Microwaved Faith


Readings: Exodus 32:1-14 and Philippians 4:4-9


In our house we love sweet potatoes.  The things that you can do with a sweet potato are endless.  You can cut them up and bake them with a little olive oil and some seasoning.  You can slice them and fry them like French fries.  You can make mashed sweet potatoes or sweet potato pie or sweet potato pudding or any of a number of sweet potato casseroles.  A week or so ago I made a great lentil stew with sweet potatoes.  The options are almost endless, but as many options as are available, the choice that we come back to most often is your basic baked sweet potato.  You know the kind.  All you have to do is poke a few holes in the potato so it doesn’t blow up and bake it.  Add a little butter and some brown sugar and you have a tasty and healthy treat.

The only problem is that baking a sweet potato takes 45 minutes in the oven and, frankly, my schedule does not allow time to wait 45 minutes for my quick baked sweet potato.  Enter the microwave.  A few minutes on one side; a few minutes on the other side and viola! Baked sweet potato without a 45-minute wait.  To be honest with you, I don’t think I have ever waited 45 minutes to bake a sweet potato.  In fact, I had to look up the recipe to find out how long it takes to bake a sweet potato in the oven, because in my mind the answer to the question of “how long do you need to bake a sweet potato?” is “too long!”  I am not the only one who has been train to want what I want now.

The Fast Food industry has capitalized on this—as Burger King says, “get it your way, right away.”  We live in a microwave culture.  But, any cook can tell you that there are some things that just do not do well in the microwave.  In fact most things taste better if you give them the time they need to cook right and some things are just a disaster if you try to cook them quickly in the microwave—pulled pork comes to mind.

My point in all of this has little to do with sweet potatoes or pulled pork and much to do with our culture today and how we live.  We live in an instant gratification society where we want everything now.  From the comfort of my office in the parsonage, I can go on the internet and order a bushel of sweet potatoes or some new electronic gizmo or, as is most often the case with me, the book I am wanting to read.  Then, in 3-5 business days it will be on my doorstep.  If I want to pay extra, I can have just about any product from any corner of this world unwrapped in my living room the next day.  This is the world we live in, and we have been trained that if something requires us to wait, then it just isn’t worth it.  That is what it means to live in a microwave culture.

In our culture we expect everything to come to us at microwave speed, and that includes God, faith, and church.  We have come to think that we should be able to get everything we need from God “our way, right away,” so we give God one hour a week with a little bit more time here and there.  If God takes more time than that, then maybe God isn’t worth the time after all.  We have microwaved our faith, and, if you think pulled pork tastes bad in the microwave, then you don’t want to live with microwaved faith.

            In Old Testament times they had never heard of a microwave.  The idea of next-day delivery—or even delivery at all—was still hundreds of years in the future.  Even in that time when it took a full 45 minutes to cook your sweet potato, the people still struggled to have the patience needed to grow a robust faith.  Even in those days God did not move fast enough for the people, and as a result they went beyond microwaved faith to do-it-yourself faith—making their own gods.  Let’s look at the story again:

            God has been leading the people of God through the desert with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.  God has been feeding them with bread from heaven and giving water from a rock to drink (Ex 16-17).  God had invited them to come near and speak with him, but the people were scared by the power of God’s presence and hid.  The begged that God would not speak to them, but instead asked that Moses be the one who would go between them and God and bring the word of God to them (See Ex 20:18-21).  So, the people got what the asked for.  God appeared on the mountain in flame and cloud and Moses stepped into the cloud to speak with God.  And then, they waited (Ex 24).  Now for people in today’s microwave culture, we might have given him 30 minutes or even an hour before we began to grow impatient, but not the Israelites.  They waited forty days at the foot of the mountain with no sight of Moses.  The bread from heaven continued and the water was plentiful, but as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into more than a month, their faith faltered, and faith in God gave way to faith in self.  The Israelites decided that if God would not come back down to them on their time-table then they would just go ahead and create a god for themselves that they could control; A god that would do what they wanted him to do.   

Of course, what they made was no god at all but an idol in the image of a golden calf.  The fact that they had replaced the living God with a powerless statue did not stop the Israelites from worshiping the god formed in the image they desired and offering sacrifices to a hunk of reshaped metal.  They managed an entire worship service with a fellowship lunch afterwards and didn’t even notice that the guest of honor—God—was not present.

            Exodus goes on to give us God’s perspective.  When God looks on how the people have replaced him with a shiny statue, these are his words 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!’” (Ex 32:7-8).  From the Israelites view, Moses was probably gone.  They had given up hope because forty days had passed with no sign of him.  They had wanted to follow God, but a forty day waiting period?!?  That was out of the question.  From God’s point of view, things look a little different.  See if you can find the key word here: “they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them.  God was not particularly impressed that they had waited forty days.  God thinks that a forty-day waiting period is quick; and God is not particularly excited about getting traded in for a golden calf in the same way the Israelites might have traded in a used car that was not quite performing the way they wanted.

