1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Years ago a very popular city in a particular State here in the United States chose a slogan to use in its worldwide tourism marketing campaign. Now this slogan worked so well, that the phrase itself has become part of our normal conversational talk, and even if you have never been to Las Vegas you know the slogan I am talking about so say it with me… WHATEVER HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS IN VEGAS!
Ironically, the actual slogan is LAS VEGAS, WHATEVER HAPPENS HERE STAYS HERE, but either one tells the same story. That campaign was first cooked up in 2003 at a brainstorming meeting in the Las Vegas tourism department of an outside ad agency. The meeting was sparked by a need to brand Vegas for something other than gambling. So, after a year of research the following conclusions were reached:
“The emotional bond between Las Vegas and its customers was Freedom. Freedom on two levels. Freedom to do things, see things, eat things, wear things, feel things. In short, the Freedom to be someone we couldn't be at home. And Freedom from whatever we wanted to leave behind in our daily lives. Just thinking about Vegas made the bad stuff go away. At that point the strategy became clear. Speak to that need. Make an indelible connection between Las Vegas and the Freedom we all crave.” (R&R Partners Case Study).
Just in case you didn’t know how well it worked, this campaign has been credited with allowing Las Vegas tourism to weather the storm of the recession of 2008-2009 and the crash of the housing market which hit Las Vegas particularly hard. Typically, when something works this well we want to know why, and when I look at this particular campaign something about it bothers me because it seems to boil down to telling people that, for a few days at least, they can be someone they are not, they can do things they wouldn’t think they can do, and no one will get hurt because no one in their real life will ever know. As long as people from their real life don’t show up, they will never know who you said you were, or what you did while on this short, quick journey. This is your time to let yourself go, to lose yourself, to give into whatever cravings or desires or urges you have.
Let me ask, how boring does one’s life have to be that they need to go somewhere far away and do things they don’t want anyone to know about in order to feel free to have a good time? Isn’t something wrong with that picture? Even more important than that, is Freedom really the end result when choices like those are made for those reasons?
Now, I don’t think we should confuse this desire for Freedom that Las Vegas is exploiting here, with the Freedom to make choices, any more than we should conclude that everyone going to Vegas is going for that reason. I have to believe that there are all sorts of people choosing to visit Las Vegas for all sorts of reasons, which confirms, at least partly, the entire point anyway that we all are Free to make choices in our lives. This particular Freedom, I believe, is a Freedom we cherish, and rightly so. But having the Freedom to make choices, doesn’t always result in feeling free. Sometimes the choices we make leave us enslaved. Sometimes others believe they can make choices for us, and it is their choice that enslaves us. Then there are times when someone or some group taps into some desire that is uniquely human and the temptation to possess begins to overwhelm you until you reach a point where the only way to be satisfied is through possession and control.
The good news is that we are not the only ones dealing with temptations like these or quests to control everything and everyone around us. The Freedom of Choices appears to be at the heart of today’s passage where Paul is trying to Counsel a people he loves that just because you can choose something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can doesn’t mean it is best.
Now, I will say more about Paul and his counseling advice later, but before I do I want to talk about humankind in general and the impact the Freedom of Choices has had, and to do this I believe we must start at the beginning of the human creation story we know as Adam and Eve. Freedom was absolutely central to this entire story as mankind was always free to eat the fruit, but there would be consequences for choosing to do so. Where one choice might be rooted in love and community, another choice was rooted in selfishness. Where one choice was rooted in the selfless type of giving that benefits all, another choice was rooted in egotistical control. In this way, the problem for humankind in this creation story can be seen as the potential impact the Freedom of Choice has on us.
The fruit came to represent a split in the road, and choices needed to me made. This happens to all of us. Maybe even today and in trying to make a decision you reflect on the advice you’ve been given. Well in our creation story we have the advice the selfless giver of life gave about healthy relationships and mutual love. But we also have another voice, a voice that says don’t worry about that relationship and love stuff, what you really want is Freedom and the only way you will get it is by gaining control. Choosing to listen to the advice of one is choosing to accept the good, the true and the beautiful, while choosing the advice of the other is choosing another way, but no matter what you are Free to choose.
You see, this is not something unique to the early followers of The Way in Corinth, nor is it unique to us today, but I dare say it is unique to humankind as a whole for humankind has been created by the Divine God whose essence is love, and we were created in that image. Not a controlling, manipulative kind of love, but a true love which for better or worse always allows the Freedom to make Choices.
So, what do we do when we are told those whom we deeply love are make destructive choices? That is the question Paul was addressing in this part of his letter, a letter of advice and counsel to those early Followers of the Way who were trying their best to follow The Way in their unique daily lives. So, Paul, in a rather direct, straight to the point way, says, “you say you have the right to do anything, which is true, you need to also learn that not everything is beneficial to you and your relationships. While you are correct in saying I have the right to do anything, it is more important for you to know that I choose not to be mastered by anything.
It is as though Paul is agreeing that yes, we are free to do anything we want, but just because we are free doesn’t mean we should, especially when hurt and pain and destruction to ourselves and others is the end result. The advice in this letter is given to address specific problems with a specific group of people and while some of it may sound harsh, and while some of the issues are not our issues, Paul’s advice to the Corinthians is his passionate and reasoned call to embrace the faith they profess and to become agents of God’s love. Paul’s call in this regard should continue to resonate today for people claiming faith in the same God of Love. People of faith should seek to be the agents of God’s Love to all they encounter.
We are addictive creatures, but that addictive nature doesn’t have to make us selfish, egotiscal control freaks. Yes, we try things.
Yes, we experiment.
Yes, we explore.
And yes, certain things hook us, but they don’t have to master us.
Those things that hook us shouldn’t hurt us or hurt other people.
Yes, we are free to choose to do what we want, and at the time Paul was writing so was his audience, but because Paul loves them and cares about their well-being it seems he wants them to know that “Freedom isn’t being able to have whatever we crave. Freedom is going without whatever we crave and being fine with it.” (SP-017, pg. 75). The end result of choosing to satisfy some selfish, lustful desire never lives up its promises, because those promises only gratify selfish desires which can actually be harmful to self and others. Lust, in particular, always promises what it can’t deliver.
Freedom does in fact have harmful elements, and choosing to do something selfish and destructive just because you are Free to make such a choice is one of them. Yes, you are free to choose, and the advice being given here is that hopefully next time you will exercise that Freedom in a way that accomplishes something that is beneficial to all. This is Paul’s advice to those he loved in Corinth and this, I believe, is Paul’s advice to those he loves in Jamestown.
So in our Year of A Million Dreams, lets choose to live out of our own Divine essence and be agents of God’s Love.
