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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 32:1–14

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.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now 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.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember 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 forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. (NRSV)

We could reflect on so many aspects of this passage! I just returned from preaching at a Stewardship conference, so naturally, my attention was first drawn to the golden calf and the wastefulness of that idolatry. And, of course, we could spend hours discussing how strongly God feels about idolatry, about God’s creatures worshiping anything or anyone other than God as ultimate reality. God feels strongly enough about it to make it the first commandment! But what strikes me the most is the back-and-forth conversation between God and Moses.

God is completely honest with Moses about God’s anger and disappointment in God’s people. And can we blame God? God had liberated these same people from slavery—bringing plagues, parting the waters, lighting their way ahead with fire in the heavens, etc. And how do this people respond? They whine and complain. They don’t trust in God’s care for them and the first chance they get, they decide to make their own god in the hopes that the idol will be more useful. No wonder God’s heart breaks and God responds with fierce anger. But Moses (would you have had this courage?) refuses to stay silent. Rather, Moses courageously chooses to respond to God by reminding God who God is. Think about that for a moment. Moses reminds God who God is. Moses reminds God how God went to all of those extremes to save God’s people from oppression and exploitation. Moses reminds God how God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob) to make their descendants as numerous as the stars and to be their God forever.

Moses must have been quite a preacher, because God does indeed remember and God changes God’s mind and remains patient and does not respond out of anger and wrath. God changes God’s mind. It is right there in the text. Moses reminds God who God is and God remembers and shifts. Might that be a function of our prayers? On some days, does God hope we, like Moses, will remind God of all the promises God has made—promises of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of mercy—so that God can remember again and respond? Does God count on our honesty and courage shining through in our prayers?

O God of our ancestors, I pray that today, you will remember all the promises you have made to your people and to this world. Remember that you have promised to rain down justice and righteousness. Remember that you have promised to bring a day when every last tear is wiped away. Remember that you have promised that evil will not have the last word. Remember, O God, and then show me how you are bringing those promises into fruition. We need to see you fulfilling your promises. Our lives depend on it. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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