If you have ever seen the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot” you have experienced how tedious it is for human beings to have to wait. The play is all about the subject of waiting and waiting, endlessly. The frustration of the wait drives the two main characters in the play to repel one another, then out of painful loneliness they come bouncing back in fear, resigned to their waiting together. Some people have interpreted “Waiting for Godot” as a drama about the human condition of hoping and waiting for the arrival of God and maybe that is so. Waiting for the bus or train, waiting for the baby to be delivered, waiting for your loved one to return home, waiting for that last Amen of a sermon can seem insufferable and we have all had that feeling of waiting too long.
The text from Exodus we read today parallels this beautifully as it is all about waiting for God, in a sense, and it is a troubling story. The Hebrews’ not-so-fearless leader Moses was up on Mount Sinai communing with God. According to his endlessly griping followers, their leader Moses had taken way too much time up there, no matter what he was doing. To be honest, part of the problem may have been that – they didn’t know what he was doing. Everybody wants to know what the leader is doing. All the time! right? Transparency is everything, plus they had already proven themselves to be complainers. So, what do they do? Impatiently, they turned to Moses’ older brother Aaron and demanded that he create gods for them, on the spot, so they can stop waiting for Moses’ to return with his message from God.
Now Aaron, and Moses who was the younger brother, had a complicated relationship. Moses had a mighty power to him but he was slow of speech and relied on his much more eloquent brother Aaron to be his spokesperson. Aaron was a priest and seen as lofty and spiritually superior to many and got away with a great many things that Moses had to take responsibility for. Nevertheless, Aaron may have been somewhat jealous of Moses’ clout over the chosen people and over his close relationship to God. It takes Aaron about five minutes to turn his back on his brother’s authority and he does so in order to placate the people who clamored at him to take action while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai. Aaron is swift at getting them to give up all their gold jewelry from which he fashions a golden calf. Pretty neat trick eh?
Nature based religions thrived in the ancient Near East at that time, which included the worship of some animals. The golden calf was especially comforting to them because it was a symbol of strength and virility. So, Aaron and the people decide here it is, our new god! We are tired of waiting for Moses! The text describes the people as saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” which of course is “fake news.” It was Moses, not some man-made object who brought them out of Egypt, so the golden calf leadership was a complete fiction. This is what happens to people when we have to wait too long for God or anything else. We just don’t have much in the way of patience for things that we cannot see, touch or feel. We don’t like to wait and we have created any number of false gods to fill in the lag time. (show phone.) Does anybody really think that this is just a communications tool nowadays?
Now in the Gospel text from Matthew we have a different scenario about waiting. Jesus tells his disciples a parable about an impatient King who gets terribly frustrated waiting for people to come to a wedding banquet he invited them to, but they never appear. You can’t blame him for his impatience. After all, the king sent out the invitation, made flyers to remind everyone, sent slaves out to rally the troops and he advertised, advertised, advertised. All to no avail, because the guests just did not bother to come. How familiar this scenario seems to church these days? Churches turn ourselves inside out trying to “invite” people to the wedding feast (meaning our worship at church) but few show up. Just like in the parable, you will hear many people today say, “we’re just too busy.” There is business to attend to, soccer games, dance, gymnastics, relatives visiting, places to go and people to see. And you know what? I get it. It’s not personal, people are busy.
I was sharing this familiar tale with a 30-something Mom of young teens the other day and she was like “I’m sorry – there is just so many battles a mother can fight. I just can’t get up one more morning (on a Sunday) to get somewhere and do something. My kids are not interested! My friends who are parents are not interested.” And it’s true, church is less and less part of our culture. There was a time when you said to your parents “I’m too tired to go to church.” Or “I have homework or something else that has to get done.” And your parents would say “tough, get up and get dressed, we’re going to church!” Right? Which we heard yesterday at our Conference from a young person that was not such a good idea and, anyway, it is no longer the case. Now maybe that is a shame or maybe it’s not. Maybe it is just the way it is and no matter how entertaining and relevant church tries to be it doesn’t make a dent on attendance. Just like the King who provided a lavish feast and had the best wine and - he was The King! He had power! We at church have no power anymore. The interesting thing is, the king got so mad he sent his servants out to rally all the poor and hungry people in his kingdom who really needed a good meal and probably had not been to a party in a very long time. Sort of like when we visit Worcester Fellowship or the Mustard Seed, we go out with food for people who actually need what we prepare. It’s like we’re bringing the church to the people - but not exactly.
Which brings me back to waiting on our topic - false gods. We do that, don’t we? Somehow, we think our smartphones, computers, social media and other stimulants like drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, food are going to be able to take the place of the divine in our lives. It doesn’t though, does it? In fact, it’s killing us. Massachusetts is currently experiencing an epidemic of opioid-related overdose and death. Opioid-related deaths in our state were more than four times higher in 2015 than in 2000. The opioid-related death rate in Massachusetts has surpassed the national average, with an especially sharp rise in the last two years. In fact, 2014 marked the first year since 1999 that the fatal overdose rate in the Bay State was more than double the national average. This is not confined to street corner junkies, by the way. About 8 in 12 people who died from opioids in 2013 and 2014 had an opioid prescription at some point from 2011–2014. You may say, well what has this got to do with us? Are you saying this is because people don’t come to church? That would be a huge assumption. However, it does seem to bear some resemblance to the worship of the golden calf in Exodus, doesn’t it? More and more, our culture is focusing on anything BUT God, or if you prefer the term a Higher Power – something bigger than us. Increasingly, we seek the next thrill, the next adrenalin rush, the next casino card table, or the next substance high as an attempt to replace that which we are missing deep inside. It is a way to grasp for that which we want – a sense of the divine, a sense of something bigger which goes beyond our day to day lives.
I am going to ask you now. What do you want? Who or what are you waiting for? What can you do to resolve that lack in your life? What if we stood outside ourselves, looking for how WE can express the divine in the world. What are we doing to create the Kin-dom of God here on earth, right now? Do you have the feeling that someone else is supposed to do that? That “let somebody else do it” or “somebody ought to do this or that” feeling is a false god! Nobody can do it for you or for our church. We need to get up and out to worship or to gather with friends to do church. We need to go out and feed the poor and take care of the sick and demonstrate God’s compassionate love in the world. You! Me! We! There’s no Big Mama in the sky who is gonna drag you in here and make everything better. That’s just not how God works. So, if you don’t want to wait, get in touch with the why of your life and the why of your church and find a way to make it mean something to someone, especially to yourself.