Let’s use our Freedom to make choices that extend God’s Love in ever expansive ways.
Let’s use our Freedom to make the choices that welcome the oppressed.
Let’s use our Freedom to make the choices to stand up for justice for all of God’s Beloved.
And just in case any of us travel to Vegas, lets use our Freedom to make that choice so we can share our experiences with others in the most love fulfilling ways we can dream.
Over the holiday break our family went to see the movie The Greatest Showman. Amy & I loved is so much that we went the very next night to see it again, while Jacob went with friends a couple of days after that. For those who haven’t heard of it, the movie is based on the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, better known to most at P.T. Barnum.
I love musicals and always have, but I really love this movie. It is one of those movies I could see again and again and again. Even though there are some Hollywood induced elements, I found the hope filled message this movie delivers incredibly encouraging and it started from the opening musical scene. Now, that scene opens with a young P.T. Barnum singing a song titled A Million Dreams. As the song progresses, P.T. grows up and is joined by Charity Hallett who becomes Charity Barnum. What caught my attention, like normal, was the story the lyrics of the song were telling.
Young P.T. starts by saying/singing:
“I close my eyes and I can see
The world that’s waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one’s been before
But it feels like home
They can say it all sounds crazy
They can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design
‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make”
Then grown up P.T. shares some of his dreams about his future with Charity followed by Charity saying this:
“However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see”
The song ends with the two of them together saying/singing:
“Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make”
For me, the entire story the movie tells about the life of P.T. Barnum and his wife Charity begins and ends with listening to and then following the path of dreams. Now, we all know that listening to and following one’s dreams did not originate with P.T. & Charity Barnum. If for no other reason, we know this because the text that Jewell read for us today proves it. [v 12] “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” This is but one example of a collection of examples found within the stories of our Bible where dreams play a critical role, and this is so because it is widely accepted that the ancient world, and therefore our biblical tradition knew about dreams. The ancients understood that dreams opened you up to a world different from the one experienced during the day. They had the courage to imagine that dream communication is a place in which the holy purposes of God, as confusing and unreasonable as they might be, come to us.
But we are post-enlightened people living in a post-enlightened world, which may answer the question that has been bugging for a while but especially since seeing The Greatest Showman the first time, what happen to our ability to listen to and follow our dreams? Walter Bruggemann says, “In the post-Enlightenment world, reason has sought to overcome all that is primitive, sacred and lacking in manageable credibility. The aim and outcome has been to control…” (Holy Intrusion: The Power of Dreams in the Bible). And you want to know something, I think he is right because dreams are revelations of otherness, an otherness that may, if we get out of our own way, open us to an authentic reality and truth that lies beyond our own reasoning. If we were to only begin listening to our dreams like we did when we were young they just might lead to our making wise choices, like that of the wise men in Matthew. The kind of wise choices that compel you to travel a different way. That is what the wise men did when they listened to their dream, they chose a different path than the one previously planned. That is oftentimes what dreams do, which for most of us makes our dreams a little scary because to follow them means we must choose a different way of going home, a different way of achieving our goal, because to follow our dreams is to recognize that we can’t return the same way we came.
You see, dream communication is critical to moving toward a promising future because dreams are focused on larger realities future possibilities. Without dreams, without imagination, we become stuck in so many ways. Stuck to living our lives inside the walls of what is, not what is possible. Stuck living inside a world where our highest goal is control, instead of embracing the mystery of the journey. Stuck inside a life that lacks innovation, desiring instead understanding and familiarity.
A life stuck in what is, is a life resigned to complacency at best or sadness at worst. That is not the life of one of listens to and follows the dreams God communicates to them. Where would we be today were it not for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sharing his dream with us? You see, King’s dream was a gift of imagination that came from beyond the realm of the political or social reality of his day. And when we say it was a dream that come from beyond, then aren’t we really saying the dream he shared carried a holy message.
The thing is, the substance of the dream King shared was a world other than the one near at hand. King was able to imagine a world that was radically different from the one others saw. “King’s dream, like every dream, is not simply the sign of a wish or projection, it is the intrusion of God into a settled world. It has a holy intensity that reaches back into generations of suffering; it is a holy intrusion that reaches forward in sanity, continuing to generate a restless uneasiness with the way things are until the dream comes to fruition and a new world is enacted.” Ibid. “Our technological achievements require and permit us to learn again what the community of faith has known—and trusted—from the outset: there is something outside our controlled management of reality which must be heeded. Sometimes that something turns out to be a miracle of new life.” Ibid.
Dreams are the perfect way to hear from God. When you are dreaming, you are quiet, so you can’t ignore God. So today I want us to start dreaming for our Church. I want us to start listening to what our dreams are telling us about what we want for our Church. And I want us to start sharing those dreams with each other. In fact, I want 2018 to be known as The Year of a Million Dreams here at FBC.
Which leads me to this big DREAM BOARD that found its way into the sanctuary today. This DREAM BOARD already has some dreams written on it, but it needs more and so do all the other DREAM BOARDS you will find throughout our Church buildings. All of these DREAM BOARDS are calling you to share your dreams for our Church, no matter how big, no matter how small. So, for months ahead I want us to share with one another the future we see for our Church when we close our eyes.
Now I feel certain we will be able to fulfill some of the dreams shared on our DREAM BOARDS rather quickly, and I also feel certain other dreams will take a while, but that’s ok. Like I’ve told you before, our Jamestown Community Farmers Market was really two years in the making and it all started with a dream I had and shared.
Each and every one of us must start dreaming about our Church. Each and every one of us has a role in this dream building process. A process which only begins by first listening to our dreams and then finding the courage to share them and follow. This is our call to begin discerning the future of our church, and each one of us is called to participate. And remember, if we begin listening to our dreams like we did when we were young they just might lead to our making wise choices.
By now I believe it is safe to say that you all know I love the Christmas season. Everywhere I turn I see reasons to celebrate… reasons to be thankful… reasons for gratitude. It is during such times that answering Psalm 148’s call to Praise God is easiest.
I suspect for many you, this Christmas season is a joyful one. Being only a week out from our own celebration of Christmas, most of us will probably find it easy to offer praise. And rightly so because when you get right down to it, we have so much to be thankful for. It is in such moments that Praising God comes rather easy I believe, most likely because all seems right with the world.
Yet I know there are people who find it difficult or even impossible to Praise God, especially during the holiday season. I think about my childhood friend who lost his Dad to a massive heart attack on Christmas morning some 5 years ago. A family for whom Christmas was the most anticipated time of the year, until that Christmas morning. I think about those who for the first time in their lives spent Christmas without certain loved ones. Their Christmas traditions of old now giving way to the start of new, unfamiliar ones.
