AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Kristin Hill
There is a place in France, frozen in time, called The Gobelins, where the ancient art of tapestry making lives on. If you visited there today, you could see how the artisans begin their work, hanging groupings of vertical strings from the ceiling to the floor. They say that before an artisan begins, they can already see the tapestry in full, and know each detail that will emerge in the process. They use a pencil to lightly sketch out the outline on the back side of the hanging threads of what the full tapestry will become before they begin to weave. The artist then sits behind the tapestry and begins to weave dyed, colored threads horizontally, one by one, through the hanging vertical threads. Interestingly, during the process, from the artist’s view in the back, the tapestry looks like a tangled, chaotic mess of colors and threads. It is confusing. It is unsightly. It looks like a project gone terribly wrong.
The magic happens when the artist peaks through the threads to take in the view from a mirror that hangs directly in front of the tapestry. It’s in the mirror’s reflection that the artist is able to take in the fullness of the tapestry they are creating.
It’s an amazing picture that illustrates so much of the Exodus 32 story that Jordan shared with us on Sunday. The Israelites, freshly rescued and set free, walked out of the agonizing oppression of slavery right across the dry ground of the split Red Sea. And then, when they found themselves waiting in the wilderness for their leader, away high on a mountain meeting with God, their spiritual amnesia set in, and their patience wore thin.
All they could see was the back of the tapestry.
And whether it was fear or impatience or entitlement or sheer lack of faith that compelled them, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Forgetting the promises of God, they piled up their faith and their golden jewelry and set fire to it all, crafting a golden calf and a new god. Their desperation for deliverance from the mess, their impatience to wait on God, and their unwillingness to sit in a posture of surrender caused them to panic. Without eyes to see the full picture, they assumed it had all gone wrong.
The tragedy, of course, is that if they had simply paused to remember the character of God and His rescuing hand reaching right into their own lives, working for their good and His glory, they would have had eyes to see the bigger story. But in the waiting, they reached for a lesser love. They grabbed an easier way out. They forgot who they were and the inheritance that was already theirs, and they traded in the beauty of the greater story for a brief glimpse of something shiny and new.
We might read this passage and think we are nothing like the Israelites because we’ve never melted down our gold to fashion an idol. Except that we are exactly like the Israelites. Our golden calves are just hidden and more socially acceptable.
We can so easily hear the quiet whisper, tempting us to fashion our own idols that will take us away from whatever unease we are feeling. Jordan shepherded us through the convicting reality that we often hold within us, the same impatience… the same entitlement… the same unwillingness to sit in the mystery of seasons filled with unresolved pain and darkness. When we don’t feel God working, there can be such a temptation to rise from a posture of surrender and start making moves on our own.
And so, here we sit in both the already of our story and also, the not yet.
There are faint pencil sketchings on the back of the tapestry that promise a full, beautiful story from beginning to end. But we can’t yet see the mirror’s reflection of what is to come.
First Corinthians even reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
So the invitation here now is to stand at the back of the tapestry, taking in the chaotic mess of colored threads and to believe in the beauty being woven into our lives, thread by thread. Without a glance at the mirror’s reflection, we sit in the awareness of our inability to take in the full story. So, we must trace the hands of a faithful God, always working, always inviting, always fashioning beauty into the full story in ways we may not see or understand.
From where we sit at the back of the tapestry, there will always be the temptation to start grabbing our own threads and weaving our old golden calves right into the tapestry any time we want.
But we also have eternity set in our hearts, and the voice of the Creator in our ears as we survey the mess. We have Scripture full of stories of God’s faithfulness, and testimonies of the people of God around us to help create trust in the One who holds us in His hands.
So, while we wait, and our eyes can only take in the back of the tapestry, we can posture our hearts in surrender and pray…
Lord—We, like the Israelites, can be people that reach for a golden calf, trading a posture of surrender for one of action on our own behalf. When we feel that rising up in us, Jesus, would you slow and steady our hearts?
When we do not have eyes to see, would Your Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance who You already are in our lives, and who we already are in You?
Remind us that You make beautiful things, and You are the rescuing redeemer, always calling us back to Your heart. We acknowledge that You see the full picture and we do not. Teach our hearts to wait in patient surrender, believing that even now, these threads woven into our lives are piecing together a good and beautiful tapestry in Your hands. And someday, we’ll stand with You in glory, in front of the tapestry, taking it in together. We’ll watch as You trace the threads, and we’ll finally see the fullness of the beauty and wonder that You’ve been weaving in us all along…