Golden Calves (Brad Childs)

Worship on the LORD’s Day
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
10:00 am Sept 11, 2022
Onsite & Online (Mixed Presence) Gathering
as a Worshipping Community led by the Rev. Bradley Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia   Vocalist: Glynnis McCrostie
Elder: Jane de Caen

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our LORD Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.

Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Call to Worship
L: As we gather, let us welcome one another as God welcomes each one of us.
(Exchange the peace of Christ)
P: It is not always easy to feel welcome in a world full of barriers
P: Barriers to gender
P: Barriers to social class
P: Barriers to age
P: Barriers to race and nationality
L: Let us rejoice in our God who breaks down these barriers so that all are welcome.

Opening praise: Everlasting God

Prayers of approach and confession (Unison)
Shepherding God,
What a blessing it is to come to worship you this morning!
Here we discover your true character, and your greatest hopes for the world.
Here we find that we are sought after and welcomed, loved and forgiven,
and invited to rest in your care.
Let this hour of worship fill us with grace,
renewing us and transforming us,
so that we are made ready to go out into the world again.
Move among us.
Lord God,
We come to worship today, and the week just past falls away behind us.
We know that there were mistakes and failures,
stresses and worries, disappointments, and poor choices.
We didn’t follow the ways of your son exactly like we meant to.
We didn’t love others as well as we could have.
Forgive all the ways that our lives did not reflect your love and mercy.
And set us free into forgiveness so we can start again with blank slate.
In the power of your grace and in the knowledge of your redeeming love set us free.  And let us know it with every fiber of our being.
Storytelling God,
we gather in your presence this day,
called by the stories of your people over the centuries.
You are the source of wisdom we seek,
Your mercy eases the troubles that stir our hearts.
And we come to praise you,
for your stories have the power to challenge us and change us.
Draw near to us as we draw near to you this day.
Tell us the stories that will change our lives,
through the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now we pray in unison together
We gather in Jesus’ name to hear the
stories he told, to gain wisdom and to
know your Spirit’s guidance. Yet we
confess that pride prevents us from
hearing the good news and we resist
the power of your WORD to change us.
Forgive what we have been, help us
amend who we are and set us free to be
who you have called us to be.

Response: We come to ask your forgiveness, O God

Assurance of God’s forgiveness

1 John 1:9   (Unison):  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our errors and purify us from all that stains us.  Do you believe these words of the Bible. I hope so. Because it says, if you have truly confessed. You are forgiven in Christ. Amen.

We listen for the voice of God

Children’s time

Gradual: Open our eyes, LORD (445)

Story: Superheroes, Superman, Costumes, Shield, Sword, Shoes

Ephesians 6: 10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s WORD is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

19-20 And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

10 Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the LORD’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (The Message)


The LORD’s Prayer (535 or 469)

Transition music

Song: Lead on, O King Eternal (742)

Today’s Message

Scripture readings: Exodus 32:7-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10  (NRSV)

Response: Behold the Lamb of God

Message: “Golden Calves”

Is this golden calf story familiar to most people here? Are you sure?

On September 4th, 1807, Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society was the Modern Worlds first Protestant missionary to China. Morrison himself was an impressive man with an almost impossible mission. With a deep love for mankind and an intense desire to see the Gospel preached in China, Morrison remains today a figure of great dispute. Loved by many, Robert Morrison spent 12 years learning and then reproducing the entire Bible in Cantonese.

Morrison also compiled the extremely important Chinese/English dictionary which remains today one of the most important pieces of translational history ever to be produced.

Robert worked diligently for his God, but that does not mean that everything he ever did was done properly or that things came to their most desired end.

You see, early on in his career, Morrison translated from various section of the bible. After sections were completed, he would then make hundreds of copies, fold them into tiny boats and launch them down the rivers (like tiny Moses in his basket) in the hopes that someone might find them and read them.

After recovering several different portions of scripture on the banks (including small sections of Matthew, Exodus and parts of Leviticus), Hong (Wi-Jan) become obsessed with these scriptures and created a kind of Qusi-Christian movement. His group grew quickly. They were called the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace.

But that is not what they were.

Soon they had traveled all over southern China.

The theocratic and (?)militaristic(?) regime instituted several social reforms, including great things like the abolition of slavery, (questionable things like) the socialization of land, and (not great things like) the replacement of Confucianism (by forced conversion with his new religion). Hong, feeling fully dedicated to his interpretation of the texts declared himself a “new messiah and younger brother to Jesus”.

The rebellion was eventually put down by the Qing (Ching) army aided by French and British forces but not before the death toll had reached just over 20 million people (more than three times the number killed in the Holocaust).

Today the Tai-ping Rebellion is recorded as being the 5th largest war in all of known history, but it began with tiny pieces of paper with bible passages written on them, floating down the rivers.

Never before had the children of Abraham been so privileged. They had just been liberated; set free after 400 years of slavery. Their nation was being born. God had done great things for them. God had promised to be with them and to lead them. He would provide food for them in the desert and water for them where no water could be found. He promised them a home. And most importantly he began a relationship with them. He said, “I will be your God and you will be my people.

And then God called for Moses.

