Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Mike Turgeon Outside my own little world: “What if there’s a greater purpose? 9/25/11
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’
Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’
So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’
Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?‘ Exodus 17:1-7
What if there’s a greater purpose?
The scene in the Sinai desert this morning is almost comical in its timing. These are the Children of Moses, headed to the Promised Land, and they are what, maybe 50 miles down the freeway, just barely out of the clutches of Pharaoh’s slave bosses when the complaining begins.
If you check out the map, they are about down to Fresno on the way to LA
when the Israelites lose sight of God’s greater purpose for their mission. Could the Israelites have made it to their destination much sooner had they paid attention to the task at hand? Maybe, but we’ll never know because when they lost their vision they ended up going around in circles for 40 years.
“Moses, Moses, we could have died of thirst in Egypt. Did you have to uproot us and bring us all the way out here to do it?
Did the people have serious issues because they had no water to drink? Of course that is true. But only one chapter earlier, in chapter 16 of Exodus, they went through the same thing when they ran out of food.
The Israelites said to Moses and his brother, Aaron, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
Their first impulse was to complain.
What if there’s a greater purpose?
God did provided for all their needs; do you remember when the manna rained down from heaven? But any trust in God’s provision quickly evaporated. One would have thought that bread would have been ‘dayenu’ enough.
Is it any wonder that this place in the wilderness is remembered, not as a place where God provided, but as Maasah and Meribah, the place where the people complained?
Then Moses asks the pointed question, “Why do you test the Lord?”
Let me answer that, Moses; “Why do we test the Lord?” Because it’s what we do, Moses, it’s what we do. We’re good at it, we practice testing God, a lot. We would much rather rely on our own resources, keep God at bay, call on God only when we have a ‘special request.’
Until then, we stay in whining mode.
It’s not hard to hear ourselves in the grumbling and complaining of the Israelites, is it? In all candor, we like to complain about things, don’t we? The words of negative outlook fairly trip off our tongues. (victimhood)
Take the weather, for instance. In what passes for winter around here, three days of rain is enough to bring out the "It's too wet" comments. "I'm tired of the gloomy, overcast clouds." "When will the rain stop?" "I can't wait until summer." And on and on.
And when the rain stops? Gee, could we get a little moisture around here? "I can't wait until there's snow in the mountains so I can go skiing!"
We complain about politicians and the economy. We grumble about noise and traffic and growth. We whine about schools and grocery prices. And if you think we stop where church is concerned, think again. The music is too old, too new, too loud, too soft. The people here are too few, too many, too old, too young. I don’t like that guy or that gal. And, by the way, did you see what the pastor was wearing this morning?
Can we be honest here? We’ll gripe about anything if given a chance. And when we aren’t given a chance, we often complain about that, too. Are we as bad as the Israelites in our complaining. Probably not, but let’s just say, we’re cousins.
Are complaints ever valid? Of course that is true. The man who has had his house broken into will complain about how violated he feels and voice concerns about the rising crime rate, for instance. Or the woman who spends her last years in pain or loneliness who rails against a God who won't end her suffering and let her die. There are justifiable complaints.
This week, from Wednesday through Saturday in the Jewish calendar marks the holy days known as Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah means ‘head of the year’ so it is celebrated as a beginning or starting over. It is one of four “new year” observances in the Jewish calendar. Just think, four times a year to fail your New Year’s resolutions.
And Rosh Hashanah has another significance as well. The first time it is mentioned in Jewish writings and commentary, it is as a “day of judgment.” Accordingly, on Rosh Hashanah, three books of account are opened
and all people have their names entered or not in different ways. For the righteous, those who keep God’s laws and principles, their names are recorded into the book of life and they are sealed to live.
The wicked, those who have refused to follow God’s law are blotted out of the book of life forever. Then there is this third class, an intermediate class. This middle class is allowed a period of ten days to repent and become righteous. The tenth day is the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, when repentance is marked.
Of course, you and I would love to claim that our names would immediately be entered alongside the righteous. But our main hope is that we are still part of the intermediate class, those with at least another ten days to ‘turn it around.’
Turn it around just happens to be what the word repentance means. Do we have a hard time with the word repentance? Duh! Very often the word repent is accompanied by some image of a wagging finger in your face,
and the promise of hell-fire and brimstone. But to ‘turn around?‘ Do we still possess the will to make that happen?
Children of Moses, turn your faces away from the slavery of Egypt; turn and face your freedom and keep your eyes fixed on the Promised Land.
Brothers and sisters, put away your complaints, pay attention to your blessings that have been poured into your life. There is a greater purpose to your existence. Everyday you become a new soul by walking in the light of Jesus Christ.
Are we bound to face obstacles, difficulties and struggles? Indeed.
Perhaps you know this story.
"A silkworm was struggling out of the cocoon
and an ignorant man saw it battling as if in pain, so he went and helped it to get free, but very soon after it fluttered and died. The other silkworms that struggled out without help suffered, but they came out into full life and beauty, with wings made strong for flight by their battle for fresh existence." - Sadhu Sundar Singh
What if there’s a greater purpose?
Our struggle is not so much with what is put before us in life, but rather with how we react to life’s struggles.
Our good news here is that God doesn’t punish us for complaining. God doesn’t bring disaster upon the people for failing to trust in God’s provision and blessing. God doesn’t enter into an argument with the people, either. God waits. God waits until someone is ready to listen. God waits until Moses asks for guidance. Then God’s presence is revealed.
When Moses finally asks God for direction, God says to look at the tools at hand. "You have your staff, the staff you used to part the Red Sea, the staff you used to bring terror to Pharaoh until he let your people go. Use it again."
Are we too noisy with our complaints? Undoubtedly. But God’s immense relief from our distress is always available in Christ’s abiding love. Yes, our circumstances have the power to divert us from God, but we never need succumb to victimhood, not while Christ lives.
In him, our power and ability is awesome. And this power to change things, ourselves, the world, is already on hand, right inside of us. Renewal of our soul is as easy and as hard as reaching out beyond ourselves.
1n 1866, in London, David Bradlaugh spoke before the atheist society of London. Mr. Bradlaugh was the current president. He proceeded to deliver a rational, patterned and thorough argument for the non-existence of God and the uselessness of religion. At the end of his speech, Mr. Bradlaugh asked those in the audience to comment or even offer an opposing argument to his.
The facilitator for the evening arose at this time and said, Mr. Bradlaugh, I don’t believe anyone here would be able to offer such an argument.
Then, from the floor of the assembly, a common man, a pipe-fitter by trade arose to speak. He said to the audience, “I must say that I have been a loyal and dedicated member of this society for years. I’ve attended all the meetings, been active in spreading the groups’ message.
However, in the past year, my wife and I had taken to be gravely ill. In the months that we recovered I did not see or hear from any one of you. During that time our only help came from a city missionary, a man who nursed us back to health. Without his aid, we would not have survived.
This was a man whom I railed against in the city parks during our rallies and demonstrations. After our recovery, I asked him what had caused him to come to our aid. He said that he did it because of the love of Christ.
My own opinion is that there is perhaps some use in this world for that kind of service.”