Rev. George Miller
July 19, 2015
I’m excited for this Saturday. My friend Daniel from the theater is taking me to the Everglades.
Me- the Everglades!
This won’t be for an average, run of the mill, touristy kind of thing. It’ll be the real deal.
See, Dan is what locals here would call a Good ‘Ol Boy. Born and raised, bow-fishing, chew-chewing, camouflage and cowboy boot wearing Good ‘Ol Boy.
The kind who’s not afraid of gators. The kind that can tell with one look what snake is a friend of Jack. The kind who will have your back, not speak bad about his momma and makes sure his family is provided for.
So I know that this Saturday I’m going to have a unique experience and see the real, true Everglades.
Daniel’s been preparing me for weeks: where we’ll stop for breakfast; the beverages we’ll bring; the clothes and footwear to wear; the kind of sunglasses I should have.
Apparently, I need to go get a pair of polarized sunglasses, the kind that can cost up to $200. But not to worry, because Dan’s already scoped things out for me and Wal-Mart is selling them for $20, and apparently they even have them in cammo.
Why do I need polarized sunglasses? So I can better see into the water and experience all the things that will slither and swim by right below the surface.
Apparently the kind of lens that I wear will affect my experience and how well I see.
…the kind of lens will affect the experience and how one sees…
This principal is also applied to reading the Bible. Almost all of the time, what we read, what we think, what we see is affected by the lenses we are wearing, even if we’re not aware that we are wearing them.
For example, everyone here probably sees scripture through at least 3 lenses:
1: The lens of time, in which 3,000 years after the events we know where the story began, where it goes and where it will end.
2: The lens of Cecil B. Demille and pop culture, which has filmed these stories and added their own interpretation, providing images our minds cannot unsee.
3: The fact that if we are in this church, on this day, at this time, we are at a point in our lives in which we have a certain amount of privilege. Privilege that says we most likely have adequate housing, food, clothes and transportation that has allowed us to come here.
This is not to say we were privileged before, or that we will be in the future, but at this moment, most of us are.
Therefore, if we are to honestly engage in and to understand today’s story, we can show grace and do well by saying:
-we have the benefit of 3,000 years of knowledge
-we’re influenced by what the movies have shown us
-we’re in a stable, safe, seeable situation.
Why do I say this? Because the sermon you’re about to hear is not the sermon I planned on giving.
I thought I’d give a real judgmental message about how faithless the Israelites were. I thought I’d ask “How could the community forget so soon what God had done?”
How could they be at the mountain after experiencing signs and wonders and decided to create a golden calf to worship?
If you were to go home, take out your Bible, you’d see just what good and amazing things God had done for them.
After being slaves for 400 years, God sent them Moses to be set free. When the Pharaoh said “No” God had water turn into blood, frogs fall from the skies and locusts consume the earth.
When Pharaoh allowed the people to go free and then changed his mind, God parted the Red Sea waters and Moses led them through to the other side.
With Moses as their guide, all the people’s needs were met. When they were thirsty, God made the bitter water taste sweet and to pour out of a rock. When they were hungry, God sent bread from heaven.
When Moses brought the Israelites to Mt. Sinai, God greeted them with thunder, lightning and a dense cloud of wonder.
Since the people needed safe boundaries and helpful instructions, God gave them the 10 Commandments and the laws.
To make sure they did not burn out or cave into exhaustion, God gave them Sabbath rest, creating holy time in which all the earth could just be…
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot that God has done so far for the people.
Then God calls Moses to journey up the mountain. The glory of the Lord covered the mountain and the people waited for Moses to come back down.
One day, two days. They waited.
Three days, four days. They waited. No sign of Moses.
Five days, six days. They waited.
Seven days they waited.
Moses was not there.
Anyone here knows what it’s like to wait? How time has a way to slow down, in which each hour feels like a day, each day feels like a week?
For over 7 days the Israelites wait for some sign, any sign of Moses.
When they don’t receive it, they turn to his brother Aaron and ask that he create gods for them.
From their jewelry a golden calf is crafted and the next day the people awake to feast, to praise and to make an offering.
How? How can the people do this? How weak must their faith be? What more could God have done to prevent this act of idolatry? Will nothing ever make them happy?
What a faithless, disobedient group…
Oh yes, my lenses…
Before I get too righteous, I have to admit my lenses.
I have 3,000 years on them and know the beginning, middle and end of this story. Hollywood has created images of orgiastic excess that may have never actually happened.
And I have a house, by the lake, with a porch, a fully stocked fridge and a car that got me here with a full tank of gas.
So how could I know what a week in the wilderness with no sign of Moses or word from God could be like?
I’ve been preparing for a month to spend one day in the Everglades; could you imagine me surviving a week alone?
Let’s be real.
When we break this story down, and remove lens after lens after lens, we begin to see this story in a new way.
