October 7, 2012

October 7, 2012

October 7, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Title:  "Prone to Wander, Prone to Grace"  Text: Exodus 32:1-14.   Here we are continuing “learn and live the God Story.”

Today, we move from the book of Genesis – – remember Abe’s promise: Land, People, Blessing – – as the book of Genesis ends, the promised land “promise” has not been fulfilled. . . thus the saga continues.
As Exodus begins, the nation of Israel (Jacob’s family) is growing in the land of Egypt, and Pharoah (control freak, dictator) wants to keep Israel under his thumb.
In the midst of this oppression, God raises up a fairly non-spectacular leader named Moses (Ex. 3:1-10). Moses has had God’s hand of protection on his life. . . he was spared as a baby during Pharoah’s efforts of “population control.” And though Moses is a liar, a murderer, prone to temper tantrums, and quite insecure. . . God calls MOSES to lead his people out of their bondage in Egypt. “Here I am, Lord. . .” (is this bold, or is this with much fear and trepidation? See Ex. 3:11-14)
And then we see Moses as YHWH’s prophet, in Exodus 7-10, we read of the Lord’s plagues upon Egypt and Pharoah’s stubborn refusal and hardening of heart. He will not let God’s people go.
Finally, the Lord plans to deliver one final and horrific plague against the Egyptians: the killing of all firstborn children and animals (in the end, Pharoah gets what he started, human violence and creation violence!). The Israelites would be spared this plague by participating in the Passover meal and smearing the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of their homes (Ex. 11:4-8; 4:21-23).

Now many of us know what happens next right? (Haven’t we all seen the “Prince of Egypt?”). Pharoah lets God’s people go and they take the “road out” (exodus) – – they are delivered by YHWH at the sea of reeds and the people of God (the nation of Israel) escape from Egyptian oppression.

[pause: Why does God appear to be so violent? How do we reconcile/wrestle with the wrath and fury of God?]

answer: First a warning – don’t conjure up in your imagination a mean God who’s always chomping at the bit, ready to bring wrath on people. Even in the early parts of the God story so far, I hope we are seeing/ “imaging” a God of grace. A God who always tips the scales towards grace VS judgment. Yes, judgment does happen
[ie. sent out of the garden, Abe’s family wasn’t perfect and there’s lots of mess, Joseph’s brothers have consequences for how they behave]
but grace far outweighs judgement. When judgement, death, plagues, consequences happen to humanity, this is not done by a vengeful God who just can’t wait to torment people. These consequences/judgments are the result of a God who created order in the midst of chaos, and yet the chaos keeps on pushing back into God’s ordered world – – sometimes via the voice of a serpent, sometimes through seduction by a beautiful villain, sometimes through the power-hungry narcissistic demi-god neurosis of a pharaoh, sometimes through lapses of judgments when we choose to “go for the kill” rather than show mercy.
This is the God Story, but this is not a story about how God is mad at the world!
There’s lots to be said about this tension of grace & judgment . . . but the big arch of the God story is that God always tips the scales towards grace.

Ahhh, the simple question of God and Evil . . enough for now. . . let’s get back to the Exodus at hand. . .

After the Exodus events of chapters 12:37-15:21, Israel goes through what some commentators call the “Wilderness Wanderings” (15:22-18:27). Because of her fickle obedience, Israel would wander. . .

Here is where we read of Israel’s thirst, hunger, complaint to Moses and God’s provision of water, manna & quail – – they long for Egypt, but God keeps on urging them to live into their journey of salvation and freedom. . .

God’s people end up at the base of Mount Sinai. And Exodus 19 is a poignant declaration of God’s purpose and “identity-formation” for this people Israel:

3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’

And the last part of Exodus is time spent in Sinai. Here is where Israel receives the covenant and the law (the 2 stone tablets, the 10 commandments). And yet in the wake of this new “how to live as the people of God” commandments, it is here in Sinai where Israel would again “fall” for the voices of chaos and find herself in need of restoration.

And it is this repeat “fall” that is our second testament text of the day.

32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

As we drop into this story, what’s the tone of what’s going on?

Impatience? Indifference? Obtuse-ness?

“Come make gods for us. . . . we do not know what has become of Moses.”

When the going gets tough, God’s people get. . . gods! ? !

But what about the first & second commandments! “You shall have no other gods before me” + “You shall not make for yourself an image of God, You shall not bow down or worship them.”

Moses was gone for 40 days! It’s the “40 day Lull”. . . You can’t expect us to wait for 40 days can you?

A lot can happen in 40 days – – In that pregnant pause of 40 days, when God doesn’t seem to be doing what God ought to do. . . or when God is silent. Can you imagine some of the other “God has left the building LULLS” that have already occurred in the God Story so far?

