few days or a few weeks.
But now, with the pandemic, it has already been a few months…and it looks like it’s going to be a couple of years. It is hard to be in this crisis mode for so long.
The crisis mode is for a moment, but what we are in now is more like the Great Depression. We are in want and the want continues for as long as it continued…it seems…for the people of Israel in the Desert.
Are we having any more success in understanding and working through the challenge of our day any better than Israel did? How can we honor God and our neighbor now?
I think we are all exhausted by the need to remember our face mask… remember to wash our hands… remember to stay at a social distance from everyone else. We want it to be over…but it is not over.
Thank you for being with us in worship, in person and online. If we can keep the scriptures in front of us and our problems behind us we can find our way through this wilderness of despair and arrive… together…at the Promised Land.
A friend of mine from the Billings area came to me one day and told me she needed help with a problem she had had for a long time. Terrible things had happened to her long ago and she wanted her father to know, hoping to make it all right.
The catch was that she was afraid if she told him what had happened he might lash out and get himself into trouble with his grief over what had happened. He might kill someone.
I listened to that story for a long time and I only asked questions to understand what had happened and why it might have happened. In the end, though, I knew her father and I told her that it was something she was doing for herself as much as for him. “Tell him. Call me if it gets difficult.”
A couple of weeks later I saw this same person and she looked like she had just laid down a heavy weight of pain. I suspected it might have been connected to the problem she had brought to me…and it had.
She had told her father about the thing that troubled her. He had listened to her tell her whole story.
Then he said the most wonderful thing he could have said, she told me. He said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
Terrible things happen. The world is a dangerous and surprising place …in many ways. What is done is done. But what is to be depends on what we do next.
What are we going to do about it? Kill everyone? Then the guilt is not on them…any more than it is on us.
For us it is not a question of how we will live once the pandemic is gone. It is a question about how we are going to get through the covid day…the covid week…the covid months still ahead of us.
What are we going to do about it? Simply realizing that there is some meaningful way to respond to this crisis is an empowering moment.
I went to a caregivers support group when I was caring for my mother in her last illness. They gave us some helpful information, but the most helpful thing about it was the chance to talk to other people who were in the same situation.
As you listened to others who were going through the same trials you were experiencing, you realized that you were not the only person in the world who had your problem.
As you shared what you had done to address that problem, you realized that you had actually been doing something good and helpful …that you actually understood the problem…that you knew something and were doing something good.
The worst thing, in my experience, in taking care of someone you love is that you know where this is going and you do not want it to go there. You are completely responsible and entirely helpless.
But you can do something to help them through, especially if you let them be the parent still. Moses understood this as he went to God with the problem of idols.
He could not make them behave. That was not something he could do about it. But he could empower them to do the right thing under the circumstances…for themselves… for their family…for their friend…their neighbor…their God.
Jesus tells us a different story that tugs at us to follow the same way. God has invited us to a great feast, but we have better things to do.
We don’t want to dress up. We don’t want to interrupt what we are doing…our entertainment…to honor the one God sends or the God who sends him.
It is the same old story of not appreciating what God has given us with the gift of life…on a beautiful planet…in an amazing time…in the richest, most powerful nation in the history of Earth.
We have been given so much. We have been endowed in so many ways. What are we going to do about it?
We will do our church work just as soon as we get everything else done. But we never get everything else done.
Still, it sticks in the back of our mind. We cannot put it down. It continues to bother us. What are you going to do about it? How do you solve a problem like that?
You do what you can do …sooner rather than later. You come to the banquet. You invite others to the banquet. You dress for the occasion because it is a great occasion.
I once took some of my Course of Study classmates to Kinkead’s, a special place in Washington, D.C. A friend of mine from Valier had brought a group of Montanans to the same place many years before.
I asked for a dessert menu and told them I was buying. I am a person of modest means, but they did not have a job as a deputy city attorney to supplement their incomes. I wanted to offer them a gesture of respect and congratulation.
They were impressed, and the chocolate desserts were as amazing as ever. But one of them looked at the menu and saw what I would be paying for his dessert…and he thought it was scandalous.
He slapped his menu shut and refused to order anything. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong when all I was trying to do was to honor them for what they were doing…under even more difficult circumstances than I faced.
In the final analysis, I had to respect Barry’s reaction…which I did. But I wish I could have thanked Barry… in some little way…for the kindness he was showing others…every Sunday…in every way I could…with a small kindness I could show him then and there.
Jesus wanted to show the world more than kindness. He wanted to share…God’s love for us…with us. He knew all that it meant to him and he wanted us to feel some of the same gratitude he had come to know.
Moses wanted to show the world more than kindness. He, too, wanted us to know God’s love for us. He labored mightily that the children of God might reach the Promised Land.
We need to accept and give thanks for all those who have gone before us and have left us with a beautiful building and a wonderful Christian community of believers…in a beautiful place at a pivotal time in our history as Americans… as Christians…as human beings.
And once I get started with that, don’t try to stop me. Let us give thanks for the task that God entrusts us with today. Let us give thanks for those who have shown us we are not alone…and have never been alone.
Let us give thanks for each other and the hope that beats within our hearts in the name of Jesus Christ.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.