Oct. 11, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, and transform us into people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Exodus 32:1-14

1 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.” 2 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.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 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!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 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. 

7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 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 worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 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.” 11 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? 12 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. 13 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 forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. 

Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf c.1799-1800 William Blake 1757-1827 Bequeathed by Ian L. Phillips 1986 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T04134

Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23 

1 Hallelujah! Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good, for God’s mercy endures forever. 2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD or proclaim in full God’s praise? 

3 Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right. 4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people, and visit me with your salvation; 

5 that I may see the prosperity of your elect and be glad with the gladness of your people, that I may glory with your inheritance. 6 We have sinned as our forebears did; we have done wrong and dealt wickedly. 

19 They made a bullcalf at Horeb and worshiped a molten image; 20 thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21They forgot God their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, 22 wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, and fearful things at the Red Sea. 

23 So you would have destroyed them, had not Moses your chosen stood in the breach,to turn away your wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 22:1-14

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I will confess that when I first read this passage from Exodus, I thought I would focus on the first half of the passage, during which the Israelites go astray. Later I supposed I would focus on Moses’ conversation with God. I never really planned to spend much time on God’s anger, right there in the middle. But eventually I came to see that the entire narrative has much to say to us today.

God giving the commandments on Mt Sinai earlier, the passage we heard last Sunday, was a high point in Israel’s story. It was a gift, the beginnings of God’s vision for community. Despite having those commandments, the Israelites fell into chaos and apostasy. It all happens as they wait for Moses to return from the mountain. We are left wondering, how did the relationship between God and Israel go so wrong?

Aaron is Moses’ brother and helper. Moses is the go-between for the people and God. 40 days seemed to be too long for the people. Aaron is left to lead the people during Moses’ absence and what happens could be described as a failure in leadership. Reading different translations and commentaries, it is hard to say if the people end up worshiping another god, altogether, one formed for them out of gold, or a replica of the one true God. Either way, false god or false image of God, they are breaking the commandments. 

It is easy to criticize the Israelites with our perspective, and yet I know that idolatry is something I easily fall into. We may not think of it as worship, but we surely put our trust into material things, systems, and even people. Pope Francis called the people in his charge, Roman Catholics, to account in a recent document. The Pope warned against creating an idol of pure Capitalism. The Pope knows we will have economic systems, and that Capitalism is here to stay. But I think he is right and that Capitalism unchecked leaves no safety for the poor, the voiceless, the homeless. Here is an entire system that groups of people put their trust in.

In our individual daily lives, we are offered opportunities to put our trust in all sorts of other idols: power, material possessions that make us feel powerful, money, things that give a sense of security. Some of those things can actually be helpful tools. But they can also all become idols.

A piece of the Exodus 32 story that I find fascinating, is how one particular phrase gets repeated but with slight changes: “brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” The first time the phrase is uttered, it is by the people, complaining to Aaron. They say, “Come, makes gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” Perhaps this should have been our first clue that something was amiss. The Israelites have forgotten that is God who delivered them. Yes, Moses led the way through the Sea, but God was the deliverer. Is it just a slip of the tongue, “This Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt”? I do not think so. 

This past week and through Election Day, most of us will hopefully carryout the civic duty of voting. How easy it is to turn human beings into our idols or gods! Or maybe that is just something I do. How do I know when I have turned a human into an idol? Usually about the time they disappoint me and what I feel is not just disappointment but utter heart break. How could they let me down this way? It is like I have temporarily forgotten that God alone is the redeemer of my life.

I am speaking about this with a little humor, in part because this is such a fabulous story. But worshiping idols is no small thing. And if we needed a reminder, just feel the anger from God in verses 7-10. After unleashing on go-between Moses, who has not even been down there with the disobedient people, God finishes, “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.” 

This may not be the Great Flood. God is not destroying the cosmos, but God does seem okay with starting over with another group of people, so long as Moses is their human leader. God goes so far as to deny God’s own people by saying, “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.” Clearly worshiping a false god or creating a false image of god stir up God’s anger.

God’s seemingly resolute behavior makes it even more shocking when Moses is able to change God’s mind. He does so by reminding God that it was God who brought the people out of the land of Egypt. He reminds God of God’s power and might. He reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel to multiply their descendants. Killing the Israelites now would not foster offspring and certainly would give the Egyptians the edge. Moses’ threefold imperative — “Turn from your wrath,” “Change your mind,” “Do not bring disaster on your people” — is bold and effective. God does change God’s mind.

I wonder who we need to intervene on our behalf. I wonder if in our impatience we have bowed to more tangible, accessible, and shinier gods rather than relying on the one who brought us out of the power of sin, death, and the devil. And sometimes I wonder how God quells God’s anger at such atrocities.

Nearly every day in the news we are reminded that, as a whole, humanity wefall short of God’s will for us. That is not shocking news anymore. I do not want to minimize the depth of our idolatrous tendencies. Still, I do think the more shocking and profoundly hopeful news here is that God sticks with us. God continues to claim us as God’s own despite it all. Instead of God’s wrath burning hot against us and consuming us, God the Father’s beloved son Jesus reminds us there is joy when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:10).

Instead of waiting for an Aaron to help us offer burnt offerings and sacrifices to gods of our own making, or instead of waiting for a Moses to intervene on our behalf, we might ourselves pray the Psalmist’s prayer as our own, “Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them.”

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

A brief silence.Gracious host, fill your church with a spirit of joyous hospitality. We pray for bishops, teachers, church leaders, and all children of God as they invite others to your table of boundless grace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, as creation waits with eager longing for redemption, protect your creatures that are mistreated. Restore valleys, mountains and pastures, and still and running waters. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, as you set a table in the presence of enemies, so bless the efforts of diplomats, international peace workers, and world leaders who navigate conflict. May they proceed with dialogue and understanding, so that justice and peace prevails. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, let your gentleness be known among those who are weary or ill (especially). Strengthen doctors, medical care workers, and caretakers who see to their needs. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, when we are quick to judge outward appearance, remind us how you clothe all in your mercy. We pray for ministries that provide needed clothing and other personal care assistance in this community (local ministries can be named). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Gracious host, as we remember those who have died and are gathered at the heavenly banquet, comfort us with your presence. Assure us of your peace at all times. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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