How quickly they forget.

Have you ever used that phrase?

When I was a boy, maybe 5th or 6th Grade, my friends and I liked to play in our attic. We built this really cool fort up there. The fort was directly above my parent’s bedroom. One night we wanted to have a sleep over in our attic fort. My Dad set us all down. “Now boys, it’s fine for you to have a sleep over up there. But, remember, you are directly above our room. We need to get our sleep. So, at such and such a time, I need you to be quiet. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can I get a promise from each of you? Do we have a deal?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, now go on up there and have a good time.”

Oh, we did.

You can guess what happens next. The appointed time came and we were totally oblivious. We kept making all kinds of noise.

The entrance to the attic was one of those pull down doors from the hallway ceiling that had a collapsible ladder.

Creeeeeak. The door slowly opened.

We froze.

My Dad’s head appeared between the floorboards of the attice.

“Boys, you’re not keeping your end of the deal.”

Busted!

How quickly they forget.

A similar thing happens in our story today, found in Exodus 32, but at a much grander scale. The Children of Israel forget the promise they made to God.

In order to understand the weight of this story, we need to role back the tape. This is where we say…”Previously in the book of Exodus.”

Let’s role back to chapter 7.

Last week, Pastor Megan introduced us to Moses. God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The people had been enslaved for 400 years. Moses said, “Let my people go!”

Pharoah said, “No!”

Then Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sent a series of plagues that each directly confronted the gods of Egypt.

The ninth plague was darkness, a direct show of power against the Egyptian sun god, Ra.

In chapter 11 Moses warns Pharoah that God was going to repay Egypt for having ordered all the firstborn sons of Israel to be drown in the Nile River. The death angel was coming to take all the firstborn of every household.

Then in chapters 12-13 we see that God offers a way to escape this death. This was our text last week. Pastor Megan taught us that God gave this beautiful meal to become a spiritual practice so that they would never forget how God had rescued them from this death.

How quickly they forget.

Well, since last week, God delivered on the promise. Chapters 14-18 tell the story of the amazing escape. God leads the people in a pillar of cloud and fire through the Red Sea. Pharoah’s greed overwhelms him and he chases after the fleeing slaves and the Sea swallows up his entire army.

Israel is saved.

In chapter 19, we come to our story for today.

Moses leads the people through the wilderness of Sinai to the base of Mt. Horeb, the place where Moses saw the burning bush and first spoke with Yahweh.

God speaks to the people through Moses and begins to enter into a Covenant with them. A Covenant is a legally binding agreement.

It starts like this,

“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”

Notice what’s happening. God loves the whole world. All of it belongs to God. But, God has chosen the children of Israel to play a special role. They are to be priests among the nations. A people set apart to demonstrate to the whole world what it looks like to actually live in the Kingdom of God.

God is going to show them how to do this with the covenant. “Will you obey it?”

“We will!” they say.

Think of this like a wedding ceremony.

It begins with the couple facing the pastor with the declaration of intention. “Will you take this man to be your husband…”

“I will”

Then the couple makes the actual vow.

So, in chapter 19, the people make the initial “Yes.”

Then something amazing happens.

God speaks directly to the people. God shows up in a dark cloud of smoke and fire and thunder. God’s voice is like a trumpet blast. It’s like a volcano erupting.

And the words God speaks are what we know as the Ten Commandments.

“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods…you shall…” and on with the ten commandments.

This is a terrifying experience for the people.

They respond to Moses, “you speak to us, and we will listen; but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.”

They just weren’t ready for the kind of relationship Moses had with God.

So, God tells Moses to tell the people.

“Don’t make gods of silver or gold. I only need a simple altar of dirt or rocks. Wherever you remember my name, I will bless you.”

Remember that specific part of the covenant agreement.

Then Moses goes up to the mountain from chapters 21-23 and God gives Moses the actual covenant. These are the guidelines for how to live as a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.

Moses speaks the words of the covenant to the people.

They agree.

Then Moses builds and altar to the LORD. He writes the words of the covenant in a book. And he sprinkles the book and the people with blood.

That sounds really weird to us, but it was a common practice back then. This a covenant, a legally binding agreement, sealed with blood, between God and the people.

The penalty for breaking a blood covenant is death.

The people have signed the agreement.

Then Moses goes back up to the mountain and spends 40 days and 40 nights there. God is giving Moses the blueprint for the tabernacle and writes it on two stone tablets.

It takes six chapters and 40 days.

The people are getting restless.

That brings us to our text for today.

The people speak to Aaron. He’s second in command and in charge while Moses is gone,

“Hey Aaron, make gods for us. We don’t know what happened to Moses!”

Huh?

Aaron says, “Give me all your gold.”

He makes a golden calf, and the people say,

“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Aaron builds and altar and the people have a “Festival to the Lord.”

How quickly they forget.

It’s not just that they forgot that God had delivered them from slavery and are being ungrateful.

They had just entered into a legally binding blood covenant with God, punishable by death, and specifically said that they would never turn to other gods.”

Here we are 40 days later and poof, there are putting their trust in the golden calf, just like all the other nations do.

The door to the attic creaked open. “You are not keeping your end of the deal.”

This kind of betrayal was like cheating on your spouse…on your honeymoon!!

God was ready to deliver their just punishment for breaking the covenant, but Moses pleaded for mercy. He basically said, “LORD, you don’t want to be like all those other gods and have a bad reputation, do you?”

God repented. God changed the plan and spared the people.

There were still horrible consequences and the relationship between the people and God was rocky at best, but God stayed faithful to the covenant, even though the people didn’t.

How quickly they forget.

I have a simple question for us today.

How are we doing with our end of the covenant?

When Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples he said that his blood was the new covenant.

Jesus has called each of us to be a royal priesthood. To be a holy people. We, the church, are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Like Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill. We are the salt of the earth.

When people see us, they should see the love of God.

Yet, so often we wonder if God is just hanging out on the mountain too long and won’t be coming back.

The children of Israel were terrified of God. They wanted a god that was more manageable. They wanted a god that they could craft from their own gold and carry with them wherever they wanted to go. They didn’t want a God that would lead them into the wildnerness.

Do you ever look around at what is happening in the world and think. “Wow! God has been on away on that mountain for a really long time!”

We are tempted to bow down to the American gods.

The gods of Power, Control, Wealth, Fame, Self-righteousness, self-protection, self-indulgence.

When the world gets unstable, it is so easy to forget our calling and turn to the quick fix where we draw hard boundaries and hunker down. It is easy to stop loving, to stop listening, to stop reaching out to love the way Jesus taught us to love, and start listening to the gods who tell us how to be safe within our own self-protective bubbles.

What gods tempt you to throw your gold at them today?

May we be a people who never forget.

Each time we come to the bread and the wine, may we remember. We have a mediator in Jesus, who went up on the mountain, who pleaded our case, who sealed the covenant in his own blood, so that we may know life in the Kingdom of God.

May our eyes be opened and our hearts softened to carry on the work of Jesus Christ and love our neighbor the way God loves us.

Amen.

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