These are the people I have thought about this past week as I was preparing to stand before you today and preach on Psalm148. How might those people hear this Psalm?
Praise the Lord? Tell me Pastor, how am I supposed to do that exactly? And while these conversations only took place in my head this year, I know they are real.
Although we have met a couple of times, I don’t personally know Rev. Ed Beddingfield, Senior Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, NC on the campus at Campbell University. Before serving at Memorial he spent close to fifteen years serving FBC Fayetteville as their Senior Pastor. It was in Fayetteville that Ed and his wife Sarah raised their two daughters, Shannon and Megan, now adults with one serving as a missionary and the other completing her Ph.D. work. Sarah was a longtime educator having retired a few years ago.
Ed is one of my father-in-law’s best friends in ministry and it was that friendship that caused Mike to call Ed early Christmas morning after hearing about the tragedy the night before. Around 10:30 PM Christmas Eve, after completing the Candlelight Christmas Eve service at Memorial where he assured the congregation that God is with us even in times of great darkness, Ed, Sarah, Shannon and Megan, who were visiting their parents for the holiday, were home when the unthinkable happened… an explosion occurred, and the house was immediately engulfed in smoke and flames. Ed and Megan got out safely, but Shannon was badly burned and suffered tremendous smoke inhalation. Today she remains in the burn unit at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. Ed’s beloved wife Sarah did not survive.
Amy and I found out about this on Christmas day and we have talked about it off and on ever since. Together, we relived parts of our own house fire, but as the week went on and I sat with this Psalm and the heartache I felt for the Beddingfield family, I couldn’t escape how difficult it is to Praise God in the midst of tragedy and how angry being asked to Praise God can make those who are grieving. Now I want you to know, I believe the difficulty and anger are justified and no matter what anyone says, I believe God understands and is OK with our inability to quickly move past such things. In fact, I don’t think God expects us to be able to move forward by ourselves. This seems to be a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible, God’s promise that we are never alone and that we never have to face the difficulties in life by ourselves. In fact, it is this communal understanding of life that opened my eyes to the Psalmist’s words. This Psalm is a communal call, not an individual call. Like most of life itself, the Praise of God is not my sole responsibility.
This Psalm calls all creation to Praise God for it was God who created and called all of creation to live in community. As for God’s people, the Psalm tells us God raised up a horn for them, which is best understood as God restoring the people to strength and dignity. So all of this should help us understand that praising God is not determined by how well things are going at the moment in our own lives or in the world. Praising God is more communal than that, because all creation is more communal than we sometimes act like. “The praise we offer to God is wholly determined by, dependent on, who God is and what God has done and is doing in the universe. Praising God is what we—along with the sun and moon, snow and wind, mountains and trees, creeping things and flying birds—are called to do.
There are seasons, Christmas included, in which it may not be easy to find a voice for praise. Sometimes the word or song of praise gets silenced by a lump in our throat, as though we have swallowed too much grief or sorrow or loneliness to utter a sound. Sometimes praise is no more than a whisper, because we are exhausted or afraid or ill. What happens when we ourselves are too sad or too weak to offer praise of God? This psalm exclaims the hopeful, comforting message that we are not isolated or alone in our vocation of praise. From start to finish, Psalm 148 places us within a vast, diverse universe where continual praise is being offered to God: Angels and stars, fire and frost, wild and domesticated animals, men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor… join in a symphony of praise. So, when our own song or spirit is silenced, praise still fills the space all around us. Psalm 148 offers hope that a time of personal darkness may just be the time we let the rest of creation praise God for us until we find our voice again.
This common vocation of praise is the source of our true interrelatedness to God, to one another, to the universe. Praise, then, is a gift that brings us out of isolation and into communion. Communion is what Christmas is most truly about: God’s desire to be at one with us. Psalm 148 gives voice for many to the joy experienced in this season. For others struggling through these days, Psalm 148 offers assurance that they are not left in isolation and silence in creation or in the community of faith.” (Kimberly L. Clayton, Feasting on the Word Commentary)
No matter what, we can’t always find it within ourselves to Praise God. Sometimes it just feels too dog on hard, and the truth of the matter is, sometimes it is too dog on hard. Sometimes we just need time to grieve and time to rest. This is where the Church comes in. This is where we live into the community God desires because this is where the Church as community will shine. I dare say this is why God wants the Church, for there is no greater task the Church can perform than helping a brother or a sister, or every other part of God’s beautiful creation, when they or it can’t help themselves.
When we fall victim to thinking we must do it all by ourselves, praising God can be too difficult. I believe the Psalmist recognizes this and maybe the lesson it is teaching is for us to recognize that there are times when our brothers and our sisters cannot praise God and it is in those times that we, the Church, must. Instead of beating people up or expecting them to praise God when they can’t, the Church must step up, without judgment, without shaming, and fulfill its role of praising God for them. You see, judging and shaming serve only to isolate and anger, but Praising, especially for those who can’t, can be the gift that overcomes the isolation. Praising can be the gift that brings light into darkness. Praising can be the gift of community.
There is no greater gift the Church can offer creation. So today we join all other parts of Creation whose voice Praises God. Today we Praise God with them, but today and every other day I want us to do more because we recognize that there are parts of creation who don’t or can’t find a voice to Praise. Today and every other day I want us to Praise God for all who can’t. Today and every other day I want us to Praise God for all who won’t. Today and every other day I want us to Praise God until they find their voice again and when that happens they join us. This is who we are called to be. This is the way the Church will shine brightly in a world that often seems dark. This is how we do our part in building God’s Kingdom for this is how we answer this universal calling for all of creation to Praise God.
December 3, 2017
The Christmas Season is a wonderful time of year. All around us people hustle about with a sense of excitement that they may not have during other parts of the year. In our Sacred spaces the Season doesn’t begin with Christmas, it begins with a time called Advent and as we find ourselves here again, hopefully we do so wide-eyed and ready to experience all that the Season has in store for us.
During Advent we are called first to prepare for the coming Christ. One way we prepare is by getting a room ready and in terms of getting rooms or our traveled spaces prepared, I would say we are pretty proficient. From shopping centers to our homes, preparation is either complete or well underway, and that is a great thing. Our levels of excitement seemed to grow exponentially when we enter this preparation phase, and again that is a great thing.
There is a second part of Advent, though, and it comes after the preparation for Advent calls us to wait. Now I don’t know about you, but I confess there are times when I can’t stand having to wait. It seems I can get wrapped up in this instant fix, instant gratification society just like anyone else that I start to believe we are wired in such a way that waiting is foreign to our very essence. The truth, though, is that waiting is something our species has done rather successfully since the beginning of time and Advent is a season partly meant to remind us that waiting is built into the very fabric of our existence.
