Monday, March 12, 2012

March 11, 2012 - Ancient Stories and Timeless Truths: Making God Easy

Exodus 32:15-24

I have with me this morning a box of Hamburger Helper.  How many of you believe that mixing up some of this and putting it in the oven will result in a gourmet meal?  I don’t think anyone will confuse this with a gourmet meal.  What’s the purpose of this kind of product?  It’s to make life easy, isn’t it?  Life is busy, so why not find a shortcut, a way to make life easier?  The convenience is nice, but it will never compete with the real thing – a home cooked meal of high quality.

For various reasons, we accept a lot of things in life that are much like this box – nothing more than a pale imitation of the realities they are supposed to represent.  We accept them because they are easier. 

We do the same thing with God.  We find ways to make God easy, because God is not always easy.  God is easy when we consider the many gifts he brings to our lives, but God is not easy when we begin talking about loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, carrying our crosses, and the other great challenges God sets before us.

As we continue our series Ancient Stories and Timeless Truths, we come to a passage that takes place during the journey of Moses and the Hebrew people to the Promised Land.  It is a story of people trying to make God easy.  The story takes place as Moses is on Mount Sinai.  He is on the mountain receiving all that will become the religious and legal framework for the nation of Israel.

We’ll pick up the story at the beginning of chapter 32.  Exodus tells us when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.

It’s important to remember that before Moses climbed the mountain he brought all the people together in a service of consecration (chapter 19).  Exodus tells us that a thick cloud and thunder and lightning enveloped the mountain and all the people in the camp trembled at the realization of God’s presence on the mountain (19:16).  God confers with Moses and then Moses comes down the mountain to report to the people.  He tells them all that God has said and 24:3 reports that all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!”  In verse 7 they make the same affirmation.  Moses then goes back up the mountain, this time taking Joshua with him, and he leaves Aaron in charge.  On the second trip Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (24:18) and the presence of God on the mountain was visible to the people because it appeared that there was a consuming fire on the mountain top (24:17).

Then it gets hard.

The people get tired of waiting on Moses and approach Aaron and ask him to make for them another god.  The people say they don’t know what has happened to Moses and with absolutely no recorded hesitation Aaron instructs the people to bring gold to him and from this he fashions the golden calf.  God is getting to be too hard, they say.  Aaron, make for us an easy god. 

Even in a serious story, such as this one, there are elements of humor.  While Moses is on the mountain God tells Moses to go down the mountain because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt have become corrupt (32:7).  All of a sudden, God isn’t claiming the people any longer – now they are Moses’ people to deal with.  A few verses later (32:11) Moses says to God your people, whom you brought out of Egypt.  Neither of them want to claim the people!  It’s a bit like a mother and father who say to the other when their child has done something wrong – do you want to know what your child did today?  I don’t eavesdrop on conversations, but it’s hard to miss some things people are saying.  I’ve heard quite a few people talking about UK’s game this afternoon.  It’s interesting the language people use.  People were saying we play at 1:00 today; we should win today.  I don’t understand the use of the word we.  I don’t think anyone here today is going to be sitting on UK’s bench, but we still use the word we.  That is, of course, only if we win.  If UK loses, it will be they lost (they did, unfortunately, lose).

This story tells us of some of the messy realities of life, and one of those messy realities is being involved in the lives of people.  Moses was on the mountain with God and then comes down to face a rowdy group of people who had just lost it.  Mountaintop experiences can have very abrupt endings, and those endings can be discouraging and painful.  It’s a reminder that most of our lives our spent, not on the mountaintop, but in the valley or near the valley. 

Some of the valleys involve our struggles with people.  Moses didn’t have an easy time dealing with this group of people.  We’re not always easy to deal with, are we, especially when we’re in a group.  A group of people places unique pressures upon us, because it’s very, very difficult to go against the prevailing wishes of the group.  That’s why, in one sense, it’s hard to be critical of Aaron.  What would we do if we were in his shoes, facing a large group of people who wanted something?  It’s hard to stare down a crowd and say no.

But Moses does an amazing thing.  In 32:31-32 he speaks before God on behalf of the people.  Moses says Oh, what a great sin these people have committed!  They have made themselves gods of gold.  But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.  Moses casts his lot with the people, even if it means being separated from God.  As much as the people drive him crazy and complicate his life, Moses gives himself to his people.

It is a great gift, as well as a great complication, to be a part of the lives of others.  Life would be simpler – life would be easier – if we took a few steps back and kept a safe distance from people, but God calls us to enter the lives of others, and to walk with them not only on the mountain, but also in the valleys.

This is one of the reasons why we must resist the temptation to make God easy – although life is simpler when things are easier, they are far less meaningful.  Moses was far better off, in some ways, when he was living in Pharaoh’s home.  To join himself with the Hebrew people made his life so much more difficult and complicated, but so much richer.

Now, you won’t find any golden calves in churches today, but you will find the same desire to make God easy.  Just as the Hebrew people wanted a god they could shape into what they wanted, so can we.  Just as they wanted a pale imitation of God, so can we.  They did not want a God asking very big things of them, but a god pushed to the margins of life, a god who would never ask much, as can we.  They wanted to make God easy, as can we.

Bowing down before a golden calf was not the only thing that made them guilty of idolatry; what made them guilty of idolatry was their desire to have God serve them.  This is always where idolatry begins – with a desire to have God give us what we want, rather than a desire that he would give us what we need.

That’s what makes the Bible a difficult book.  It is difficult because the God revealed through the Bible can be a difficult God.  He is difficult because He does not want to be reduced to the margins of life. 
I think we would all like a real, working version of the Staples “Easy” button.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hit a button when we need to make life easy?  We want everything easy, including God.  But God is not easy, and for that, we can thank him.

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