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Raymond’s patience for crossing New York City on foot finally ran out so he flagged down a cab and crawled in. Once they got underway, Raymond tapped the driver on the shoulder to give him the address. The driver screamed, snatched the wheel, sideswiped a bus, went up on the sidewalk, and stopped inches from a store window.
Both men sat in the quiet taxi cab for a few seconds catching their breath. The driver finally broke the silence by shouting, “Look mister, don’t ever do that again! You scared me half to death!”
Raymond apologized to the driver and said he didn’t realize that a little tap could scare someone so much.
The driver calmed in an instant and sheepishly replied, “You’re right. I’m sorry, sir. Actually, it’s not your fault. Today is my first day as a cab driver. I’ve been driving a hearse for the last 25 years.”
The Israelites went to wandering in the desert and eventually came to Mount Horeb. God told Moses to come up the mountain where they would meet and the people were to remain below. However, scripture tells us that Moses delayed in returning and the people began to think that perhaps he was dead, so they said to Aaron (number two in charge), “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.” From this request, Aaron makes for them the golden calf. Jewish scholars do not believe that it was Aaron’s intent that the Israelites worship the golden calf, for after it was made, he said to the people, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” In other words, here is a golden calf, but tomorrow we will worship the one true God. So if worshiping the calf is not what he intended, then what was going on?
You’ll recall from a few weeks ago we talked about the Ark of the Covenant (think Indiana Jones) with the two cherubim on the lid, their wings outstretched and touching one another’s. The space between and above the cherubim’s wings was called the Mercy Seat and it was the place where the presence of God resided. In a similar manner, Jewish scholars believe that Aaron created the golden calf to represent and replace Moses, not God. And when Aaron declared to the people, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”, he was not referring to the calf as their god, but – like the mercy seat – he was referring to the space above the golden calf as the dwelling place or the presence of the One True God. In creating the golden calf, the scholars believe that Aaron was simply creating a ‘visible’ seat or chair for the Living God. However, the people did not understand and, in violation of God’s Commandment, they made an idol out of the calf and worshiped it instead of God.
As the Psalmist declared, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”
They would make a similar mistake later on. This time, they were being troubled by serpents that would bite and kill them, so the Lord said to Moses, “‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” It worked, but years later, when Hezekiah was King over Israel, we are told, “He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.” They had taken the bronze snake and made a god out of it and worshiped it.
This practice of worshiping false gods continues through Israel’s history and was one of the reasons for the exile that was to come. In condemning the practice, God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah and stated:
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
nor is it in them to do good…
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction given by idols
is no better than wood!…
They are the work of the artisan and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is blue and purple;
they are all the product of skilled workers.
And some of you may be saying, I know where he’s going with this one: he’s about to tell us we make false gods and worship them. That would be legitimate, we do have a tendency to make gods out of many things, but I don’t believe you would be here if you were actively serving some other false god. You wouldn’t be here if you were not seeking the one true God, but even though we are, we can sometimes treat the Living God as though he were one of those dead idols, made of wood or gold. We can polish him up and dress him up, and then set him on a shelf, never really giving him much thought afterwards, unless of course we need something.
When we first encounter God, we are a bit like that taxi driver. God taps us on the shoulder and gets our attention. Scares the daylights out of us, but then we become accustomed. We know he’s back there, but over time, it no longer excites us. It no longer motivates us. He taps us on the shoulder, but over time if we don’t just learn to ignore it, that tapping can become an annoyance. Not a calling to return to God, but a guilt that can turn to anger. ‘Look God, I know you want something, but I’m busy with my own life. I know what I’m doing here.’ Even so, we still like the idea of God. We want him to be on our side, so instead of worshiping him, we nurture the ‘idea’ of God and we worship it. We practice a religion, but we have exchanged the living God for a golden calf, a bronze snake, something made of wood, or stained glass. Why? Because gold, bronze, wood, stained glass, these things require nothing of us. They are easy to serve. We can go about our daily lives and never have to give them a second thought. But you see, our God is not interested in being a… nativity scene. He’s not interested in being pulled out once a year, polished and dressed up, and put on display for a month only to be put away again. Our God is one who calls us into relationship with Him.
He called Samuel out of slumber. He called Matthew out of riches. James and John he called out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Lazarus he called out of death. And when he called Nathanael out from under the fig tree, Nathanael responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael responded, “You know me for who I am and for what I am. As the Psalmist wrote, ‘Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.’” Nathanael said, “You are my God. You are my King and I will follow you.”
Our relationship with God is not like the relationship the Israelites and others had with the gods of gold and wood. Nor is our relationship with God an idea, that we pay homage to. Instead, our relationship with God is active and ongoing and involves a true encounter.
The Apostle Paul concludes his first letter to the Ephesians by saying: May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
The one who calls you has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. He has called you by name and he is faithful. His call to you is a reminder that you are a son, a daughter of the Living God and he will accomplish in you His work of sanctification, of making you holy. Don’t ignore the tap on your shoulder. Actively follow Him in his glorious Way, which leads to eternal life.
Let us pray: Father in Heaven, You made us Your children and called us to walk in the Light of Christ. Free us from darkness and keep us in the Light of Your Truth. The Light of Jesus has scattered the darkness of hatred and sin. Called to that Light, we ask for Your guidance. Form our lives in Your Truth, our hearts in Your Love. Through the Holy Eucharist, give us the power of Your Grace that we may walk in the Light of Jesus and serve Him faithfully. Amen.