September 04, 2022
• Rev. Mindie Moore
Exodus 32:1, 7-14
Good morning everyone, my name is Mindie Moore and I’m the Pastor of Adult Discipleship and the Campus Pastor of our soon to be Midtown Campus here at St. Luke’s. And I’m so glad that we can be here together today to continue our Transitions series as today we’re talking about one of the hardest and most important parts of making it through a transition- perseverance. So will you pray with me as we get started?
I don't know if you ever had skating parties when you were in school, but a skating party at Roller Cave was THE social event of my elementary school memory. There was a giant light-up dance floor in the middle, you could request your favorite songs from a real live DJ, there was inexplicably a couples skate...for second graders...it was it- the highlight.
And as a kid, I really wanted to be all about these skate parties, but there was one problem.
I couldn’t skate.
Even now as an adult, I’m a fairly clumsy human and so adding wheels to the situation didn’t seem that wise.
But the elementary school skate party was the whole social scene! So I had to learn, because being stuck out on the light up dance floor all alone while all my friends skated around me was not an option.
Now how many of you can roller skate? Do you remember what it was like to LEARN? It’s an absolutely terrible and humiliating process! And I am both thankful and also a little bit sad that I don’t have a picture of ME learning to skate because it is an image you would not soon forget. I had a helmet, I had knee pads, I had elbow pads, and I had WRIST GUARDS.
I mean, we knew I was going to fall- a lot- so there were some safety measures in place here. But I looked ridiculous. And I did fall. SO. MANY. TIMES.
And after falling for the 500th time, as I was getting really hot and uncomfortable in all of the protective padding, I thought- do I REALLY want to learn how to do this? Is it really that important to go to the skate party? Is the potential of a couples skate really worth it?
I was trying to get from one place- not being able to stand up with wheels attached to my feet, to another- skating circles around Roller Cave. And the space between those two things was...wide. And also long, and slow, and full of bumps and bruises.
And the temptation in that in-between space between falling every time I stood up and just being able to put one foot in front of the other was to stop. To decide that there was no way this was worth it, to take off the elbow pads, and to give up on what I was trying to do.
Because here’s the truth- transitions are hard. Even if it’s a transition we choose, even when we’re transitioning into something really good, there can be loss and pain points and moments where we aren’t sure this new thing is really worth pursuing.
And even as a kid, even when my objective was something as simple as going to Roller Cave, I was learning a lesson that we all learn when we’re in a season of change or growth- I was learning that PERSEVERANCE IS NECESSARY TO MAKE IT THROUGH A TRANSITION. What it looks like to persevere is probably different for each of us, but its so important. Because when we want to give up, when we want to go another way and abandon the change altogether- perseverance is the thing that keeps us anchored to our purpose, and lets us say yes when we want to say no. It lets us:
• Say yes to waiting
• Say yes to getting it wrong and trying again
• Say yes to the bigger vision
We’ve been looking at the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and working their way toward the Promise Land the last couple of weeks, and our story this week, of the Golden Calf, shows us just how perseverance can shape us and how we react to the challenges of change.
When we pick up on the Israelites story today, we find them in what William Bridges, in his book Transitions, calls “the neutral zone.” And I don’t know about you, but that word neutral immediately makes me think of being stuck. You put your car in neutral and floor the gas- doesn't matter, you’re not going anywhere. And that feeling isn’t too far off from how Bridges defines this part of a transition. He says that the Neutral Zone: the in-between time where you hang suspended between what “was and will be” (p.40)
Basically, this is the part of the transition where we wait. And wait and wait and wait some more. And it’s not always pretty when we wait for an extended period of time. We can get impatient, we can want to give up...all the momentum has run out once we hit the neutral zone, and we have to figure out if we’re going to make it to what comes next or if we’re going to bail.
That’s where the Israelites are here- they are tired and frustrated and they are over it! And the longer they’ve been in that space of waiting, they’re starting to drift. They’re forgetting why they are in the wilderness in the first place, their getting grouchy at their leader Moses and They want a better, more efficient connection to God and the next thing that they are going to.
So they do what a lot of us do at this point- they try to take matters into their own hands. For them that looked like demanding that Moses’ brother Aaron make them this golden calf so that they can worship it and get to God on their own terms. They were done waiting, done being stuck, and now it was time for a new plan.
And when I look at the Israelite’s story and what they did here with the golden calf, it highlights what is so hard about the neutral zone of transition- that even though the waiting CAN be spiritually formative and significant, a lot of the time it just drags on. It’s frustrating and we just want it to be over.
And you can hear their frustration right from the start of this story. Verse 1 says, (SLIDE)
“The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods[a] who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”
We don’t have a clue what has happened to him!
I love that line. I love it because it’s probably not really true, but it is exactly how we feel when we feel stuck in a change. The people could have probably guessed that Moses was fine, he was with God, that they were just going to have to be patient. But because it’s taking so long, 40 days and 40 nights, they jump to this conclusion that he’s abandoned them, or something has happened to him, and that they’ve reached their breaking point with the waiting. So they abandon logic, they abandon what they know about Moses' character and commitment to them, and They start looking for anyone and anything that can reduce the wait time and accelerate the transition.
The thing is- we ALL HAVE DONE THIS. We all have hit the point where we say, “God- I’ve been patient. I’ve been praying. I’ve tried to be present in the season I’m in, but I’m just so tired of waiting on you. I’m tired of waiting to see what comes next. And I don’t know what’s happened to you.”
That’s a normal part of the process. If you hit that wall in the middle of a transition, you’re in good company. But this is where I think God invites us to go beyond the parts of change that are so hard and tap into the resilient part of ourselves that can make it through the messy middle. When we choose to persevere and say yes to waiting-it reminds us that something IS coming, that transitions don’t last forever, and that there’s a purpose for the wait. It’s not just about wasting time in the wilderness, that neutral zone is a chance to be formed, to discover what matters to us, and to enter the new season with integrity and growth.
