Filed under: Sermons | Tags: best friends forever, body of Christ, community, Jesus, Sin
When I was in middle school, I usually had one or two best friends. These were the girlfriends I stayed up all night giggling with, dreaming about the future, and talking about school, parents, and boys. We’d mark our friendship by sharing a set of special necklaces with a heart charm on it. The heart charm said, “Best Friends Forever” and was broken in half: a broken heart, made whole when we each pressed our pieces together.
Throughout our lives, we have many different relationships. Some of our relationships deepen and strengthen as we change and grow, while others become stagnant and distant. Tangible signs like my “Best Friends Forever” necklace are reminders of relationships that are able to withstand change, distance, and conflict, or of a past that has faded. Sometimes a physical sign or symbol of relationship is the necessary reminder that keeps that relationship going.
In our relationship with God, we have many signs and symbols, but as we sang, our God is “immortal and invisible,” beyond our realm of comprehension and ability to hold on to. As a people, we tend to be drawn towards what we can see and hold. Have you heard the expression, “Out of sight, out of mind?”
This became a problem for the Hebrew people led by God and Moses out of slavery in Egypt. Where we pick up their story in Exodus this morning, they’ve been at Mt. Sinai hearing from God through Moses. Moses was the interpreter between God and the people. This God self- identifies as the one who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Moses has spoken some of God’s commands to the people. Then Moses climbed up the mountain to be in God’s presence and receive more of God’s instruction for the people. When we meet this people, it’s been 40 days and 40 nights since they’ve heard or seen Moses. The one who has been connecting them to God is gone.
The people go to the next best person, they go to Aaron, to try to feel connected to God once again. The people are upset, feeling leaderless and godless. They demand of Aaron, “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 leads them in creating a golden calf and an altar, declaring “these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” and “tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” The people have been craving something tangible and they create something they can claim and control; they have given themselves up to self-reverence and self-indulgence.
The LORD sees all that is happening below the mountain. God is not happy. What follows between God and Moses is an argument that might sound similar to one in your household.
In mine, it might go like this:
Setting: The Davis Kitchen and Dining Room
Opening Scene: Puppy Iggy has his paws on the table, loudly sniffing and licking, dirty plates conspicuously missing food, a fork and ripped napkin on the floor. I enter carrying two glasses full of water. Pastor Jeff is upstairs playing guitar.
Me: Jeff! Get down here! Look what your dog did! I spent all this time cooking and your dog ate all our food. You weren’t watching your dog! Get your dog out of here!
Jeff: He’s your dog too!
Me: You’re the one who wanted a dog. You’re the one who found this one. Now look what your dog did!
Jeff: Remember how much you love your dog! And remember that he is only a hungry dog, after all!
What we hear in Exodus sounds strangely domestic and emotional. This God vs. Moses argument isn’t how we tend to picture God. Exodus shows an angry, fed-up God, who is ready to destroy all the people God just freed from slavery and start again from Moses in an act reminiscent to what happened with Noah and his family and neighbors.
What is key in this argument are the shifting possessive pronouns. God begins, “Your people (Moses), whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt…” and Moses counters, “your people (God), whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.” Moses continues, “…do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self.”
Moses reminds God of God’s promise-relationship with these people. God has promised to be their God. This promise has been established in God’s relationship to three generations of their fathers before them: Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, also called Jacob. As a result of Moses’ argument and reminder, God changes God’s mind. God chooses to remain faithful to God’s promise-relationship, despite the fact that the people have not been and will never be faithful.
Our God is a relational God. God chooses to have relationships with people: the Creator with the created. Throughout the Bible, we see that God’s people often fail to live up to that relationship. Although there are instances of God’s anger, we see the depth of God’s commitment to strengthen that relationship in Jesus. Jesus lives among people, loves them, and teaches them. Jesus works with twelve chosen disciples, one of whom betrays him. Even when they all run away in fear for their own safety, Jesus is faithful to them and to his mission for them. Jesus loves them and us so much so that he dies and returns to comfort and forgive his scattered disciples when he is raised from the dead. In his death and resurrection, Jesus opens to all people a relationship with God that is based on his own faithfulness and not our own.
We are grafted into that historic relationship between God and the chosen people through Jesus. In Jesus, a new relationship is formed among us. We have been made children of God, and we have been brought together as the body of Christ. It’s not just a personal, self-centered relationship that is established between each one of us and God. Jesus creates a new relationship with all of us as a community. To go back to the possessive pronouns, it’s not about “me and my god” but about “us and the God who comes to us.”
It’s difficult to be an “us.” We are still the broken people of Exodus who so easily forgot God and Moses and sought to create something they could control as their god. We are still the broken people of the Gospels who ran from Jesus’ side as he was being arrested, questioned, and killed. With such brokenness, we are not able to create perfect relationships and communities.
We are people created by God to be in life-giving relationships, and yet we are so broken we always seem to get wrong that life-giving part or even the relationship part! We sin! We cause the break-down of relationships! We don’t want to be held down by responsibility to each other and to a community. We want to pin all our problems on another person and their faults. We are not honest, forgiving, and present for each other.
We often choose the easy route of self-gratification and self-protection. As the argument between God and Moses shows, it’s not easy to keep relationships strong when there is betrayal and hurt. It often seems easier and justifiable to break with those who disagree or disappoint.
But that isn’t the way we are created to relate to each other. In Jesus Christ, God forms the bonds between us, and God makes possible life-giving relationships. We who are gathering here this morning are a special community, the body of Christ. This is the season when many people return to church after a summer of vacations and lake weekends. It’s time for us to reconnect, to welcome, to comfort, to forgive, and to join in worship and service.
(OS) This morning at Our Savior, we share signs of this reconnecting season. Students will receive Bibles as a tangible sign of God’s relationship with them, and the relationship of the whole congregation to these young people. We commission teachers who are the first welcomers, establishing relationships with our Sunday school teachers. We eat together, giving thanks for the WELCA serving team and the company and cooking of all in the congregation. We begin a new campaign for the health and cleanliness of many in need around our world.
(TRI) This morning at Trinity, we gather marked by the death of another from our community. We give thanksgiving for Jo Baker, saint of God, who has died. As we hear God’s promise to be with us, to be our God and our savior, we remember all we have loved and who have died. The changing of those relationships is always real to us, every time we gather. We miss the voices of those who have died, once raised here in witness and song. Today, as we remember Jesus has united us in a new relationship, as a community in his self, as children of One God, remember that, in Jesus, these relationships are not broken by death. Our praise joins the praise of those who sing today in the heavenly presence of God.
Our weekly worship and special occasion rites are occasions for God to form us into the community we are created to be. We are the assembly who promises to pray for the baptized and the newly married. We are people who, every time we gather, pray and promise to God that we forgive those who sin against us. We are people who confess our sin to each other and to God, and who share with each other the peace the Christ makes possible. We could not be a community who loves and forgives without the power of Jesus in our midst.
I think of my inability to create and sustain life-giving relationships picturing “Best Friends Forever” necklace. No matter how carefully my friend and I laid our pieces tightly together, to form the whole heart, the heart was still broken, its jagged edges could not melt together. This is as far as we can get relationships together on our own. Only Jesus can make them whole. Jesus takes on all of our jagged edges, our sin, our anger and betrayal. Jesus seals our hearts to God and to each other. Our relationships will truly be forever in Jesus.
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