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This post focuses on the process of change. There is a scripture reading, a reflection, and music from Hilton Jones. Colleen Coughenour reads Exodus 32:1-14. This is the story of the golden calf. While Moses is away praying to God on the mountain, the people take matters into their own hands and, Moses’ brother, Aaron, left in charge, is quite willing to placate his base. A golden calf. Sure. No problem.
Video from Colleen
Moses was an extremely long time in returning from the mountain, and when the people saw this, they turned to Aaron and said, “Come and make a god for us, someone who will lead us. We don’t know what has happened to that Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt.”
Aaron replied, “Remove the gold earrings you are wearing – wives and husbands, sons and daughters alike – and bring them all to me.” All the people brought their gold earrings to Aaron. Aaron took the gold, melted it down and cast it in a mold, and made it into a calf, a young bull.
Then the people said, “Israel, here is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before the idol, proclaiming, “Tomorrow we will have a feast in honor of Yahweh!“
In the morning the people rose early, sacrificing burnt offerings and bringing communion offerings, and then they sat down to eat and drink, and lost themselves in debauchery.
Yahweh said to Moses, “Go down, now! These people whom you led out of Egypt have corrupted themselves! In such a short time, they have turned from the way that I have given them, and made themselves a molten calf. Then they worshipped it and sacrificed to it saying, ‘Israel, here is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”
Yahweh then said to Moses, “I look at these people – how stubborn they are! Now leave me to myself so that my anger may pour out on them, and destroy them! But you I’ll make into a great nation.”
Then Moses soothed the face of Yahweh, his God. “But why, my God, should you let your wrath pour out on these people whom you delivered from Egypt with great might, with a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘Their God intended to destroy them all along, to kill them in the mountains, to erase them from the earth?’ Turn your back on your rage; reconsider the disaster you intended for your people. Do not forget Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, and Leah and Rachel and Jacob, your chosen ones, to whom you promised, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; I will give to you all this land which I have promised – I will give it to your descendants, and they will enjoy its inheritance forever.’”
So Yahweh relented, and the disaster that threatened the Israelites was forestalled.
Reflection from Kim
Ok. This reflection is not going to be about the election. From what I hear, people are so saturated and inundated with election news that it would not be of spiritual succor to talk about the election. I get it.
What I am going to talk about is change. Transformation. The emergence of social values and norms.
We are in a time of major transition in human history/human emergence. And accelerating climate change is a big component of this time of transition. We’re in a radical turning – like the transition to settled agriculture, or the use of fire as a tool, or the invention of the wheel. This transformation is technological, biological, and social/spiritual. Things are changing. Maybe not in the way we would like sometimes. Maybe not fast enough at times. But things are changing.
And as with previous major human transitions, we don’t know just where we are going or how long it will take to get there. That will only be known from hindsight.
And here we turn to the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness. This grand Biblical epic. The Hebrews migrated to Egypt during a drought to find food. Then they become enslaved. The story tells us that God hears their cries under the burden of their oppression and liberates them from slavery in Egypt. Then there are 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before settling in the land of milk and honey.
There are many chapters in the Hebrew scriptures devoted to those years of wandering. The group is led by a cloud in the day and fire at night. There are stories about needing water. Stories of hunger and manna and quail.
There are stories of the giving of the law – the 10 commandments. Twice. And many other directives regarding daily life, religious observance, a judicial system, a priestly system. Extensive directives on many, many matters. All aimed toward creating a model society of justice and peace.
In Exodus 23, we find these directives:
“When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.”
We could see this as a statement about animal rights.
And, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
That is certainly a message that still needs to be heard by all church-going Americans today. You were once an alien, an immigrant, a transplant.
And, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits.”
Yup. It actually says that in the Bible. Don’t screw the poor in the legal system.
I wonder if the president has ever read the Bible he waved around outside the church in Washington, DC?
And there is this instruction in Deuteronomy:
“If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.” [22:6]
There’s surely a conservation message there.
And there is the specific directive: “You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” [Ex. 20:23]
Ah. That was one of the rules that was forgotten as we heard in the story of the golden calf. The ideal is set forth, but it takes a long time to get there. With many fits and starts along the way.
We are told of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years. That’s a long time for a society to be nomadic immigrants. But change takes time. Re-creation can be a slow process. The people leave Egypt and must adjust to being out from under the Egyptian boot. They must learn to let go of fear. They must heal from the internalized oppression. They must regain their agency. They must figure out how to organize themselves. Set up social structures to embody their commitment to justice and compassion. Create a system of religious observance that keeps their life together focussed on this ideal community that is the expression of the dreams of God. It takes time. It takes the passing of generations. Moses sees the promised land but does not enter it. His life ends and Joshua takes over leading the people into their new forever home.
The process of transitioning from slavery to a model community takes time and it is by no means a smooth, well-marked path. The story of the golden calf is only one of the many hurdles to be overcome. Challenges that required Moses to de-escalate God’s wrath and mobilize the re-commitment of the people. Change is not easy.
And in a sense we are still wandering in the wilderness, trying to make our way to a social order that is characterized by peace, justice, and well-being for all. As Americans we say, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is a long process. Significant change takes time. There is stumbling along the way. There is back sliding. And there are glorious leaps forward. Like the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s. We must continue the journey. We must band together and recommit again and again and make our way toward Shalom, the beloved community, the commonwealth of God.
We are part of a long process in our faith tradition and in the emergence of human history. And right now we are in the midst of a significant transition in the human drama. And yes, there is an election. And yes, it matters. But there is still a long road ahead and I am glad to be on that journey with the Lakewood UCC community! Amen.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)