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The Golden Calf

  • Posted on Mar 11, 2011

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. Exodus: 20:1

In our Education for Ministry classes, we have been immersed in the Book of Exodus. Recently, we spent time discussing the story of the Golden Calf. Moses was doing the Lord’s work up on the mountain, in conversation with the Lord. He took a little longer than usual to return down the mountain to the Israelites. What do the people do? They get tired of waiting. Tired of not having Moses with them to lead them. Maybe they were bored in the wilderness. Most likely, they were scared. But whatever the reason….when human beings get bored or scared, what do they do? They make mischief for themselves or others. They created golden calves of their own choosing.

We all create golden calves in our lives. When we become disillusioned with our jobs, our relationships, our church communities, we begin to grumble. We wonder: “Is that all there is?” And after we grumble, we look for the golden calf. It could be a new job, a more exciting partner, a new leader or a new community. Just like the Israelites and Moses, we displace the blame for our own fearful behavior onto another person or situation. And when we do this, we turn away from the dignity that is the glory of human nature. We begin to act like the Israelites in the wilderness. The scene plays out like when a parent comes upon reveling teenagers who are doing what they know they shouldn’t be doing. Lent is a time to catch ourselves in these behaviors. It’s time to turn from false gods of our own creation and choosing and turn back to God with our all hearts. To find our human dignity as God’s people once again.

In the story of the Golden Calf, God is infuriated at the Israelites, burning their gold into a calf that they dance around and worship. His anger burns hot. Moses intercedes for the people, imploring God to turn from his fierce wrath, change God’s mind and avert disaster. God listens.

And whether we believe that God is a God of anger and wrath or not, I believe that God does listen. God knows our weaknesses (in language of the past…”our wretchedness”) Lent is a gift to us to call us home once again…for the hundreth or thousandth time. What might be that golden calf that you dance around? 

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness (weaknesses), may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p. 325