Saturday, October 8, 2011

More Than a Parade

Exodus 32: 1-14
Philippians 4: 1-9
Matthew 22: 1-14
More Than a Parade

A lot takes place prior to the events in our reading today from Exodus. God has called Moses, Aaron and the elders up onto the mountain where He begins to instruct them in all things Holy. God understands that these humans He has created need guidance, they seek guidance, they deeply desire guidance. They are just like us, just like you and just like me.

Well, you might say that God calls Moses onto the mountain for the very first Seminary Class. God instructs Moses on what offerings the children of Israel are to bring, how to build the alter, what the priest should wear, when to call the people to worship, how to decorate the tabernacle, how to sacrifice the offerings, on and on. Then God gives Moses the 10 Commandments. All this takes some time.

While Moses is off receiving instruction from God, the people get nervous. The children of Israel were frustrated, impatient, and afraid. So what else is new, right? That’s been their attitude ever since Moses led them out of the land of slavery. Moanin’ and groanin’. Grumblin’ and gripein’.
Anyway, they begin to ask each other, “Where is Moses? Did he say when he’d be back? Is he dead? I bet he ran off and left us here to die!” (they always thought Moses was gonna run off and leave them, but he never did).

The children of Israel get anxious and they begin to demand that Aaron do something to help them. They are afraid that if Moses doesn’t come back they will die. They will die because they do not have a god to lead them. Moses was their connection to God and Moses was nowhere to be found.

Now Aaron, he went up on the mountain with Moses for a short time to receive instruction too, but he finished up early and came on back down to the people. Aaron hadn’t had all the training he needed to take on the task the people wanted him to take on. Fact is, Aaron knew just enough to get em’ all in trouble, and trouble was exactly where they ended up. Aaron should’ve just said, “Look, I know my brother Moses is coming back, be patient. I heard the voice of God up on the mountain myself, He is still with us, just be patient. I know Moses will be back soon”

Instead Aaron opens up a whole new can of worms and has the people bring their gold and jewelry, the gold that was given them by their captors on the way out of Egypt. Aaron melts down the gold and makes a calf. Now, we don’t know what was goin’ thru Aaron’s mind when he made that calf. I don’t think he was trying to replace God, but rather create a symbol that represented God so the people could see and somehow be comforted. But the people get the wrong idea, and they worship a symbol for God as a god itself. They mistake the symbol for the real deal. Even today, especially today, that’s far too easy of a mistake to make.

Once there was this young boy, and he grew up dirt poor. His daddy was a hard working sharecropper and it took every penny he made to keep food on the table and clothes on his family’s back. But his son was a good boy, worked hard in school, always did his chores and a little extra too. The boy worked hard on the farm, best he could given his age and his size. The boy never whined or complained or asked for anything for himself.

Every year the circus would come through their parts, and the circus folk would put posters up in the schools and down at the general store. That boy would stand in front of those posters for hours seemed like, day dreamin’ about going to the circus. One year, after the circus pulled up and left town, the old store keep let the boy have one of the circus posters. That boy put the poster on the wall by his bed. Every night he’d go to sleep staring at that poster. He’d have big dreams, big top dreams, about lions and tigers, clowns and elephants, pretty girls standing on the backs of horses, riding round and round.

It cost a dollar to go see the circus, and the boy new his daddy didn’t have a dollar to spare. The boy was a good boy, so he never asked if he could go, never once. He didn’t want to put his daddy out and he knew there were other things more important to their family than him seeing the circus.

But, his daddy knew. His daddy saw his son’s eyes light up every year when the circus folk would put up a new poster down at the store. He saw his son roll over, every night after saying his prayers, and go to sleep staring at that worn out circus poster on his bedroom wall. Well, he loved his son and he wanted more for his son than he had, so he saved all year, trying to get up that dollar so his boy could see the circus. He quit chewing tobacco; well at least he didn’t chew it every day anyway. He quit buying a soda when he took his crops to town to sell. Little by little, a penny here and a dime there, the daddy saved up that dollar.

