“Old Trophy Cases,” The Rev. Alan Olson’s February Presbytery Meeting Sermon


Old Trophy Cases (Monmouth Presbytery, 2/26/19)

Exodus 32:1-14

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.” 2 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.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold,[a] 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!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

7 The Lord said 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!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with

evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.


Good evening. It’s such on honor to be leading worship this evening. I have to say, it’s an unexpected honor. I’ve only been a member of Monmouth Presbytery for about eight months; I’ve only been ordained for about three and a half years. I expect an honor like this to go someone who’s been a part of this presbytery for a long time. Heck, I don’t even serve on any committees yet.

So, I suppose this is another way to get to know you folks. If I were the passive-aggressive type, I’d have written a really long, boring sermon. That way, nobody would ask me to serve on any committees. Or worse, I’d get asked to serve on the trustees, because, well, long and boring. I’m only teasing, Trustees.

The title of my sermon comes out of my experiences as a guest preacher. I wasn’t one of those seminarians who managed his care process very well. I began my first call to ministry about fifteen months after I graduated seminary. In that time, I did a lot of pulpit supply. Most of my gigs were in small, rural churches in western Pennsylvania, and most were only served by part-time pastors.

On those Sunday mornings when I didn’t have trouble finding the church and I got there early, one of the elders would give me a tour. And on those tours, that elder would always take me to the church’s trophy case. Every. Blessed. Time! And that elder would tell me all about the great softball team or bowling team that the church once had. There were so many trophies. Men’s softball: 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980; women’s bowling, 1983—we should have won it in 1984, too, but Joan Smith broke her wrist in a car accident a day before the final match, and, well, Second Presbyterian beat us. Again.

Sometimes the stories dragged on and on. And I’d smile and pretend to be interested, but when I looked at those golden, glittery trophies, I was reminded of the story of the golden calf. The story of the golden calf is a story about identity, about how the Israelites used to be, in much the same way that our athletic trophies tell others how our congregations used to be.

I offer this up, in part, because I think we need to have a little sympathy for the Israelites. It’s so easy to sneer at them and think, “How could you be so foolish? Why can’t you see all the wonderful things that God has done for you?” But that’s not fair—and it ignores our part in the story. (See entire sermon text here)


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