FIRST READING: Exodus (32:1-14)
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.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
1 Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
for his mercy endures for ever.
2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord *
or show forth all his praise?
3 Happy are those who act with justice *
and always do what is right!
4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, *
and visit me with your saving help;
5 That I may see the prosperity of your elect and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6 We have sinned as our forebears did; *
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19 Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
and worshiped a molten image;
20 And so they exchanged their Glory *
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21 They forgot God their Savior, *
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23 So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.
SECOND READING: Philippians (4:1-9)
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 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 in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22:1-14)
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
As the old line puts it, “Lord, give me patience – and I want it right now!” Our society is not one that is notable for its patience. We are a people who are used to, and often demand, instant results. We find ourselves, for example, in a depressed economy and a level of public debt that has been years, if not decades, in the making; and we are tempted by political candidates who offer simple, instant solutions to very complex problems. We are not always willing to work and sacrifice our way out of our situation but want somebody to offer us the silver bullet that will fix it all right now — and at no cost to ourselves, of course. Among other characteristics of our society is the fact that we seem to have little or no patience. We quickly reach a point where we decide that we have had enough, and we are ready to jump at almost any supposed solution, no matter how ill-advised or unworkable it might be.
But what happens when both human beings and God lose their patience, when both human beings and God decide that they have had enough and both are ready to jump at instant solutions? That seems to be what happened at the time of today’s first reading.
At this point in the Exodus narrative, Moses has been up on Mt. Sinai or Horeb for forty days, and the congregation of the Israelites has lost patience. They have had enough, so they decide to take action, to take matters into their own hands. They compel Aaron to construct a golden calf which will serve as a representation of God. And with that statue, they are ready to make a beeline for the Promised Land. “Enough of this waiting at the mountain. Enough of this wandering in the wilderness. We want the Promised Land, and we want it now!”
But the Israelites are not the only ones who have lost patience. Up on the mountain, God informs Moses of what has been going on down in the camp. God has already had to deal with the complaining of the people about food and about water and about the whole journey experience. And now, they have made an idol, violating the first of the commandments that God had just given Moses. God is fed up. God has lost patience. And God is ready to wipe out this entire people and start all over again.
But God never carries out that plan because Moses is willing to speak up and challenge God’s intention. Moses and God enter into a dialogue with each other. And Moses persuades God to change God’s mind.
What an extraordinary thing that is – or is it? If we look at the overall biblical narrative, we find that this is not a rare exception at all, but part of a wider pattern. The future of God’s people and of the world is not determined by God alone. The future of God’s people and of the world is determined by God and human beings working together and sometimes arguing together. As Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim puts it, God is not the only one who has something to say here. The future of Israel is a divine-human endeavor. But the development of that future requires both patience and persistence: patience and persistence on God’s part and patience and persistence on our part as well.
Churches, some churches more than others, are famously resistant to change. I remember an Orthodox priest once telling me, “In the Orthodox tradition we have two methods of change: the fast track and the slow track. The fast track takes about one thousand years.” Sometimes, I think we in the western church can give them a run for their money!
Change is essential and unavoidable. Change is integral to life and critical for life: the life of the church as well as the life of an individual. But change requires both persistence and patience, and it is hard for us to have and maintain both. We tend to opt for one or another.
Sometimes we may have some patience, but we lack persistence. Bringing about change can be frustrating, and sometimes we just get tired of “fighting the good fight.” At times, we discover that the approaches we have been taking either end up not working at all or at least being terrible inadequate. At other times, our ideas are simply ones that others just will not embrace. We have to be able to accept the fact that most of our projects and approaches – not just some of them, but most of them — are probably going to fail. Yet, despite that fact, we have to be willing to try and, when we fail, to try something else. Jesus, during his ministry, preached to thousands of people, yet relatively few of them seem to have accepted and embraced his message. He failed most of the time. So why do we expect to do any better than he did? Yet he persisted, and we need to share his persistence.
At other times, we may have the persistence, but we lack the patience. Like the society in which we live, we want quick results. But, even if we happen to get those quick results, they might not be truly lasting ones. Theologian Gerald Sissser has written, “Churches move slowly, just like glaciers, which is why activists so often become impatient. But when they do change, they can become as powerful as an advancing glacier that sweeps away everything in its path. In the end, slow, incremental, concrete change might be the most effective kind.” If we think back on some of the most significant changes that churches have helped to bring about in our history, changes like the Civil Rights Movement or efforts to provide assistance to those who cannot help themselves, we can find many examples of people who were certainly persistent, but who also had the patience that it takes to bring about genuine and lasting change, people like the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. May he rest in peace. As Margaret Mead has insisted, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Persistence and patience are two complementary, key imperatives for the people of God in every age. The Israelites, gathered there at Mt. Sinai, could not see the road ahead. Many of them had lost patience and decided to take matters into own hands by building the golden calf. Others had lost persistence and wanted to go back to Egypt. It was only with the combined efforts of God and Moses that they were persuaded to keep on the road to the Promised Land, persisting in their journey and looking forward with patience to its culmination.
We, too, need both persistence and patience in our shared journey as the people of God in the world today. Like the Israelites, we cannot see the road ahead. We do not know exactly where the church is headed and what obstacles we might have to face along the way. That is where faith comes in. Martin Luther King used to tell people that “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
Throughout history, God has, overall, shown both persistence and patience in dealing with humanity. Can we show the same persistence and patience in doing the work of God in our time?