15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”
18 Moses replied:
“It is not the sound of victory,
it is not the sound of defeat;
it is the sound of singing that I hear.”
19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”
22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘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.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”
25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”Exodus 32:15-29
I was in a conversation with someone this past week who mentioned that he used to watch sports all the time. He said that he used to have ESPN on all the time, listen to sports radio, watch games, follow players and talk sports with his friends and family, but for the last few months all that has changed. He said that watching the sports reruns or tuning into sports commentators just isn’t the same anymore. And, then he said something that I wasn’t expecting. He said that for all the time he had devoted to sports in the past and how important they seemed in the moment, he said that he was upset that they were gone at first, but for the most part he has not missed them at all. What began as an unpleasant experience allowed him to realize that sports had become way too important in his life, but now he was happy spending his time on other things.
It is uncomfortable when you realize you have fallen into the trap of placing too much importance on something that is not all that important. Maybe your job has been affected by the virus, and you have had to live on a tighter budget, which is uncomfortable, but also might have revealed some areas where you were spending too much and now you are being a better manager of your money. Maybe all the extra stress over the last few months brought an end to one of your relationships, which is uncomfortable, but it also might have saved you from a bad influence in your life, and has made you slow down and better evaluate who you chose to allow into your life. Maybe you are not able to participate in a group activity, which is uncomfortable, but the time alone allowed you to discover or rediscover a new skill like playing an instrument or gardening. It is uncomfortable when you realize you have fallen into placing too much importance on something that is not all that important, but those moments can also lead to living for something that is worth living for.
In our reading from Exodus 32, Aaron was caught in an uncomfortable situation. At this point in the book of Exodus, the people of Israel had been freed by God from their slavery in Egypt and were at the base of Mount Sinai, the mountain on which God first appeared to Moses when he called him to be the one to free Israel from Egypt. God made good on his promise to Moses to free Israel from Egypt and now they were gathered before Mount Sinai to hear what God’s plan was for them. We hear in Exodus 24 that, 9 “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel.” God invited the leaders to come up to him on the mountain, then Moses went further with his aid Joshua and God gave him his commands, including the first two stone tablets inscribed by the hand of God. And, while God was speaking with Moses, God made his presence on the mountain obvious to all the people by causing the top of the mountain to appear as though it was on fire. God spoke to Moses for forty days, and after waiting that long for him to return, Israel gave up waiting. So, the people went to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and asked him to make them new gods.
After the people asked Aaron to make them new gods, he gave into their request. Aaron told the people to bring him their gold jewelry and he used it to make an idol in the shape of a calf, calling it their new god. At this point, Moses came down the mountain and, 21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘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 knew who the true God was, yet he made the people an idol. Aaron saw God perform ten miraculous plagues in Egypt, walked across dry ground when God split the Red Sea, had just been in the presence of God forty days earlier and saw the mountain on fire with God’s presence, but he gave into the evil request of the people to make false gods. Aaron was caught in his sin by Moses, but he tried to pass the blame onto the people calling them ‘evil’ as if to justify his actions and also said that after putting their jewelry in the fire, the idol in the form of a calf just came out as if he had done no planning or shaping of it. And for the evil Aaron and the people chose to do, rather than live as God’s people, God told Moses to punish the people. 26 So he [Moses] stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And those who were loyal to the Lord put to death 3,000 of their own family, friends and neighbors as punishment.
You face the pressure to give into following other gods like Aaron. Like Aaron, you face a world that feels abandoned by God because it feels like it is being pulled in so many different directions that it is leaderless wandering through the desert. Like Aaron, you know what it is to feel separated from God as your regular pattern for worship and Bible Study has kept you from worship and fellowship. Like Aaron, you face the temptation to give excuses, to give excuses for not remaining connected to worship and Bible Study because it is now online or comes with social distancing guidelines. Like Aaron, you face the temptation to plead ignorance when an idol comes into your life as if you did not realize that whatever you put your time, energy, strengths, skills, money and approval towards would not become more important than God. Like Aaron, you face the temptation to commit yourself to causes that make bold statements promising to make this world better. When you and I give into the temptation to form and follow other gods, our own idols, it is like taking the Bible and ripping pages out until it fits what we think God should be like, or it means throwing the Bible away and starting with something new.
You face the temptation to live for other gods because living for God goes against the world. When Jesus described his coming into the world in Matthew 10, he said, 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” God called you to faith in him, which means you have been separated away from the world to live for God. This is a life and death change God has made for you. God made peace between you and him by sacrificing his Son Jesus on the cross to pay for your sins. Life through Jesus is the peace of God’s love, but life without Jesus is the war of the world’s hate.
The world’s war is for your life. The world, the broken and sinful world ruled by the devil, wants your life by telling you to find, search and explore ways to make you happy, which sounds so appealing until you realize that statement left God out of the picture. Oh, but then the devil whispers, if you are happy and have found your life, your purpose that feels so fulfilling to you, how could God take that away from you? And, this is what Paul spoke about in Romans 6, 1 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The truth is that sin takes many forms, idols and false gods take many forms, and to treat any of them as more important than God means losing your life.
Instead, God has already put you to death your sinful nature through the deliverance won for you by Jesus. You were put to death when you were baptized as God connected you to Jesus. Jesus died for sins, your sins, and then he rose free from sin. So, through your baptism, God drowned your sin and brought you to life. Now, you live for God. Now, you look forward to life with God in heaven, and have already begun to live like someone who is in heaven. Paul continued in Romans 6 writing, 4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” When God put you to death and brought you to life in your baptism, he made you a new person. You are a new person who looks at sin and idolatry as the enemy, wrong and evil. You are a new person who turns to God when faced with temptation relying on his strength or after falling into sin for his forgiveness.
I am sure you have found yourself having uncomfortable conversations with people over the last few months. I pray that some of those unpleasant conversations have opened your eyes to see that you have fallen into the trap of placing too much importance on something that is not all that important. After coming down from speaking with God on Mount Sinai, 25 “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” Without God as your leader, you will wander out of control. Without time in God’s Word, you will listen and believe lies. Without God as your excuse for refusing to give into sin, you will be lost to it. Without God as your Savior, you will be lost to death and hell. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” As you face opposition from those who love the unimportant, give thanks to God for his deliverance, for your baptism to new life and for faith connecting you to forgiveness, freedom and eternal life through Jesus. And, be at peace because the Lord set you apart to live for him. Amen.