Patience and Choice
Patience and choice Exodus 32:1-14 Today offers to us one of the Bible's very best written stories. Aaron is my favorite character today.in the text. Moses gave the people and Aaron explicit orders "And to the elders he (Moses) said, 'Wait here for us (he includes Joshua in the us) until we come to you; Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has any over-against words may draw near to them'" (Ex. 24:14). Well, in chapter 32 the people indeed become master of the words and bring a nasty dispute to Aaron (Hur is nowhere to be found). "When the people saw that Moses was ashamed to come down off the mountain, the people mobbed together against Aaron, and they said to him, 'Get up! Make elohim (God? gods?) for us who will walk before us! As for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what it is to him'" (Ex. 32:1). The point appears to be that from the people's point of view Moses has deserted them and they think it's shameful, a dastardly plot to allow them to die at the base of the terrifying mountain, as it heaves and thunders with fire and smoke (Ex. 19). The root of the problem here really isn't idolatry. It's patience. If you remember: From the moment the Israelites left their homes in Egypt and headed down to the sea shore on their way to the wilderness, they were plumb eat upwith impatience. First they thought Pharaoh's army was going to slaughter them all. Then they thought they would starve-and, oh! Remember those cucumbers they had back in Egypt! Then they were thirsty and thought they'd dehydrate. Then they wanted meat, because the miracle bread started to be a little too much. Then Moses was taking too long up on the mountain talking to God-as the thunder and earthquakes from God's immanent Presence roared overhead."...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." 2 They start speaking to Aaron without a shred of conciliation or politeness. "Get up and make gods," they shout, because this Moses has obviously left us alone to die, and we cannot last another day, another minute, without some sort of God or gods to lead us. As for that guy Moses, well, "we do not know what it is to him," which I take to mean that they have completely forgotten that he told them he was going up the mountain to chat with God and would return to bring them the divine news of the day. As far as they know, Moses and God are engaged in a handball tournament or a solo beach volleyball game.They can't just sit still, and revel in gratitude that they aren't making bricks anymore. They have ants in-the-pants Can't wait any longer. Time to make an idol. This is one of those spiritual lessons that we should have no problem identifying with. For, if there's anything that we have a hard time with in our culture, it's waiting. We have no patience. We expect everything to happen quickly. Immediately. I mean, just think back to the moments you've (surely) had at sometime this week, when your Internet connection started to get a little slow. When your iPhone had a hard time catching a signal. When you sent a text 20 minutes ago, and the other party hasn't text back. You know there is a great spiritual treasure to be found in waiting - the practice of cultivating patience. It's a practice that raises faith to a profound trust that God is working, and moving even when things seem to be going nowhere. And that God's good time, is the right time. Remember glaciers move, even against all appearance to the contrary. That's why we are having so much trouble during this pandemic. It should be over. Why can't we have it the way it was. School is different, church is different. We aren't happy because we can't have it the way we want it right now. Patience! It's a practice which forces us to put our needs to the side for a bit, and focus on seeing the world and the unfolding of God's plan and revelation as God sees fit to unfold it. 3 Meanwhile back at the camp the dispute is definitely on! What Aaron does in response to this astonishing demand is quite amazing and deeply puzzling. "Aaron said to them, 'Take off the rings of gold that is in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring (them) to me'" (Ex. 32:2). I am immediately & profoundly suspicious of this request. There is quite obvious reason: the people have in effect demanded that Aaron break the first two of the Ten Commandments! They first say that it was Moses who brought them out of the land of Egypt, which, while technically true, is not finally the one behind their freedom. Remember the one that said God in the first Commandment makes crystal clear: "I am God, your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Ex. 20:2a). They then they said that Aaron should "make them a god who will walk before" them, YEP they just shattered the second Commandment: "you must have no other god over against my face" (Ex. 20:2b). Great stories work on the basis of expectations, and