Pent 17 Lect 24 C: Impatient Alternatives

Readings

  • Exodus 32:7-14
  • Psalm 51:1-10
  • 1 Timothy 1:12-17
  • Luke 15:1-10

Click here to find all of the readings in NRSV and CEB, side by side.

Sermon

Shauna Hannan, a professor of homiletics – a fancy school word for preaching – from Berkeley said this: “It is no longer shocking that the Israelites’ impatience while waiting for Moses leads to idolatry. What is shocking is God’s anger and, even more, Moses’ ability to quell God’s anger.”[1]

I think what she is getting at is that we are all able to empathize with the Israelites pretty easily.  We have become a society built on the culture of impatience.  We live in a time where we have been conditioned to think that everything needs to happen in the way that benefits us, individually, and immediately as we need it.

And, if something doesn’t happen as quickly as we think it ought to, then that thing is clearly broken.  So, we move on to finding the next thing that will do what we want… immediately.

Those might be hard words to hear.  They might be hurtful and incredibly generalized, but my point is that the sentiment of immediate gratification is not new to the human species.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the Israelites impatience was ever shocking.

If you sit down and read the entirety of Exodus, you will discover that the Israelites in exile are one of the best symbols for the human condition.

We get impatient.  Fact.

And then we look for alternatives.  Still fact.

I used to get angry with God all the time because my life was not moving according to the timeline I had determined that my life should take.  Clearly God was not getting the memo.

If I were completely honest, I still get mad at God because my life is still not moving according to the timeline I have determined that my life should take.

And the great thing, is that God can take it.  And God gets it.  Because even God gets impatient and angry with people and life and the world.

It’s truly one of the things that I love about God.

I’m sure that there are a whole lot of people out there who are shocked by a God with anger issues.  I think that there are a whole lot of people out there, and maybe even in here, who would rather think that “Angry God” is just a God of the Old Testament.  And I would have to point out that this way of thinking is a bonafide heresy.  Which means it is something that we don’t believe to be true.

God’s anger in this story ought to be all too easy to relate to.

It’s like an angry parent talking to a co-parent.

“Do you know what your child did today?!”

There is a tone to that sentence.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you realize that the child in question has done something wrong.

Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything!” (v.7)

And God itemizes each offence and then plans to wipe them out and start over.  The Abrahamic line ends here!  The chosen people of God will begin again with Moses.

Impatience and anger.

At least, I often think God’s emotional state shouldn’t be that hard for us to relate to.  I don’t know why people think that God’s behaviour in this reading is unfit of the Divine.

Perhaps the truly shocking part is that God’s emotional state truly is a full on emotional and passionate tantrum.

God calls the Israelites names, wants to be left alone to wallow in that anger and attempts to bribe Moses to leave God to ultimately destroy the lives of each and every Israelite.  This is not a reasonable God.

And it calls our attention to the very real and raw reaction God has to people’s sinfulness.  In this particular case, the breaking of the very first commandments: “…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Now, Moses doesn’t really know what’s going on at the base of the mountain, but he listens as God goes from telling him to head down the mountain PDQ to suddenly judging, jurying, and sentencing annihilation in the span of seconds, and ending with a final: “Now leave me alone!”[2]

To his credit, Moses chooses instead to enter this space of passionate anger with the intent to save God’s people.

These are actually your people, Moses says.  What God said, what you said, back in that 20th chapter of Exodus was actually: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)

And Moses remembered that.

I love this translation!  Moses asks why God is so angry with the very people that God rescued.  Why should the Egyptians, after all this time, suddenly discover that God’s great plan for the Israelites was in actuality “an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth?” (Exodus 32:12) Almost like a petulant child who decided that if I can’t have them, no one can.

Moses employs patience and logic.  That alone may have worked.

Moses employs snappy commands: Calm down!  Change your mind!  That may have helped.  Although, in my experience telling someone to simply “Get over it!” in the heat of the moment doesn’t often work.

But then, Moses employs a third tactic.  Moses speaks words that bring God back to the core of this relationship: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” (Exodus: 32:13)

And out of a deep sadness and repentance, God changed God’s mind.

Oh.  Yeah.

Some people get uncomfortable with an “Angry God” because the wrath of God seems to create this immense rift between the messy, unfortunate, emotional humans and some cold and detached God.  But the Bible reminds us that God is never cold, detached, unchanging, and distant.  The Bible reminds us that God is emotional, passionate, involved and capable of change.[3]  It is important to remember that our knowledge of relationship with God and with one another is held, cradled, in the Bible.

We don’t have an “Angry God” or a “Happy God” – we have a God who keeps promises and lives in relationship with all of humanity.

That relationship is full of promise, full of people, and full of emotions – all of them.

And shockingly, committed to this relationship built on love, God sticks with us.

When we are impatient and angry.  When we are looking for that newest thing that will bring us immediate satisfaction.  When we build idol after idol after idol, through the generations, through our own lifetime. When, time after time, we fall so incredibly short of the greatness that God saw in the generations after generations of Abraham’s descendants and of God’s will for each of us.

Yet.

God claims us as God’s own.

Maybe God gets impatient with us sometimes.

But, through Christ, God and we find the alternative to end all others.

So, like the Psalmist, let us pray:

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! (Psalm 51)

Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Hannan, Shauna. “Commentary on Exodus 32:7-14”  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.org
  2. Jacobson, Rolf. “A Commentary on Human Nature.”  Commentary on Exodus 32:7-14  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.org
  3. Jones, Brian C. “Commentary on Exodus 32:7-14”  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.org
  4. Morley, Rick. “impatience – a reflection on Exodus 32:7-14”  Rick Morley : a garden path.

This week’s image is a still from the animation of God talking to the knights in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).  This still was borrowed and modified from here.  You can learn more about the movie here.


[1] Shauna Hannan.  “Commentary on Exodus 32:7-14”  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.org
[2] Brian C. Jones. “Commentary on Exodus 32:7-14”  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.org
[3] Brian C. Jones. “Commentary on Exodus 32:7-14”

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