EXODUS 32:104 AND PHILIPPIANS 4:1-3
Week of October 9, 2011
Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come 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!"
Therefore my brothers and sisters whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
From the days of the Exodus, to the first Christian communities, to our own day, most of us find it impossible to be patient with seismic or even small changes. It is so hard to stand firm in faith. Moses had led the people out of Egypt, had bargained with God to bring them a seemingly endless source of bread and water and had climbed to the top of Mount Sinai. And at the bottom of the mountain, the people waited, and waited and waited, and one by one began to call upon Aaron to give them a shortcut, to satisfy their longing with something they could hold onto. And Aaron did not hold his ground but gave in to their desires. He took the baggage that they had dragged with them from their life in Egypt, melted it down and gave it back to them. “These are your gods, O Israel!” And like a recovering alcoholic knows, the fall is quick and hard and in some perverse way, satisfying. It is hard to stand firm even when you know that your life and the life of your family and the generations to come depends on it. And still Moses did not give up on them and neither did God. “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster he planned to bring on his people.”
Years later, the people, this time the early Christian communities, were again struggling with how to keep the faith, how to be of the same mind while their teachers were out of sight. They, like we, needed help in standing firm when they felt weak and had forgotten The Way. Paul wrote to them and urged them to stick together, to help each other, and to turn, not back to the good old days, but to a new way of being in community. He reassured them that God is near and what would protect them were not idols of gold, but peace. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
He counseled them to let their gentleness be known to everyone; to show their broken hearts and to lean into each other. He exhorted them to direct their minds, not to their worries but toward the truth, toward justice, and toward their deepest longings. “Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen.” In times of change, whether economic or social or ecclesiastical change, Paul knew that that a community can go one of two ways. We can turn toward our insecurity, fight amongst ourselves for the scraps on the table, and make idols out of our few holdings (such as the church silver, our buildings, or our belief that what we used to do is better than where we are really being called to do and be.) Or, we can sit as a community of faith, with God so near yet so far away, and open ourselves to new ways of being. Those are our choices. Together, as struggling, and oh so human people, we are called, time and time again, to be of the same mind as God. That calling requires not only patience, but faith. Brothers and sisters in Christ, help each other to keep the faith.
Oh God of peace be with us as we face the insecurities of our times. We call upon each other for strength when we are fearful and when we find ourselves turning back to the old ways rather than sitting in the awesome presence of the Spirit. Let us join now with all our teachers who said, against all reason, “Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice.”