When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, 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." Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord." They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.'" And the Lord changed the Lord’s mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
What an incredible story! Moses and God are in the midst of creating a covenant- a way of being together that will give God’s people purpose on the journey & a reminder of their identity. It’s the 10 commandments being formed in real time. And yes, it’s happening weirdly on a mountaintop away from where God’s people are camped…so their patience wears thin. Likely hungry, losing faith that Moses would even return, restless to find this promised land…the people turn away from God. Even Moses’ brother Aaron forgets what it’s all about. What’s happened here? Well, they’re being very human…or as a friend of mine in ministry likes to say, “they’re being very people-y; people can be so people-y sometimes,” they say.
Have you felt people-y lately? Impatient? Hungry for certainty? Has our desire for God’s presence amidst all the questions turned our hearts toward other things that look and feel a little more like idols? Maybe they promise us quick fixes? Momentary gratification or distraction? Mindless entertainment? Feigned security? These are interesting questions for these days, aren’t they? It doesn’t matter what age we’re living in, friends. Challenges meet us in every era and two things remain true from Moses’ days to our own:
Rich Melheim, the man who wrote the book Holding Your Family Together, which is informing our series this month says this about his family research: “By the time a child growing up today reaches the age of 18, he or she will be exposed to 60,000 hours of media, 11,000 hours of school, and a mere 2,000 hours in quality conversation with his or her parents.” The most disturbing news for me is the sheer amount of violence we absorb from media. One statistic suggests a 12-year old child will have seen 8,000 murders watching (sometimes even age-appropriate) shows.
And as adults, if we added up our own media intake, I suspect we’d be shocked by the numbers, especially if we compared that time to how often we are taking in sacred texts like the bible. Now watching TV isn’t categorically bad or wrong. The invitation today is to be mindful about it. Because how we spend our time and what we allow into our minds affects every one of us, every day.
I said there’s two things that remains true from Moses’ days to our own; the 1st: it’s easy to forget who deserves our praise; the second is much more hopeful:
I want to begin with a confession: not as a pastor, but as a parent. When our Christian Ed. determined the best course of faith formation this fall would entail no Sunday School- I had this brief moment where I thought, “gosh, how are my kids gonna learn the stories of our faith?” Then this guttural feeling crept in as I realized…Emily, that’s your job, and you haven’t been doing it with any consistency at all.
I know that’s kind of embarrassing for a pastor to admit, but I want to be transparent with you, because if this is a new practice in your home, or if reading bible stories with your kids or your partner or a friend is a learning curve for you, you’re not alone. Covid times have taught me so much, and the thing that hits closest to home for me, is my own responsibly as a parent to bring up my children in the faith. Because, what we do with our attention actually matters to God. How we devote our time is a reflection of where we devote our hearts.
I say this not to be judgmental with myself or anyone else, but simply to be realistic. And all of this matters deeply to God because God loves us and wants the most life-giving things for us.
At the end of this story, when Moses pleads for God’s mercy on behalf of God’s beloved people, God changes course. It’s one of the few moments in scripture where we see the full relationality of God on display. God wants to be connected to us SO MUCH that God is willing to change on our behalf. And because of the conviction of one person, an entire people are also changed for the better.
This kind of purpose-giving story is what the bible is all about. When we digest these stories, God is made real to us, ordinary people who face the same people-y issues as they did in Moses’ time. And so the question for us becomes- where are we choosing to direct our attention? If we choose the bible, the living word of truth, we come that much closer to understanding who we are in this grand love story. It’s the story of God and God’s unending desire to be in relationship with us, and it’s available 24/7 for free.
Reading a short bible story or passage of scripture is Rich’s 2nd step in the faith5 nightly routine. You’ve heard the why, so the question for each of us now becomes: how are we going to make it happen? What’s your plan for adding more bible reading into your own lives? Who are you going to commit to this work alongside? Where will you go for resources if you’re unfamiliar with the bible? Friends, these sacred texts are at the core of our faith, and they are accessible to us every single day. If you want help getting started, just say the word.
As I think about what Rich says regarding what we take in becomes a part of who we are…and I think back to my grandmother- the one who passed away last month. She had a stroke about 10 years ago; she couldn’t recall what day it was, what my name was, or the proper use of pronouns (I was “him” for a long time). But you know what she could call to mind? Scripture. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil- for thou art with me. These words were deep within my grandmother’s heart and closest to her tongue just days after her stroke and until her very end, because she made a life-long commitment to including scripture into her daily routine.
There’s no prescription for how much or how little popular media we take in- it’s not a right or wrong type of thing. It is, though, a question about what we want closest to our tongues and our hearts at the end of the day. Do we want our attention on the latest trending show or endless news cycle, or do we want our focus to be on the lasting promises of scripture? It’s a real question- and one we get to answer for ourselves, even tonight.
Because 1. It’s easy to forget who deserves our praise. & 2. What we do with our attention actually matters to God.
So what do you say? Let’s read some scripture! Thanks for being on this journey alongside me. Amen!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.