Fall rolled around and the daddy was more excited than his son was when they saw the new circus poster up at the store as. The boy ran right to it, his daddy saddled up alongside him and said “Don’t that circus look like something else?” “Yep, sure does.” Said the boy. “Wanna’ go?’ asked the daddy.

The little boy dropped his head, “Sure I wanna go, but I know we ain’t got the money.” The daddy eased 4 quarters out of his pocket and said “here son, tell the store keep you wanna buy a ticket.”

The boy busted up to the counter, laid his money down, and bought a ticket to see his first circus. The very next Saturday, at 11 am, he was going to finally see the greatest show on earth. That boy couldn’t sleep all week, and Friday night all he did was toss and turn. Just about every hour he’d get up and go in the kitchen and check the coffee cup where his momma stored his circus ticket, just to make sure it was there.

Saturday morning, early, the boy headed off to town. He rolled in around 9, about the same time they were getting the circus animals off the train and getting em’ready to parade through town to the big tent the circus folk had pitched out by the lumber yard. When the boy hit Main Street he saw the clowns leading fancy horses all styled up with feathers in their manes. Cowboys sitting on silver saddles carried the American flag. A team of zebras was pulling the lion cage, while the lime tamer was shooting his gun and crackin’ his whip. More clowns strolled past, pushing each other and falling down in funny ways that made the crowd roll with laughter. The boy laughed too, like he had never laughed before. Then came the elephants, all lined up, with a fella from India riding the lead elephant and the rest of the pack linked up trunk to tail, from the biggest all the way down to a baby elephant in the back. The circus parade passed by the boy and he couldn’t believe what he saw. This was better than he ever dreamed.

Well, the last elephant passed with a clown holdin’ its tail like he was one of the pack, and here come the fellow with a broom, cleaning up behind the parade. The boy walked up to that fella with the broom and said “here’s my ticket sir. That was the greatest circus I ever saw.” Before the man could explain that what the boy had seen was just the parade before the real circus, the boy had turned around and run home to tell his daddy all about the things he saw.

That boy saw a lot, but he didn’t see the circus, just a parade, just a taste of the real thrill. He got excited, wasn’t patient, didn’t ask questions, and he missed the show.

That’s what happened to the children of Israel. They wanted so badly to know God and to know that God was there. They let their imagination and expectations of God stand in for the real God. They settled for the flash and fancy of a parade instead of the deeper more fulfilling experience of the greatest show on earth. They took things they thought had value, gold and jewels, and made up a god to fit their needs.

In Jesus’ parable from Matthew, the guest comes for the feast, but isn’t prepared to take in the whole show. He fails to wear the wedding robe. Now, back during that time the wedding robes were given to the guest by their host. This guest had everything he needed to fully participate; it had been freely given to him. All he had to do was slip the robe on. But he wasn’t willing to commit. He was happy just to be at the banquet. He couldn’t go all the way.

Christ calls us into God’s kingdom, not just part way in but all the way in. Jesus ain’t just leading a parade. Through this parable Jesus says to you and to me, “If you’re in, then you’re all in.” Nothing half way. And if we give our all, then all will be given to us.

Right here, right now, we have a job to do. God has filled us with the love of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, not just for our sake, but for the sake of others. Bible study, fellowship, ministry to our church friends and to our neighbors. We do these things not because we might get something out of it. We need to be fully present for the sake of our friends because of Christ. There may be something you’re meant to say or do that helps someone else get closer to God. We have a responsibility to each other, that’s why God collects us in community, in a church, so we can help each other.

That’s what Paul is telling the church at Philippi. No, not just the church at Philippi, Paul is saying this to New Salem United Methodist Church in Flat Woods, Tennessee.

Paul writes “stand firm in the Lord…help each other.” Then he names people in the church that need the help of the church.

Paul goes on to say,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen.., and the God of peace will be with you.

We learn and we receive, we hear and we see, fully, only when we participate fully in the life of the church. And when we participate fully in the life of the church, the God of peace, peace that surpasses all understanding, the God of peace makes Himself fully known to us.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Amen

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