Moses went up the mountain for 40 days which may be an exact number and may not be. In Hebrew using the number 40 is a figure of speech for “a really long time”. And so, the people were getting fidgety. In their impatience and forgetfulness, they turned to Aaron (who is Moses’ biological brother) to create a god/gods for them.

And thus, we have the sad tragedy of the golden calf.

Now there is a lot going on here.

The people have no idea where their leader is so they go to Aaron and ask for him to make them a god. Next everyone (male and female) hand over their golden earrings.  And Aaron when offered them takes their jewelry to fashion for them an god. Now slaves don’t really have this kind of stuff. So, this is most certainly plunder that the Hebrews had stolen from their former masters when they fled from Egypt.

Next Aaron carves a wooden calf and plates it with the gold.

Now it may be that this calf has something to do with a god worshiped in ancient Egypt called Pis. Pis was a bull god worshiped at the time. But really Pis is a Bull and not a calf. Still some people believe that the Hebrew people had reverted back to a former god they used to worship. But that is quite unlikely.

So why make a golden calf? Well, the single most commonly found idols in the ancient world from this time period are calves and bulls. The fact is, it was a common practice (when the people didn’t know exactly what their god might look like) that they would make for their god an animal to act as a chair for the god to sit upon. In fact, even the ark of the covenant (containing the ten commandments and Arron’s staff) has two bird like creatures on it’s top, with out-stretched wings forming what was called the “mercy seat”. The ark was for God to sit on.

The calf is almost certainly the same thing. When Moses did not return with YHWH (the Lord) the people wanted Aaron to make a chair for Him as a welcoming gift, so that god would be enticed to come and sit with them. They wanted more than anything to be with the god/gods who brought them out of Egypt. In other words, it less likely that they are worshiping some foreign God and much more likely that they are desperately trying to thank our very same God.

I’m going to ask you to open your pew bibles to check something out on page 78 (New Revised Standard Version).

Now in the Bible there are a lot of different ways that God is described. He is called Elohim quite a bit. When this word appears in English translations, they write the word “god” or “gods” (it’s both singular and plural).

But the word Elohim (“god/s”) could really refer to any god or gods in addition to our own.

There is also a very special word for God that appears in the Hebrew Bible. It’s described as being the “actual name of God” given to Moses at the burning bush. (When we are told not to take the Lord’s name in vain. This word is the name that we’re to not take in vain.)

This word thought now to be pronounced YaHWeH (and which was previously wrongly pronounced “Jehovah”) is the personal name of God given to Moses.

Why is this important? Well, it’s because whenever this word (YHWH) appears in the Hebrew Bible it can only mean one thing (the God of Moses). Y… H… W… H…  can never mean anything else. And whenever it appears in English translations of the Bible, they write it in all Capital letters… with a larger “L” and a smaller “ord” but still in all capitals “Lord” (so that English readers will know that this word is YHWH the personal name of God).

Okay so on page 78 verse 4, it says, He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “these are your Elohim who brought you up out of Egypt.” And in response to this in verse 5 it says that when Aaron sees the golden calf completed, he builds an alter in front of it and says, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to… who? The Lord.” YHWH the personal God of Israel!!!

And the people are cool with this. There is no disagreement. They get up the next day and prepare offerings and worship. Why? Because they think that YHWH is the Elohim who brought them up out of Egypt and the one they made the calf for. They do not believe they are doing anything wrong. They think they are doing exactly what their God wants them to be doing.

And so, they get up the next day and they sacrifice offerings together to YHWH the Lord.

And then it gets worse.

After this, the scripture says that they eat, drink and indulge in “revelry.”

What is that? Essentially this Hebrew word suggests a massive orgy. This is the “festival to the Lord,” our Elohim. And the people believe they are worshiping our God by this.

Now again I’m going to say that a lot is going on here.

For example, the people break the first two commandments in this act (which had just been given to them). In Exodus 20:2 God starts the ten commandments off with these words, “I am the Lord (YHWH) YOUR God (Elohim) who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other (Elohim) Gods before me. You shall make no graven images.

Now at this point God sends Charlton Heston (in the movie The Ten Commandments) down the mountain to stop the chaos. Moses smashes the tablets, and the people feel remorse and turn back to God. Right? And that’s how it all ends.

Well, not so much.

This is probably the story most of us know. But it keeps going.

Next there is a strange parental argument. In response Moses starts arguing with God and calling the people YHWH’s people.

Like a mother saying, “those are your kids” when they are bad, and a father responding, “no they’re Your kids,” God and Moses go back and forth.  If you would please follow along once more on page 78 from verse 7-14 with me…

Verse 7 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. (I DON”T WANT THESE KIDS ANYMORE) “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “LORD,” YHWH he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom YOU brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

And that is where the prescribed reading for the church ends. But what happens next? 

The people are safe. God has been calmed down.

But then Moses goes down the mountain and when he sees what has been going on with his own eyes, he is perhaps angrier than God seemed to be. And so, he takes the tablets of the 10 commandments, and he breaks them in half in the same way that the Hebrews have broken the laws behind them already. In modern terms the ink wasn’t yet dry on the marriage licence before the people cheated on their God. As a result, Moses literally tears up the contract.