this one is no different. Aaron has been left in charge on Moses behalf, and as such we expect him to reject this ridiculous demand out of hand! "Who do you think you are?" he might have said. Or didn't you hear that Moses is even now in a meeting with the only God that there is in the universe, and that he will come back to you with news from that great God that will make your lives richer and fuller? Or he could have held tough and said Your request for other gods is offensive to me, to Moses, and to God!" Or something like that But NO! Push over Aaron just demands gold from the angry people rather than put them in their places as the ingrates and blasphemers that they are. "All the people took off the rings of gold from their ears and brought (them) to Aaron" (Ex, 32: 3). 4 And Aaron proceeds to execute an incredible plan. "He took (the rings) from their hand and fashioned them with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf" (Ex. 32:4a). In every sense Aaron's work is artistic and lengthy. The verb "fashion" is the same one found at Genesis 2 when God "fashions" you and me on the potter's wheel, making each one of us into a human being, breathed into existence with God's very breath. And though I have never made any gold jewelry, I know that when softened by fire, the metal is malleable and may be made into shapes only limited by the imagination and skill of the artisan performing the work. And Aaron made a golden calf. The people take one look at the gleaming calf and proclaim, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4b). Now they aren't thinking it is Moses who has brought them out of Egypt, but this new-made calf. So they are getting farther and farther away from the true source of their freedom. Whatever Aaron had in mind for his calf, it has now become another stumbling block for the people he has been charged to lead. So, he tries to salvage the brewing disaster by building "an altar in front of it (the calf) and preaching, 'Tomorrow will be a feast for God!' (Ex. 32:5). Yeah, too much, too little, too late And in the morning the people go through the motions of a typical God service. "They sacrificed whole burnt offerings and brought peace offerings near," no doubt with smiles of piety on their lips, dressed in their finest worshipping garb. But then, their real intent shines through. "They sat down to eat and drink (dinner on the grounds after worship), which is at the base of the holy mountain. The people who worship the calf, made by Aaron, they proceed to leave their phony god worship behind as they get into acts that ought not be named. And this appalling behavior is the direct result of Aaron's creation of the molten calf at their loud demand. We are a lot like Aaron. we want it both ways. 5 He wants to be a leader of the chosen people, but he is of what they want. "Make us gods," they say, and he willy-nilly makes them gods. And when they decide that this calf is just what they have been waiting for, they turn their full allegiance to the calf, and forget both Moses and God . And then, Aaron tries to make it better by building a Hebrew altar right in front of the calf, perhaps attempting to obscure the thing behind the sacred stones.He tries to lead them in Hebrew worship, but it is far too late. The minute Aaron leaves to take off his robe head to the parsonage for prayer (or something; he is after all not in any of the verbs of 32:6), those people went wild and engage in acts far from those God had in mind for them. Aaron may wanted to lead, but his leadership was a complete failure. He has led them, all right, directly into the arms of a false god and devastating actions. I see Aaron in us. We want it both ways. We want things our way now. We want the way of the world - to do what we want, when we want and how we want. We pray the Lord's prayer each Sunday that says Thy will be done. But we sure don't want to wait on his will. Aaron's not dead; he is alive in us whenever we try to have it both ways: a little bit of God and a little bit of the calf, too. And Moses confronts us as he confronted Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought on them a great sin?" (Ex. 32:21). And Aaron lied, big time, by claiming that the gold he received from the people magically popped out of the fire as a calf (Ex. 32:24)! But, of course, it did not; Aaron did it carefully and purposefully. Jesus said, "You cannot worship God and gold," and he was surely right. It is far past time that we give up trying to have our worship, our practice, our lives both ways. Either God reigns or God does not. The choice is always ours. Remember this, the divine irony is that God's response to the impatient children of Israel was to make them wait 40 years to get where they were going. Forty years to travel a few hundred miles. Please don't try to have it both ways. Have some patience. God will get us there in God's own good time.