In the parable, the guests refuse the king’s invitation. Sometimes we do that. God invites us to rejoice in Him, and we just turn away.
But other times, it seems like we are waiting and waiting for the invitation to arrive, and it never seems to come. We long to hear God’s voice. But God is slow to speak.
That is what we see in our Old Testament reading.
We are working through the story of Moses, probably the greatest figure in the entire Old Testament.
Moses’ story has two main parts.
First, Moses leads his people out of slavery in Egypt. That part of the story is action-packed.
But our readings mostly come from the second part of Moses’ story, when things slow down. Moses leads the people to Mount Sinai, where he received God’s law. This morning, we hear what the people were doing while Moses was receiving the law.
It is not good. The people demand that Aaron make gods for them to follow. Aaron makes two golden calves and says that they are the gods who brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt.
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction to this reading is to think that this was an astonishingly stupid and faithless people. How, I think to myself, could they possibly believe that little statues helped them escape from slavery? How could they turn away from the God who has just done such incredibly impressive miracles in their presence?
But this story is not recorded so that we can laugh at the poor fools in it and congratulate ourselves on how much wiser and more faithful we are. This story is recorded to hold up a mirror for us so that we can see ourselves a little more clearly.
So where do the ancient Hebrews go wrong? It starts in the first line of our reading. “[T]he people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain.”
Now, we know from our reading last Sunday that God has just finished giving Moses the Ten Commandments. Moses is all set to come down the mountain. The people only need to wait a little longer.
But the people have waited as long as they can bear to wait. That is why they turn to an idolatry that looks stupid to us. But let’s put ourselves in their place.
The Hebrews had a hard time in Egypt, but at least Egypt was familiar. Following Moses, they have left that familiar life behind. Ahead of them, so they are told, is the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. In the Promised Land, they will be able to establish a new and a better life.
But for now they are stuck in the desert, between the life they knew and the life they want. For now, they are nowhere. And they are going nowhere. Moses has been gone for forty days while they just wait. And they have no idea how much longer the wait might be.
Think about the last time you got stuck in traffic. Now think about being stuck there for forty days! I would have been asking for new leadership after about fifteen minutes. Forget about Moses and his God. Give me a god and a prophet who will get me where I want to go!
We want to do God’s will. We just need to know what God’s will is. So we wait. We wait for a message to come, for God to send a servant with an invitation pointing us to where God wants us to go, leading us into God’s heavenly banquet. In those times, we are like the Hebrews waiting at the foot of the mountain, unsure if Moses will ever come down, unsure if God will ever give us direction.
And in that uncertainty, we, like them, can do strange and foolish things.
As many of you know, I was a teacher. That was great. Now I am a priest, and that is great. But in between, there were a couple of years when I wasn’t sure what I was being called to do, and that was not great at all. That was my wilderness time. I needed God’s direction. And I hated waiting for it to come.
During those years, I considered lots of options. At one point, I thought God was calling me to be a plumber. If you have ever seen me try to fix anything, you will know that was foolish. God was calling me to be a priest, not a plumber. But I couldn’t hear God’s call. And after a while I almost quit waiting.
For whatever reason, God sometimes makes us wait. God didn’t have to keep Moses on the mountain for forty days. God could have produced the entire law in an instant and sent Moses on his way. Then the Hebrews would never have become impatient and the whole golden calf thing would never have happened.
But God made them wait. And God sometimes makes us wait.
The mistake the Hebrews made, the mistake that we make too, is to move forward before we really know what God is calling us to do. We build our own version of golden calves. We accept simple answers to complicated problems. We choose short-term solutions for long-term challenges. We are not comfortable waiting, so we rush to act and ignore God’s will for us.
I am more and more persuaded that one of the hardest spiritual practices for us today is simply waiting, waiting for the Lord to speak in God’s own time, waiting for God to speak in a way that we can hear.
I recently met with Bishop Scruton to talk about becoming more conscious of God’s presence in my life. I confessed that I often dashed from task to task so quickly that I failed to listen for God’s guidance. I told Bishop Scruton that I had decided to pause between tasks, just for a second, to acknowledge God.
With his customary wisdom, Bishop Scruton told me that pausing even for a second would probably be too hard for me. I fear he was right.
Instead Bishop Scruton suggested that I use meal times to practice slowing down. If I am not eating with someone, I typically read while I eat. Bishop Scruton told me not to read, to just sit there, eating, waiting, listening.
I tried it this week, so I can officially say that it is horrible! But I plan to stick with it because I believe it will help me get a little better at waiting. And the next time I am wrestling with a question about what God is calling me to do, just maybe I’ll be a little more patient, a little better at waiting until I hear God speak.
This week, I invite you to take a few minutes to do something similar. Be intentional about waiting for God, and see how it goes.
Simple practices like pausing at mealtime can help prepare us for the wilderness times, the times when we do not know what to do, the times when we just have to wait.
Then we can hear God’s call when it does come. We can answer God’s invitation. We can enjoy God’s heavenly banquet, now and forever.
For God’s invitation, and for the grace to wait for it, I give thanks to God. In the name of Christ, our heavenly bridegroom. Amen.