Order of Service
|Prelude||by Bach||Chris Johansen, piano|
Confession & Forgiveness
|Gathering Song||Thy Blessings Fill Our Earthly Need|
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayer of the Day
|Psalm 103||vs. 1-12||Harry Johansen|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Scripture||Exodus 32: 1-14||Pastor Linda|
|Hymn||O Christ the Healer, We Have Come|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Statement of Faith|
Prayers of Intercession
|Closing Hymn||Thy Holy Wings|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Postlude||This is My Father’s World||Chris Johansen|
Confession & Forgiveness
In heart and spirit, we are gathered together in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Recognizing our need for forgiveness, for belonging, let us confess our sin, and seek reconciliation with God and with each other.
Silence for reflection and self-examination.
God of justice and compassion,
we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. We have not been faithful stewards of your love, of your word of grace, of your creation, or of our harvest and abundance. Too many hunger in our world of plenty. Forgive our sin, increase our faith, strengthen us in service, and bring us to trust in the everlasting life that is ours through your Son. Amen
In the mercy of God, there is forgiveness; there is life, and redemption, and peace.
Gathering Song – Thy Blessings Fill Our Earthly Need
Thy blessings fill our earthly need,
Thy blessing is Thy people’s meed,
The blessing from Thy hands, O Lord,
Is wine upon Thy festal board.
The blessing which God’s promise bore,
Was given Abraham of yore,
But not until the Savior’s birth
Its fullness was reveal’d on earth.
The blessing now, like dew and rain,
Doth fall on ev’ry land and main
And to the church of Christ is sent
Through our baptismal covenant.
The blessing to His church on earth
Gives at the font to man new birth
And through the bread and cup imparts
The life of Jesus to our hearts.
For blessings manifold give praise,
To heaven thankful voices raise!
God’s blessing then for evermore
Shall on His church like showers pour.
The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
Prayer of the Day
Lord, I want to love you, yet I’m not sure.
I want to trust you, yet I’m afraid of being taken in.
I know I need you, yet I’m ashamed of the need.
I want to pray, yet I’m afraid of being a hypocrite.
I need my independence, yet I fear to be alone
I want to belong, yet I must be myself.
Take me, Lord, yet leave me alone.Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
~ Brother Bernard, SSF
Psalm 103: 1-12
1 Bless the Lord, | O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless God’s | holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, | O my soul,
and forget not | all God’s benefits —
3 who forgives | all your sins
and heals all | your diseases;
4 who redeems your life | from the grave
and crowns you with steadfast | love and mercy;
5 who satisfies your desires | with good things
so that your youth is renewed | like an eagle’s.
6 O Lord, you provide | vindication
and justice for all who | are oppressed,
7 You made known your | ways to Moses
and your works to the chil-|dren of Israel.
8 Lord, you are full of compas-|sion and mercy,
slow to anger and abounding in | steadfast love;
9 you will not al-|ways accuse us,
nor will you keep your an-|ger forever.
10 You have not dealt with us according | to our sins,
nor repaid us according to | our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high a-|bove the earth,
so great is your steadfast love for | those who fear you.
12 As far as the east is | from the west,
so far have you removed our transgres-|sions from us.
Scripture: Exodus 32: 1-14
1When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 2Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ 6They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
7The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ 9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’
11But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
We drop in on the narrative lectionary series of readings today in the Sinai wilderness. Moses and God have led the Israelites out of Egypt, barely ahead of the crest of the wave that destroyed the pursuing army. Moses and Miriam sang songs of thanksgiving to God on the far shore, the people shook the dust of Egypt off their sandals and followed Moses into the wilderness before them. The goal is a land of promise – a land said to be flowing with milk and honey – a land that will be theirs. Along the way are stories of complaining and hunger, of God’s provision of water from a rock, of manna falling like morning dew, of quails flocking to their camp every evening – until finally the children of Israel arrived at the base of Mount Sinai which is covered with the presence of God, shrouded in cloud and fire and thunder.
