On the next day Moses said to the people,
"You have committed a grave sin.
You know you're in deep trouble when Moses announces, "You have committed a grave sin." But you may not know this is very good news.
"Context is everything!" and the context of Moses' angry announcement is, "You are God's chosen people." This is very good news.
The human being, unlike other animals, notices when things are profoundly wrong. We feel the threat both to our personal existence -- "I may die!" -- and to our existence as a species.
Perhaps we have this sense because we are so absurdly helpless for so much of our lives. A newborn infant can't even turn over, much less flee to safety. She'll be well into her second or third decade before she is ready for relatively independent living, and during her last decades will again rely on others for a lot of help. Although she is never totally self-sufficient, during her strongest years she must assist others: the young, sick and elderly. We survive only because we help one another.
But evil remains a constant threat, both the evil of accident, disease and natural disasters and the evil of human perfidy. Everyone of us acts selfishly and thoughtlessly at times. In consequence people die.
Call it "original sin." Call it, "the way things are." We know it shouldn't be that way; we know we're made for better things. Human life is so very beautiful and good when we care for one another. That satisfaction more than makes up for the disappointments; it makes it all worthwhile.
The Lord comes to us in our weakness and espouses us as his own beloved people. We're saved! but....
When I trained as a lifeguard I learned that exhausted swimmers often give up at the moment they're rescued. Just as the boat arrives they say, "Thank God" and quit trying. That relaxation can be fatal; the lifeguard must be prepared to lift an exhausted, defeated person out of the water. She may be "dead weight."
We seem to act that way when God comes to save us. No sooner did God deliver his people from Egypt than they began to carp about the food and to entertain themselves with false gods. They forgot to pay attention to the expectations and demands of this unfamiliar savior. That's when they heard Moses thunder, "You have committed a grave sin!"
God's demands go much farther than we ever imagined. "You shall be holy as the Lord is holy!" We had not thought of that. It doesn't even seem necessary.
"To me, therefore, you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be my own."
Perhaps we had not noticed that we cannot survive unless we flourish. The Lord will not keep us as animals in a zoo. God wants more of us because we are capable of more; realizing this we too want more.
"You have committed a grave sin!" is a very serious warning and a wonderful invitation; it surpasses everything we had expected of human life. Hearing that threat we accept the embrace of arms stretched as wide as a cross, and then stretch our hands to take up the cross.