Sermon Proper 23 Year A. October 11th 2020
Moses is a saint.
Not technically in that the Episcopal church sets aside a day to remember Moses, (although the Orthodox Christians do, and a few others). No, what I mean is that Moses is a saint in the way my mother would say “he’s a saint for putting up with those people,” when she knew she’d have put them out to pasture to fend for themselves.
Moses has been putting up with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for some time now, often putting his own life at risk. He stood up to the Pharaoh, helping his people escape from slavery; He led the Hebrew people through the Red Sea, and guided their wandering in the desert to find manna and quail;
he struck a rock to give them water, and climbed Mount Sinai to bring them the law. Moses’ saintliness didn’t stop there. He went up on the mountain again for a longer time than before, to hear God’s further instructions. He was gone for 40 days. And the people rebelled. They couldn’t take the wait. Their impatience at Moses, and their need for God were ever before them.
The people wanted attention now, crying, “Give us gods to go before us.” Apparently one God is not enough. Evidently, they’d given up on Moses, saying “…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.” When it seemed God is not providing for their every need, they look for other options. They find a compassionate heart in Aaron.
Now it seems to me, after a summer of study in the Enneagram, that Aaron is a 2. For those of you who know the Enneagram’s way of characterizing personality types, you know what I mean—in plain speak, Aaron is a Helper. He’s the kind of person who is ready and willing to help even if his help is not helpful. Aaron steps in when Moses is delayed for so long, to assist God’s people, even though his help plainly leads the people to defy the 1st of the 10 commandments they’d just received: You shall have no other Gods before me. Aaron helps them take their gold rings and bracelets and melts them down and molds them into a golden calf, breaking not only the first but the second commandment too. You shall not make for yourself any idol, you shall not bow down before them or worship them. I am the Lord your God.
Seeing the results of this, the revelry around the golden calf, God says to Moses, “These are a stiff-necked people.” Stiff-necked: obstinate, intense, stubborn. That makes me think of our son Hudson.
Ten years ago, our son Hudson was a senior in high school. Poor kid, he’d endured four years as an only child, his two sisters having gone on to college and their adult lives. Hudson was ready to be like his sisters, free of parental oversight, as most 18 year olds are—there remained only a couple of months before graduation.
The prom was held in the spring of his senior year and at Hudson’s school parents were invited to come see the senior lead out at the prom. Rob and I went looking forward to seeing Hudson and his friends, all dressed up and enjoying the music, and it was great, a joyful celebration. The kids laughed and showed off appropriately as they led their dates onto the dance floor. We remarked at how great this was as we were getting ready to leave. And we didn’t even have to search for Hudson to say goodbye—he came to find us. I should have been suspicious.
Hey, mom and dad some of us are going to a party at so and so’s house across the river after the prom, okay? Now you think we would have been prepared for this by now. This was our third child after all. It was his senior year. We were on the home stretch! But he caught us by surprise, right there in front of God and everyone. Of course, the answer was no, but how to say this to an 18 year old without a major argument taking place. I tried reasoning with him—saying, “it’s not safe son. We have no way of knowing what supervision there will be and the drive is too far.” I tried appealing to his better self, he already had an invitation to a friend’s house, in town, that was chaperoned—surely, he wasn’t going to back out on his friend. Neither approach was working. Our son is genuinely good at debating. He was not backing down…then clearly and defiantly he said, “I’m going.” I was enraged and angry and stunned into silence. It was then my husband Rob, sweet, smart, clever, Rob quite calmly said this—”Hudson, you know what your mom and I want you to do.” And we left.
You know what we want you to do. It is a mic drop line. I wish I’d said it instead of Rob…but that’s beside the point. The truth is, these few words could be God’s own. God had given the people the blessing of the law—claiming them as God’s own. I am your God and you shall be my people. They have found their own belonging, they are no longer owned by the Egyptians. They are saved by the love of God and chosen to be God’s people and called by God to be a blessing to the entire world. You’d think all would be good.
Yet, God’s blessing requires love. God’s calling entails discipline: You know what I want you to do. We may not be making molds of golden calves, but the truth is, we have our idols too, money, cars, clothes…We are more like the Hebrews in the story than we think. We are good at neither discipline or true self-sacrificing love.
It is an odd concept, the discipline to love. There is tension in this idea. Love frees us to be just who we are, but it involves relationship with another being. This is why the imagery of marriage is used so often in scripture—like in today’s gospel. The story likens the kingdom of God to a king who gave a wedding feast. The story teaches us that God’s reign is communion with Christ through spiritual marriage.
All are invited, the good and the bad, but not all come, and even of those who do come, not all are willing to put on Christ, as the king has offered us a robe to wear. The choice is ours. Some folks are too busy, some are apprehensive, wondering what they’ll have to give up, some are just plainly skeptical of giving themselves over to such great love.
These are a stiff-necked people. God is angry. But thank God for Moses. He intervenes on behalf of the people. He negotiates with God, and coaxes Israel back to the table. If we read on in Exodus, we’d find that Moses, after much consternation and intercession remakes the covenant between God and Israel.
Covenant work is hard work, it is unenviable, saintly work. The work of living into covenant takes discipline as it not only reveals tension but asks us to love through all divides. Bringing people to a sense of their responsibility in relationship with one another is not easy, yet it is kingdom work.
In our Episcopal faith we believe the work of the church is covenant work: to reconcile all people to Christ. We are to be like Moses, assembling all people–the skeptics, the apprehensive, the logisticians, and perhaps the hardest of all, those who are content, to do the work of reconciliation.
We do this, friends, by bringing the powerful tension of love to everything we do, praying that God’s grace may always precede and follow us, through our own desert wilderness, and all the way home.
Thanks be to God.