Sermon 36 Nov 24 Transitions Series
My sermon manuscript follows. There may have been parts that were stated differently, but these are my notes:
Pharaoh is no longer a threat.
God has been praised in poems, song and dance.
Israel is in phase 2 of 3 of the Exodus journey. We can call it: Freedom in the desert, going God-knows-where. Literally!
Let’s go back and touch on some of what we’ve noted so far…
- We learned to see Pharaoh as anti-God, anti-creation, and we saw the chaos his resistance to God unleashed. Pharaoh fought God’s creation forces of life and blessing all the way, even to the point where the chaos was catastrophic, and the waters closed over him and his army.
- God, through all of phase 1, has been saying “Then you will know that I am God” and, “I will be your God and you will be my people” showing that God’s actions are about establishing r e l a t i o n s h i p.
Pharaoh was blocking that relationship. Israel did not have the freedom to worship God fully.
God, through consequences he had built into creation and through his control over the forces of creation, eventually swept Pharaoh out of the way.
Phase 1 carries the theme of exposing the danger of hard-heartedness.
Phase 2 will be about shaping how the relationship with God works.
Phase 2 will end when they cross water on the other side of the wilderness. That is some 40 years away.
We know – because we know some of the story already – that phase 2 will be a dry, desolate, wandering, testing time, in which God teaches his people how to live in relationship with “I AM” who came into the story in a burning bush.
You, Christ Community Church, are somewhere in your version of phase 2, if we can try to compare. And, like Israel, you might have some puzzlement about where we are going and what we are doing. By now the novelties are wearing off, you are hoping for clear results, and are eager to see what Phase 3 will look like…
But it is dangerous to enter phase 3 too quickly. There are things that can only be learned in wandering in the unknown, things like new insight into God’s patience and providence. Things like deep trust in God’s word and leading. When we’ve learned to listen.
For newly free Israel the lessons about how to live in relationship with I AM — in the wilderness — begin right away.
They are near a place whose name translated means “Fortress Wall” so we can imagine a giant rock face or wall. I know in the Rockies there is are formations like it…
Even though the singing of praise is still echoing from the rocks, the next incident sets up a different kind of refrain. It is a grouchy refrain, a chorus of complaining and grumbling, made by a people who, we will learn, easily forget how free they are and who begin to see every obstacle as a shadow of the oppression they used to live under.
Maybe they even experience it as a flashback…
It’s a learned habit. It is called the victim mentality. … It comes with an expectation that things will soon get bad, that no good thing can last, that someone is always out to get you, that no one is really there to truly help, including God.
Another version of it is called “learned helplessness.” When you have been forcefully told what to do for a long enough time, you lose the ability to creatively make your own choices…
When a people have lived under oppression for centuries, these kings of mentalities need to be unlearned. Sometimes, as it will with Israel, it takes an entire generation, until a Joshua (which means “one who saves, one who delivers”) rises up to lead into stage 3 across the Jordan into the Place of God’s promise.
They travel for three days. No water is found. Then, very thirsty, they came to water. Some eagerly sampled it, and spit it out. It was bitter. That bitterness brings out their bitterness.
Grumbling begins. The grumbling is directed at Moses, but it is really grumbling at God.
Don’t we do the same? Grumble to our leaders about this or that … when we really are complaining to God, we just don’t dare do it directly. In fact we are kind of happy to have someone to mediate the complaint.
We can easily picture them saying things like “You, you brought us to this point! Quench our thirst! Now! I don’t care that we owe you our lives and freedom, if this is freedom, I’m not so sure freedom to die of thirst is better than slavery with good water!”
Moses passes the complaint on to God.
And an interesting thing happens. God leads Moses’ eye is to see something, a piece of wood, and he has the impulse to toss it into the bitter water. And lo and behold, it cleans up and becomes sweet and drinkable. No longer bitter.
And, the bitterness of the people disappears for a time as well.
So God leads Moses to a solution to the problem within Creation order! No big miracle, but something within Creation being used to correct a problem.
And so a pattern is set out, a pattern we will see a number of times in the journey. We might even get tired of seeing it. It goes like this:
- a problem arises,
- the people grumble to Moses,
- Moses brings the situation to God,
- God brings a solution.
And then, having relieved the problem, presumably having their full and grateful attention, God explains how the relationship can be made better.
That’s in verse 26
“If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
Pay attention to the Creation order, and to what God says, and Creation will not enter into chaos, and you will be well, in soul, body and environment, and above all, in relationship with God.
This is the Old Testament teaching we can take from this entire account.
The New Testament takes the lesson another step further, beyond simply creation order stuff, and to eternal safety in faith in Jesus.
As we journey forward with Israel in this time of teaching some foundational truths, we will see how responsive God is to these complaining people.
- How he cares for them.
- How he provides things the wilderness normally does not provide.
- How protests are heard, and answered, again and again and again.
- How cries are heard by God, and – we would say – sometimes quite undeservedly addressed.
We will see that deliverance comes, not by escape from what seems to be misery, but within it, by God setting a table in the midst of hardship (you could say, like Psalm 23, “in the presence of the enemy”) When food can’t be seen anywhere, God lays it out in the morning, or has it flying over so low you can grab it out of the air.
Where it looks like there are only rocks God provides water. All in the wilderness.
There is a movement in it all, a movement from death to a new kind of life, right in what we would think is the most godforsaken place and time.
Under trust in God, even the valley of the shadow of death is found to be a place of God’s provision and care.
And memories and experiences and evidences of God’s caring are created, so that when the people are living in the land of God’s promises, they can remember, they can retell, they can recount, how God saved them, how God cared and cares for them, how God listens, and how it goes well with the soul that learns to listen for God in the wildernesses of life.