Simmer Down: Or How God teaches us to be Patient
October 14, 2017
Christine E. Burns
“When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him.” Exodus 32:1
Simmer down! Bob Marley’s song tells us to simmer down and control our tempers. I don’t know about you, but I find all of these rules and regulations, laws and commandments in the Book of Exodus in our lectionary readings difficult. What’s with all of these expectations about being so good? It’s really hard to follow the laws and commandments. Bob Marley’s song is a great way to begin to look at what it means to simmer down, control our tempers and try on patience. Maybe you are much better at being patient than I am. I tend to burn hot. The good thing, at least according to those who have to live with me, is I don’t hold grudges. Let’s practice simmering down and we can begin that practice by looking into the story of the ancient Israelites who also burned hot and were anxious.
The people of Israel feared a leadership vacuum when Moses went away. He had been gone for forty days and forty nights, which is a really long time, especially when they did not know how long he would be gone for. When we enter into today’s reading, Moses is still away and the people were anxious and seeking easy answers. In their searching, in their burning hot with fear, they turned to Aaron, Moses’ brother for direction. Aaron wants to provide direction. The Israelites ask Aaron to lead and he provides them with specific actions to restore God’s care for God’s people. Unfortunately, Aaron’s suggestions break one of the first commandments. Aaron invites the Israelites to bring forward their gold and together they can melt it down to form a golden calf. Now, we modern folks have no use for golden calves, but the ancient Israelites were familiar with golden calves as images of strength and virility. For us, imagine the golden calf as something we value such as fame, money, prestige, success, celebrity, and power. It’s easier at times to see the text as written long ago for people quite different from ourselves, and yet, we know that when we are anxious, when we fear abandonment by our leaders, when we feel forgotten by God, we can turn to lower case “gods” that promise quick fixes, shiny hopes that wash away with the next storm.
There are a number of characters in today’s scripture lesson that get angry. Moses returns from his 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain of Sinai and he sees that his brother Aaron and his people have built a temple of worship to a golden calf and he is angry! Simmer down, Moses. Control your temper.
But the character who gets the angriest in today’s scripture lesson is GOD. God is livid with the people. God and Moses are hanging out together on Mount Sinai when God gets a whiff of the burnt offerings and wild partying happening down in the valley. I love how God gets emotional. The God of Exodus is a God who has trouble handling emotions. This is a God who rages when the people aren’t following the Laws. God sends Moses off of the mountain. His time hanging with the divine one is over and Moses is sent to straighten out the discouraged followers. God brought them out of Egypt, protected them in the desert and now God feels thoroughly disappointed in the people. God decides to incinerate them.
As a parent, we may have felt a smidgen of this rage when our children make mistakes, but hopefully we do not act on it. And in our reading, God doesn’t destroy the people immediately. Simmer down, God. Have patience with your people.
Moses sings to God like Bob Marley in the song, “Simmer Down.” He reasons with God, asking God to think about why God worked so hard bring them out of slavery in Egypt only to wipe them off the face of the planet in the valley below Mount Sinai. I love that Moses argues with God. And God listens. God thinks twice and decides against inflicting evil on the people.
We are invited to see God as a divinity that experiences emotions. God rages. God threatens destruction. God gets disappointed. And God forgives the people.
If God has all of these emotions, if the people feared a lack of leadership, if Moses could leave his people for too long and Aaron could get leadership wrong, maybe there is room for all of us. Yes, we may get angry. Yes, we may make mistakes.
But here is the good news. We can change. We can recognize our foolish mistakes. We can repent. Even God recognizes that destroying the entire human race is not a good choice. We can start over. We can begin anew with a clean slate.
Moses has pity and patience on his people who he loves. He convinces God to give them another chance.
Each day, we are given a clean slate when the sun rises. We get a do-over. A chance to make it right again; to seize the opportunity to live as God longs for us to live.
Imagine what you would say to God if God raged at you about how humanity has really messed it up this time? Why do we keep valuing power over people? Why do we permit human trafficking and the destruction of the environment? Why are there still so many wars and injustice? Would you ask God to give us another chance? Do you think we deserve an opportunity to be redeemed? Would you tell God to simmer down? Would we tell ourselves to get angry about the things that are truly evil and forgive what needs to be forgiven?
I leave you with these big questions and invite you to ponder them in the week ahead. Let me know what your thoughts are as well. This sermon is an invitation into the possibility of creative collaboration in thinking about our relationship with God and creation. Amen.