Now things are about to get very messy.

Once more I would like you to open your bibles… this time it’s at the top of page 83? Exodus 32:20 And I suspect this is the part of the story most people aren’t all that familiar with.

Moses took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

The famous Rabbi Ramban around the year 1250 (AD/CE) suggests that by making the people drink the water with powdered ashes of the calf this is the symbolic act that degrades this ungodly thing (the idol) to how God saw it in the first place – to what will soon be – human waste.

But did God ask Moses to do that?

And it gets worse.

Next Moses asks for all the innocent people to come forward and the Levites step up. And in verse 27 it says, (and you might want to read along with me here) Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’”

And again, I ask you… Did God actually say that?

Verse 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

Moses puts words in God’s mouth that God hasn’t actually said (at least as far as we have any proof). And although the Lord YHWH had already been persuaded to “relent” as shown in V14 where it says “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. Moses still wants to punish the wrong doers.

It is important to note that while Moses claims this act in God’s name there is no evidence that this is the case. If fact I would argue that the opposite is true, God rejects Moses’ attempt to appease his anger. In verse 20 Moses goes back up the mountain and offers his own life as well and God says, no I am the judge, not you.

In John Durham’s beautiful commentary on the book of Exodus he states, “As Moses’ first response, upon hearing what Israel has done, is to plead with Yahweh to spare the lives of Israel; his second response, upon seeing what Israel is doing, is outraged anger… and to bring Israel under control by the slaughter of a large number of them. In contrast, Yahweh’s first response is anger, his second response is mercy.

Robert Morrison believed that he was doing everything he could to worship his Lord… but he accidentally ended up fashioning a golden calf. I believe that Hong (Wi-Jan) of the Tai-ping wars in China believed that he was worshiping his Lord but he had really made of himself a golden calf. I believe the Israelites were attempting to worship the very same YHWH Elohim that they declared had brought them up out of Egypt, but they just ended up with a golden calf.  And I think Moses thought he was worshiping his God by the slaughter of these 3000 people, but it turns out that wasn’t really what God wanted either.

Today we live in a world filled to the brim with golden calves. People doing and saying all kinds of things in the name of God that ultimately would not please Him. People that believe they are worshiping the Father… but really who have actually fashioned for themselves golden calves.

We see them everywhere we turn. And while it’s easy to see it cases of religious extremists, the saddest thing about golden calves, is that while we all seem to have no trouble finding them in everyone else’s lives, we can never seem to find them in our own. And that’s just it. That is what makes them golden calves. We think what we’re doing is right.

And so, I leave you this morning with this thought… What might you say or do or believe in the name of God that does not please him? What might be your golden calves?

Song: LORD Jesus, you shall be my song (665)

We respond to serve God

Reflection on giving: We have been giving faithfully since the beginning of the pandemic and we are committed to continuing the ministry and mission that define Dayspring – using the various ways described on the screen and in Dayspring Weekly News. Thank you all for your support of our shared vision and mission. For those in the sanctuary, if you have offering envelopes with you, simply put them in the offering plate at the back of the sanctuary as you leave the service today.

Prayer of gratitude

Lord God, receive our gifts offered in a spirit of generosity and humility. Bless and use them for the work that you long to do in the world in Jesus name. Amen.

Response: Now thank we all, our God

Prayer for others and ourselves
Ever seeking God,
we come before you in prayer,
for you have sought us out and claimed us as your own.
Thank you showing us how we are precious to you
through the life and love of Jesus Christ.
In our prayers we name before you other precious souls and situations.
With your Spirit, seek them out:
God of mercy,
P: Draw near to all who need you.

We pray for those who feel lost in life:
those who are frightened or anxious,
those who are struggling with addiction or mental illness,
and those who are lonely or dispairing:
(Silent pause for 10 seconds)
May your reassurance and comfort find them.
God of mercy,
P: Draw near to all who need you.

We pray for those who have wandered away:
for those separated from their families by conflict or distance;
for those whose relationship with the church is broken or forgotten;
and for those who have given up on the future in despair.
(Silent pause for 10 seconds)
May your healing and mercy find them.
God of mercy,
P: Draw near to all who need you.

We pray for those who feel forgotten:
for those who think that they are worthless or unloved;
for those who believe that their sins are too great to forgive;
and for those who are convinced that not even God can love them.
(Silent pause for 10 seconds)
May your love and grace find them.
God of mercy,
P: Draw near to all who need you.

Ever watchful God,
you keep seeking out wandering sheep and lost coins,
lives of all who are precious to you.
Thank you for your attentive love
and your patient compassion for us all.
May we rejoice with you when any lost soul is embraced,
and never substitute our judgment of them for yours.
Make us servants of the mercy we meet in Jesus Christ. Amen

Song: You are Holy, you are whole (828)

Sending out with God’s blessing

Jude 2424 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

Response: God to enfold you

Music postlude


Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accORDance with the specifications of Dayspring licensing with One Licence (3095377 and CLC (A735555).

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2022) on all original material presented by him. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material presented that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

Posted in Recent Sermons.