A sermon for Proper 24
Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
At lunch the other day, I was at table with Susan Inman a candidate for Secretary of State. I did not know who she was, until we were breaking up. Only then did I realize the depth of her earlier comment “I’m so ready for election season to be over.” I gather she was talking about the frenetic pace of running for state wide elected office. I’m also ready for the election season to be over, though it’s because I’m oh so tired of commercials. Angie and I’ve seen them so often we recognize them before they really get started and rush for the mute button. As tired as I am, I decided to go to last Tuesday evening’s candidate forum. There were no surprises. Plenty of avoid the question answers. Plenty of implications about something else answers. A couple of clear to the point concise answers. And one that hit the spot; although I don’t recall who; the question was something like “What one thing do citizens need?” After a bit of rambling around, the candidate said “Hope.”
The answer is spot on. In troubled times, and these are complicated times, and there are troubles aplenty to be dealt with, all of us, as individuals and as a community, need hope. To lose hope, is to begin the journey to fanaticism. Karoline Lewis writes:
We know well the triad, “faith, hope, and love” that gloriously rounds out Paul’s chapter on Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13. … [note] the order in 1 Thessalonians — faith, love, and hope. The Corinthians need some lovin’. … the Thessalonians? Their loved ones are dying and Paul said, that Jesus would return in their lifetime. Now what? What happens to those who have died? The Thessalonians need hope. Big time. (Lewis)
They aren’t the first people in the bible to need hope.
Last week, we left Israel in what seems like an okay place. Moses had talked God out of “consuming them.” However, when Moses gets off the mountain and sees what they are up to Moses’ blood boils over. He angrily confronts Aaron who simply says “Well yeah, they gave me gold, I threw it in the fire, and this calf popped out!” Then Moses sees the people running wild, he calls for all those on God’s side to assemble. The sons of Levi do, and before the day is over 3000 people are dead, slaughtered for their transgressions in the affair of the golden calf. The next morning Moses goes to see God, to see if he can make atonement, if he can restore Israel’s fellowship with God. (Holman Bible Dictionary) It doesn’t go all that well. In short, God tells Moses to begin the journey to the Promised Land, an angel will be with them, but God will not, in part because his presence would consume them.
This morning we pick up the conversation. Like last week, Moses argues with God; he asks hard pressed questions, boarding on demands. He wants to be certain (Brueggemann 5818) God will be with Israel; because he knows that it is God and God alone who makes Israel – Israel. (Fretheim 3031)
Where God is absent, particular forms of art, literature and social relationships cannot exist. In both eastern European communism and western capitalism we see the effects, though in different ways. In communist countries where the holy dimension of covenant was denied, social relationships became increasingly brutal and empty. Western free-market systems where God’s presence is constrained by consumer economic forces, human dignity fails and life becomes paralyzing and empty. A market society devalues persons who have no productive capacity and relates rapaciously to the environment. (Brueggemann 5839) Its only when God is truly present that any social system provide homes for individuals. And when we fear we are losing God’s presence, we resort to fear mongering. (Mathis) And we see this not only in church or religious settings but also political settings. I suspect it is part of the rising ideological purity that precludes any kind of conversation with any one who is not ideologically pure, as we define it. I worry such fear based ideological fanaticism is finding its way into science, which further addles our ability to see what happening in and to the world around us.
After getting assurances God will be with him and Israel, Moses asks one more question. He wants to see God’s glory? He gets a divinely complicated answer and partial granting of his request. But having been assured, there is life after the golden calf, (Brueggemann 5834) I wonder what Moses expects to see? (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
All of us have reveled after one form of the golden calf or another. And we all know it did not just “pop out;” we are fully aware of our own duplicity in trying to manage the devices and desires of our own hearts. The morning after, as we seek to atone, as we try to put our relationship with God back together, when we go looking for God, when we seek to see God’s glory, to see God’s face, to assure us that life will go on, what is it we expect to see?
As for me; I don’t know! I cannot imagine size, nor shape, nor color, nor density, nor any other characteristic; except that whatever we see will convey the knowledge and experience of faith, love and hope.
Brueggemann, Walter. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. Exodus. Abingdon Press, 2003.
Fretheim, Terence E. Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. Patrick D Miller, Jr. and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.
Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 33:12-23. 19 10 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse , n.d.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 19 10 2014.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 19 10 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.
Mathis, Eric. Working Preacher Exodus 33:12-23. 19 10 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.