A sermon preached
Readings: Exodus 32:1-14, Mt 6:19-24
4 “[Aaron] took
what they handed him
and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf”
Moses is at the top of the Mountain talking with God,
Aaron and the Children of Israel below become anxious –
Moses has been gone for ages –
maybe he and his God are not coming back at all –
here are the Israelites marooned in the middle of nowhere….
take their gold earrings and melt them down
and make an idol in the shape of a Golden calf.
Now they have a god again –
a god to worship and honour, a god to lead them through the desert,
a god which they think they can control.
And so tell me: what does your golden calf look like??
most of us have known mountain top experiences
at some time or another -
when God seemed very close,
and when we have just wanted to hear his word and do his will.
suspect we have all known those moments in the desert
when God seems very far away,
when maybe we can’t figure out what he is trying to do with our lives,
and then maybe (consciously or unconsciously)
we are tempted to replace God with someone or something else,
something which foolishly we perceive to be more attractive, more helpful.
we don’t literally put a golden calf
next to the clock on the mantelpiece
or with the gnomes on the patio -
but we are tempted to put one or more thing in God’s place
as our ultimate guide and direction.
And so tell me: what does your golden calf look like??
society is often described as secular –
maybe we would be better to call it polytheistic –
and certainly we are not short of idols, of Golden Calves,
or of those to worship them:
We have all met them –
· the colleague who is totally focused on getting promotion
· the neighbour who can think of nothing but buying a bigger house,
· the guy who is hooked on booze or gambling,
· the collector of sexual conquests
· the avid nationalist
· the power hungry control freak….
· the dedicated follower of fashion
Anything can be an idol –
you remember the rabbi being asked
why God didn’t just destroy al the idols on earth –
to which the rabbi replied
that there was nothing that someone
somewhere didn’t treat as a god –
if God destroyed all the idols
there would be nothing left.
of the Golden calf isn’t an attack on earrings –
it is an attack on the misuse of earrings –
of turning them into an idol.
said, everything is a gift of God, either an idol or a tool -
depending upon what you do with it.
Two men live next door to each other and buy identical
and park them on their drive – a bit like the TV ad for car insurance –
for the first guy, the car is all a part
of his overwhelming desire for material wealth ands status.
For the second guy the car is just a helpful way of getting from A to B.
2 identical cars – one an idol the other a tool.
tell me: what is your golden calf –
what are you tempted to put at the centre of your life ??
across an interesting piece this week about an Australian casino –
interesting because the casino is described
as though it were an idol being carried on the shoulders of the gamblers –
the point being that the casino,
sold as a saviour for the local economy and a boon for local punters,
is in fact a false and destructive god:
This way to the casino… you can’t miss it…
The people carry this idol.
They carry it on their indebted gambled backs.
It is carried through the breaches of family trust,
through pay days emptied of cash…
it takes sacrifices for the good of the community, the state the economy.
National Commission for Mission, Uniting Church of Australia, quoted in “Wisdom is Calling” Geoffrey Duncan, Canterbury Press 1999 p125
Some of you may have seen
Rev Stuart Furnival on the TV news this week –
he is minister of our Blackpool Central Methodist Church.
Blackpool is the bookies’
favourite (if I may coin a phrase)
to become the venue for the UK’s first super casino.
The Churches are arguing fiercely
that a casino will bring problems and misery
far outweighing the alleged economic benefits to the town.
about Golden calves is that they are sold and accepted
as the things which will solve our problems –
Golden calves are going to be our saviours –
demand things of us like all gods –
they demand allegiance and sacrifice –
and these we offer believing this will be the road to salvation.
Sadly they take what we offer but do not deliver…
the irony of the idol is that it promises freedom and deliverance
but ends up enslaving its creators.
In the words of Martin Luther King,
There is so much frustration in
because we have relied on gods rather than God.
We have genuflected before the god of science
only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb,
producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate.
We have worshiped the god of pleasure
only to discover that thrills play out
and sensations are short-lived.
We have bowed before the god of money
only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship
that money cannot buy
and that in a world of possible depressions,
stock market crashes, and bad business investments,
money is a rather uncertain deity.
These transitory gods are not able to save us
or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. ….
[Martin Luther King, Strength to Love, 1964]
The false gods Martin
Luther King wrote of are there in every generation –
the question is, will we follow Aaron and worship them,
or follow Moses and depose them?
Pastor Ehrenberg in his
about the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany during the 1930s
describes a incident at a summer camp for teenage girls.
The girls are gathered for an act of worship.
Hanging on the wall at the front
is a large glass framed photograph of Adolf Hitler.
Just as the service is about to begin,
one of the girls calmly walks to the front of the hall,
takes the photo off the wall and hurls it on the floor,
smashing it into pieces.
[Quoted in Rowan Williams, Open to Judgement, DLT 1994 p51]
Would we have had the moral courage to do the same?
More to the point, faced
with the idolatories of our society,
do we have the courage to do the same?
One of my favourite poems
is Shelley’s poem
about a statue built in the wilderness- albeit of stone not gold:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792-1822
Don’t waste your time and
energies on false gods of metal or stone,
nor false gods mirroring our own petty lusts and fears -
their days are numbered. Thus says the Lord.
No – keep your eyes on
the Mountain top,
await the word of the true God,
who alone brings true freedom and salvation.
He may well send us
marching into the desert–
but he will go with you,
and if we will but follow, will bring us safe home.