In chapter 19:3, Moses first went up the mountain to God who called to him and said, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians,… and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and if you keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”
Moses came down the mountain and told the people this astounding news, giving them the terms of God’s covenant.The first and most important: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol… You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud enveloped the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. The people trembled.
After all this drama, God basically told him to go back down, get Aaron, and warn the people that no one was permitted to approach the cloud of smoke. Moses seemed to think this was unnecessary information, but God repeated it – at peril of their lives they must not come closer to look.
The number of trips Moses makes up and down the mountain conveying the word of God gets bit confusing, but on three separate occasions in these chapters, the Israelites agree to be God’s faithful people, to let God be their God, and not to worship idols.
Back up the mountain, Moses received detailed instructions for building the ark of the covenant and tabernacle, the tent in which God’s presence would reside as the Israelites travelled on to the promised land.
So in terms of story plot lines, we would expect the next scene to be of
the Israelites building this mobile home fit for God’s glorious presence. And
perhaps they would have, and things would have gone differently for them,
dwelling peaceably in the presence of God, perhaps ……. but things rarely go
smoothly in the Bible or in our lives ….. Moses was called away again, back
up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments in tablet form…
24:16 And the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it…Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain and was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.”
Forty days is a long time for the people to keep focus and faith, to live in anxiety at the base of a smoking mountain. For the first few days things were great. The manna and quail diet continued so there was plenty for God’s people to eat. There wasn’t much to do out in the desert, but after all, they deserved a few days of rest – they had spent their whole lives as slaves and it had been a long, stoney journey to this point. Time now to sort things out. Time to rest. Time to consider….. too much time to consider.
Because sometimes, late at night, in the darkness of their tents, some of God’s people would ask; “How long do you think Moses will be gone? You don’t think he’s left us do you? You don’t think he’s been overcome by smoke or consumed by that blazing, dazzling, holy fire… do you?” And the people of God worried – or at least some of them did.
After a few weeks, the waiting started to get old. “Where could Moses be?” the people wondered? “Do you think he really will bring a gift for us from God? What in heaven’s name is taking so long?” And now more of God’s people worried. And the fear began to spread – spread like a virus, like a wildfire, like a twitter of misinformation. And by the time forty days and forty nights had passed, God’s people were very nearly frantic. In their hysterics, they went to Aaron crying out that something had to be done. Right now!
They said to him, “Come, make gods for us, form a god who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron – who had been up that mountain with Moses, under the smoke, in the presence of God when the ten commandments were spoken, who surely knew the first one by heart – Aaron said, “Take off the golden rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people brought them. He took the gold, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and made a proclamation, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
Perhaps it was intended for good, a way to calm and reassure the people until Moses returned…
But it did not go unnoticed.
The Lord said, “Go down, Moses. At once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it!'” Furious, he told Moses to stand aside, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; …. but of you I will make a great nation.”
As with Noah and then with Abraham, now with Moses, God would start over again, making a new people, a more faithful people, maybe even a smarter people who wouldn’t be fooled into thinking a golden calf was their God.
But Moses argued against this, face to face he argued with God. It seems that neither of them wanted to claim the rootless people. “These are YOUR people,” Moses maintained. “The ones YOU saved, the ones YOU brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand! God, you have made a covenant to THESE people.” And just to make sure all the bases were covered, Moses chided God, saying, “Will you let the Egyptians gloat by saying, ‘What kind of god rescues them from slavery only to destroy them all in freedom?’”
“You’re right” sighed God. “They are my people and I do love them. Go down, Moses, and straighten them out.”
Actually, it doesn’t say that in the Bible, but it does say that God changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring upon his people. God shows mercy to the wayward, stiff-necked, longing-for-a-god-any-god-will-do people whom God has chosen as his own.
