Sunday, October 12, 2008
Twenty-Second after Pentecost, 2008
The Adoration of the Golden Calf
Nicolas Poussin, 1634
October 12, 2008 XXII Pentecost (RCL Proper 23A)
Exodus 32: 1-14
Fascinating how the image and theme of unfaithfulness permeates this ancient story of the birth of a people, a nation, a civilization, a tradition of faith. These stories certainly not passed down from generation to generation in an effort to polish an image or reputation.
To know who we are it almost seems first and foremost through our brokenness, our inability to get it right, our deeply ingrained habit it seems always to run off headstrong in the precisely the wrong direction. Headstrong, stiff-necked, stubborn, self-indulgent, impatient. So were our ancestors, so were our fathers and mothers, so are we. Not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Certainly there are moments of heroism, idealism, men and women of dynamic faith and confidence and power. We have that in us too. But we would not kid ourselves. To know us, you must know us in our sin, in our weakness.
Perhaps we beg the camera to find our good side, for once, but it seems as we read these lessons through Exodus week by week only to tell us the truth about who we are, where we come from, even if that truth isn’t always what we would want to hear. That if we are blessed, if we are healed, if there is anything good in us or for us, that comes about not as a result of our having deserved it, having earned our way there, but because--because it is his property always to have mercy.
Fifteen minutes on our own, and we were squabbling, stirred up by fear, rumors. Making idols. Creating delusional, fictional realities, a world of make-believe. Unwilling to trust. The story of our lives.
And of course we have Moses here in one of these set scenes that the early Christian readers of the scriptures saw as a prefiguring of the work of Christ, placing himself between a Just God and a humanity that seems without a prayer, hopelessly lost. Interceding for us.
And then the overflowing of grace, a moment of relaxation, forgiveness, hope, a promise of a future. That wonderful petition in last week’s collect: “Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy.” We don’t deserve it, don't deserve him, and he could certainly do better than us. But because there is one pleading for us: grace, mercy, and redemption.
One of the Biblical and poetic names for God’s heavenly throne: the “Mercy Seat.” That mercy planted in us grows day by day and generation by generation, in our hearts. That we would be a people not confident in our own power, not full of ourselves, but full of the spirit of the one who has saved us and set us free. To grow in us as joy, prayer, thankfulness, deep understanding and compassion, peace, and gentleness. To have confidence not in ourselves, but to rest always in his power and his love.
Not to say that there isn’t a lot of good work to do. Certainly this moment in the life of our suffering church and our suffering world will call us to new tasks with enthusiasm and dedication and open hearts. What kind of people are we called to be? To what life are we to aspire?
To know that it is his work and not ours, that it will be done in his time and in his way, for his purposes. There is a freedom in that—and something I think quite precious and wonderful to share with the world.
To be invited into his presence, his loving embrace. To be lifted up into his goodness, his purity, his holiness, his generosity. No need to be mean, though it may seem to rise up in us and around us. No need to be angry. No need to be afraid. No need to run for the exits. No need to fabricate false gods and easy answers to avoid hard questions and ambiguities. I’d just leave myself to meditate again on the passage I highlighted from Philippians 3:10 last Sunday. Paul from prison, to those who would carry on after him in life and ministry: “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.”
If it were up to us, if it were about us, if we were going to figure out how to move through the tangled woods on our own, we’d be in big trouble, no question about it. Our track record is not good at all. We’ll be stranded in the desert, lost in the wilderness of our own brokenness. Luther on the character of humanity, without the work of Christ: incurvatus in se. Turned in on itself. Ever more tightly bound up. But it’s not just about us. Not just up to us. The story keeps going on from here after all. Continuing toward the Land of Promise.
It’s all his. This life, this world, this church, our lives together. It’s all his. All about him. His gift, his generosity. His standing for us, his interceding for us. And from him grace and freedom and new life.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.