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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Seasons of the Spirit, Finding Meaning in Exodus, Tim Scorer