“Take off those golden rings – the reminders of your slavery, the dowry of your freedom – and bring them to me.” And from the gold, Aaron cast an image of a calf; and the people said, “Here is your god, O Israel, the one who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! See how it glitters in the sun. Note how it dazzles. Let us worship this thing, this image of our god.”
I think the Israelites knew that this little cash cow, newly created from the plunder they carried out of Egypt, was not God, but the problem was that it was god enough … right? Sometimes we only need something to be god enough – comforting enough, fulfilling enough, saving enough – a credit card and a shopping spree, alcohol, comfort food, consuming work, a TV and its remote – god enough when we can’t find or feel or see the real, but hidden, invisible God.
The symbolism of golden calf god is interesting. The people are willing to worship the wealth of Egypt even though it was that very wealth that had enslaved them, had put them down, had controlled them.
Do we do that? Do we idolize power? Do we revere the things that control us?
Of course we do. Politics, merchandizing, 24-hr news, the systemization of greed and self-interest – these things thrive on the enslavement of our values, controlling our opinions and purchases and lifestyles, diminishing community and our calling as creatures formed in the image of God: the true God, the One God, begotten not made. Too often, we see ourselves made in the image of that other god, that golden calf … the soon-to-be bull that has power over others.
Egyptian wealth – those gold earrings – gave the Israelite’s their identity, told them who they were – yes, they were slaves, limited, finite, but sometimes knowing that you are “all that you can be” and having that be defined for us, can be comforting. We tend to prefer limits, boundaries, order – even as we proclaim Freedom and a wide horizon as our due…. we like the idea of all that space and potential, but in actual practice there’s a lot of fear in the prospect of new starts, open-ended possibilities. Some have found in the social isolation of COVID an opportunity to reboot, take a long self assessment and make new plans — many have found the lack of social structure disorienting and destructive.
The Israelites formed the reminder of their slavery into a golden calf and then offered it burnt offerings as though it could smell; they sat down in front of it, content, to eat and drink, and revel. Because now they had God – enough of a god. Right there on the lamp stand. Tangible. Solid. Semi-precious, glinting in the sun.
We hear this story and say, “Oh, there they go again, those foolish biblical people. Hardly have the words of God’s love song for them echoed away, scarcely has the promise they made of a covenantal relationship dried on their dusty lips, than the people forget the lines they have been rehearsing. ‘You shall know that I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.’”
“How telling their failures will prove to be,” we say. “They’re done for. They’re toast.”
And by rights they should be. Done for. By rights, so should we.
Moses has made a bunch of trips up and down Mt. Sinai – into the presence of God and back down into the camp, up the mountain to God and down again. This time, though, he was up there for a very long time. And the people began to feel vulnerable camped at the foot of that mountain, under a cloud spitting fire and smoke. Little wonder they set a golden calf on a lamp stand and called it god enough. This one they could appease and control and keep an eye on.
What do we do when we can’t approach God, or hear God, or find God, or feel God’s presence? I suspect that is a quite common occurrence for most of us? What do we do? Do we boldly argue with God and hold God to the promise like Moses did? Do we change our prayers to accommodate the silence? Do we decide that God isn’t invested in such small details as our needs, that we are not worthy, or haven’t found the right words? Do we look for help somewhere else, some other god – credit card and shopping spree, chocolate cake, Facebook, extra shifts at work? How can we avoid this disaster of setting up idols on the lamp stand in place of God while we wait?
I don’t know that we actually can avoid this disaster. Old Testament professor, Rolf Jacobsen, says it isn’t so much that the Israelites made a false god, but they made a false image of the true God. Maybe it should have been a bird – a golden mother hen nestling chicks under her wings! That’s my new favorite image of divine love. Or maybe an eagle. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians,” God said… “and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
Maybe Aaron should have made a bird! It was the bull calf that infuriated God. Maybe not.
