Delivered at Ames UCC
on October 9, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
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at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.
When Genya C. preached on the story of Abraham and Sarah a few weeks ago, she shared how it wasn’t until she helped to launch the Godly Play curriculum for grade schoolers here that she came to know about our church leadership teams. Coming for worship with her family, she hadn’t realized all that happens behind the scenes. Genya is now the head of our Christian Ed team. But it’s the Financial Stewardship team I’ve been highlighting of late. They are charged with just that: the management and solicitation of financial gifts to God through Ames UCC.
Earlier this summer the Financial Stewardship team and I were working on the timeline and strategy for 2017. We looked at October for a good Sunday to set for the pledge deadline. When I glanced at the scripture schedule and saw today’s was about the golden calf, I said, “Oh, it has to be October 9.” Because what better story is there for talking about money and God than one of creating false idols? The preaching possibilities seemed to be many: Don’t make money your idol, money isn’t God, faith isn’t a shiny object.
Actually preparing such a sermon, though, feels bad. The result can only be pastor as finger-wagging nag or holier-than-thou know-it-all. Even if I confessed all of my personal financial mistakes and failures to give generously to church, the physical dynamics of this room would still put me in a position to sound like a real scold.
And it wouldn’t be an accurate depiction of the text.
Look at what has happened: The people got ready to flee, marked their homes and themselves as loyal to God and then they fled. Their passage out of slavery was terrifying: An army bore down on them; a body of water blocked their way. But they got out. Just as God has done so many times for the subjugated, a way showed up out of no way. The sea of reeds revealed a path and to safety they went.
Or a semblance of safety. Moses and his people didn’t have a destination other than not-Egypt. And they did not have much food. They took on faith that God would guide them to a place where they could live without fear and with sufficient manna.
Once in the wilderness the people found God too loud and shocking, so they asked Moses to do all of the talking. Moses said yes and continued to embody the holy presence that they needed to stay strong. But sometimes Moses went away. Sometimes Moses was called to be in a different kind of communion with the divine, out of their eye sight and ear shot.
He had been gone from the Hebrews for upwards of 40 days by the time they turn to Aaron for help.
I can imagine that might have been stressful. Despite all of the evidence the Hebrew people have that they will be okay, it is still scary to be out of a house, with no permanent kitchen. And they believed that God had abandoned them once before. After all, it felt like God had allowed them to go from power in Pharaoh’s house then down into slavery. So if Moses is their link to God and Moses is gone, a bit of anxiety is understandable.
As would be an effort to calm everyone down, to renew a sense of security. The escapees fall back on what they know to stay connected or get reconnected with God: They make a familiar statue. Yes, they have been told never to make or worship idols, but in times of fear, comfort can easily override command.
It was a comfort they needed so badly that they gave up their riches: The women and men and children all gave up their gold earrings to be melted and shaped into the calf. These were people travelling only with their sandals and sticks. The gold they wore was the absolute last of their resources, the last of their international currency. Left without the comfort and assurance of Moses’ presence, the freed slaves gave everything they had to remind themselves that they were still connected to God.
Who wouldn’t give everything to feel the level of love God demonstrated leading up to and during the escape? What wouldn’t each of us give to know that our children and friends are still safe and have a future?
For a church raising money, this is actually a pretty good story. The generosity of Moses’ people is not activity that leaders looking to meet power bills want to discourage.
We don’t have a cow to create, but we do have shingles that will need replacing and some support beams below the sanctuary that are getting iffy. And then there’s the perennial water damage from the flat roof and big trees that clog the gutters.
This church campus is our contemporary embodiment of God in the world. This space, designed to look different than a meeting hall or an office, is our Moses, our stand-in for a holy presence that is otherwise too big for us to conceive or encounter directly on our own. This shelter reassures us that to this day, there will be enough food and we do have a home.
The section does end with God getting angry. God has a knee-jerk, petulant reaction to seeing that familiar nemesis cast again in gold. Moses keeps his cool and encourages God to think about what it would look like for God to slaughter those who had been so noisily proclaimed as precious.
And Moses does not say this, but it feels like he’s reminding God that the Hebrews are only human. Despite their best efforts to be all that God wants, they are still the same rash creatures who could not keep their hands off an apple.
You know who we are God, remember the grace you give regardless.
Our relationship with God has never been simple, nor has our relationship with gold or possessions. It is hard not to want to hoard all that we can and it can take desperation to give any away.
Our church is not desperate, though, as our gift to the Boys and Girls Club of Story County today shows. We are as confident of God’s closeness as Moses, so do not have to keep all that we have just for ourselves.
That’s not always true outside of this place, though. Outside of this place there seems to be more and more desperation, more and more hoarding of resources. There is a fear in the air, fear of the future be it political or planetary.
So here’s my final pitch for this pledge season on behalf of all of the leadership teams, and I pray I don’t sound a scold: People have only found freedom and resolve when there have been communities to call leaders and hush arbors to shelter them as they found a new way.
Ames UCC is such a place. Here we have the words to tell the world just how big God’s love is for all. It is for all. Here we have the organization and training to make sure that not only our children and friends are safe and have a future, but everyone else is, too.
Ames UCC is a place where with cool heads we develop voices that heal and take the time to locate again ever flowing grace of the morning star.
Please invest in and protect both with your pledge and gifts.