Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; Ex 24:3-8; Ex 32:1-4; Aug 13, 2006

Ex.24.3-8; Ex.32.1-4
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2006
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:3-8, ESV)
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods 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.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:1-4, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I’m sure the Israelites didn’t just wake up that morning and say to themselves, “Today seems like a good day to break the first commandment.” After all the commandments were only 12 chapters old. (We just read about them in chapter 20!) Moses was on the mountain for forty days… up there with all that rumbling and lighting. It was a constant reminder of all that God had done. And yet… it was also a reminder of all that was fearful about God himself. They were afraid… afraid of their future, and afraid of God, afraid of a future without God, or at least without someone who could keep God at a distance… someone who could talk to God for them… someone who could bear the lightning and thunder and the anger of God. After all just look at what God did to the Egyptians!
It’s easy for us to look at these folks, who God brought through the desert, and wonder, “How could they doubt God? After all they had seen… flies, locust, darkness, blood, hail, and all the other plagues and water from rocks and manna from heaven. Not to mention the pillar of cloud and fire, and the walls of water at the red sea and the dead Egyptian soldiers floating in the water.  These people, who wanted a new god, had a virtual catalog of the power and protection of their own God, YHWH… “I AM who I AM” He gave them His personal name.  How could they doubt Him? How could they fall so easily into the breaking of the very first commandment, when the ink wasn’t even dry yet? How could they while God was literally carving the words in stone with his very own hand; even when they had the signs and promises of God? How could they after all that God had done for them?”
I think the question we should really as is how could we?  Because we do the very same things that they did. “Oh but, Pastor, we don’t have the same signs that they did. God doesn’t appear in a miraculous pillar of fire to protect us from our enemies like He did them. We don’t see water walled up on either side of us as we walk through the red sea, we don’t have Pharaoh’s dead armies as proof of God’s work. It just isn’t the same for us.
Well, I think it is the same. We have the same issues as the Israelites.  It isn’t that they doubt in the face of miracles, miracles don’t change anyone’s mind about God. What they really wanted was a god that was like the other gods they knew about, the gods of the nations around them. Look at what they tell Aaron.  “Make us gods that will go before us! Make us a god like the gods of the other nations, ones we can see, ones who won’t strike us dead because of our sin, one who will indulge us and bend to our will, ones we can manipulate to make our lives what we want them to be; ones who will be happy with our offerings, and our works.”  They wanted a god of their own making.
And there we are standing right in the middle of the crowd around the golden calf.  Even in the face of some pretty miraculous and visible signs. God is doing great things among us all the time, things that show us who He is and how He loves us. That’s exactly why God gave us this soon to be 100 year old building. We just forget that it’s really God’s building, because we have to spend, what we think is our money to keep it up. But what a gift, right here in this place God does miracles. Baptism is one. It’s our Red Sea. Right through these waters we come into the promised land of God. We go from slavery in sin to freedom in Christ. We are washed clean. We are made a new person. It’s a perfectly visible miracle. It’s one you can put your hands in and get wet. And in a few moments we’ll have another real tangible miracle. In this 100 year old building we’ll receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Right here He offers you forgiveness of your sins. You come forward open your hands and hearts and mouths and receive God’s promise for you. It’s the blood of the new covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It’s real. You can see it. You can touch it. You can taste it. The blood of the Passover Lamb saved the Israelites from death. The blood of Jesus saves you from eternal death. There’s that old Baptist hymn that goes
There is power, power, wonder working power In the blood of the Lamb;
It’s true. There is power in Jesus blood because, Jesus purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. We come into contact with the power of God’s saving blood here at this rail. What a miracle! No less physical that those that happened in the desert, no less bold.
There is another thing to see in this old building; your brothers and sisters in faith. Think about how you have seen the faith at work here. You have friends who have suffered illness, death and tragedy. How has God shown himself in those times? “I’m not asking God to take away my problem, only that His will be done.” “I could never have lived through it if God hadn’t given me the strength.” “Yes, I’ve had it tough, but what about you, how are you?” You’ve heard statements like these. Maybe you’ve heard them from your own mouth and wondered where it came from. But, you see, God is at work here in His people, even as they suffer. God is at work here among His people even as they die. If you take a moment and think about it, you’ll be able to recall how God is active in the lives of those around you now.
But still, in the face of signs like these, no less powerful than the signs God gave in Egypt. We, too, are guilty of forming a golden calf of our own. And it’s made of our own Gold. We want what they wanted; a god of our own making; a god of our own imagination; a god we can be in control of and that’ll stay inside this building and not cross north of highway 34.
  • “I understand that divorce is wrong. But for me it’s right.”

  • “Living together isn’t as bad as we thought it was. Times have changed. The church better get with the program.”

  • “I’ll do anything you want, but I won’t teach Sunday school.”

  • “I’ll keep my money, until we have a Pastor that I like.”

  • “Don’t ask me to get involved with God’s plans here; I’ve got too many other plans of my own. I’m already over committed.”

  • “Whatever you do don’t schedule a church function on a basketball night or during harvest.”
The children of Israel said, “make us a gods that will go before us. Make a god we can control.” Are there times when we say, “Pastor make a god for us that isn’t so demanding…. make one that will allow me to control my own future, one that won’t make me uncomfortable by showing me my sin. Make one that won’t be so demanding about my time and money, one that I can go to in times of trouble but ignore when things are going fine.  Make us a god that will let me do whatever I want without asking me to change my life.” And there we are throwing our earrings into the fire. Pretty soon out pops a golden calf and we dance to the music because we’ve made a god in the place of the God who shed His own blood to save us.
We should be shaking with fear. We should be hiding under the pew in terror. But, God doesn’t strike us dead as we deserve. He doesn’t give us a plague to bear… or even worse turn away from us and leave us on our own, as we so often ask him to do. He doesn’t do that because of what He has already done for us. He has made for us a covenant, a promise, just like he did with His straying children in the desert. He has made with us a covenant of blood.
It is just like the promises He made to the Children of Israel when He had Moses sprinkle blood on them, just like when he promised the Angel of Death would pass over them when blood was placed on their doorposts. Even though the people’s faithless promise still hung in the air as the golden calf was being made, God still honored his promises. They were given the Promised Land, they became a great nation and all the world has indeed been blessed through them. God kept his promises to them.
Our covenant in blood is made with God’s own Son, Jesus Christ hanging and bleeding and dying on a cross. Just like the blood that is sprinkled on the people by Moses, Jesus sheds his own to be sprinkled on us. There’s power in the blood.  It seals the promise of forgiveness that is given to us by God himself.
We didn’t get up today and say, “Today seems like a good day to break the first commandment.” It just happens in the course of our busy lives. We let other things become more important. We just want God fit into our lives just the way they are. But, God has plans for us. He has promises for us. He has a promised land in mind for us, too. It’s a promised land that begins right here and now. He gives us signs and wonders to strengthen our faith. Water poured over our heads that makes us his children, his body and blood given and shed, eaten and drank; forgiveness of sins, even when the sin is making a god for ourselves.
Dear Christian friends; Today is a good day to keep the first commandment. We keep it every time we realize our own sin, our own fault, and turn to God through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for forgiveness. He offers it free to us. There’s nothing to be done. Just open our hands and receive it.  He gives it freely. That’s His promise. And God always keeps His promises.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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