A New Beginning
Palm Sunday – 2020 LSB #809
Text – Exodus 34:9-10
And [Moses] said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, & pardon our iniquity & our sin, & take us for your inheritance.” And [God] said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
A NEW BEGINNING
Jimmy Wayne learned never to trust a soul. That’s why he never unpacked his bag. We can’t blame him. Jimmy Wayne never knew his father. His mother spent more time in jail than out of jail. When he was a small child, his mother got out of jail again & took up with a troublemaker again. They loaded Jimmy into the backseat of their Oldsmobile Delta 88.
For a year the car was Jimmy’s home. He learned never to trust a soul. That’s why Jimmy Wayne never unpacked his bag. After living in the back seat of a car for a year, Jimmy Wayne was dumped off at the train depot in Pensacola, Florida. His mother & her boyfriend sped away in their Delta 88. Jimmy Wayne desperately needed a new beginning.
This is the 7th installment in the Book of Exodus called Let My People Go! Today we look at Exodus 34 which is all about a new beginning. After the Golden Calf, Israel’s high priest, Aaron, needs a new beginning. So does Israel. And – most certainly – so do we!
A new beginning is absolutely necessary. Why? If you heard the message last Wednesday, you remember that in Exodus 32 Aaron & the Israelites were faced with a huge crisis. They hadn’t seen Moses for 40 days & 40 nights. Was he dead? Did Moses skip town? Aaron & the Israelites grow impatient so they make a golden calf & they worship it!
Like them or not, in a huge crisis the IRS knows exactly what to do. The IRS Handbook states, & I quote, “During a state of national emergency, the essential functions of the IRS will be as follows; assessing, collecting & recording taxes.” While everyone else panics, the IRS knows exactly what to do! Get our money!
But when faced with the huge crisis of not having Moses, Aaron & the Israelites have no
idea what to do! That’s why they build a golden calf & worship it! What does Moses do when he comes down from Mt. Sinai? Moses smashes the Ten Commandments, grinds up the golden calf, mixes it with water, & makes the people drink it! We pick up the narrative in Exodus 34:1,
“Then Yahweh told Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the 1st ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed.’” (Exodus 34:1) The Ten Commandments have been smashed! So a new beginning is absolutely necessary.
We’re not much different than Aaron & the Israelites, are we? What do we do when faced with a crisis? We turn to our golden calves & look to them for salvation. Like now, with church services off limits due to social distancing, are we turning to God, such as through live-stream services? Or, are you telling yourself “I’ll get back to church when this is all over?”
God – the holy & righteous & perfect God – Yahweh has every right to dump us off at a train depot in Pensacola, FL & ride off into the sunset. But He does not! Our God doesn’t do that! A new beginning is totally possible: “Then Yahweh came down in a cloud & stood there with him & called out the name Yahweh” (Exodus 34:5).
Yahweh frequently comes down in the book of Exodus. In 3:8, Yahweh came down in the burning bush. At 19:20, Yahweh came down on Mt. Sinai. In 40:34, Yahweh came down to fill the tabernacle with His cloud & His glory. Get it? We can’t go up to God. That’s why God comes down to us, right where we are – in the basement of our broken commandments.
And what does God do when He comes down? Scold us? Shame us? Berate us? Reject us? Condemn us? No! God cries out, “Yahweh! Yahweh! The compassionate & gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast-love & faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, & removing wickedness, rebellion & sin.” A new beginning is totally possible! That new beginning begins with a compassionate God.
The word in Hebrew (rachum) is closely related to the Hebrew word for a mother’s womb (rechem). The idea of compassion, then, expresses the emotional connection that a mother has for a child in her womb. That’s how God feels about you! The Flamingos, in 1959, got it right. God says, “My love must be a kind of blind love. I only have eyes for you!”
Our new beginning begins with a God who is slow to anger. If He were quick to anger, His compassion wouldn’t last a second in my life. If God shot rockets of wrath every time I sinned, I’d be blown to smithereens. But God shouts from Sinai, “I am slow to anger!” So our new beginning begins with a Father who is abounding in steadfast love.
“Abounding” announces that God’s steadfast love is not limited. God is like the federal government. Whenever there’s a need, He just prints off more steadfast love! But there is a difference! God has an infinite treasury of steadfast love to cover all the currency He prints. God’s infinite resources of steadfast love will never run out! God go bankrupt? Never! Ever!
Removing wickedness, rebellion & sin is another way that our new beginning begins with God. There are only three Hebrew words for sin & God uses all three right here. Why is that? To show that He removes every type of sin. There are no categories of unforgivable sins. Yahweh removes wickedness, rebellion & sin.
“Wickedness” means twisted depravity. It means we are crooked & bent. Rebellion refers to treason against our covenant King – Yahweh. “Sin” means to miss the mark. The Ten Commandments are the bull’s eye. We take aim & miss them far too often. Yahweh removes wickedness, rebellion & sin. Where does He put all of it? That brings us to Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey on a Sunday because the following Friday He’s going to lift up the huge mess & place it where? Jesus will shoulder it Himself – all wickedness, rebellion & sin! Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh:
“…the compassionate & gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast-love & faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands & removing wickedness, rebellion & sin.” Jesus teaches this love. He lives this love. Jesus demonstrates this love by shedding His blood on the cross for you. Palm Sunday announces it. Good Friday shows it. Easter Sunday celebrates it!
One day, while aimlessly walking around Pensacola, little Jimmy Wayne spotted a man named Russ working in his garage. Soon Russ & his wife Bea invited Jimmy to live with them. The home was like heaven! A hot bath, hot meals, & even television! Jimmy Wayne, though, had learned never to trust a soul. Jimmy Wayne still would not unpack his bag.
The new beginning is entirely optional. We can refuse to unpack our bag. We can reject divine love. You & I can be callous & aloof, but that’s not Moses! “Moses immediately threw himself to the ground & worshiped” (Exodus 34:8).
I invite you to follow the lead of Moses. Trust that God is who He says He is. Repeat “Yahweh, Yahweh” until it surpasses the voices of fear & shame or guilt & blame! Throw yourself before Yahweh!
To put it another way, be a sponge & not a rock. If you put a rock in the ocean, what happens? Its surface gets wet, but the inside of the rock stays untouched. Yet, if you place a sponge in the ocean, what happens? It absorbs water. The ocean saturates the sponge.
God’s abounding steadfast-love surrounds you & I like an ocean! Palm Sunday – Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter Sunday. Totally amazing! What is your response? Rock or sponge? Jimmy Wayne had been rejected so many times that he was much more like a rock – a hard, unmoved rock. We get that. We really do. That’s why Jimmy had never unpacked his bag. It took another month before Russ & Bea convinced Jimmy that their love for him was real. So finally, finally – Jimmy Wayne unpacked his bag!
He is now a famous country music singer & songwriter. But his new beginning began when he learned to trust – when he finally unpacked his bag. His songs speak of his past & of his new beginning, like he really lived them.
It’s Palm Sunday! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Our past is behind us. God’s grace is before us. A new beginning awaits us. So now what? Even in this time of a coronavirus pandemic it is still time to unpack our bag! Why do that? Because we finally have a home. Where? With Jesus! And heaven will be a totally new beginning. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet