Today, we begin our sermon series titled, The Dog Days of Summer – Biblical Figures Feel the Heat. Over eight Sundays, we will see men and women of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures facing challenges, where their faith and character are tested. Hopefully, their responses will give us insight in what to do and not to do when we find ourselves in heated situations.
Camille Cook Murray June 14th, 2015
Dog Days of Summer Sermon Series Exodus 32:1-14
Biblical Figures Feel the Heat #1 Moses – How the Mighty Fall
We begin with Moses, who has recently led the people out of slavery through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. Moses climbs Mount Sinai to talk with God and receive the Ten Commandments. For forty days and forty nights, Moses makes the mountain his home. But at the base camp everything is going adrift. The people thought Moses was taking too long on the mountain, so they told Aaron, “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.”
When God saw what the people were doing God was furious. God 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.”
The lesson comes in what happens next: after God declares his anger and threatens to destroy the people, Moses begins to talk to God in an open and candid way. This is a very early example of intercessory prayer. Moses is talking to God, pleading with God, reasoning with God not to rain down destruction on the Israelites but to show mercy to them.
Recently I completed my doctoral work on the subject of prayer as a leadership tool. I have been converted over the years to believe that prayer is one of the most important skills we can cultivate, personally but also professionally. Prayer is like a muscle: it needs to be developed. What is clear in the golden calf story is that Moses had a well-developed muscle for prayer. Moses had much practice talking to God and so prayer came to him as the obvious and immediate reaction to the crisis at hand.
For many of us, prayer comes more like a last ditch effort, a Hail Mary pass when nothing else we have tried has worked. We do not even think to pray until hours, days, or weeks into our own crisis situations. Maybe our muscles are just out of shape or underdeveloped.
The person in my own life who had the strongest practice of prayer was my Catholic grandmother. She went to mass every day of her life until she was physically no longer able to do so. When she said she was going to pray for you it was never a throw away line. It meant her ninety-pound frame would be on her knees clutching her rosary beads with you on her heart. Prayer was always her first resort when there was need. But as a child, I just thought that was because she was too old to do anything else. I thought prayer was for people who had too much time on their hands. I thought prayer was for people who did not have the ability to accomplish much else. I was wrong.
Martin Luther, when asked of his plans for the coming week, mentioned that he spent two hours a day in prayer, but the coming week was extra busy. Therefore, he said, “Work, work from early till late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Prayer was not an extra thing on his to-do list but something, which made the long list of tasks achievable. This is the kind of reversal we need – to see prayer as a first resort rather than the last. Prayer opens us up to receive God’s graces for the day and wisdom for the situations at hand. The gift of God’s grace makes us feel gratitude, and gratitude gives us a desire to give back. It is hard not to feel compelled towards action when you are filled with gratitude. The more open we are to God in prayer the more we become dependent on God we become, the more we are inspired to love and serve our God. Our dependency breeds energy and fortitude for the tasks at hand. Prayer is not what we do at the end of the day as our energy wanes and we drift off to sleep. Prayer is how we begin the day in order to drive us forward in love and action to our God.
Moses knew how to commune with his Creator. King knew how to commune with his Creator. My grandmother knew how to commune with her Creator. Whether we are world leaders or someone’s grandma, all of us find ourselves, or those we love, in hot water from time to time. And when we do, our first, our very first reaction should be that of communicating with our Creator. A loved one being deployed -prayer. Bad news on the television set - prayer. An argument with a friend - prayer. A difficult conversation at work - prayer. A concern for a child - prayer. A hope for the future – prayer.
Moses gave us an example for how to talk to God first and then respond to the situations at hand. In times of joy, sorrow, anxiety, confusion, and need - God stands ready to hear our prayers. If only we will remember that prayer is a Christian’s secret weapon.
-What are your usual "first resorts"? Who do you call? A friend? A parent?
-How would your day be different if it started in prayer? Could you challenge yourself to start every Monday in prayer for the Summer?
-Read/sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and reflect on prayer as a joyful gift rather than an extra obligation.