Take agriculture for instance. In today’s scripture we read about learning lessons from the Fig Tree, and although we didn’t grow any figs this past year, we did grow other things and in doing so some of us learned a lot about preparation, waiting and watching. And while some were initially better at waiting for things to grow than I was, all of us kept our eyes open looking for signs of growth. We prepared the space and then waited and watched.
We’ve done something similar today in our Hanging of the Green service, haven’t we? We gathered together and prepared this room. So now we wait, but as we wait we are to keep watch. We are to wait with eyes open. We are to wait expectantly for we know Christ is coming.
As we wait, I wonder where we might look for God. Maybe that is actually the hardest part because unlike our growing of vegetables, knowing where to look for God isn’t always easy to figure out. And that, it seems, is at the heart of this section of Mark’s Gospel. It is here that Mark poses a timeless question, one that I believe is good for us as we begin the waiting and watching part of Advent:
Where will we look for God?
As we wait, both in our sacred spaces and our secular spaces, where will we look for God?
As we wait, especially in the midst of the chaos of our days, where will we look for God?
Prepare… Wait… Watch!
It is the rhythm of life and Advent reminds as much.
So, as we wait, may we do so with eyes wide open, knowing full well the Good News that Christ is Coming.
A Legacy Built on Giving
In 1993 a couple took a walk on the beach and began to share with each other the things that they believed mattered most in the world. This couple was engaged to be married, and even though they had discussed this topic a little during their years of dating, this walk on the beach was transformational for both. In fact, that walk and that discussion on that Zanzibar Beach proved to be transformational for millions of people.
What’s interesting is this is not the first time this couple had discussions like these… discussions about what they felt called to do with the wealth they had accumulated, and for them to have these type conversations before they were even married is rare to say the least. Not only that, the ultimate decisions they reached about what to do with their wealth were simply incredible. Their decisions served as the inspiration others needed to follow in their footsteps. And you want to know something, that seems to be the way generosity goes most of the time. Someone, or a couple who is respected by others, takes a step toward helping out those less fortunate and then others follow.
Well in this case, the couple making the decision to use their wealth for the benefit of others, for the benefit of society at large and the problems and injustices they face around the world just happened to be Bill & Melinda Gates. Now I’m not sure generosity toward others was always the plan for Bill, but he now admits that giving away his wealth for the benefit of those less fortunate in our world is the single greatest thing he has ever done. And it just so happens, a number of people believe there is only one reason Bill and Melinda Gates will be remembered when it is all said and done and it’s not because of Microsoft or Windows: it will be their decision to give away a large portion of their wealth to better the lives of others. It will not be the company he founded. [Let that sink in for a minute…] Their legacy will be built on their decision to give to charity, not on their decision to selfishly keep all they had been blessed with receiving. Their legacy will be:
One of philanthropy;
One of giving away a significant portion of their financial wealth to others less fortunate;
One of giving to those they do not personally know but are dealing with illnesses that are curable in our country but not theirs;
One of giving to aid the pursuit of justice for those dealing with injustices like lack of drinkable water, or lack of food.
These are the reasons some believe the World as a whole will remember Bill & Melinda Gates.
They gave selflessly, and even though they had and continue to have a lot to give, that fact should not cloud our view of how important giving back has been for them, and should be for us.
Apostle Paul & II Corinthians
The apostle Paul, it seems, knew something about the importance of giving a portion of your wealth to help others. Don’t you agree? The Apostle Paul also knew how important it was to allow people the time and space needed for them to voluntarily decide how much they would give to the Church, and how much they would keep for themselves. Just listen to his words, [v. 7] “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion…”
Do you wonder why Paul might encourage such contemplation? I venture to say Paul knew that compelling someone to do something they don’t want to do voluntarily is never the answer. And I suspect Paul knew this was never the approach of Jesus or God for that matter. Their approach to relationship building always centered on selfless giving. Forcing people, compelling people to do something they don’t want to do might bring shortsighted, short-lived success, but the long-term damage is extremely detrimental. Just look at the struggles of modern day Church attendance. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t believe part of the decline is due to the fact that so many people for so long felt forced into participation, or guilted into being present. As New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright says, “You may succeed [at getting people to do what you want even if they don’t]; if you’re a forceful enough character, [they] may eventually do what you want; but they won’t enjoy it, and you may damage some relationships on the way.”
Any and all attempts to forcefully compel anyone to give away their hard earned, or not so hard earned, money are never successful. That approach is never a God centered approach and quite frankly that approach just doesn’t work. What does work, is helping everyone “turn [their] minds and imaginations around so that what had seemed forced, awkward and unnatural now seems the most natural thing of all.”
This, I believe, is the best way to understand what the Apostle Paul is doing in today’s passage. I believe I have shared with you before, that all of Paul’s authentic letters need always to be read as letters of response sent to a certain group of people who were seeking Paul’s advice about specific issues they are facing. So, in this passage today, it is safe for us to say that the people of the early church at Corinth must have needed a little refresher on cheerfully and voluntarily giving a portion of their resources to those less fortunate. Fortunately, Paul, it seems, was always willing to respond to those advice seekers in the early church, and the people living in Corinth were no exception.
So when it comes to taking up the collection, Paul was ready, willing and able to help shed some light on why this was so very important to the Church as a whole, and this is because for Paul, the offering was about much more than money: it was about relationships in the church. Paul understood how important the act of giving was to those wanting to follow Jesus because in this act of giving we can overcome our slavery to possessions. We demonstrate that there are values in the world more important to us than our own selfish glorification. Giving in this way, let’s call it true giving, is an act of self-liberation. What Paul understood and what it appears he wanted to teach in this instance was not about money itself as much as it was about discipleship and grace. Paul doesn’t seem to be concerned about the Corinthians simply raising money, he wants them to change the way they think about money. He wants them to understand that God has graced them with certain things and when they choose to grace others with a portion of them, then they are living out God’s call for all to be Disciples.
More than anything else Paul seems to be reminding these early church members about the importance of building relationships with others and he wants them to know what role money can play in that building. As I am sure we all know, money can ruin relationships, but money can also build relationships. Here’s the thing, just like those early church members in Corinth, if we are going to answer God’s call, if we are going to follow Jesus’ teachings, then we must acknowledge the ways our choices about money play a part. We need to ask ourselves if our approach to money is an approach that embraces discipleship and grace, or is our approach more akin to survival of the fittest? Is our approach to money one that understands that living generously is what happens when your life is overflowing with grace?
You see, the invitation to give is an invitation to share in a cause and to participate in the outpouring of grace in our life and in the life of this church. The invitation to give is an invitation to stand tall and claim that you want to build relationships, not tear them down. The invitation to give is an invitation to acknowledge all the ways God has blessed you in your life and then extend that Grace to others.
