Divided Loyalties

Growing up, one of the things that I looked forward to doing on Sunday afternoons was watching the NASCAR race with my grandfather. After Sunday lunch, I would join him in the TV room to watch whatever race was on. He and I were the only one in our family who liked Dale Earnhardt, so we would rub it in after each win or championship.

Flash forward some twenty-plus years and I still find myself watching the races on Sundays. I even had the opportunity to cover the sport during my journalism career. As I watch NASCAR today, one of the things that I admire about the sport is not the athleticism of the drivers or their ability to make continuous left-hand turns. It is the fact that their is no second-guessing where their loyalties lie.

Their loyalties are right there on their fire suits for all to see. When Kevin Harvick, for instance, is being interviewed, you know there will be references to Chevrolet and Jimmy John’s Sandwiches. There is no denying their loyalties. They wear them everywhere they go.

I wonder what would it look like if we came to church dressed like a stock car driver. Now, I’m not suggesting that we come to church wearing fire suits and helmets. However, I wonder what would it look like if our clothing was adorned with the names of our loyalties so that everyone could see them.

What are the loyalties everyone would see? Would it be our families? Would it be our finances or retirement savings? Would it be our jobs? Would it be our political ideology? Would it be Kentucky basketball? Would it be West Virginia football? What would our loyalties be?

This morning, all of us have various loyalties we bring with us into this time of worship. We want to say that in this time we are completely devoted to God, but we have to be honest with ourselves. All of us lead distracted lives with distracted loyalties that take us away from complete and focused devotion to our Lord. We are pulled in several directions that often leave us distracted in our faith and unsure about what truly brings us hope and salvation.

In this way, we can relate the people of Israel in our passage this morning. Today we conclude our tour through Exodus with, perhaps, the most uncomfortable story yet from Exodus 32:1-14. It is uncomfortable because it is one that hits home. This is the story where we can completely identify with the people of Israel and see ourselves among them. Just like Israel, our distracted focuses or loyalties prevent us from truly worshiping and engaging our God.

We catch up with Israel as they are camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. They are waiting for Moses, who has gone to the mountaintop to receive the law from the Lord. Israel is growing impatient waiting for Moses to return. So, they go to Aaron, Moses’ brother, looking for some help. The help they were looking for was a new god. They had given up on Moses and were not sure when, or if, he was coming back. They tell Aaron that they need someone to guide them and for them to worship, and they need it now.

Aaron responds by telling them to them collect all the gold they amassed as they were preparing to leave Egypt. He tells them to bring the gold to him. Aaron takes the gold and melts it down. The melted gold is then molded into a new image, a new idol, a golden calf. When the people receive it, they begin to worship the idol, claiming that this idol was the one who brought them out of Egypt and would guide them to the Promised Land.

What takes place here is that Israel is supplanting their faith in God with this idol. They have made God into an image that can be worshiped, in violation of the command not to make an idol. In the absence of leadership and in the fear of the unknown, Israel sought something tangible to worship and claim as their god.

This is where we can relate to the story. When we think about our loyalties and the things that claim our attention, we have to ask ourselves what are we seeking out of them. In many cases, the loyalties and focuses of our lives are the places that we go, like Israel, to seek hope, peace, joy, salvation, and love. We know this to be the case by the number of times we have said something like, “If UK wins the championship this year, my life will be fulfilled,” or “If I could just make a little bit more money, then my life would be filled with joy and happiness,” or so many other things.

These are extreme examples, but they are symbolic of what we often seek from the things of this world. We seek from our loyalties and commitments the very things that we find in our relationship with God. In many ways, we go to these things wanting to find salvation, hope, and a new way of life. The sad thing is that we go to these things and often find ourselves disappointed. They can never give us true hope. We are always searching for something more.

The reason is that our loyalties and distracted lives lead into the distance in our relationship with God. When we are distracted in our faith and relationship with God, there comes a void and brokenness in our relationship. That is what Israel begins to experience here. Though they may find momentary joy in their new idol, there is now a growing distance between themselves and God. Their decision to walk towards another loyalty creates distance and breaks God’s heart.

We see that in how God responds to Israel’s action. God is hurt by Israel’s desire to seek redemption from an object instead from the One who gives all life meaning and hope. The distance is there, and the brokenness cannot be overlooked.

All of us have felt that brokenness and void. We know what it is like to feel a distance in our relationship with God, feeling like we are not growing in faith or not completely devoted to the things God desires. In those moments, we must all be reminded that it is not in seeking the distractions of our lives that will bridge this distance and heal the brokenness. No amount of UK basketball wins, no amount of WVU football wins, no amount of money in our checking accounts will ever save us or redeem our lives. No idol can do that which only God can do.

Only God can mend our brokenness and bridge the distance in our relationship with the Lord. We see this in the interaction between God and Moses in the second half of the passage. Moses begins to intercede on behalf of Israel, seeking to remind the Lord of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses is asking God to show grace towards Israel, even though they don’t deserve it, so that they may experience the promises of old.

In this way, then, Moses anticipates the work Christ does in our lives. Jesus came to intercede on our behalf before the Lord. Jesus comes and looks at us and offers grace for each of us. He looks at us and says that even though we get distracted in our lives, even though we have god-like devotion to our loyalties, that the promise of God’s love will never be removed for us. Jesus came, took on himself our sin of disloyalty and distracted living, and offers forgiveness and a new life.

Jesus came to rebuild our relationship with the Lord and help us to be focused in our walk with God so that all the various distractions of life can be put into perspective. As much fun as UK basketball or WVU football can be, they will never save us or redeem our lives. As important as our careers and finances are, they will never offer us true hope and a peace that is beyond all other peace. As amazing as our ideas about life may be, they are never as wonderful as God’s plans and desires for our lives. It is only when we seek to live in faithful obedience with God that the things of our lives become the things that are simply a part of who we are, not the things that define us and or that we think save us.

It is only in seeking Christ’s grace and seeking to live in a relationship with the Lord that we will find a hope that will never fade, a peace that is for all time, a joy that is always present, and a love that is found in the Lord. May we seek to find our salvation, not from the things of this world, but through the One who humbled himself to take on the form of a human so that we may experience true and amazing grace.

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