October 12, 2008


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October 12, 2008
Exodus 32:1-14
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."
32:2 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."
32:3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
32:4 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!"
32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD."
32:6 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.
32:7 The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;
32:8 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!'"
32:9 The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.
32:10 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."
32:11 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?
32:12 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.
32:13 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.'"
32:14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Philippians 4:1-9
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
4:2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
4:3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
4:8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
4:9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

As you may remember, a couple of weeks ago I left my sermon on the printer and had to preach from memory. I remembered my main points, but I forgot the quotations I was going to tell you from the Book of Bill:
1. If you’ve got the cards, make them pay. This little bit of wisdom cost me $10 in nickels, dimes, and quarters, because Bill does follow his own advice.
2. There’s nothing worse than a second-best hand. This is especially true if everybody at the table is following Rule Number 1. This only cost me $5 to learn.
3. Nothing will kill you quicker than responsibility without authority.
Rule Number 3 might be why ministers are so strange, because they have a lot of responsibility, but darned little authority. There is one school of thought that says a minister is responsible for the soul of every congregant in his care. St. John Chrysostom said that it was very hard for a bishop to get into heaven. He said the floor of hell was paved with the skulls of bishops. He was a bishop, so I guess he knows for sure now.
Our two scriptures give two accounts of ministers dealing with their flocks.
The first of these ministers was Aaron who was Moses’ brother. When Moses went up the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, he was gone for longer than the people expected him to be gone. They didn’t know how to get from Egypt to Israel, but they thought they knew how long it ought to take to get the Ten Commandments. God does things in his own time.
While Moses was gone, they got a little antsy and decided they wanted to indulge in a little idol worship. They went to Aaron and said make some gods for us.
Now we can look at that and say that it’s ridiculous. You can’t make a god. How can you possibly make a god? Who would want to worship a god they could make?
Isn’t that the best kind, though? If you make a god, it is exactly what you want it to be. If you make a god, you can pretend it’s all about wearing your prettiest clothes on Sunday morning and not about changing the way you live. You can pretend that you don’t have to worry about your fellow man.
Aaron responds to them by taking their gold jewelry and melting it down into a golden calf. I can feel safe in saying that I wouldn’t build you a golden calf. I couldn’t even make you one out of soap, much less gold.
But I can’t be too hard on Aaron because what he did is a common failing of ministers. Many ministers run with their hearts instead of their heads. They want their congregations to love them, so while they might not actually make a god out of gold, they will try to turn God into something that is more palatable. God isn’t quite good enough the way he is, so they turn him into someone who does nothing but worry about Y-O-U 24/7.
Don’t get me wrong. God loves you, but he doesn’t arrange his day around you. He’s our father and he’s got 4,5,6 billion other children to worry about. Some of their needs conflict with some of your needs, so he does what a father does. He says, “Work it out.”
This is much what the Apostle Paul said to Euodia and Syntyche in our reading from Philippians. Apparently Euodia and Syntyche had been at odds with one another. There is some cold comfort in know that there were good Christians fighting each other in church even back then. Those were still the days when you could become famous forever and ever just by being in a church quarrel.
I am glad that I stick to the lectionary so that I can preach on something like this without there having been a fight that I know about.
I may be wrong, but it strikes me that Paul wasn’t one of those ministers who had to be loved. There was a disagreement in the church at Galatia over circumcision where he said, “If it’s that big a deal, they ought to just cut the whole thing off.” He’d told the church at Corinth, “Yes, we do have a message we give to the wise, but that ain’t you guys.”
So he doesn’t tell Euodia and Syntyche, “That’s okay. You are both right in your own way. You can just make friends with other people.”
He says, “I am calling you out in this letter that is being read in front of the whooooole congregation. GET ALONG! Everybody else, help them to get along. The work you are doing is much more important than whatever little silly thing you are arguing about.”
That is a man speaking with authority.
His authority came from God, but he only had it because the people in the churches were obedient to God. The next bit he says is so wonderful, I am going to have to say it again:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Father, help us not to make our own gods that we can control. Help us to seek you in truth. Help us find this peace that surpasses all understanding in your Son Jesus Christ. AMEN.