Thing is, these are just some of the reasons we have extended such an invitation to the members of this church.
These are just some of the reasons we are so strongly encouraging you to take the time necessary to pray about how you will complete the Pledge Card you received in the mail.
Just like Paul, we are asking you to take the time necessary to reflect on all the ways you have received God’s Grace and once you have taken that time, ask yourself how much you really want to share that Grace with others. You see, that is what it means to give to the church… You are sharing a portion of the Grace God has freely given you with others.
The story of Bill and Melinda Gates on that Zanzibar beach is a story about how much of God’s Grace they decided to share, and while their decision has far reaching potential because of their net worth, your decision does too. Nowhere is it suggested that we must give like the Gates family. To suggest something so ludicrous would be just another attempt to focus only on money, and to focus on that is an incredible disservice. That was not Paul’s focus, that was not Jesus’ focus and I do not believe that has ever been God’s focus. Giving to the Church is about discipleship and grace. Giving to the church is about reaching beyond our physical boundaries to establish and care for relationships with others who find themselves less fortunate. Giving to the church is taking part in the lives of others and extending them a portion of the grace you have received.
Paul’s inclusion of a sower in this passage has me wondering one thing really. It is a question that I ask of myself and now it is one I ask you to do the same with. It is a question that must be honored by taking as much time as needed before answering. It is also a question which we must each answer on our own. The question is how are we sowing… richly or reluctantly? It is my prayer that we find it within ourselves to sow richly when we return our Commitment cards next week.
1 Chronicles 29:1-9, 14-17
October 22, 2017
“Look into the depths
OF ANOTHER’S SOUL
not only with our ears,
BUT WITH OUR HEARTS
and our silent love.”
This is a quote on the inside cover of a book my father-in-law loaned me awhile back. He had read it and thought I might like to read it as well. Now at the time this book could not be purchased in a bookstore, but rather amazingly all over the country small groups of people were reading it chapter by chapter and after each chapter coming together in someone’s house to discuss it. Although I was not part of such a group I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have since recommended it to many people.
This book titled, The Ultimate Gift was written by a man named Jim Stovall. Mr. Stovall, according to his bio, is a blind man who chose not to be defined by that particular trait. In fact, he became a national champion Olympic weightlifter, a successful investment broker, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker. In addition, he is Co-Founder and President of the Narrative Television Network, which makes movies and television accessible for our nation's 13 million blind and visually impaired people and their families.
It was the role of Motivational Speaker that helped him come to a better understanding of what mattered most in his life. Wanting to be the best he could be in that role forced him to ask himself serious questions and then listen to that still small voice within us all for the answer. Now this is no small task, but I belief with every fiber of my being that anyone who stands before people to speak about life and provide a good word needs to spend as much time as they can asking these same questions and more time listening for the answer from that still small Voice.
So, Stovall did just that after years of reaching out to diverse audiences who wanted to know more about Stovall’s remarkable history. When he turned his ear toward his inner self, he says he went right to the heart of the values or gifts that rest within us all, and discovered the magical transformations that begin once we start to recognize and share these treasures. It was his recognition of these treasures that laid the foundation for this book and became the keys that continue to unlock incredible new hope, joy and meaning for individuals, families, schools and public-service organizations throughout the world.
The Ultimate Gift
So, Stovall’s way of teaching about these “Gifts” was through the fictional life of Red Stevens a self-made billionaire who gave his family everything and ruined them in the process. Following his death and as his estate of mega companies is divided among greedy and self-serving relatives, one member is singled out for a chance to do something special: his grandson Jason.
Jason thought his inheritance was going to be the gift of money and lots of it, but boy was he ever in for a big surprise. The story sends trust fund baby Jason on an improbable journey of discovery, having to answer the ultimate question: “What is the relationship between wealth and happiness?” Jason had a very simple relationship with his impossibly wealthy Grandfather, Howard “Red” Stevens. He hated him. No heart-to-heart talks, no warm fuzzies, just cold hard cash. So of course, he figured that when Red died, the whole “reading of the will” thing would be another simple cash transaction, that his Grandfather’s money would allow him to continue living in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. But what Red left him was anything but simple as during his life, Red had devised a plan for Jason to experience a crash course on life. This crash course was made up of Twelve tasks, each of which would serve to teach Jason about the twelve gifts of life.
Before he died, Red recorded a series of video messages and asked his lawyer, Mr. Hamilton and his assistant Mrs. Hastings to share these videos with Jason over the following year. In the first video Red told Jason, “On the first of each month for the next year, you will meet with Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Hastings and they will give you one element of what I call The Ultimate Gift. If you stay the course over the next year, and embrace each element, in the end you will be the recipient of the most significant bequest I can leave you... Understand, if at any time you do not perform as indicated, or if you give Mr. Hamilton or Mrs. Hastings any undue amount of difficulty, I’ve instructed them to stop the process and leave you with nothing.”
One gift per month for the next twelve months doesn’t necessarily sound so bad, but these gifts, the gift of:
A DAY; and
required effort. These gifts were hard work because all Jason wanted was the money. He didn’t want his selfish life disrupted, and this was exactly what Red wanted Jason to overcome. Red knew once Jason accomplished all twelve tasks, Jason’s life would be transformed from a selfish money hungry egomaniac, to a selfless giver of all he had been blessed with. This, according to Re, is The Ultimate Gift; TRANSFORMATION!
I wonder if Jim Stovall, in coming to his own recognition of these twelve gifts of a life well lived knew something about the way the Chronicler wanted King David to be remembered. The Book of Chronicles as a whole, retells the story of the Israelite/Jewish people, briefly summarizing the history until the reign of King David, and then focusing on the reigns of David, Solomon and the later kings of Judea. (It largely omits any mention of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.) But Chronicles does not simply retell the narrative of the Davidic kings. Chronicles has its own particular view of Israel’s history to tell, in which particular events and groups are highlighted, while other events are de-emphasized.
It highlights the covenant between God and David, and describes David and his descendants as sitting “on the throne of the Lord.” King David and his son Solomon are idealized, and the period of their reign is described in glorious terms. The story of Solomon’s succession highlights this idealization: David is described as announcing to all of Israel that God has chosen Solomon as David’s successor. We see this in today’s passage, but equally important to our understanding of today’s passage is King David’s focus on glorifying God. Even in telling the whole assembly about Solomon’s forthcoming reign, David central focus is God and what he believed was most important in honoring God, the building of God’s Temple.
