Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In the Meantime: Can't We Stop Here?

Our scripture texts this week are Exodus 32:1-20 and Matthew 22:1-15--click on the passages to read! (And I promise, one day, things will be simpler and we'll rejoin our regularly scheduled lectionary programming...Advent is not far away, my friends!)

Sometimes I wonder if the writer of Exodus has ever heard of that mantra, "Quit while you're ahead." If the biblical author had, they might have wrapped up the book of Exodus just before this week's reading--that would make a more "happily ever after" place for the story of the liberation and reclamation of God's people from slavery into freedom to conclude. After God gives the Ten Commandments as the foundation of the covenant relationship, God spends the next three chapters (Exodus 21-23) elaborating on the ideas laid out to introduce the covenant. At the end of this elaboration, Exodus 24 announces that "the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.'" The covenant is sealed, and confirmed with an amazingly intimate celebration of holy encounter: "Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire, like the very heaven for clearness...Also they beheld God, and they ate and drank."

Seriously? Talk about a happy ending! These leaders of Israel got to attend a banquet where they SAW GOD and feasted together in (we can deduce) God's presence. The epilogue is even better: they return down the mountain, and God sets out giving Moses directions on how to build a tabernacle that can be a symbol of God's clear presence among them at all times, that can travel with them wherever they may go--a place they may worship intentionally in the presence of God, and know God's mercy and provision continue to journey with them. At the end, God gives Moses the "tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18)--God's words to hold on to forever. God has done it! God has laid out a way for Israel to be God's covenant people! As our Manna and Mercy Book so often put it, "God's dream is coming true!"

But this isn't the end of the Exodus story. Rather, we abruptly get this week's reading shattering all this hope and celebration. Why interrupt such a fairy tale ending to Israel's ordeal with a story that paints them (and, in some senses, their God) in such a volatile light? Why can't the covenant people just live blissfully, peacefully, and wisely after ever?

Well...because life with God is not a magical mystical fairy tale. It is messy. And though we might like to stop before this week's less beautiful story, we cannot--for we need to know what it looks like to live with God even in the midst of the messes we make, in the midst of relationships broken and patience worn thin and trust misplaced and self-indulgence run amok--because this is where we usually have to figure out how to live with God, and where God has to figure out how on earth to live with us, and where we struggle to live with one another amidst our frustrations.

So we need the part of the story that comes on Sunday--it may not be pretty, but it sure is true.

No comments: