The Bondage of Waiting, The Freedom of Creating

An Audio Sermon:
This sermon was written in 1985 – the first sermon I gave after I was ordained in the United Methodist Church. I recently revived and edited it because the message is timely as we endure Covid-19 and the social, economic, and political ills we face.

Audio: The Bondage of Waiting, The Freedom of Creating by Shea Darian

© 1985, 2021 by Shea Darian. All Rights Reserved.

Invocation:
Cosmic Creator, Ground of our Being,
In these moments of contemplation
May the ears of our hearts be ignited with your Wisdom,
And may the eyes of our minds be alive with your Wonder. Amen.

Scripture: Exodus 32:1-9
Read from The Inclusive Language Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation (2007)

Sermon Text: When I was a little girl, I saw the movie The Ten Commandments for the first time on the big screen. I remember thinking of Charlton Heston (as Moses) being some sort of magician – making frogs and grasshoppers appear out of nowhere. Through my eyes, Charlton’s staff was a magic wand that he used to turn the Nile River water into blood and to part the Red Sea with a movement of his arm.  

As I recall that classic film, there is one scene that comes back more magically and vividly than the rest: After Charlton has long gone up the mountain for his meeting with God, the tribes are getting oh-so restless. In no time, a huge golden calf sparkles across the screen, and the people are having the party of their lives: dancing, drinking, feasting, and generally playing around. Whenever I watch that scene, I forget that I’m not supposed to enjoy it… that is, until Charlton comes crashing down the mountain to “put the people right” once again.

This moment in the Exodus story continues to be one of the most vivid images in the Bible for me. I’m captivated by the drama. I’m intrigued by how easily and passionately the Exodus people turn from their God. A God who displayed to them miracle after miracle in full, vivid, living color. 

The Exodus people turn passionately from a God who broke their chains of slavery, a God who parted the Red Sea to ensure their escape. They turn easily from a God who provided for them in the wilderness – quail and manna when they were hungry, water from a rock when they were thirsty. They turn enthusiastically from a God who showed them signs of being present with them in the pillar of the cloud that led them day-by-day, and the pillar of fire that led them by night. 

Up to this moment when the golden calf became as God to them, the people had only displayed MOMENTS of grumbling and doubt. . . just enough, until their needs were met. This was their pattern of relationship with God: The people displayed discontent; Moses petitioned God to act on the people’s behalf; AND GOD DID. 

But when the golden calf appears, Moses is out of the picture. And the people make a decision to act out to banish what I call their “bondage of waiting.” And they use Aaron, the brother of Moses, as their puppet leader, to do it.

As I contemplate this scripture passage, I am struck not only with the message concerning faithfulness but also with a clear mandate about leadership. 

Moses was a leader who called both God and the people into question. As a leader, Moses persuaded both God and the people concerning their actions and attitudes toward one another. That took courage no matter who Moses was attempting to persuade, because it required everyone to journey into some pretty uncomfortable places. Through it all, Moses’ unending devotion and care for the people is evident.

In the absence of such a leader, what do we find? In this story, we find an impatient people, people wanting to escape the bondage of waiting – a bondage of waiting perhaps akin to the bondage we experience today, in 2021, as we wander through this desert of Covid-19 and the political, economic, and social ills that plague our country. The Israelites were stirred up because their leader was nowhere to be found. They imagined that no one was present to hear their mumbling and grumbling or to take their petitions to God.

So, the people rise up and say, “If Moses isn’t here to invoke for us the presence of God right now, we will make a god that we can see and touch.” Aaron willingly succumbs to the idea, thinking he can somehow convince the people that the golden calf is one-and-the-same as the God who delivered them from their bondage. Aaron, who was supposed to be standing in as leader for his brother. Aaron, who calls upon the people to bring their gold to him, their golden earrings and I imagine other spoils of gold that they took from Egypt when they left. It may well be the easiest fund drive in history. I suppose we ought to hand it to Aaron for being so resourceful – except, of course, for the questionable way that the “funds” were spent. 

In this act of rebellion, the people not only make a decision AGAINST a God they could not see or touch and FOR a golden calf that they could. They make a decision against the sometimes-uncomfortable leadership of Moses and FOR the acquiescing leadership of Aaron ­who simply abides by their misguided wishes. Aaron – who, in that time of trial, is unquestioning, unreflective, and undemanding

The consequences of both choices are crucial. Our pastor has proclaimed again and again from this pulpit that “To be held in accountability to God, we must often choose the uncomfortable.” Beyond this, I say, we must also support the kind of leadership that is sometimes uncomfortable, the kind of leadership that may cause us to squirm in our pews from time to time. As someone said it recently, we need leaders who can “rattle our brains,” challenge us to be faithful to God and to one another as a faith community.

In so many ways, we’re doing just that – enlisting leaders and being leaders who are not afraid of residing in those uncomfortable places that test us. This community is, indeed, a community of the faithful. But these hard choices, these uncomfortable choices of accountability are choices we must make again and again. Making a choice to be faithful isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an evolving process, a way of living from day-to-day, yes, even and especially during the days that are dark and empty.

