Notes on the Fridge
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 mould, 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!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
"Notes on the Fridge"
Have you ever hit a low spot in your relationship with God? Perhaps you just gradually stopped talking to God. Those long intimate talks you used to have with God just sort of trailed off, and one day you realize that instead of those late night tell-all jam sessions, you and God are just leaving each other terse little notes posted on the refrigerator. “I’ll be home late, don’t wait up.” Or “Don’t forget to tend to the kids.” After awhile the notes don’t even say “I love you,” or “I miss you” until one day you misplace your sticky pad and stop leaving the notes altogether.
Soon the old notes get covered over with kid’s drawings and photographs and refrigerator magnets, and eventually you forget even to look for the notes. You aren’t even sure how you managed to drift away from God, or was it God who drifted away from you? But late at night you find yourself hungry for something you can’t name and you stand staring into the refrigerator as if searching for the meaning of life. Or you start to fill your hunger in other ways. Another bottle of wine, another purchase, or you add one more activity to your already overcrowded “to do” list, anything to take the focus off of that emptiness inside of you.
You don’t do anything so obvious as to rummage through your jewelry box for your old gold or demand that your sons and daughters turn over their gold earrings to you, so that you can melt them down over a flame in a little Pyrex dish, pouring them into a mold to make a little golden calf to adore. But you create your own idols to worship. Perhaps your idol is money, and you fall down in from of the Bull Market watching its gyrations for signs of hope. Or maybe your idol becomes “stuff” and just one more outfit, or one more power tool, or one more book will take the edge off of this vague angst that haunts you. Or you may worship the idol of Good Deeds, thinking that if you just do enough, and never say “no” to any request, them you will finally feel good about yourself. Oddly enough, for some people religion can even become the idol we substitute for God, following all the rules and playing the game correctly and getting our piety down pat. Or yours may be the idol of “What Others Think,” giving our sense of self worth over to others, and if they think well of us we soar and if they don’t then we crash on the rocks of self-rejection. An idol is anything we substitute for a real relationship with the living God.
The people of Israel probably didn’t mean any harm when they started whining about Moses being away so long. They were just afraid and uncertain, and the old anxiety was starting to churn again, driving them to do things without thinking about them first. God’s people were still a little vague on this whole “trust” thing, the heat of the desert was getting to them and the repetitive meals of manna and quail and the distant horizon of the Promised Land was small comfort for them. Let’s just whip up a little idol, an image, just a little reminder of YHWH, something neat and portable.
Aaron, who was scanning the horizon for any sign of Moses’ return, was at a loss for what to suggest. Maybe thinking that they would never put their money where their mouth was (in John Kerry-esque style) he asked for donations of their valuables. But they had already reached an internal meltdown, so the earrings followed suit, and the golden calf they created was just the thing to take the edge off of their anxiety.
Let’s have a little party; it will be a celebration of our God, even though we think God has disappeared. We’ll just turn this golden calf into a nice little stand-in for God.
Poor Moses. First he has to endure the wrath of the people, complaining every which way to Sunday, and now he has to listen to the wrath of God. Talk about being caught in the middle of an emotional triangle. Before, it was the people of Israel who accused Moses of dragging them out into the desert, now God has a little memory failure and joins in with this revisionist history. God is spitting mad: “Go down, for YOUR people, whom YOU brought up out of the land of Egypt, have made an idol and are worshipping it.” Sounds like a family feud, where the misbehaving child is suddenly not “our son,” but YOUR son took the car without asking permission.
Here is a snapshot of how it looks when things go sour with God. It starts off small: a little failure to communicate here, a small attempt to make God more manageable there, just a few minutes worshipping the idol of money or materialism there, and suddenly the whole thing mushrooms into a big conflict and we stand staring across a vast chasm at a God who is a stranger to us.
Look at this God. God is hopping mad. God wants to cast the whole lot of them into the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. God suddenly forgets the covenant, the agreement that God made with the people. And once again, Moses finds himself in the position of mediator. He is the bridge person here, trying to calm God down, convincing God to change God’s mind.
Now, which sounds more appealing to you? A God whose mind can be changed, a God who can be a bit moody and reactive, or this nice little golden calf god who is fairly predictable and one that you can tote hither and yon and contain in your pocket.
When things go sour with God, it is usually because we don’t want a real relationship with a real God. We prefer our own idols to a God who might be a bit dramatic or wishy-washy. God can be a bit scary, asking us to do crazy things like traipsing off into a desert for an awful long time or asking us to love people we can hardly tolerate or asking us to trust God when we can’t even see God or asking us to stand like Moses as a bridge between two sides who are impossibly mad at one another. Given these choices, most of us in our right minds would opt for the golden calf any day.
But we must be crazy, because we keep coming back to God. Even when things go sour with God, when God is furious at us or when God is just too quiet for way too long and we ache so desperately for just a tiny little sign that God is there and when God doesn’t oblige and we become furious with God, even then, we keep coming back.
Because we are fools. Fools for Christ. Fools for this God who loves us so desperately, for this God who weeps when we turn away. We are plain crazy about this God who pitches a hissy fit when we create other gods out of things that in the end will destroy us. We are mad about this God who would rather change God’s mind and appear to be wishy-washy than to toss us aside. Our relationship with God may disintegrate; but-and here’s the good news- it won’t be forever. It can’t be forever. For even after a long silence between ourselves and God, there will come a morning when we groggily go to the kitchen, and find a freshly penned note taped to the fridge that says: “I love you. I miss you. I’m still here. Let’s talk.” And it is signed: God. “PS, Sorry you thought I didn’t love you.” Amen.