October 15, 2017
Fr. Chad Jones
Church of the Resurrection
For a few weeks now we have been talking about the covenants that we as the people of God have made with him over time. We’ve talked about the old covenant that we were not able to stick to. We’ve talked about the covenant that we make at our own baptisms and that we renew every time we gather at another baptism. We have talked about the new covenant – the one that is embodied in the holy sacrament of the altar. We have heard every week for a few weeks now about the covenant that existed in the time of our forefathers that was broken. In fact, we talk about that broken covenant a lot over the course of a year.
There is scarcely a week that goes by that we don’t talk about the broken covenant in our Wednesday night Bible study. The Old Testament is full of examples of the broken covenant. That’s basically all the Old Testament is: how the covenant was made and how it was broken. Every story that talks about the broken covenant begins with the phrase “Once again Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” That line shows up about 15 times in the book of Judges alone.
The specific thing that is “evil in the sight of the Lord” is falling into the worship of idols. It is an extremely bad habit that the Israelites have. Today we are going to see the first time that it happens. I’ll give you the background. The Hebrews lived (and still live) on the most hotly contested piece of real estate on our little planet. It was then and it is now. When Israel was strong, they occupied all of it and it was not a problem. When Israel grew weak or complacent inevitably someone would come in a snatch a piece of this land away.
On occasion, the invaders would be so much stronger than Israel that they would conquer and enslave the entire nation. So God lays down some ground rules. First and foremost, he says, “We only have one God and I am it.” Keep that in mind and everything else will basically be fine. It is an over-simplification, but you get the gist. He also said, “Don’t intermarry.” One of the many reasons being, if you marry someone who worships different gods, chances are pretty good that they will pollute Judaism with their false gods and idols. This was a very hard rule to follow when you were in exile in another country with a different religion and culture.
In the Exodus lesson this morning (I know it is very rarely that I preach about the Old Testament lesson) we see a nation that has really had and eventful few months. Just a matter of weeks earlier they woke up as slaves in the land of Egypt. They had been in Egypt for a really long time – generations as a matter of fact. They had all been born there. They continued to worship God, but they were inundated with all of the gods of Egypt, too – and the gods of Sumaria and Canaan and all the other pagan cultures of the Middle East. Over time many of these foreign gods and cultures had slipped through into the Jewish culture.
God calls Moses out of the land of Midian. He shows up and says, “Let me people go.” There are locusts and flies and gnats and frogs and blood and plague and pestilence and parted seas and then they are free. They march out of Egypt into the desert and Moses calls them all together and says, “Hear O Israel, God is our God and there is only one of him!” They were free to be who they were and worship how they worship and it was time to throw away all of the things that had polluted them in this foreign land. There was just one little problem. For a very long while, they just weren’t very good at doing that.
So let’s go back to Moses. He was kind of a strange guy. He wasn’t one of them. He was basically a stranger when he showed up in Egypt to demand the freedom of his people. He had been in Midian for quite some time. He was also no Charlton Heston. He had some kind of speech impediment so he didn’t talk to his people. He talked to Aaron and Aaron talked to the people, which I’m sure added to his mystique. He would disappear for days at a time and go up on the mountain and talk to God. The only thing that his people knew was that he was there. They would see fire and smoke and he would return with his face shining. It scared them so badly that they put a cloth over his face so they wouldn’t have to see it. Aaron then told them what God had told Moses.
Today we hear the story where Moses goes up the mountain and is there for an exceptionally long time. They all knew that it was a very dangerous business being in the presence of your God, so they naturally assume that he is dead. And if he has struck down their leader he’s probably mad at them too so they decide to go ahead and pick new gods – gods that weren’t mad at them. Well you all know the rest of the story; there is no need to retell it.
We read all of this and we all wonder to ourselves, “How could people who had seen God close the seas on top of Pharaoh’s armies turn their back on him so easily? How could they forget him after all he had done for them? Every time we read about the Israelites doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord we shake our heads and say “I’m so glad we are smarter than that. We would never give up our God to begin worshipping idols and false gods.” I mean society has just advanced so far beyond that. Or has it?
God looked upon us and loved us and pitied us because we had fallen so far from his law. He sent his son to live and die as one of us. He died upon the cross for our sin and rose again on the third day. The saints and martyrs and evangelists have told us the story over and over again and we know that it is true. Yet even today we will turn from him in a minute if we are given half a chance. We will replace him with work or money or any one of a million other things and you tell me what really is the difference in replacing him with that and replacing him with a golden calf that we have formed from our melted down bracelets and earrings?
My friends, there are a whole lot of things falling into place at the Church of the Resurrection. We are growing so fast that it is difficult to keep all the balls in the air. You remember that guy on the Johnny Carson show who used to spin the plates on the poles. It feels a lot like that on some days. And don’t get me wrong. I like it when it feels that way. So many prayers have been answered in the last 18 months. If we could get our youth program up and going I’d sleep a lot easier. Keep praying about a youth director. We’ve crossed a lot of things off of our list, but the work coming is going to be significant. It won’t be long and we will begin some major projects in the life of our little parish. Some we know about and some that will be complete surprises. Growing a church is a lot of fun, but it sure is hard work in a lot of different ways and if we are not spiritually ready for it it will eat our lunch. Satan does not want churches to grow and he will throw every distraction in his arsenal at us to try to pull us away from our mission. If we look at our lives and realize that we are once again doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord, there is absolutely no way that we will be able to enter into the promised land when the time comes. We have to recognize and blessings and thank the one from whom all blessings flow.
Moses came down off of that mountain and saw his people in a terrible state and he had a conniption fit! He told them to put away those idols. Fall on their knees and beg forgiveness for their sins. Turn to the Lord again and live and that is just what they did. And God made Israel into a great and powerful nation because they called upon his name. Let’s continue to turn toward God and thank him for the distance he’s brought us. And pray with me that he will continue to use us change lives and hearts in our world.