15And Moses went up onto the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16And the glory of YHWH settled over Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days, and on the seventh day God called from within the cloud. 17And the appearance of the glory of YHWH was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the Israelites. 18And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain, and Moses was on the mountain for forty days and nights. — Exodus 24:15-18
Between Exodus 24 and the end of Exodus 32 is a remarkable story, and I plan to look at just one element of that story. I think there is a lesson in it for us today.
In chapter 24 we have Moses going up on Mount Sinai where God will speak to him and provide him with information on how Israel is to worship, and how they are to build a tabernacle. We get some element of these instructions in chapters 25-31. In chapter 32 the Israelites rebel and make the golden calf, because they think their leader has been gone too long and they are ready to replace him.
What happened in there? It’s pretty simple. They got impatient. Moses was the one who had led them out of Egypt. He was the one who had led them to Mt. Sinai. He was the one who talked to God and got instructions. He directed the fight against their enemies. All in all, Moses could be called the perfect pastor. Nothing fell to the ground while he was in leadership. The people liked that most of the time.
But now Moses went up on the mountain and there he stayed. And stayed. And stayed. What could he possibly be doing? He should be down here holding religious services, visiting the sick and the elderly, preaching sermons, and generally taking care of us spiritually and physically.
Imagine whatever committee or group in your church that is responsible for working with the pastor. In United Methodist churches, there’s the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, or SPR. I can imagine a meeting of the Israelite SPR committee somewhere after the 35th day. â€œWhere is Moses?â€ â€œHe’s missed five Sundays!â€ â€œHe didn’t visit my sick mother.â€ â€œThis isn’t what we agreed to when we signed on to follow him out of Egypt.â€ And on and on it would go.
Meanwhile, up on the mountain, Moses is busy listening to God, while down below the Israelites are getting ready to make a golden calf. At least they had Aaron. They could all follow him and get this all settled in a hurry!
I think you get the picture. Now consider Moses on the mountain. He spends seven days in God’s presence before God even speaks to him. Then he’s up there in this cloud of God’s glory, getting instructions. He’s going to come down the mountain so filled with God that his face will frighten people.
Would you like it if your pastor did that? Suppose your pastor came before the church with an announcement. â€œI’m going to spend the next forty days fasting and praying. Somebody else is going to have to preach. Somebody else is going to have to visit people. I’m going to do nothing but listen for what the Lord has to say.â€ Would you be OK with that? Would your church’s SPR committee (or your denominational equivalent) agree that this was good use of his time?
And if he did get away, would you begin fashioning a modern sort of golden calf, by creating a replacement power structure in the church, seeing as the pastor was gone.
Do you think maybe we should arrange more time for our pastors to just listen to God?