**sermon art: The Golden Calf (2001) Oil on canvas by John Bradford (9’ X 14’)
Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 11, 2020
[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings; find the Matthew reading at end of sermon]
Exodus 32:1-14 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “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.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 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.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with 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 consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Philippians 4:1-8 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Anybody else here struggling with pandemic brain? I can’t say that pandemic brain is an actual term coined by anyone else beyond me. But you may recognize it as a higher tendency for your mind to wander, not as efficient as you once were, less patient with yourself and others, more tired than warranted by the amount of sleep you’re getting. There are likely a slew of other ways you’re experiencing pandemic brain. I’d like to go after a big one that I’m pretty sure is fairly widespread – anxiety…[cue foreboding music].
Our culture has pathologized anxiety to an extreme – as if we need any more help feeling anxious about feeling anxious. Here’s one gem of good news this week, anxiety is normal. At least a certain amount of anxiety is normal. It’s a normal function of the part of our brain called the limbic system, the part that processes our emotions. We don’t do high level processing there. We simply react. It’s where fight-or-flight happens. It’s the part of our brain that keeps us alive without having to think about it. Emotions clue us into whether we feel afraid, or safe, or worried, or loved. Higher level processing takes place in the grey matter of our brain called the cortex. This is where we think, learn, and process our emotions, about the information our emotions give us.
Okay, neuroscience lesson over but why am I giving it? Well, for starters, it’s timely to World Mental Health Day on October 10. It’s also timely to our current world moment. Most people I talk to are dealing with some level of anxiety spiraling in the wrong direction. Anxiety caused by events deeply personal and close to home or anxiety linked to everything going on in the world. One thing about anxiety is that it can fool us into thinking that we’re thinking but we’re not thinking, we’re just using a lot of words as we react.
Let’s take the Israelites in the Bible story from Exodus today. We’ve been following their story over the last couple of months starting with their oppression under Pharaoh, the birth of Moses, the call of the Lord to Moses to set his people free, their daring escape, their complaining in the wilderness, and now they’re at the base of Mt. Sinai up which Moses has disappeared to listen to God. They’re a traumatized people fleeing and fighting for their survival. Apparently, he was gone too long for their comfort and they did not know what had become of him (v1). They gathered around Aaron, a priest and also Moses’ brother, demanding that he make gods for them. The Hebrew word “to gather” might be better translated as to “gather against.” Aaron was under pressure from the people to do what they asked. Probably feeling anxious about his own survival, he complied with their demand and made a golden calf around which the people first made sacrifices and then they ate, drank, and rose up to revel. They partied. And the Hebrew word translated as “revel” means that they partied hard. The Israelites were stressed. They’d escaped slavery in Egypt, meandered in the wilderness, and now Moses was delayed in coming down the mountain. More than a few of us can probably appreciate their need to blow off some steam, drink away their troubles, and fall asleep without worrying about their leader. Who can blame them for binding their anxiety to the things that feel good.
“Binding the anxiety” is an expression that I learned from my therapist who I now see online about once a month whether I need it or not. These regular mental health tune-ups do a world of good in a world that isn’t always good. One of the things I’ve learned is that the anxiety we feel for all kinds of reasons finds a way to bind to things that make us feel better. These things run the gamut of good, bad, and ugly so subtly that we unconsciously sweet talk ourselves with them. We often leave our anxiety binds unexamined because the status quo is much easier than figuring out what IS good for us. We could invite our friends who’ve been through recovery with Alcoholics Anonymous to teach us a thing or two about binding anxiety with a perilous status quo. But there are lots of ways to bind anxiety that fly under the social radar. I bet if I polled all of you listening about what you bind your anxiety to that we’d come up with a fairly comprehensive list of how well we fool ourselves as well as healthy good options that are actually in our best interest.
Whether it’s the Israelites in the Exodus story, or the violent king in the parable in the gospel of Matthew, or Paul’s feuding co-workers of the gospel – Euodia and Syntyche, there are examples aplenty in today’s Bible readings to provoke us into difficult questions about our behavior and faith. On the heels of World Mental Health day, there’s no time like the present to pause, think, self-examine, talk with trusted friends and therapists, reflect, pray, and repeat. Especially because over the next few weeks, the political, economic, and pandemic news as well as personal household stressors will increase the anxiety that highjacks our higher-level thinking and highjacks who we’re called to be as Jesus followers.
We’re called to gratitude, rejoicing, prayer, and in those activities “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus.” And in our Augustana community of faith, as in the church at Philippi, we help each other understand ourselves and our neighbors as beloved so that we can hear the things that Jesus followers are encouraged to do. Let’s listen to those verses one more time:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and receive and heard and seen…and the God of peace will be with you.”
The good news is that we have a Savior who was bound, battered, and thrown into the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth – on a hill, far away, on an old rugged cross. A few chapters beyond the today’s parable in Matthew is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. During the events leading up to his crucifixion, through the crucifixion itself, we are told of one who is tossed out. The one who is silent in the face of challenge, the one who is mocked for being in the wrong clothes, the one who is bound hand and foot, the one who is hung on a cross where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, the one who is forsaken, the one who hangs under a sign announcing his kingship, and the one who is finally announced as God’s Son.
Jesus knows threat, trauma, and fear because the lies of powerful people were exposed by his message of justice, peace, grace, love, and faith. Our Savior frees us to be honest about our fragile anxieties and yokes us to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can speak the truth of our failures while also seeing the way out of an empty tomb into healing and new life not only for ourselves, but in support of each other too, pandemic brains and all. There are big and small ways to take a step towards mental health. The first step is an honest accounting of our personal moment. As Christians, we’re encouraged to do that anyway. The second is to reach out, talk it through with trusted people, and make a plan that holds us accountable to thinking on honorable, just, and commendable things while binding our anxieties to a cross and a Savior that promises hope and life in the here and now. Thanks be to God and amen.
Song after the sermon; ELW 362 At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing
1 At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
praise to our victorious king,
who has washed us in the tide
flowing from his wounded side.
2 Praise we Christ, whose love divine
gives his sacred blood for wine,
gives his Body for the feast —
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.
3 Where the paschal blood is poured,
death’s dread angel sheathes the sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
through the wave that drowns the foe.
4 Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
paschal victim, paschal bread;
with sincerity and love
eat we manna from above.
 For brief and surprisingly thorough one-minute videos about this anatomy, check out “The Triune Brain: at https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/the-triune-brain/
 World Federation for Mental Health https://wfmh.global/world-mental-health-day-2020/
 Vanessa Lovelace, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary, PA. Commentary of Exodus 32:1-14 for October 11, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4611
 Today’s Bible readings: Exodus 32:1-14, Philippians 4:1-9, and Matthew 22:1-14
 For my full sermon on this parable and line of thought go here: http://caitlintrussell.org/2014/10/12/matthew-221-14-a-haunted-house-and-a-flashlight-or-of-a-king-and-a-son-and-a-thrown-out-one/
 Matthew 26:63
 Matthew 27:28,
 Matthew 27:31b
 Matthew 27:33
 Matthew 27:46
 Matthew 27:37
 Matthew 27:54
Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”