And we have to remember to be there for one another in these difficult times when we are hurting and, perhaps, alienated from one another. In this Exodus story, the people called upon Moses, their leader, to take care of them throughout their journey from bondage to the Promised Land. But when Moses disappears up the mountain for his meeting with God, the people display no care or concern for him. Rather than use their resources to discover what might have happened to their faithful leader, the people build a golden calf to worship! Have a feast! Party hard! They choose not to reciprocate the devotion and care that both Moses and God continually display to them. In this time of trial, the Exodus people choose to be… COMFORTABLE

Now, I pause here to admit that perhaps I’m being unfairly one-sided in my story-telling. What about the Exodus people? What would their version of this story look like? 

In this story, the Israelites were suffering the bondage of waiting. Waiting – an inevitable part of everyday life, and of course some of our days and years are much rifer with the experience of waiting than others, 2020 and 2021 included. We wait in lines, in traffic, on hold, for our computers to reboot, our zoom programs to load properly, and our phones to recharge… we wait for our leaders to lead us through this turbulent time and we wait for our nation to heal. I know few people who are enjoying this long wait. I, for one, confess, that I relate wholeheartedly to the people in this story. Think about it. Moses, their faithful leader, had been absent a long time. The people were suffering the bondage of waiting with little hope and little to occupy themselves. They didn’t have cell phones, cars, or TVs. Out there in the wilderness, besides daily survival, they didn’t even have meaningful work or homes to tend. I imagine they felt uncertain, empty, confused, angry, sad, unguided, and lacking real purpose. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

So, when someone comes up with the bright idea of building a golden calf, the time is right! The people join together joyfully in their task of creation! Perhaps this act of co-creation would free them from their bondage – their bondage of waiting! Perhaps it would free them from their frustration of dwelling too long in the unknown. Perhaps it would deliver them from their soulful blindness for a God they could not see. 

I myself have dwelt in such a place of unknowing. A place of blindness. An empty void ­– where Divine Spirit seems to be utterly intangible to my soul. Perhaps you have, too. Perhaps you’re there right now – riddled with impatience and doubt. 

We are not so unlike the Exodus people. There are times that we, too, want to fill the emptiness of our lives, get on with our tasks of creating, make some sense of our difficulties, receive a sign that God is still with us. Such longings are what the creation of the golden calf in this Exodus story is all about. 

Since I became a member and minister of this church a year ago, a church that is now my significant faith community, I am overawed by the talents, gifts, and resources we enjoy to create our ministry together. With our newly created Committee for the Future, we’re asking ourselves to take off our golden earrings, to bring forth our gold to make good use of it. We’re asking ourselves to pool our resources so we can create and sustain vital ministries in which the presence of God is made real. We need not be ashamed or soft-spoken about that. 

So, what’s the hitch? As we gather our gold, what do we have to learn from this Bible story? If we’re so like the Exodus people, are we destined to make the same grave mistake in this time of trial – to be unfaithful to our mission, to our God, to one another?

Here’s the thing, for the people of Israel, the creation of the golden calf isn’t the problem. The problem is what motivated the people to do it. They weren’t motivated by anticipation and belief that the God who delivered them would continue to be present with them in the desert. They were motivated by impatience and doubt. Their impatience and doubt led the people to raise up a graven image that represented the Egyptian gods, the very gods under which they had suffered the bondage and oppression of slavery. In a sense, the people were running backward toward their soul-shrinking past.

This is a time when we in our church are soul-searching about our identity: who we are as a community of faith… who we are as God’s people… what visions we carry for the future… We sometimes feel that we are wandering in a desert, not knowing how or if we can get to The Promised Land. We may not even be sure anymore that a promised land exists for us. 

But, as Jean Fox Holland puts it, “Journeying is more than reaching destinations. Journeying is more.”

So, as we endure this time of waiting for our future to dawn, may we gather all our emptiness, impatience, anger, sadness, grief, and doubt and use it as fuel to co-create shining manifestations of God’s presence that make God real, tangible, and touchable… shining manifestations of God that serve as beacons for the kind of soulful freedom our Divine Creator offers us. 

At this extraordinary time for our church family and for our nation, may we invoke the Spirit of God to move in all our creations and acts of faith. And may our creations and acts of faith invoke and move the Spirit of God. 

Because “Journeying is more than reaching destinations. Journeying is more.”

So be it. Amen.

©1985, 2021 by Shea Darian. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Shea

Shea Darian, M.Div. is a family and grief educator, spiritual care provider, and award-winning author. Shea is the creator of the Model of Adaptive Grieving Dynamics, published in the journal Illness, Crisis & Loss, Vol. 22(3), 2014. Books on family spirituality include Sanctuaries of Childhood: Nurturing a Child's Spiritual Life and Living Passages for the Whole Family: Celebrating Rites of Passage from Birth to Adulthood. Shea's new book, Doing Grief in Real Life: A Soulful Guide to Navigate Loss, Death & Change will be released in 2021. Visit www.sheadarian.com.

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