In his sharing with those assembled, David makes clear what his Kingdom had collected from its citizens and dedicated solely to the construction of God’s Temple, but he shares something else. Something a little more personal… David had become a very wealthy man, but his focus was not on himself as he was eager to glorify God, so he announced his decision to contribute his personal wealth to help in the task. David then appealed to all those people to do as he had done. So, he asked them to follow his lead and give themselves to the service of God. This means that they would give much of their accumulated wealth to God.
And you know something, the leaders responded by joyfully giving gifts. They wanted to give and they did so happily.
It seems to me, at least, that David knew the mission of glorifying God was a group mission.
This mission required the setting aside of selfish goals and selfish ambitions.
This mission was about selflessly giving something back in honor of the one who selflessly gave to you.
This mission was about The Ultimate Gift.
This mission was about Transformation.
David Randolph, a Methodist pastor in New York state, has offered a unique perspective on all of this. He says…
“The meaning of life is to receive life as a gift and to offer it back as a gift. It is as essential as breathing in and breathing out. How terrible it would be,” he says, “if we only breathed in, if we were only receivers, if we were only takers. We would soon become bloated and explode. Yes, we receive, but then we give. We breathe out. We share the gift that has been given to us.”
Yes, David cared for his people. Yes, David cared for Solomon and wanted the best for him, and` it seems David understood the way to achieve this for everyone was through the glorification of God because David knew this was God’s desire for God’s Beloved. According to the Chronicler, David understood how central giving back was to the accomplishing of this task, and he also knew it takes a village. This task is only accomplished in community. This task requires all of us because we are all God’s Beloved.
As it was for them, and as it was for the fictional Jason Stevens, the task continues for us today. Each and every one of us has something to give, and make no mistake it will take all of us. In fact, participation by all of us is the only way it can be accomplished because we were all created in God’s Divine image. In all of our uniqueness, we are all walking advertisements of a diverse and beautiful God who loves each and every one of us so much to bless us in ways we could not otherwise be blessed. And because we are first created in this Divine image of selflessly giving and loving, we are all capable of living this way.
This is at least part of what the Chronicler wanted us to know about King David.
This is the Ultimate Gift Red Stevens wanted to give his grandson Jason Stevens.
The gift of selflessly giving and selflessly loving.
The gift of Selflessly giving and selflessly loving is joyful
The gift of Selflessly giving and selflessly loving is transformational.
The gift of selflessly giving and selflessly loving is divine…
This ultimate gift is a gift all of us are called first to receive, and then we are called to give. May we receive when needed, and may we joyfully and graciously give. It is our call.
 Joye Kanelakos
 1 Chronicles 29:23
 1 Chronicles 28:5
 MGQ-SW-139, p.249
October 8, 2017
Private Club Membership
Most people do not know this about me, but I used to play golf. I would never say I was real serious about it, but I most definitely played and enjoyed doing so. More than playing, I loved watching the Master’s Tournament every year. There just seemed to be something about watching the drama unfold on that second Sunday of April and although there wasn’t much drama on the course on the final day of the 1997 Masters Tournament, Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller certainly provided all the drama and more than we needed when he finished his final round. As he walked off the course, he turned to the press corps and made a racist remark regarding Tiger Woods, who was certain of winning his first Major Championship. Only 21 years old at the time, that win at Augusta secured Tiger’s place in history as the youngest Master’s winner ever… a record that might one day be broken. That win also secured Tiger another record, one that will never be broken. You see, on that particular Sunday, Tiger became the first non-white winner of the Master’s Tournament.
It was that last record that prompted the racist comment from Fuzzy, who was already a full member of that extremely exclusive club thanks to his 1979 win. His membership in that club allowed him to know about the club’s traditions like the reigning champion’s right to choose the food at the Masters Champions Dinner the following year. So, after finishing tied for 34th place with a score of 78, Zoeller, referring to that following year’s Dinner, “He’s doing quite well, pretty impressive. That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it.”
Zoeller then smiled, snapped his fingers, and walked away before turning and adding, “or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”
Some have been known to say that “It is a grim fact that [those] admitted to the Country Club typically becomes the loudest voice in making the case to keep out the next group seeking admission. After all, once you make it to the inside of a Members Only club, you want to savor your status. You see it as a key achievement, a notch in your belt, a feather in your cap, a sign that you are now really Somebody.
Then when certain types of people start to somehow get admitted into your Club, particularly such-and-such a group, then suddenly it’s as though your special status starts to feel diminished, watered down, less of a distinction than it had been. In this way it seems, the very purpose of having a club is to have barriers and walls around you to keep out . . . riff-raff and other undesirables. If you don’t have standards to bar certain people from admission, [like people who don’t know what kind of food is acceptable to the other Members], then what’s the sense of having a club to begin with?
This is human nature, I’m afraid. And it’s also the reason that when a religion starts to see itself as a club, it’s pretty much game over in terms of reflecting and incarnating the loving heart of God.”
So, what does Exclusive Club Membership have to do with Jesus, the Chief Priests and the Religious Leaders… I say EVERYTHING.
Proper Historical Context
In today’s passage we read a story found in the latter part of Matthew’s Gospel, where is Jesus again speaking with the Chief Priests and Religious Leaders. The reason he is speaking with them in the first place is because they continue questioning Jesus’ authority. Remember, they wanted desperately to “catch” him so that they could prosecute him. It is as though they are saying, “How dare he try to teach outsiders about the inner workings of our Exclusive Club.” This isn’t the first time they tested Jesus and just like those other times, Jesus uses the power of a Parable to make his point.
Did you know that this Parable is one of only three that appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, what we call the synoptic gospels? “Curiously, some of Jesus’ best-known parables (like the Good Samaritan) occur in one gospel alone. Only the parables of The Sower, The Mustard Seed, and The Tenants get repeated in all three New Testament Gospels.
So why this parable? Especially considering it is one of the lesser known parables. Why would the Gospel writers confer such importance to this parable?
Maybe it is because this Parable shows us how Jesus is shifting the focus from Israel alone, a small exclusive club, to the entire world. Maybe with this Parable Jesus is teaching yet again that the Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom built on rejection. Maybe with this Parable Jesus is teaching that this Kingdom is a Kingdom that is rightly Ordered. A Kingdom belonging to God and entrusted to, never owned by, God’s beloved.
Rejection & Right Ordering
This entire parable is not as much about leadership as it is about rejection. All throughout this Parable the Tenants reject, reject, reject. They reject everyone the far away Owner sends. First, it’s the Owner’s servants then the Owner’s own son. Harm, assault, even kill, but no matter what reject all who dare come to the vineyard.
