Sometimes it’s difficult to tie in all the readings for the day in one sermon. Sometimes you have to use a shoehorn to get them all included, but you’re going to be uncomfortable walking around, because the shoe does just does not fit right. Fortunately, at least for me, today they all seem to fit together, and the shoe feels good.
Our first reading is about Moses when he is on the mountain meeting alone with God. The people are anxious. This God that seems to dwell on Mt. Sinai seems distant and unapproachable. The only one allowed in the presence of the God on Sinai is Moses. The people want a god they can relate to, a god that they can approach, a god they can worship, and a deity that is not distant and aloof from them, but is among them and with them.
They pressure Aaron to make them a god they can worship. As for Moses, he disappears for long periods of time, talking to a God that doesn’t have time for them. Only Moses can be in the presence of that God. We want our own god. So, bowing to the pressure, and probably feeling alienated from this God of Moses too, Aaron concedes. He tells the people to bring him their precious gold, rings and jewelry. He builds a fire, melts down all the precious gold and jewelry, and forms what is referred to as the “golden calf”.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed coming 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.” Aaron 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.” So, all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, 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!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “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”. (Exodus 31:1-14)
Moses comes down the mountain, and he sees the people from a distance, and they appear to be having some kind of a celebration. As he draws closer, he realizes they are worshiping some sort of shiny object, a golden calf. Moses throws down the tablets of stone, and yells at Aaron. “Aaron, what have you done”? Aaron responds: “I don’t know. The people brought me their gold and precious metals. I threw them into the fire, and out comes this calf. I really don’t know how this happened”.
Are you settling for something other than what God desires for you? Is there a golden calf that comes between you and God? But, wait…there’s an excitement in the air. There’s a sense of elation, a sense of something that has possessed them to be excited, to be stirred up. The desires that have been hidden from public view are no visible for everyone to see. It’s not the best look you can have, a carnal look, a sensual look. “Oh great, Moses is going to put an end to our celebration and good times. Just give us a few more minutes on the golden calf”. There’s a group known as the Band of Heathens that have a song called, “Just give me eight more seconds on the golden calf”. Just a few more minutes to enjoy this exuberance, this excitement, wildness, carelessness and desperate moments of hysteria on the golden calf.
There is a desire in all of us to worship, but there is also a desire to meet our sensual needs, a counterfeit presence of God, that is not holy, that is not holy, not peaceable, not kind, but is destructive. There is a proverb that warns us against false gods, those things that separate us from a healthy relationship with the God we know as Christians. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death”. (Proverbs 14:12, NIV)
In our second reading today, Paul implores the Philippian Church to focus their minds on wholesome things. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you”. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Scripture exhorts us today to let our minds be on the peaceable things of the Spirit, to cultivate the presence of God in your life, cultivate a symphony of pleasant thoughts, so that this nirvana of purity and sweetness will flow through your hearts and your minds, to follow the Living God of love, the God of wholesomeness, beauty and kindness. This is what God has called us to, and this is a practice that we are called to enjoy, experience and practice. This is not the ‘golden calf’. This is the real McCoy, the real deal.
The gospel passage today is a parable about a king that gives a wedding banquet for his son. In this parable Jesus compares this great banquet to the kingdom of heaven. The king sends his servants, his messengers, to go out and to remind all those that were invited to come to the banquet, but they would not come. So, he sent out others to compel them to come to the great dinner, but they would not come, and they mistreated and killed those that sent the invitation. The king destroyed those that mistreated and killed his slaves, and burned their city.
Jesus tells his messengers to go out and invite everyone to this banquet feast that others rejected. We are intended to be the messengers. We are told to go out into every part of the world and bring people into this big feast. There are plenty of tables. There is plenty of food, and if we fill up our tables, we will put down more tables and assign more waiters to serve and share hospitality. There is room for everyone in the kingdom of heaven. And, when you come in bring your spiritual appetite. (Matthew 22:1-14)
Are you hungry for the food of heaven? Are you thirsty for the water from the well of the Spirit that will never run dry? Bring your appetite for the Word of God, for the sweetness of his presence, the milk and honey of the feast day. Come all is ready. Come and eat. As the prophet Isaiah calls to us with the words of this invitation. “To all of you who are thirsty and hungry, come to the water. Don’t worry about the money. There is no charge. Hearken diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself with abundance”. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
So, how can we make this a practical invitation? We are called to go into the world and make available all aspects of the kingdom. The parable says the wedding hall was eventually full of guests. Our challenge is to invite everyone.
The table is ready. Come! The table is ready. Introduce them to the kingdom. And where is the kingdom? The kingdom is in heaven, but is also here among us. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Invite others to come be a part of what we are doing. Three chapters later in Matthew, Jesus says that whoever ministers to the needs of others, ministers to me. We are called to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to minister to the homeless, the poor, and to all that have needs. If we take time to care for others, we are ministering to Jesus, and if we do not, we are not bringing the kingdom to others, and we are not ministering to Jesus.
When we go out into the highways and the byways and minister to the needs of others, we are representatives of the kingdom of heaven, and this is the garments we are to wear. God ministers to us, as we minster to others. And, we can invite others to join us in this work of the kingdom. Our message is this: “Come work with us. Join us and come work with us. I invite you to come. If you have maintenance skills we have work for you to do. Can you drive a van? Are you willing to assist others that English is the second language, to fill out forms, to assist newcomers with forms, appointments, taxes and other things that are hard for newcomers? Are you able to care for the lonely, to walk with the downtrodden and discouraged? Are you good at cleaning up? Grab a broom and join us. Be the messenger, or angel that God has called you to be.
Come to the true Lamb of God. Turn away from the golden calves. Come be a part of the kingdom of God, and join other servants in sharing the good news of Jesus. All are invited. Don’t substitute the true presence of God with a golden calf. Come to the table of the Lord. All is ready. Come break bread with us. Join us at the table of the Lord.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29)
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen