Sunday July 7, 2019 | Grace McJohnson
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
As we continue our Long Story Short series through the lens of covenant and kingdom, in this message we explore the connection between relationship and responsibility in the story of the Isarelites making a golden calf for worship while Moses is on Mt. Sinai. It’s all too easy for us to get impatient and lose trust in what we can’t see. Grace explores the struggles of the Israelites by reflecting on her own experience in building idols in her personal life.
As we look at the story of Moses, Aaron, and the idolatrous golden calf, we do so through lens of covenant and kingdom. Covenant is another word for signifying our becoming one with God, and Kingdom is the place where that covenant takes place. In this story we pick up after Moses has been obedient to his call and has led his people out of slavery in Egypt. They have made it through the Red Sea and are now at the base of Mt. Sinai. Moses has been up on the mountain receiving the 10 commandments as well as many other instructions for proper living from God. Among them was a specific command expanding on God’s prohibition of idols to avoid gods made of silver or gold. Shortly after this in chapter 32 we find Aaron collecting all the gold jewelry to melt down and make a golden calf for the people to worship.
This story is sadly a perfect picture of how we get impatient and build idols for ourselves because we have such a hard time trusting what we can’t see. Grace’s brother Jude got hooked on addictive substances at an early age and was a full out addict by his early 20’s. About that time, God miraculously grabbed ahold of Jude and he made an incredible turn around becoming sober, getting married and having a child, and completing seminary with his sister, Grace. Tragically after a couple years of being sober and working at a church down in Arizona with Grace, Jude had a terrible relapse. The spiral kept going, involving not only substance abuse, but eventually lying, manipulations, and threats of suicide. He lost his family and wound up in and out of over 13 rehab centers.
Although motived by good intentions and love, Grace unintentionally built an idol around Jude’s recovery and ended up having her life dominated by her lying, manipulative brother until it was unmanageable. Moving from despair to control, she was blinded by her idolatry to actually see what was going on in her life. Seeing Jude’s attempts at recovery as a good thing (which they were), she mistakenly inserted herself as a controlling savior and was convinced if she could just figure out the correct formula for his recovery (the law), she could save him. Just as the pharisees were obsessed with doing the law, Grace was convinced if she did the right things then she could force an outcome. In this process she lost track of Jesus. When you live by the law, you are judged by the law, and there is a lot of fear in the law.
The law isn’t sinful. In fact, Paul tells us the law was given to help show us our sin. He said the very commandment that provided life turned out to be death for him because he tried to get his salvation through law instead of using it as a guide to point toward Jesus. We learn in Jesus that not only was God not waiting on us to fulfill this perfect law in order to have relationship with us, he had already acted in love toward us while we were still enemies. We were loved in to existence, and the same love is what saves us. We are able to love because God first loved us. Loving the Lord your God is a fulfillment of the law. The law of God toward us is the good news.
Grace was eventually able to surrender her control of Jude’s healing and recognize her worth is not tied to whether he stays sober or not. God’s love covers both our greatest celebrations, but also our greatest pain and fears. The good news is that he first loved us. When everything is seemingly going to hell on the outside, we can still experience peace on the inside. Idols will kill us, but Jesus took the place of this death so that our sin doesn’t have to kill us. We now have the power to stop trying to control outcomes and let the beauty of God guide us even in the midst of our pain.