The Tenants in this Parable appear to be experts at rejecting everyone. Outsiders and insiders who they deem unworthy of being in that place or being a part of their club. The thing is, their rejection doesn’t start when those first people show up, it actually begins with the Owner. The Tenants first reject their previously made arrangement with the Owner. Their agreement to tend to and care for the Owner’s Vineyard. Make no mistake, when they reject this previously made agreement, they are rejecting the Owner. This mindset of rejection sets up all the other ways the Tenants reject the servants and the son.
There is something altogether different about rejecting and wanting to kill his son because “In coming to reclaim what rightly belongs to his Father, the Son sets out to restore the world to its divinely created order. This restores wholeness to this broken situation, and it also provides a glimpse into what Jesus calls “the Kingdom of Heaven.” This glimpse is what God’s creation is supposed to look like.
But the restoration of God’s creation to what it is supposed to be is so difficult. That kind of restoration work always seems to meet opposition from those with a vested interest in the world’s brokenness. That kind of restoration work always seems to meet opposition from those who believe they are already a part of the “in crowd.” This is restoration work because the Owner first made an agreement with these Tenants, and the Tenants made the decision to reject or destroy that agreement. It is the Owner who now is looking for the agreement to be restored, but the Owner is now fully aware that the restoration will require an expanded search. It will require the opening of doors to those who have been kept out by the Tenants.
If we look closely at this passage then we will see that Jesus acknowledges this very thing. In his words he acknowledges that the Tenants were first chosen by the Owner and by making this acknowledgement he is honoring history itself and God’s choosing of Israel. In this Parable the Tenants are hired by the Owner to protect and maintain the vineyard. As much as we would like to point the finger at them and call them names, the truth of the matter is that they are not robbers tearing down the fence to steal. They were actually chosen to be there.
And this makes their failure all the more tragic because they have broken the Owner’s trust. They have improperly laid claim to that which does not rightfully belong to them. In this way, Jesus’ very point seems to be that the Chief Priests and the Religious Leaders have mistaken their leadership over Israel for ownership of Israel. Where the Chief Priests and Religious Leaders were charged with pointing Israel toward God had turned into them pointing her to themselves. This is why this Parable is not an indictment against Israel, or against the institution… it is an indictment against the ways God’s appointed leaders have rejected God and rejected society. And this is why this is a Parable about putting things in their proper order and caring for what has been entrusted to you instead of exercising dominion over it.
The tragedy lies not only in their selfish rebellion but in the blindness that rebellion produces. The Parable shows how the temple leaders have been entrusted by God and how they have rebelled against God, but can’t even see their own rebellion. What they know is that God has appointed them as leaders, and this Jesus has attacked their authority. What they know is that they have been admitted to the Club, and now Jesus is saying others are worthy of being admitted too and this threatens their position of power and as a result they cannot see--or have lost sight of--what God’s will for the world really is. This is why in their eyes Jesus’ ministry must be a scandal.
"The issue is not fundamentally one of leadership as much as it is one of rendering to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21). For anyone called by God to a particular ministry--namely everyone--there is the temptation to claim ownership of that ministry, to confuse service with entitlement. For us, the moment a sense of entitlement creeps into 'our' ministry is the moment we have closed ourselves off to what Jesus is doing in the world. In that scenario we no longer serve Jesus; we protect ourselves from him. In our blindness we proclaim, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance” (21: 38).'”
The tenants who turn on the vineyard’s owner were clearly the religious leaders of the day, and the moment you make that connection, it’s not difficult to see why these folks were so upset over what Jesus said. Jesus was clearly saying that the vineyard tenants claim of ownership and sense of entitlement were on the wrong side of history. Their approach to the Kingdom was off.
Here’s the thing, it takes faith to accept that. The problem with the Chief Priests and Religious Leaders of Israel in Jesus’ day is that they had long since given up on true faith. For all intents and purposes, they decided they could run God’s kingdom without God. And all throughout history, when God had tried to redirect them through the prophets, they ignored, battered, and sometimes killed those prophets. Their narrow-mindedness was so complete “they had concluded that unless someone said things that affirmed what they were already doing and believing, then that person could not represent God. ” It was this same narrow-mindedness that allowed them to so easily reject anyone who did not sing the party line.
And most importantly, whenever we religious types reach that point concerning our God, we need to recognize that we are not where God wants us. We have reached a point where we are attempting to exercise dominion and ownership over things only entrusted to our care. Ownership and control is not our job, nor has it ever been our calling.
Amy and I were watching an interview with the famed comedian Billy Crystal yesterday afternoon and something he said about the condition of our world struck me. When asked what he is concerned about the most, Crystal said, “you know I am 70 years old and I have four grandchildren, 14, 11, 8 & 4, and I look at them and I wonder what kind of world are we leaving for them.” The thing is, I have heard this very same question from many friends and clients over the years, but especially over the past couple of weeks. It is a haunting question and it is one I worry about too. It seems this question haunted Jesus too. Why else would he try so desperately to teach the Chief Priest and Religious Leaders about how deadly rejection would be to their lives? Why else would Jesus try so hard to teach them that God is Love and that we are all God’s Beloved?
It’s past time for those claiming to be the Church to live up to Jesus’ teaching. It’s past time for those claiming to be the Church to stop treating it like its an exclusive membership club where only the insiders know what people like to eat. It’s past time for those claiming to be the Church to begin truly caring for God’s creation instead of claiming ownership and operating with a sense of entitlement.
If the Church can claim this rightly ordered life, then we will do as the Lord’s Prayer directs… God’s will be done on EARTH as it is in Heaven. This is the kind of world we should be leaving each and every generation that follows.
 "Golfer says comments about Woods 'misconstrued'". CNN. April 21, 1997. Retrieved May 22, 2013.
 Driggers, Ira Brent, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=145
October 1, 2017
Over the past month, Amy & I have been drinking a lot of water. In fact, it is the only thing Amy & I have had to drink during that time. She & I chose to eat and drink cleanly for 30 days and I’m happy to say, our 30 days will be over this coming Thursday. That does not mean, however, that my consumption of water will stop and there is good reason for that.
Importance of Water
There are three things in this world that are essential to the continuing of life: oxygen, food and water. Take one of the three away and life as you know it will quickly change for the worse. Take water for instance, I came across an educational video on You Tube called, “What if you stopped drinking water?” and here is what I learned:
Our bodies are 65% water and that is where they want to stay;
Now all of that water:
Carries nutrients and hormones all throughout our body;
Regulates our body temperature;
Cushions our joints; and
Keeps our eyes moist.
How about our brain… Did you know our brain is constantly measuring water and sending us signals, like letting us know we are thirsty after a hot and sweaty day outside? The reason our brain cares so much is because when we get dehydrated, the brain is affected. When we are dehydrated, we may feel light-headed, and most likely our thoughts and responses are slower than normal. In fact, studies of the elderly found that many who presented as confused or lacking clarity are not suffering permanent memory loss, they are actually suffering from constant dehydration.
