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 cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it!” 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? - Exodus 32:7-11 (NRSV)
It’s a classic joke. Two parents look out over some household catastrophe, aghast at the chaos created by one small unattended person in a short time. Then one parent turns to the other and says indignantly:
“Just look at what your child did!”
This same drama plays out between God and Moses. Having turned their backs for just a minute, Moses and God find the Israelites worshiping an idol. The people had even found time to make a graven image of it—The Golden Calf—which they really weren’t supposed to do. It’s literally rule number one and rule number two. (Sidebar: how were they doing metallurgy?)
God tells Moses, “These are your people.” Moses tells God, “These are your people.”
And they’re both right.
The Israelites belong to God and they belong to Moses. We belong to God and we belong to one another.
Maybe you woke up today thinking about some church catastrophe, aghast at the chaos wrought by just a few in only a short time. Maybe you’re tempted to shout at God, “These are your people!”
But don’t be surprised when God points to your neighbors and confidantes and wise elders and unbowed youth; the ones who have worshiped with you, mourned with you, celebrated with you; the ones who have gotten it right and gotten it wrong; the ones who have seen you get it right and get it wrong. Don’t be surprised when God points to them all and says, “These are your people.”
God, thank you for the gift of community.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.