In a lot of ways, in this story of the golden calf, the Israelites miss this opportunity. Instead of growing closer to God, they do something that takes them farther away. Instead of living into who they are called to be, they act like they are anyone BUT God’s chosen people.
And when the news of the golden calf reaches God, it is not a great day on Mt. Sinai. I think the direct quote is “they’re ruining everything and I’m going to destroy everyone and start over.”
Now I have to think at this point, Moses is thinking that he did not sign up for this when he agreed to lead these people out of Egypt. There have been bumps along the way, but this is another level of messing it up. But for ALL that Moses had to be feeling in that moment- what's he do? He advocates for the people. And Moses’ ability to still see the possibility in these people and the transition they are going through reminds us that perseverance is possible even in the face of some of our biggest mistakes and failures.
And in seasons of transition- we are going to get it wrong sometimes. Maybe that’s news to YOU, but I cannot think of a single season of change that I’ve gone through where I’ve done everything right. Not one. When we are trying to make it through a transition, we will get something wrong, we will unintentionally hurt someone, we will make a mistake. Some will be easier to fix than others, some will be really hard to come back from, but the point is that NO ONE navigates change perfectly.
But just because we GET something wrong doesn’t mean that we’re wrong or that the transition is wrong. It just means that when we don’t know what to do, sometimes we over function, sometimes we misstep, and sometimes we just don’t have the skills we need yet to operate in a new way. And the temptation is to let the mistakes or the fact that we aren’t experts about the next thing be what stops us from moving forward, but perseverance gives us permission to keep going even if we messed up or even if we don’t have it all figured out.
In the Friday email this week, I told you about a book I read this past spring by Shauna Niequist called (SLIDE) “I Guess I haven’t Learned that Yet”. It’s a memoir about a huge season of transition in her family’s life as they move from the suburbs of Chicago to the heart of New York City. At the beginning of the book, she talks about how her family keeps persisting through this change:
“About 6 weeks after we moved, in an extremely low-budget decorating move, I wrote one sentence and taped it to our living room wall “I guess I haven’t learned that yet.” I wrote that sentence because I wanted us to have common language about what it means to be a learner, a beginner, to be curious and make mistakes and get back up. To ask questions and figure it out as we go.
Without realizing it, I had been wearing the expert hat a long time...I was the answer person. But I don’t have all the answers anymore. I have to ask for help or direction every single day.”
We’re allowed to figure it out as we go. We’re allowed to make mistakes. We’re allowed to get it wrong or not be the expert.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here- what we do matters. And there can be big consequences to our mistakes. Having Aaron create a golden calf to get the people direct access to God was a big one. It went against their practices of worship, it flew in the face the promise that God had made to them and they had made to God. It disrespected Moses’ leadership and diluted the distinctiveness of what it meant for them to have just one God. It was a big deal and I don’t want to minimize that.
But what I do want you to hear is that even though that mistake was significant...it wasn’t the end of their story. Even when we make mistakes...it’s not the end of ours either. Our seasons of change aren’t defined by only the challenges, but by the hope that meets us on the other side.
We might be tempted to only see the things that go wrong, but look at this story- it's not just a story about people who majorly screwed up and God getting angry. That’s a big part of it, but there’s more. It’s also a story about a leader who could see beyond the present moment into the bigger purpose behind making such a big change in the first place. Because: (SLIDE)
Perseverance is only possible when the vision for what comes next is bigger than the losses and challenges along the way.
When we feel overwhelmed by all the change around us- we have to look at the bigger vision. When we mess up or feel stuck- we have to look at the bigger vision. When we want to give up- we have to look at the bigger vision.
The vision for the future, and the ability to trust that God is IN that future, is what makes it possible to keep going even when we aren’t sure we want to. Sometimes all we have to help us persevere is a sliver of faith and a really dim light of hope. And sometimes that’s all it takes to be able to see the bigger vision of what comes next.
It's been interesting to talk about transitions while Serena Williams competes in her final tennis tournament at the US Open. (SLIDE) Because if you want to find someone who is going through a massive life shift, Serena Williams is a pretty clear choice. And as I’ve been watching her story, I read a piece she did for the September Issue of Vogue. And if you haven’t read the article, it’s definitely worth your time. Because the way Serena Williams talks about the complexity of transition and how hard it can be to persist through it is so honest and true. You don’t have to be the best tennis player in the world to relate to what she’s going through!
But the most powerful thing about this article is the clarity she has- even through the grief she feels about leaving tennis- there's a bigger vision carrying her through this change. A new chapter of her career, her family- there is something compelling waiting on the other side of where she is right now. And what I love about how she tells her story is that she doesn’t try to resolve the conflict- the bottom line is, this is a hard choice and it’s the right choice, and both things are true. And she can persevere through it even though it’s not easy.
I don’t know what kind of change or transition you might be going through right now- it might be a job change, the end of a relationship, trying to get your kids back on a school schedule, or beginning to care for an aging parent. It might be a transition that you’ve chosen or one that you’re dreading. But I do know that at some point, each and every one of us during a transition is going to want to give up. We’re going to wonder if it’s worth it or we’re going to hit a patch of grief that feels too big.
If that’s where you are today- if you’re wondering if you’re going to make it through, or you’re just exhausted by the waiting- I want to encourage you to keep going. Perseverance doesn’t magically take the hard stuff away. But it does point us toward hope and what’s possible.
So keep going. Even when it's hard. Even when it's unclear. Keep going, and know that God goes with you. Let’s pray.