Now, all of that is what would happen if we just don’t get enough water, but what about being totally deprived of water. Well when we are totally deprived of water, our bodies will begin to shut down in 4 to 5 days. In those moments, it seems, there is only one question, will you have life or will you have death.
This is one reason why the cries of desperation are so loud when coming from someone in need of water they can drink. They are literally begging for their life when they are desperately crying out for the gift of water. Some may not like the sound, or the volume of voices begging for their life, but wouldn’t we all scream at the top of our lungs if we found ourselves living without water to drink? Wouldn’t we cry out as loudly as possible to our leaders… or to anyone we thought could help? Surely, we would.
Maybe this explains why only yesterday Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico said, “I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying… If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying…” You see, the people of Puerto Rico continue to wake up to a new world where clean drinking water is scarce and people are desperate. Their leaders are desperate. Here’s the thing, crying out… begging for life’s essentials is never, and should never be seen as “poor leadership.” It’s what people do when the question is life or death. It’s what the best leaders do when those they lead cannot cry out for themselves any longer.
It’s certainly what the Israelites did and its certainly what Moses did on their behalf. The question then becomes, how will those who hear the cries respond?
Israelites in the Wilderness
Just like last week, today’s text presents us with rich opportunities for thinking about who God is and how God responds to and provides for the people in a time of incredible anxiety and danger.
This is not the first time the Israelites have lacked for water. You may recall that only three days into their wilderness journey, they arrived at Marah and found the water too bitter to drink. They immediately complained to Moses, who called upon God who responded by providing a piece of wood, which, when thrown into the water made it drinkable (15:23-25a).
This is followed by their Manna exploration adventure we talked about last week. And then, is rather short order we get to Exodus 17, where the Israelites hit another bump in the road. For reasons we don’t know, they set up camp at Rephidim, a place where there is no water to drink. And like anyone deprived of water to drink, they begin complaining, but this time, the text tells us, their complaining is more intense than before because this time it includes quarreling. They say to Moses, “Give us water to drink” (17:2)… which causes Moses to accuse the people of testing Yahweh: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” (17:2).
That last question is a pretty good question I think, even though far too often we are scared to approach God in such a way. Here’s the thing, when forming new relationships, both sides are tested and the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites was only beginning. I know God had provided for them all along their wilderness journey, and I know how easy it is to sit here today and judge what appears to be their lack of understanding and believing, but to end the story in that place is highly unfair. There only frame of reference about how this God worked was being lived out in the real time of their daily lives, and so far, there had been some ups and some downs.
That doesn’t make them slow learners. That doesn’t mean they lack faith. It is not a sign that their faith is weak. There complaining about one of life’s essentials makes them human.
Perhaps this Exodus narrative is telling us a story about the relationship between the divine and human and how it is being worked out. There was the honeymoon immediately after God delivered them from physical enslavement, followed by some hard times where issues like trust and control surfaced and the relationship is tested.
One scholar says, “The people’s continuing doubt seems both to be about who is in charge (they still identify Moses as the one who brought them up out of Egypt, rather than Yahweh) and why they have been chosen. In Egypt, they were chosen by the Pharaoh for work (Exodus 1:11) and ultimately, for death (Exodus 1:16). They suspect that this is Moses’/God’s intention for them as well, for they wonder if they have been brought into the wilderness to die, to be killed, along with their children (their futures) and their livestock (their security).”
Their questions indicate that in their minds Yahweh has left Moses in charge and that Moses has become their new Pharaoh… someone to use them for labor and a way to gain glory. But unlike Pharaoh, each and every time they question, Moses turns to God and God delivers, and this time is no exception as God tells Moses to take the staff he used at the Nile River and to meet God on the rock at Horeb, from which water will flow when Moses strikes it with his staff.
Isn’t it interesting how in this story, God chooses to bring life out of what seems lifeless? God chooses water to flow from a rock… LIFE FROM THE LIFELESS! You see, whether coming out of Egypt or journeying through the wilderness, God will find ways to bring and sustain life in unexpected ways. The thing is, this isn’t all on God as this journey will require a certain amount of trust from the people, just like it did of the Israelites and Moses. This journey will require a willingness to put faith in a God who seems to go about the delivering of gifts in a different kind of way than expected.
What if all these tests Moses and God reference in Exodus are meant to teach people radical trust in a God who opposes hoarding, but is always present to respond to needs? What if the referencing of all these tests are meant to show us all the ways God has acted to make life flow from places of death? What if we saw their doubts and their quarreling as calling God to action? I wonder if this story would remain only a story about the Israelites, or would it become a story about them and us… a story about the ever-growing relationship between Divinity and Humanity.
God seems to respond with creativity when the people loudly protest. Maybe by continuing to push for justice and grace and mercy… Maybe by continuing to protest loudly for the essentials that sustain life, the people are teaching us that follow how important it is that we continue to shape God’s character just as God works to shape ours. This mutual testing, this relationship building, happening in the wilderness produces a people with an incredible faith, as well as an incredible counter-cultural God.
Are You Thirsty?
For me, the vital nature of water was never as clear as it was over two years ago as I drove home from a long intense three-day seminary class on Church Worship. Hours earlier I received an urgent message from my sister letting me know that my Dad was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. It just so happened that another class I was taking during that summer school session required that I keep a journal and I want to read some of what I wrote.
July 21, 2015
… Ironically, last week I was under the impression that I was tired, but last week pales in comparison to my current state of affairs. As I left campus this past Saturday, July 18, 2015, following a three (3) day intensive study on Christian Worship, I drove straight to the emergency room of Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, North Carolina so that I could be present with my Dad who had been taken by ambulance earlier that morning. His trip in the ambulance was necessitated by his inability to eat, drink, walk and talk for the previous three (3) days.
Ironically, the severity of his dementia is not the reason he is lying in a hospital bed. Nor is the level of debilitation caused by his Parkinson’s disease. Neither are the number of times he has fallen (10 +) over the past week. He is here, and I am here with him, because of the lack of food and water.
This is why people who lack these essentials cry out, and when they can’t this is why those who love them should. Protest, quarrel if needed and never stop, especially when it comes to life’s essentials. Especially when it comes to justice, grace and mercy. In desperate times of need, this is what we are to do, and when we do it, we display the best attributes of history’s great leaders. When you are thirsty, when you feel abandoned, cry out, and may you know that when you cry out you are doing your part in continuing the shaping of the relationship between Divinity and Humanity.
 Erikson, Amy, workingpreacher.com Commentary