Do Something!

Exodus 37:1-20          October 9, 2016

I wonder, how many of you had disagreements on your way out the door this morning. Or if there were any standoffs in the car on the way here, or delayed parking lot “get it together – we’re going to church now.” Which begs the question, how many of you felt like coming to worship this morning? How many of you felt like putting down the coffee cup and getting out of your pajamas to come and be around people and to worship God? Do you feel like being here today?

There are some mornings I wonder how it’s all going to go my own self. There are some mornings my heart needs a jumpstart or a transplant. There are some mornings I have to tell myself “you’re their pastor, Laura. You’ve got to show up. You get paid to be there.” And then, 99.9% of the time (it sounds insincere to say 100%, don’t you think?) my heart is changed through our being together, our singing together, our prayer, our joy and our lament that reminds me that it is the living, breathing God who calls us together into community through the creative, sneaky work of the Holy Spirit to worship.

I’ve been reading a book by Eugene Peterson, a theologian who also translated The Message version of the Bible. The book I’m reading, one chapter each morning, is called, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. One of the chapters I read this week was about worship and Peterson makes this claim: …I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith…the Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.

He goes on to say,

Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.[1]

Which brings us to today’s story. A story of false worship of a false God. Although, I think we’ve got to give the Israelites a little more credit. I think they made their own image of the true God. They were trying to worship God, it just got distorted to look like…something they could contain and control. Something they could recognize. A people impatient and ready to party, to feel good already. A gold god sounds about right.

You see, Moses was up on the mountain talking to God and it was taking a long time. We’re told 40 days and 40 nights which, in biblical language is not a known, set amount of time. It’s code for a really long time. So maybe it was just over a month’s time. Or maybe under. Or maybe it was a few months. It was long enough for the people to assume Moses had abandoned them and so they turned to his brother, Aaron, and said, “Do something.”

Did you notice that they did not say, “use our gold to make a golden calf for us to worship.”   They left it pretty open-ended – just do something.

Rob Bell is a writer and a theologian that I read and he does a weekly podcast – I commend it to you. He’s really good at talking church and religion and faith in a way that invites all kinds of listeners in. So this week he addressed the question of “How to listen to the news without losing your mind.” He differentiated between journalism and media and drove home his point by talking about headlines. The Huffington Post app he has on his phone gave the exact same headline space to the Civil War in Syria as it did to what Kim Kardashian wore to dinner.

If I stop and really think about what that means, if I really take that in, that Kim Kardashian and Syrian Civil War are right next to each other, taking up the same amount of space – it is disorienting. But when my eye rolling is done and my snark meter dies down, I have to really admit that it makes my heart hurt and it damages my spirit. Rob Bell says that being bombarded like this is spiritually devastating.

He goes on to frame this experience with an ancient Hebrew word called Kavode which is a word for weight. It began as a business term because to find out how valuable something was, you weighed it. Like gold and silver. But over time, this ancient Hebrew word came to refer to that which was holy or sacred, that which weighed more, had more significance to it.

So when you are bombarded with news from smart phones and tablets and watches and laptops and push notifications and scrolling headlines and you see that the same space was given to a massive loss of life and oppression as what a rich woman wore to dinner. Well that does something to you. It disorients and distorts your internal meter that says, “I should care about this and not about that.”  We are bombarded with images that tell us it’s all equal, it all matters, it all deserves our attention and that is just not true.

Because the truth of the matter is this: people in cubicles are making decisions about what you will see on your laptop, on your watch, on your smart phone, on the Facebook and the Twitter and all the rest. People in isolated cubicles, writing algorythms, who want you to rate their app and write a review about it, are making sure you hear about impending and dangerous weather conditions that don’t transpire; they are making sure you know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are divorcing and providing you with photographs of the paperwork. At the same time, they are alerting you to dangerous new tactics of robbers in Minneapolis and a car-chase on the 409 in California. You’ll hear that coffee is good for you and coffee will give you cancer. Red wine is bad for your heart or red wine right before bed will help you lose weight. It’s the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.

So. What is heavier and what is lighter? What gets to take up space in your life and what doesn’t? And perhaps you’re wondering, Pastor Laura, what does this have to do with a golden calf?

In the fear of silence, as we tire of waiting to hear from God, to feel good already, it is like we have said what the Israelites said –  “do something” but we’ve said it to no one in particular. And all those folks in cubicles have made our phones and laptops seem like gods for all they know and all they can tell us. Now our schedules are so full we are breathless and the roar of the waves of how busy we are threaten to crash down on friendship and family and connection to other human beings. We’ve given the same weight to sports on Sunday as we have to worship on Sunday. We’ve given the same weight to entertainment as we have to journalism.

