Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 9/16

In today’s first lesson, did God really say, “Leave me alone?”  Listen to verse 10, “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.”  That’s what he said.  The Lord had had it with disobedient humanity…again.  You’re probably familiar with the story.  Moses had been up on Mt. Sinai for a long time, 40 days and 40 nights, which is Old Testament talk for a real long time.  Moses was in the cloud, in the presence of the divine mystery receiving the Ten Commandments and other instruction from the God who called himself only, I Am Who I Am. 

In Moses’ absence though, the people were getting restless.  Moses was their access to God and he wasn’t around and they wanted access, so they went to Aaron, Moses’ brother, the next best source and said to him, “Make gods for us!”  And he did, fashioning a golden calf which the people proclaimed to be their god and they began offering sacrifices to it.  I love Aaron’s response though, later on when Moses questioned him about what had happened; Aaron said to Moses, “I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and lo and behold, out came this calf!”  Okay.

The Lord was angry, ready to give up on this group he called “your people” as he addressed Moses.  Calling them “your people” he had already verbally disowned them so he was ready to start over with a new group of people.  “Leave me alone,” he said to Moses.  Sometimes that is the best thing to do with someone who is that mad.  Leave them alone for awhile.  Let them cool off.  I’ve been on both sides of that and you probably have too. 

But Moses wouldn’t leave him alone.  He wouldn’t take the risk that the Lord might be mad enough to actually do what he said he would.  At risk to himself, Moses took on the wrath of the Lord…and he succeeded.  He appealed to the Lord’s pride, essentially using the “what would the neighbors think” argument.  “If the Egyptians see that you gave up on these people, your people, your reputation as the God who saves, delivers and sets captives free, your reputation is going to take a hit.  Remember the promises you made to your people.”  This was pretty gutsy on the part of Moses.  Having been on the mountain for a long time with the Lord, he knew who he was dealing with.  He knew the danger.  But with great daring, he issued this challenge.  And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

The Lord renewed his commitment to the people he had made promises to; his people.  That’s the gospel message of this story, perhaps the most important thing to take away this morning.  Despite his inclinations to give up, he gave these people another chance, another possibility, new hope.  But there are other things going on in this story too; things worth noting.  This has always been a classic, perhaps the classic idolatry story.  In this story we are reminded that we deal with a jealous God who will not be mocked by any of our golden calves, whatever they might be.  This is a god who makes commands and demands obedience and loyalty and none of us ought ever take that lightly.  Compromises in our loyalty will not be tolerated. 

But this text also reminds us that this sovereign, awesome God also, perhaps to our surprise, invites us into the conversation.  To be honest he wasn’t really very inviting in this story, but even so, despite wanting to be left alone, the Lord paid attention to Moses.  As mad as he was, he paid attention, he heard Moses out.  This God who makes commands and demands obedience and loyalty doesn’t engage in a one sided monologue that calls us to always silently, reverently submit.  We’re invited into a dialogue that sometimes, often, involves our praise, but which can also sometimes involve us in asserting ourselves in the presence of the holiness of God. 

Most Lutherans, most Christians, don’t assert ourselves before God very well, or if we do we feel guilty about it having been made to think we’re supposed to praise God no matter what.  Sadly I think some people think the relationship is over if they feel angry and combative toward God yet this is the kind of divine/human relationship we find described in much of the Bible.  Moses asserted himself before the Lord on behalf of the people, and the Lord changed his mind.

Moses didn’t change his mind though.  If you read on in this chapter, it’s as if Moses said, “OK; I spared you from the wrath of the Lord, but now you’re going to deal with me.”  And he proceeded to pretty much do what the Lord had threatened to do.  There was a price to pay here.

The Lord ultimately got his two cents in too, sending a plague down on the people.  The Lord would not be trifled with and the people needed to know that; but because of the intervention of Moses, his commitment was renewed.  The Lord changed his mind.  He would be the God his people believed that he was.

That God ultimately is a God marked by graciousness, graciousness which goes beyond our wildest expectations.  Walter Brueggemann writes a lot about how God as portrayed in the Bible is a mysterious, free, elusive, sometimes unpredictable character and today’s first lesson is evidence of this.

But with all God’s unpredictable elusiveness, graciousness is a characteristic that consistently shines through, especially as we get to the story of Jesus, the core story of God for those of us who call ourselves Christians.  The story of Jesus is a story of grace in which God changed his mind once and for all, for us, his people, so that we could be his people, forever.

Jesus’ life informs us of this grace, but as you know, he also told stories, parables, which were often stories of abundance and grace revealed in surprising ways to people used to a world that was often not very gracious.  The two short parables in today’s gospel are examples.  In what we call the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus posed the question, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” 

The introduction prior to this parable tells us that tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus.  That probably means there were some shepherds in the crowd.  You might remember from Christmas Eve sermons over the years that shepherds didn’t have the greatest reputation in that culture.  So there probably were some shepherds there and you can picture them hearing Jesus’ question, looking at each other and saying, “I wouldn’t do that.”  You go looking for one, when you come back lots more are going to be gone or dead.  The truth is, no self respecting shepherd would do what Jesus said, which was exactly his point.  You wouldn’t, but I would.  One sheep wouldn’t mean much to a shepherd, but in Jesus’ reckoning, every sheep matters.

The parable of the lost coin is similar, but different.  The coin here isn’t a penny or a nickel.  It represents roughly a day’s pay.  So there is reason for the woman to look for it.  It’s the sense of urgency that’s notable here.  You might think she would wait till morning when she was fresher and more alert and the light was better.  But no.  She won’t sleep until she finds the coin and even then she won’t sleep until she has a chance to celebrate.

That’s the other thing that’s noteworthy in these parables.  The degree of celebration is way out of line.  These aren’t the kinds of things that we would throw a party for.  They aren’t the kinds of things we would bother the neighbors about.  But Jesus would.

The mind of the Lord has been changed once and for all.  Each of us matters.  We can give up on ourselves.  Others can give up on us.  We can give up on God.  But Jesus comes looking for us to turn us around and bring us back.  Jesus comes looking for us, because there’s a celebration he wants to invite us to.       

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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