The people had been slaves for over 400 years. If the average person lived to be about 40, that means 10 generations of people who knew nothing else but being someone’s slave.
For 10 generations they had someone house them, feed them, tell them what to do. It was a hard life, but a life in which certain things were assured.
Then out of nowhere, this god who had apparently been silent for centuries decides to send them a mortal named Moses to set them free.
One day they are in their beds, doing what they’ve been told. Now they are on the other side of the sea, with no schedule, no responsibility, sleeping in tents.
That’s a quick transition for anyone to make.
For 400 years the people looked to the Pharaoh for what to do. Now they are looking towards Moses who speaks to an invisible being named Yahweh.
How comforting would that be if you were stuck in the wilderness with no GPS, no bottled water and no Best Western nearby?
Then, the one source of consistency in your new life, the one constant in your life’s new beginnings is this Moses guy, and he has gone up a mountain for not 1 day or 2, not 3 or 4, but 7 days and counting and you have no way of knowing if he’ll ever come back.
When your world is no longer constant, when your world is no longer predictable, when people seemingly leave or abandon you, most folk find some way of having structure and solid dependability.
Is that what has happened here?
So perhaps they ask Aaron to create something not because they don’t believe, but because they need something they can believe in that will not leave them.
Perhaps the people need a physical representation of God that will not disappear, that will not abandon them, that will not up and go away.
When you’re whole life has changed, when you’re not where you use to be, when you’re not sure of what tomorrow holds, when you’re scared and lonely,
it makes sense that you’d want something you can touch, something you can hold, something that you can see.
Therefore anything, at any time can become a god. Anything, at any time can become an idol.
This is what we talked about during Tuesday’s Bible Study. We discussed how even today, as Christians, we have things that if we’re not careful, can become an idol: an object, an act, a symbol that we unintentionally have stand in for God.
I thought about this after our class was over. I thought of how easy it could be for any of us to idolize an object as a form of reassurance that we have not been deserted, that we have not been left alone for 1, 2, 5, 7 days.
Then the eye of my mind saw something that had been in front of me, in front of us, all the time. Something that has been so constant, so present, that we may have failed to realize it.
Something that I must admit I have taken for granted: our church’s name-
Emmanuel. Which means “God is with us.”
Emmanuel is a name that was given to Jesus. Emmanuel is a word we sing come Christmastime.
But it is more than a word. It is more than an assurance. It is a promise.
Emmanuel- God is with us.
That is the reason why God came to earth incarnated in the person of Jesus. That is the meaning behind the teachings, the healings, and the feedings of Jesus.
That is the meaning behind the Cross and the mystery of the Resurrection.
That if we don’t know, know we know: that God is with us, always and forever, until the end of time.
This is Good News. But what does it actually mean?
For one thing it means we do not need an idol to represent God’s presence here.
It means we do not need something we can touch, hold or see to know the truth that God is with us.
It means that no single thing, no single symbol, no single act can take the place of God.
It means that no single thing, no single symbol, no single act can take away the presence of God.
It means that God is with us: Emmanuel.
Which means if I was to give a bad sermon, it does not matter, because we can still say “Emmanuel.”
It means that if I took off my stole, it wouldn’t matter because we can still say “Emmanuel.”
It means if I was to step down from the pulpit and preach at ground level, it wouldn’t matter because “Emmanuel.”
It means that if we were to cover the stained glass with a screen, we can still say “Emmnauel.”
If we were to shut off the AV system we can still say “Emmanuel.”
If we took the Bible from the altar, we can still say “Emmanuel.”
If we were to change our hymnals and not sing a single song written before 2015 we can still say “Emmanuel.”
If the organ, the piano, and the bells were suddenly gone, we could still say “Emmanuel.”
If the baptismal font and communion table where to go away, we could still say “Emmanuel.”
If we were to get paint on the carpet we could still say “Emmanuel.”
If a hurricane came in and leveled our entire church to the ground, we could still say “Emmanuel.”
Why? Because none of these things are God. None of them take the place of God.
None of them are needed to remind us that we are God’s.
Why? Because our name already says it all. Emmanuel- God is with us.
With the knowledge comes truth. With this knowledge comes freedom. With this knowledge comes responsibility.
With this knowledge comes a history that can never be rewritten.
So with that, what we do have, the symbols we do use, the actions we do take are simply a means to remember.
They are a means to give God thanks, and a means to do the things and show our neighbors that we do believe that God is with us.
Always, and forever.
God is more than the things we see. God is more than the rituals we do. God is more than the things we have.
Jesus is our Emmanuel. With us. Over us. Around us. Within us.
Nothing can ever change that. Nothing can ever take that away. Nothing can ever make that not so.
Jesus is our Emmanuel.
No matter who we are. No matter where we are. No matter how we are.
God is with us.
Amen and amen.