We’ve given the same weight to spending and consuming and debt as we have to financial freedom. We’ve given the same weight to a career politician and a mysogynist. We have given the same weight to someone else’s ideas and schedules for our lives as we have for God’s dream for our lives.

God’s dream, God’s goal for our lives is freedom. That’s what God wants for us. That is God’s dream for each of us. It’s the very thing God has managed to work out through Moses and the Israelites. Their back story is that they are just at the beginning of their new lives of freedom after suffering as slaves in Egypt. They were made to do back-breaking, forced labor and God called Moses to help get them to freedom, out of their lives of slavery. It involved plagues and running right down the middle of the sea, parted for them to escape by.

These are the people God chose to carry God’s message of love to the world. God chose these people to make a great nation of them. God’s dream for them was to grow and to share God’s love. The weight for God wasn’t in military might or in comfortable living conditions. It was for them to live as God’s people and to bring freedom to all they encountered. That’s the definition of a great nation.

And so to see them throwing it all away? Just a few months into their newfound freedom and they’re ready to give weight and importance and authority and space to a statue made of gold taken from their ears and around their wrists. A party God.

And God gets mad, which is frightening isn’t it? Yet Moses stood up to his angry God, in the confidence of the promise God made to him, and defended the people. Their argument peppered with the background music of the faithless partying people. God isn’t so distant from us that God doesn’t care. God isn’t so distant from us that God is indifferent and apathetic to our actions. To see them squander their freedom, to see us today squander our freedom – well, that breaks God’s heart. We choose new gods all the time.

But Moses has been through a lot with God and this is not their first rodeo. They’ve argued before. Moses responded to God’s call with a “Pick someone else” response. He argued with God about being a leader but agreed nonetheless and has walked with God through plagues and threat of death and roaring waters, by pillar of fire and cloud. And Moses has also been through a lot with the partying mass at the base of the mountain. They too have been with God and Moses through the plagues and the running. And they’ve complained and been ready to trade in their newfound freedom as soon as their bellies grumbled, declaring slavery at least a guaranteed way to eat. And yet, Moses is not about to give up on any of the parties involved here, God or the people.

And so Moses defends the fickle, partying complainers to the angry God, appealing to God to think of God’s own reputation and to remember the promise God made. And so confronting God with God works. God changes God’s own mind. And then Moses heads down the mountain. Man, that must have been a long hike, hearing the sounds of partying people all the way, the weight of those 10 commandments in his hands only getting heavier, and then slamming them to the ground as he confronted the people he just convinced God not to incinerate!

Parent’s you can relate, right? You’re so relieved your way-past-curfew child is home safe that you’re ready to kill them.

Does your relationship with God look anything like this hot mess of a story? Do you feel like God is far away, not paying any attention to you? Or do you feel as if God is angry at you and ready to strike at any moment? Or are you like the Israelites, like I am? Is your heart fickle, do you wait to “feel” God before you believe? What is the golden calf in your life that needs to be pulverized?

Because when you know who God is, you know who you are. And when you know that you are a child of God, you will be ready to turn to God and say “do something” rather than just shouting it into the abyss and giving others the creative control about how that will shape your life and impact your heart.

Unsubscribe from that email you always intend to read but never do. Unsubscribe from the list that only clutters up your inbox. Don’t let every news site alert you to all the things. You get to decide.

Which means we are going to have to hear the hard things.

When we give the weight massive loss of life deserves, we are free to do something. Like pray and send money and figure out how to get there to help.

When we give weight to speaking against hate speech by a presidential candidate, we are free to do something, like vote.

When we give the proper weight to things that matter, we lessen the space and time that weightless, airy, meaningless things take up in our lives. We give them less attention so our hearts can be whole and not distracted and overwhelmed and afraid.

Our response is rooted in hope. And hope is not a light thing. It doesn’t always make us feel good. It’s not about feeling optimistic but about calling out what we see by seeing that God is not far away but here, right now. Hope in the freedom and future God wants for us calls us to do hard things, take the less popular view and act in subversive and weird ways not because it feels good but because the world is filled with golden calves just waiting for our attention. Responding in hope signals that God has not abandoned us but is freeing us, one step at a time through this wandering wilderness of life.  Responding in hope is our obedient response, and it’s hard, isn’t it?

We know that God eventually gives up on sending stone tablets to spell out our freedom and instead sends Jesus, a response of pure grace to our partying fickle “don’t feel like it” ways. God gives all of the weight – the weight of the world, the weight of ultimate love – to Jesus. Who then takes on all the burdens and weight that we bare. And we follow this savior who is not made of false promises of power and might. We follow this savior who is made up of the greatest weight of all: God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy.

Do something, we say to God. And God frees us, again and again.

[1] p.54