Today the question is, “What Kind Of God Would You Make?”
A little context for this story we have today. It happens at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The people have been freed from the bondage of Pharaoh, and are now out in the wilderness worshiping this God who has brought them out with plague and power.
They are a little bit scared of God.
When they get to the mountain, Moses at first invites them up, but they are understandably a little afraid, and so they tell Moses to be their go-between. Moses has therefore gone up to receive the commandments, and has warned the people not to follow him, or to touch the mountain, for it is Holy and God resides there, and he will return after speaking with God on their behalf. It takes longer than they expect, and the people are getting antsy. They are wondering if Moses will come back, or if they have been left, or if something bad has happened to him. They want some assurance that God is still around, but they don’t want to follow Moses only to find out they will meet the same fate as he did. So they go to Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesperson, with a request. “Make gods for us….”
“Make gods for us…”
That seems like an awful request. How could they have so quickly or easily forgotten all that the God “Yahweh” has done for them?
What are they asking for?
Aaron responds by asking for a sacrifice from everyone here. Bring me your gold. This was the gold given to them by the Egyptians as they were leaving the land of oppression. Go, here, take this, just get out of here! Presumably that gold would be useful in the land to which they were going, maybe to use in the sanctuary they would build there to Yahweh. At any rate, Aaron takes the gold and fashions for them a Golden Calf.. maybe something like the kinds of fetishes of all sizes are found throughout the region.
And then Aaron says something we might find curious. He says, “these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Then he builds and altar and makes a proclamation. “Tomorrow shall be a feast day to the LORD. And in the Old Testament when you see “LORD” all capitals, that means YAHWEH is the word that is being translated.
So you have this statue, or something like it, being equated with Yahweh, the God who brought the people up out of Egypt.
Here’s the deal. They came to Sinai to see the God who saves, the one who had brought them out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand….and they aren’t seeing him.
They don’t see Moses anymore.
They don’t see Aaron as having a direct contact with Yahweh.
Give us a God we can see!
Isn’t that still our request?
We still long to see God in this world. We have a firm belief that God is here, and that God is active, and that God does indeed have an outstretched arm, a mighty hand, is able to save, but where do I look for God? Where do I see God? Where do I see God at work?
This is usually where we begin to do the “Well, God is all around you if you just look for it” kind of talk. We point to the food pantry work, to the quiet prayer with a neighbor, or to a miraculous recovery from and illness, or to the work of this church or that. A little like Jesus when he says “those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, let them see and hear….”
The trouble is that is not terribly comforting, or really very specific in the “in-between” time of faith?
Sure, we saw God at work in the plagues and in the deliverance from Egypt, but where is God exactly now? Where do I look, in the “in-between” times of my faith?
I think that’s what’s going on in this story, and so Aaron with all the best of intentions gives them something to look at. A golden calf, something to reassure them that God is still around.
I think that happens still.
In the “in-between” times of our faith, we look around for something to become a visible sign of God at work. Or, something that we can put our faith in. So, what kind of god would you make for yourself? What would you fashion to turn to, look to, trust in believe in, when God seemed distant?
When you ask the question that way, it really isn’t such a far stretch from the Golden Calf of Exodus to the statue of the Great Bull of Wall Street.
We all want to put our faith in something, and we need something to look at, and sometimes just like those people at the foot of Mt. Sinai, our longing to have something we can see makes us put our faith in all the wrong places.
This is the tricky thing about faith. It is based first and foremost on relationship. It is not something that comes with a lot of things to look at.
Our great temptation is to make of it something to look at. And so, we look at the size of the church, and what they are doing, and we say, “wow, God must really be over there, look at that! Look at what they are doing, building, making happen!”
Yeah well, Jesus will have a comment about that, even to his own disciples, when they marvel at the Temple in Jerusalem.
“Not one stone will be left standing on another….”
Buildings crumble, things come and go, but the relationship you have with God is from everlasting to everlasting.
That’s what makes the rest of this story such Gospel.
The argument that ensues between God and Moses, where Moses has to remind eve God that what matters is promise and relationship! “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, how you swore to them by your own self. …” You promised God!
And a promise cannot be seen, or held in your hand, or admired, or bowed down to.
A promise has to be lived into.
So on the journey of faith this day we are reminded how tempting it is to look for something to hold on to, and how all throughout all the scriptures, what we are given instead is a promise, and a word, and a relationship.
That is where faith resides.