I want to begin this sermon with a simple statement and forgive me if it sounds too obvious. I am paraphrasing a recent devotion:
Like any parent knows: God wants to be loved. And God wants us to know we are loved beyond our knowing.Across the ages since the beginning of creation, through God’s mighty actions to save us in the Exodus… God has wanted to be made known in a real and personal way among humankind. God wanted to be loved and to know we are loved… Still today with us, God wants to be known… and God wants us to be loved and to love.
I believe that to be the truth behind the story of the Golden Calf. At first it looks like the story of a parent who is simply mad at their disobedient children.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to lead our confirmation class. I asked them what questions they had about God. One was this: “Does God get mad when we do wrong?”
Today’s text is fairly clear… God gets mad… When God smells the smelting of gold earrings being made into that calf… when he hears the sounds of dancing and worship that is not being offered to him… but to some human made calf (a poor substitute) … when God smells the food cooking for the festival and the burnt offerings to be offered to the calf… When God hears his people … his people who need I remind you that he freed from Pharaoh… his people, need I remind you that he gave food and water in the wilderness… even when they were whining… When God hears his people looking at this golden calf and saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…”
Given all of that… you can hardly blame God for being angry with his ungrateful children… I mean… the ink is not even dry from the 10 commandments… the first ones being fairly clear…”you shall have only 1 God… 1 God… no other gods… no images…” Was that unclear to anyone?
No wonder God tells Moses… “Go down at once… YOUR people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have turned aside…. And rejected me… Now let me alone so that my wrath may burn hot against them.”
Pastor Jody, “Does God get mad when we do wrong?” Well… yes… This would not be the last time God was more than fed up with us…
After his children reached the promised land… they begin ignoring the poor and living lives of injustice… they go to worship but mainly to give God lip service… or to go through the motions… to which God speaks through prophets and says things like,
“I hate, I despise your feasts…I hate your worship… let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream”
I think God is mad!
And lest you think the God of the OT is angry and the God of the NT is sweet and loving. Let me remind you of this, that the God revealed in Jesus is the same God… and that Jesus got mad… “You brood of vipers… you hypocrites…” Jesus got mad at self righteous religion… that ignored the needs of others around them… that made sinners feel like they were less than loved by God… Jesus hated that! He hated the corruption of religion… remember that little temper tantrum he threw in the temple? Jesus hated ways of life that were self-destructive so that those who were living in adultery or prostituting themselves… which means they were hurting themselves and others… Jesus hated that.
Does God get mad when we do wrong? I hope so. The only thing that could be worse is that God did not become angry. Someone taught me long ago that hate is not the opposite of love… apathy is. You get mad with people you love. The people who can hurt you the most are the people who love you the most and who are loved by you the most.
Which is why God is mad here… God loves us more than we’ll ever know… God wants for us to know him and love him in a way that will bring us the life we desire… God wants us to live in a way with our neighbors – do not lie, steal, covet… in a way that is loving.
What does God want? Micah said it… (It seems clear enough to me) “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God?’
What God wants you and I to know is that we are loved beyond our knowing…
Brian Andreas, writing one of his story people poems was writing about love… he could have been speaking for our God:
“You, who wonders when
Someone will love you
The way you know you
Will love them back.
I am the one who loves you
that way. Even if you
don’t see it yet.
What we have in today’s story is yet one more of many chapters of a love story from God… a God whose love will not let us go… and yet we disappoint this God again and again… this is a sad chapter… and maybe painful memory for many of us… because it reminds us that we do make idols of other things… it reminds us of how there are ways that we live that reveals that we have a long way in learning to love God back.
God is not simply a priority even among the faithful. That the Lord God is simply not enough for us sometimes… so we make our calves… (worship our substitutes) what Fred Craddock might call our “back up” for God.
I mean, that is what they were asking Aaron for, was it not? A back up for God… just in case the Lord and Moses were lost forever… Always have a back up plan. (Dad taught me this) Right? Just in case God won’t pull through for you, you need a plan B.
Craddock was telling the story of one of his seminary students… a very bright student… who dropped out of seminary. He said, “I believe the Gospel and I believe in God and I believe in Christ, and I believe what the church teaches. I want to be a minister but I want something more.” He went to California; it was in the days of psychedelic lights and psychedelic drugs. He became brain damaged,ending what could have been a fruitful life.
I said to him once, “What was that experience like?”He said, “Well, well, well, it was, it was…everything was just, just kind of orange.”
What did he want? He wanted a little more than what the Gospel or God provided.
Fred said he had a Bible class that met on Tuesdays… The women told Fred one day, “We’ll have to leave early today because this is the day we go out to Lake Lanier.” And I said, “lake Lanier? You go to Lake Lanier?” They said, “Yes, this is the day we go to Lake Lanier.” I said, “Why?”
“Well, we go out there and we get on this nice boat owned by one of our families… We reach over and get some water from the lake and we all put our hands in the water and get in touch with the primal source and try to remember when we were here before.”
Well, says Fred, I mean these were all committed churchwomen. They’re all in the choir and all that. Plus, plus, a little back up.”
How hard it must be for God to see us make our little idols… giving those idols the best we have to offer of our time, our money and our energy… because in some way we think they are going to save us… and we give the Lord God our leftovers of our time, our money and our energy…
How hard it must be on God who has given us life… who has done so much for us… and this is the thanks God gets?!…
And yet… as Moses reminds God… we are still God’s people… God’s children… Moses pleads with God… don’t give up on them…
Which as we know, God did not give up… far from it… Because we know the rest of the story… we know what God did… out of love God stuck with us… his stiff necked people… we would continue to disappoint God as we still do… every time we forget God’s love for us… every time we fail to trust in God’s love for us… every time we worship our substitute.
But God would keep on loving us… to the point that God would come among us in person… love in the flesh… showing us how deeply we are loved… He went so far as to pick up a cross… go up a hill… to take upon himself all the sin and rejection of the world. Even saying from that place of suffering… “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” God so loved the world… said John… God did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him…”
Do you see how much we are loved and how much God wants to be loved? Is this enough? Or do we need a little back up? Amen.
 P 8, collected sermons of Fred Craddock