            You see, God is not interested in microwaved faith.  God does not want people who are willing to wait for God for a day or two or even a week or two.  God is looking for people who are committed to him and are wiling to spend themselves in that commitment, not matter how long we might go between those super-spiritual moments when we know that we have met with God.

Abraham provides us with an incredible example of what it means to follow God.  We call Abraham the “Father of Faith” because of the example that he gave of following after God, but Abraham did not encounter God every forty day—or even every four hundred days for that matter.  Abraham received the call of God at the age of seventy-five.  God called him to pack his bags and head towards the promised land.  This is where we see Abraham’s faith kick in, because he listened to God and picked up his family and his herds and everything he had and headed in the direction God pointed him.  Over the next twenty-five years, scripture only records God speaking to Abraham only a handful of times, but despite God’s absence for years at a time, Abraham remained faithful—and it is Abraham’s faithfulness in the silence that truly makes him the father of faith (Gen 12ff).

A modern day example of this is Mother Theresa.  Mother Theresa was the petite nun who gathered the dying from the streets of Calcutta, India and cared for them and loved them until they passed from this life.  As a young nun, Mother Theresa saw visions of Jesus calling her to care for those who had no one else to care for them, but once she began the work, the visions stopped, and the next fifty years of her life were years of darkness were she did not feel close to God.  She was left waiting at the base of the mountain for God, and for whatever reason God decided to wait until after she died to reveal himself to her again! (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/08/the-dark-night-of-mother-teresa-42)

            Now, fifty years without encountering God’s presence is not the usual way that God works, but those who have spent many more years than me seeking and knowing God are almost unanimous in bearing witness to this truth: following God involves both times of nearness and times of distance.  The life of faith is both those times when we see the pillar of flame leading us forward and those times when Moses has disappeared into the cloud and God is no where in sight.  The times of waiting around the base of the mountain are going to come in our lives, the question is, “how are we going to respond?”

            One option is we can be those who walk in the footsteps of Abraham—who did not have all the details and did not hear from God as often as he would have liked—but he still followed.  Or, we can follow the step of the Israelites around Mount Sinai who decided that the true God was not going to act in the way they wanted, they were just going to follow the god of their own desires.  The end results of those two choices make clear which the better road was. God gave Abraham the son God promised and to Abraham’s descendents, God gave the promised land.  On the other hand, the Israelites spent a wild night in worship of a fake cow and then faced the judgment of the true God from whom they had turned.

            I expect that many of us here have had times when we were near to God.  Times when we knew God’s call and felt God’s presence.  In those times we confessed Christ as our Lord and renewed our commitment to follow.  Those moments are great.  They are fun, and they are important, but more important is how we live between those high points.  God is interested in seeing if we are truly people of faith or if we are only jumping on the Jesus bandwagon when the feeling moves us.  Faith is following God through the night

            Our New Testament reading gives us some tools for how to follow when we are not feeling it.  When God seems near, we have a pretty good idea of how to follow, but when God seems far the instructions that seemed so clear can quickly grow fuzzy.  So, Paul gives us a few pointers:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Even in the dark, we have a lot to celebrate and rejoice over.  A life lived rejoicing keeps us focused on God because we are constantly recognizing what God has done.

 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

When we get frustrated, our gentleness can be the first thing to go, so make up your min that you will be a person committed to gentleness even in those times when you feel like you are groping for the light switch!

 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. Trust in prayer.  Trust that God hears you and will answer you, and trust that God’s answer will come at the right time.  The challenge for our microwaved faith is that the right time is usually not now!  But if you trust that God will respond at the right time, then you can find peace even in darkness because you know that the light will come when you need it.

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.

This may sound simple or even silly, but if you can turn your thoughts towards the things of God, then the rest of you will follow.  If your thoughts are focused on greed, lust, and selfish ambition, then you will most likely live your life in pursuit of those goals.  If you want to follow God in the dark times, you need to be the master of your mind.  It takes practice, but with God’s help, you can get there.  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. (Phil 4:4-9) Keep on.  Keep on.  Keep on!  There are times when our faith feels like it is simply about keeping on with what is right.  If you feel like that today, I hope you will keep on.  God has adundant life for you, but God also has times of darkness where we can learn and grow.  It is in the darkness that we see the places we need to grow and it is there that we can best grow in our faith.

I remember a sermon that I heard many years ago in which the pastor recounted the four times he had gone through a dark place in his life.  Each of those times, God used the darkness to help him see his weaknesses, to teach him and to help him know God more fully.  He said he would go back into that place of darkness in a moment, because he knew that truly learning and growing in faith is more important than feeling God’s presence.

For us here today, my hope is this: wherever you are, keep on.  Follow after the true God, the God who disappears into clouds for week on end and the God who will not be tamed.  Follow that God through the dark times and you will discover that you have traded in a microwaved faith for something that will last—a faith that matters in life and a faith that transforms you to truly be a person of God.  In that place you will find abundant life!

May you grow as that person today and every day.  Amen.