October 22, 2023
Scripture Reading: Exodus 32:1-14
What is it with us and rules? Maybe it’s a thing in the United States that we don’t want to be told what to do? Maybe we feel confined by rules? Maybe we had too many or too strict an enforcement regiment when we were young. And maybe we have never thought deeply about distinguishing between rules that are in place simply to confine us, keep us under control and rules that are based in compassion and created out of love?
But what about the idea that I proposed to you last week that right from the start, the 10 Commandments were NOT about keeping us in line, but instead, they were about building BELOVED COMMUNITY? What if those commandments were less about RULE KEEPING and more about RELATIONSHIP BUILDING?
Take those first 4 Commandments: 1. No other gods but one, 2. No idols or human-made gods, 3. No misusing of God’s name, and 4. Keep one day free for God and for rest. These are about the loves and loyalties of the heart! This is about the “how-to’s” of keeping God first in your life. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” It’s all about love. Keep your heart for God!
And the second 6 Commandments: 5. Love and honor your parents, 6. Don’t kill, 7. Be faithful to your spouse, 8. Don’t steal, 9. Don’t lie, and 10. Don’t want what belongs to someone else. What are they but what Jesus next: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It’s all about love. Love those whom God loves.
Did you ever get so angry at someone that you felt you just had to vent to someone? So, you call a good friend and you start your rant only to be interrupted by your friend on the phone saying: “Oh, yes, I know that person! She’s my all-time best friend!” Suddenly you fall silent and all the steam goes out of your rant. You can’t berate your friend’s best friend! It’s because of love that you keep those final 6 commands. You can’t mistreat people whom God cherishes!
So, it all boils down to a faithful heart that loves God with your whole being. It’s like the faithfulness we are asked to exhibit toward our marriage partner and more so.
But we have such a hard time with our hearts, don’t we? Fickleness and faithlessness seem to lurk around the corners. Our eyes stray and our hearts can’t stay focused. In one way or another, we seem to be always building some sort of golden calf to take the place of the God with a heart! It starts with some complaint about the One we promised to love. Exodus 32:1-4 “When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
It sounds so ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet, we trade our promised love for God for just as foolish a set of gods of our own making, don’t we? Money, Power, Prestige, Pleasure, Comfort, and just Things! How foolish we must seem! These foolish lovers make no more sense than a golden calf!
And after being jilted by God’s own people again and again, the anger of God burned hot. Exodus 32:9-10 Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. 10 Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”
I don’t know where else in scripture we read of God working himself up into such a fury. And who talks him down? HIs good friend, Moses, who had himself almost given up on his people more than once. This relationship God had with Moses is so like the relationship God cherishes with all of God’s people! Moses: One called the Friend of God!
Exodus 32:11-14 “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob.[a] You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”
So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people and he did it because of a faithful friendship with Moses.
There have been so many people who have criticized a God who creates people with the capacity to betray him like they do. But I think there is nothing to compare with a love so big that you set your beloved ones free to go their own way. Nothing, I suppose other than how God built into the system this most amazing demonstration of love and mercy that mere mortals could never have imagined: The infinite capacity of God to forgive, show mercy, be longsuffering and patient. “Love Divine, O loves excelling, Joy of heaven to earth come down.”
Unthinkable love so great that God changes God’s mind and draws God’s errant family back into his embrace after such a betrayal.
You ever think God couldn’t forgive you? Never, ever believe it!