Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: Aaron (Exodus 32:1-4)

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the book of Exodus:

Exodus 32:1-4

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." 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." So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 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!"

Here is an article on Aaron, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

Moses was three years younger than his brother, Aaron, but starting with the day Pharaoh's daughter fished him out of the bulrushes and adopted him, Moses was the one who always got the headlines while Aaron got the short end of the stick. Even when Moses had to clear out of Egypt for doing in an Egyptian Jew-baiter, he landed on his feet by marrying the daughter of a well-heeled sheep rancher across the border.

Aaron, in the meanwhile, went quietly off into the ministry, where in the long run he didn't do so badly either, except that the only people who ever heard about him were the ones who turned to the religion section on the back pages. Moses, on the other hand, was forever making the cover. The payoff came around the time Moses hit eighty, and out of a burning bush God himself voted him Man of the Year. As usual, Aaron had to be content with playing second fiddle, which he did well enough until he got the break he'd been waiting for at last, and then he blew it.

With Moses lingering so long on Mt. Sinai that some thought he'd settled down and gone into real estate, the people turned to Aaron for leadership, and in no time flat—despite an expensive theological education and all those years in denominational headquarters—he had them dancing around the Golden Calf like a bunch of aborigines.

Nobody knows whether this was Aaron's way of getting even with his kid brother for all those years of eating humble pie, or whether he actually believed with the rest of humankind that a God in the hand is worth two in the bush.