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October 2020 40 Years in the Desert
When I was in seminary in my preaching class I learned that a sermon series is best at four weeks. It was communicated that six weeks would work, but anything longer than that, people would get bored and loose interest in your topic. Your best bet was to keep things short and concise to maintain the attention of your intended audience. This year’s lectionary (they rotate every 3 years) includes 10 weeks on Moses. This leaves preachers with several options. One could break it up into chunks of Moses or the Israelites story; skip the Old Testament focus all together; or choose one half or the other pre/post the Exodus. I am breaking all of the rules and spending the whole 10 weeks with Moses and the Israelites.
Why would I choose to do this? After all, I am not really the rule breaking type. The answer is simple; 2020 has thrown out all of the rules. As we find ourselves wishing the pandemic and civil unrest will be over tomorrow, yesterday really, the reality is that we could be dealing with this for years. Yes, you read that right, years – There is seldom an easy answer, and it almost never comes in our desired timeline. So, back to our Israelite friends. Their journey is going to take us 10 weeks, but it took them 40 years. That was long enough for an entire generation to die off.
You may be asking, “Pastor, if their story is so miserable, why are you talking so much about them? The Bible is full of hope; can’t we talk about that?” We are focusing on the “miserable” Israelites because their story is not unlike our own. Their story may seem depressing and hopeless, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The entire time their story is taking place, from Moses’ birth to their entrance in the promised land, God is performing miracles all around them. Incredible things are happening, but it is so far outside of their expectations that they can’t even see how miraculous it is. I am choosing to focus on the Israelites to help encourage us to find the miracles that God is performing in the midst of our suffering. None of us would have chosen our current reality, but its nowhere near as bad as the Israelites. Think about it; they were three million people tent camping in the desert. If God worked miracles for them, doesn’t it stand to reason that God would work miracles for us?
Friends, we are sticking with the Israelites, because just as they needed to be reminded that God was with them, we need that reminder as well. The Creator could have spoken the words and turned their desert into paradise, but he had different plans for them, just as he has different plans for us. Our unfortunate reality is that we live in a broken creation. Fortunately for us the Creator continues to walk along side of us and promises to meet all of our needs. Like the Israelites, we need to take a step back and consider what God is doing in our lives in this season, and choose to be thankful rather than filled with fear. It took them 40 years (Oh how I pray ours is shorter!), but the Israelites did in fact reach the Promised Land. God delivered them, and he will deliver us as well. Stay faithful and I know that we will see God do some incredible things in the midst of our tragedy; we simply have to choose to trust and be thankful!
It always amazes me how God’s message for us and our reality tend to go hand in hand. September’s worship line-up is no exception. As I considered the lectionary scriptures for this month, one glaring theme became apparent; don’t complain and figure out how to get along. Now I try not to get too into politics, but I will say that is a great reminder for the fall of an election year. Of course, this is no ordinary election year. Tensions always get ramped up a bit during an election year, but add in social unrest and global pandemic and it seems that all we do is fight with each other.
If you are not on social media (good choice), you may not be aware of how heated things are getting, but my guess is that you are still encountering the unrest. In our collective memory (of the last 100 years or so) we can’t imagine a time that has ever been as bad as this. But then, we look through our Bible and realize that what we are enduring is nothing new. This is what it means when we say that the Bible is the Living Word of God. The Holy Spirit will show us examples of how God wants us to handle our current situations with examples from history.
This month’s lectionary addresses how we should behave under pressure, that is by walking with the Israelites as they went from bad to what they thought was worse. It has Jesus giving us examples of what fairness means. In Sunday worship, we will delve a bit deeper into all of this. I will give you the overall message now: “You can’t see the big picture, so trust God and try to realize that we can have different perspectives.” Essentially, don’t judge your neighbor just because you have a difference of opinion.
It can be very helpful to educate people we know about the realities that we have, but the flip side of that is that we need to be willing to learn from their point of view as well. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. At the same time we need to resign ourselves to the understanding that agreeing to disagree does not mean casting judgment or holding grudges. The best thing we can do for people we perceive as wrong is pray for them. No, threatening to pray for them is not helpful.
Friends, there is a lot of anger and hatred in our world right now, and it is exaggerated by the fact that nothing is normal.
There are no areas of our lives where we can go to escape what is happening in our world; everything is affected by the pandemic. Well, almost no areas. We can still go to God. We can still seek God’s peace and refuge from the unrest in our world. We can still ask God to help us trust in Him, and remain calm when our friends say things that make us angry. It won’t be easy. God never promised easy, but we won’t have to do it alone. God will be with us every step of the way!
The Coming Flood
“I just want things to get back to NORMAL!” While I haven’t uttered these words aloud, other than in jest, I have definitely felt them a lot lately. I feel them every time I have to remind myself not to hug someone on Sunday morning, or even when I quietly hum the words to a favorite hymn. I feel them when I can’t pray with someone (in person) before surgery, and as I try to figure out what we can “do” without gathering. It is frustrating having to distance and learning all of the new, ever changing rules. It is easy to get discouraged and feel hopeless, but then I am reminded of the disciples.
In August, we will be looking at the miracles of Jesus in worship. As I prepare even now for those worship services, I think about how the disciples must have felt. These were men who left their everyday normal lives and followed Jesus on a mission, stranger than they could have ever conceived. He showed up out of nowhere, called them to walk away from their jobs and families, spoke in riddles they rarely understood, and performed miracles beyond their wildest imaginations, usually in answer to their frustration.
The thing is, I really want things to get back to normal. I want that because I know what to do with normal. I know what to expect, how to react, and even what needs to be done. In the middle of this season I am tired of the unknowns, but I also know that progress requires change. When I was in college a pastor helped us understand change this way: Rivers have set paths. In order for a river to change course it requires a flood. Only when everything is destroyed and the flood waters recede can we see the new direction.
Friends, right now we are in the midst of the flood. We are up to our eyeballs in Covid “rain,” and it seems like it may never stop. Here’s the thing though; even when it stops we will still have the flood to deal with. There will be businesses that won’t return, there will be families who have lost loved ones, there will be new school practices, and yes, the way the church functions will probably not be the same. This doesn’t have to be all bad.
Already we can see ways that this has changed our course here in the church. We have become more technologically savvy, both from a church and an individual perspective. People who would have balked at the idea of worship online are finding the blessing in having it available. We have doubled our efforts in communicating with those who have been shut-in, and I know that has been a blessing for both the callers and the callees. In the future there will be many more things that we are forced to do differently and so we will do them better, or will do something new. Just like when Jesus called the disciples into something new, the good news is that God is on this journey with us. Even though we long for what was, even though our limited vision is frustrating, the good news is that God has something incredible for our future. We just need to hold on a bit longer and put our trust in him.