“Did God really say. . .?” (3:1)
Then the Lord said to Cain “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” Cain’s response? “[Abel], let’s go out to the field!” (4:6-8)
Tower of Babel: “Come let us build ourselves a city. . . and make a name for OURSELVES!” (11:4)
Sarai to Abram: “The Lord has kept me from having children. . . .Go, sleep with my servant; perhaps I can build a family through her!” (16:2)
Frail, blind and weak Isaac (about to give the eldest son his blessing) says, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau”. . . . “Are you really my son Esau?”
[pregnant pause] Jacob replies: “I am” (27:23-24).
And from Anne’s sermon two weeks ago: “So Joseph went after his brothers. . . but they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him” (37:18).

Fast-forward 4000 years from the time of Abraham – –

Can you think of your own 40-day lull? ? A time of anxious, “defiance-inducing” waiting?

• I’ve shared that story when Sandy phoned me at lunchhour, during our 1st year of marriage, and told me she was pregnant. . . then said, “gotta go!” And from 1:00-5:00, I had 4 anxious hours. Shaking my fists at God, saying, don’t you know what I’ve got going on here? I’m a seminary student! I’ve got work to do for the Lord! Can’t you see how having a child might get in the way?
• It turns out that we weren’t pregnant (3 more tests later) but I can NOT say my first promptings were prone towards “joyful obedience.”

What are we waiting for in these days?

A lot can happen in a 40 day lull, or 40 hour lull, or 40 minutes, or 4 seconds. . .

Impatience. Indifference. Obtuse, and defiant disobedience.

In today’s “40 day lull” . . .

4He (Aaron) took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and [ HE ] they said, ‘THIS IS YOUR GOD, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’
. . . .
[they] offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

This story can’t turn out good can it? If our image of God is made in the image of ourselves, then look out! And we get a glimpse of how we might want God to respond here right? Bad people + mad God = verses 9-10:

9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’

YHWH wants to re-boot the Abraham project! Moses could be the new Abraham. . . (you know, kind of like the Bourne movies. . . God will call it the “Abraham Legacy” – – he doesn’t need to resurrect Abraham, he’ll simply use Moses this time!)
[ Do you think, for just a split-second, that Moses had dreams of a new line of T-shirts or robes with letters emblazoned on them saying “Moses: The New Abraham”]

But Moses, possessed by fear, or pity, compassion, a stroke of luck and insight cries out:

Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’

And what does YHWH do? The God who is everlasting from everlasting, the God whose ways are higher than ours, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, the God who laid the earth’s foundation while the morning stars sang together. . .

This God of Israel strikes down with. . . GRACE! God changes his mind!

And thus the People of God live happily ever after.

Uhhhhhhhhhhh. . . not so quick.

Yes, YHWH changes his mind. But judgment and consequence prevail. See vv. 15-35.
Moses gets mad as hades at what’s gone on in his absence, his brother Aaron is a blubbering mess, the people are running wild, the Levites go on a killing rampage and kill 3000 of the million people that are camped out in Sinai, Moses goes back up the mountain and pleads for more forgiveness and then is re-affirmed in his call to lead the people to the promised land.

Which leaves us with “what” to hold onto in terms of our year-long theme words of: providence, transformation, and restoration?

Today, we might find ourselves in a variety of “40 day lulls.” A time of waiting, where the only thing that is growing is anxiety and indifference.

The voices of chaos, the voices of darkness, the voices of the tempter might be enticing US into the WAY of the flesh VS the WAY of the spirit. Places where we are ruled by questions like: “How do I feel?” “How do I look?” “How do I control?” VS devoting ourselves to live into the destinies of our God-given identities: freedom, deliverance & salvation.

As we dwell in the world of our sacred text – – May we encounter a God who moves towards us with GRACE . . .
Will we PAUSE and pay attention to a God who is prone to grace while we are prone to wander?
As we look ahead into this Moses/YHWH story, we see this GRACE in even a fuller sense (Chapter 34:5-9) – –

Moses Makes New Tablets
34The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke.

2Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. 3No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.’

4So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone.

5The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, ‘The Lord.’

6The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.’

8And Moses quickly bowed his head towards the earth, and worshipped. 9He said, ‘If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’

The phrase from that great hymn “Come Thou Fount” echoes here:
“prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the one I love. . .”

And yet, God is always tipping the scales to grace.

‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation. . .

As we come to the table of the Lord this morning, may our God of love and GRACE, woo you from the places of the “40 day lull”. . . woo you from the voices of temptation and destruction, and draw you into a broad space, a space of good foundation, a place of mercy, forgiveness & a future.

Today’s gospel passage has that powerful promise of Jesus to the thief on the cross: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Today, Jesus invites us to be with him. With him in joy and suffering. With him at the table of our Lord. Not just remembering him – – but also consuming him (remember this theme from August?) that we would consume Jesus and be consumed by him.

And as we are consumed by the living God. . . may WE be a people who are always tipping the scales towards grace, humbling ourselves, fleeing from the places of temptation and toil and moving OUT. . . being the hands, feet, and voice of a God whose “is-ness” is mercy, grace, love & faithfulness.

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious. . . abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

[silent reflection]