I’m going to say our images are always wrong – whatever they are. We’d get along better in the world if religious people would only believe and honor that. Whatever idea or belief we have of God is incomplete, too small, too limited, perhaps flat out wrong – because none of us has an imagination big enough for the real deal, the whole being of God. We drop into idolatrous relationships with things that control us, have power over us, because God is such a puzzle and so silent outside of the Bible’s stories. It’s small wonder that we make up false images. At least that way we worship a god we can live with.
I feel sorry for these Israelites. They do not have a good time of it. In fact, because of this episode, none of them will live to cross on into the promised land. This entire generation of people are simply caretakers, the genomes of the ones who will live on into the promises of God. It hardly seems fair. The images the Israelites made of God are consistently too small, too limited to bear the divine, the creator of heaven and earth. That will continue to a problem for them, and for God – it’s a stalemate in their relationship.
It would help, really, to have God come a little closer, dazzle a little less and come down from the mountain, become somehow more approachable for those who are not Moses, appear in some form that is a bit easier to make sense of and talk to and follow. Is it really their fault, the Israelites, or ours, that we cling to things that are of the earth, elemental, fundamental when God is so obscured by the glory and majesty of clouds and smoke and mirrors reflecting our imaginings back onto us? God is glimpsed, but not revealed.
At the end of Deuteronomy, in summing up Moses’ life and career, we learn that “never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
Face to face. The face of God, facing a human face – maybe God learns something here, a new means of approach. An image, a living word, that shares our story and enters our lives?
I suspect, though, that we will make an idol even of that one, that Son of God, shoring up our own viewpoints and perspectives and language rather than looking for God as God truly is.
Hymn – O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come
O Christ, the healer, we have come
to pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored
when reached by love that never ends?
From ev’ry ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed;
yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.
In conflicts that destroy our health
we recognize the world’s disease;
our common life declares our ills.
Is there no cure, O Christ, for these?
Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
the wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach the whole of humankind.
Statement of Faith
We are not alone; we live in God’s world.
We believe in God, who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our center and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Amen
Prayers of Intercession
With all the people of God, we pray for the church, those in need, and all of God’s creation.
- + For the changing seasons, Creator God, and all the ways that we are reminded of your presence in the colors of the leaves, the harvested fields, the active wildlife, and the changing temperatures; we are grateful for all that you provide for us. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
- + We pray for all those who are experiencing exclusion, those who are marginalized or oppressed, those who are treated with disrespect or violence, those who are bullied, those who are denied opportunities for growth, for those who suffer injustice of any kind – please surround them with your strength and care, and give us the courage to be agents of change. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
- + God of mercy, grant your healing touch to those who are in pain, those who are grieving, lost, afraid, hungry, suffering from addiction, or in any way in mind, body or spirit. We name these known to us now……….Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
- + As we find creative and meaningful ways of living into our faith during this strange time, dear God, we are thankful for your church and the gift of the Holy Spirit that continues to connect us to our brothers and sisters in faith nearby and around the earth. Help us listen to what you are calling us to do. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
- + Other intentions may be added here….
Lover of our souls, you open wide your hands and satisfy the needs of every living creature. We thank you and bless you for your tender care. Through the time, skills, and financial resources we give to our congregation help us to serve our neighbors, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring justice to the oppressed in our world. Help us in these gifts to go where you send us, in all the beautiful names of God. Amen.
Thanksgiving for the Word
Response: We give you thanks and praise.
Go forth into the world to serve God with gladness; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn – Thy Holy Wings
Thy holy wings, O Savior, spread gently over me,
and let me rest securely through good and ill in thee.
Oh, be my strength and portion, my rock and hiding place,
and let my ev’ry moment be lived within thy grace.
Oh, let me nestle near thee, within thy downy breast
where I will find sweet comfort and peace within thy nest.
Oh, close thy wings around me and keep me safely there,
for I am but a newborn and need thy tender care.
Oh, wash me in the waters of Noah’s cleansing flood.
Give me a willing spirit, a heart both clean and good.
Oh, take into thy keeping thy children great and small,
and while we sweetly slumber, enfold us one and all.