Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sermon: Good Relationship

Exodus 32:1-14

Relationship. According to the dictionary: The word means the way in which two or more concepts, objects or people are connected. The way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other. Relationship can be a good way of interacting, it can be a bad way of interacting. But let’s just focus on the good relationships for a moment. If I were to ask you what the elements of a good relationship are? What makes it so that two people can live together well, work together well? [open it up]

In today’s passage there are all sorts of relationships. There are good ones, there are not so good ones. First let me read it, and listen for the relationships. This is Exodus 32:1-14

The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”

Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He collected them and tied them up in a cloth. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” They got up early the next day and offered up entirely burned offerings and brought well-being sacrifices. The people sat down to eat and drink and then got up to celebrate.

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.

Listening for the relationship is a different way of listening to this passage isn’t it. There are four basic characters. Moses, the people of Israel, Aaron and God. Tim Scorer, a spiritual director, educator and author takes time to talk about the human characters of the story, and how and when we might see ourselves like them.

For example, we might feel like Moses when we have to entrust our responsibilities to someone else when we go away.

We might feel like Moses when we have to clean up the mess that happens when we are gone. Or when we have to intervene with authorities on behalf of those we love, as Moses intervenes for the people with God. We might understand how hard it can be to argue with one who is in authority over us. Yet Moses also represents people who have a lively relationship with God and receive deep promises from God.

Whereas the people of Israel represent us at very different times in life than Moses does.

We empathize with them when we become restless in the absence of our leader, when we feel an absence of connection with God and want something more, or perhaps when we want to be able to use our money to influence our religious community and perhaps even shape the practices of our faith.

And we will definitely understand what Aaron is going through when

we have been through a time when something disastrous has happened on our watch, when we are waiting for our boss to return or for someone else to come and fix it. We might even relate to him as one who refuses to take a stand even when we know that things are going wrong.[1]

Those are the human characters in the passage. Now, you may relate to one or another of these people more than others. You might feel like the Israelites and their relationship with God – impatient and wondering what will happen next. You might feel like Aaron, who should have taken a stand, ended up doing the wrong thing, and now probably feels pretty foolish as he looks at God. Or you may feel like Moses and have a strong relationship with God even though those around you are making a huge mess of it all. What makes the story interesting and in fact what makes it applicable to our lives are the ways these characters interact. The relationships between them.

And you could go lots of directions analyzing that, but let’s focus on how God has a strong relationship with Moses, because I hope that all of us want a stronger relationship with God. I hope it is a pretty universal desire among us here.

The situation reaches its critical moment, when God sees what the people are doing. God is not happy that the people have forgotten about God and built an idol after all that God has done for them. God is frustrated and hurt. And here is what is amazing, God tells Moses that. “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. Now leave me alone!” It takes a pretty good relationship for someone to come to you and say to you, I’m really mad at that other person.

But it goes even further, because even though God says, “Now leave me alone.” -- Moses argues back with God, and he says, “Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people.” God actually is open to input from Moses on how to handle the situation. This idea may leave us confused – because we expect God to have all the answers, we expect God to be perfect and know it all. What it suggests to us is that God is more about relationship than about setting our destinies in stone, and plotting out our lives ahead of time. Perhaps what makes God perfect is God’s ability to work with us in relationship.

In other words, God is less like a clock-maker who made a perfect machine and started the universe in motion, and more like the perfect coach who motivates the team throughout the game. And as a perfect coach, God actually listens when the players want to have input into the game-plan, if the ideas are good. It is a much more relational view of God. It certainly fits with our ideas that God loves and forgives – even in the midst of relationship problems – as God does with the Israelites here, and as God does with us throughout our lives.

What this passage shows us about God is that God is deeply committed to being in relationship with Moses. But it also suggests that when we say that God wants to be in relationship with us as human beings, when we say that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us as individuals, that God may want to be able to interact with us much as God did with Moses. In other words, God wants to be able to tell us when we have done things that anger or frustrate God. God wants us to be free to share when we are becoming impatient, and are on the verge of giving up and looking for something else because God has taken too long. God is open to our input, and we can argue with God about how things should be done.

All of this is part of our prayer life. Of talking with God and listening to God.

And of course, in those moments God also reminds us that God loves and forgives us. All of these things are part of a good relationship with God, even as they are part of a good relationship with others. It is a willingness to stay in relationship even during the tough times.

The good news is that God wants relationship with us. Relationship in its best form. Where we are able to communicate openly and clearly, where give and take is expected, and where love and forgiveness are the foundation.

[1] Seasons of the Spirit, Finding Meaning in Exodus, Tim Scorer

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