Delivery Man Sermon Series – #9: Glimpses of God

This is the ninth sermon in our summer sermon series on the life of Moses. Blessings to you!

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 33:12-23 – Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”


Delivery Man Sermon Series
#9 – Glimpses of God
Exodus 33:12-23
August 26, 2015

As we continue our sermon series today on the life of Moses, let me give a quick recap of our journey so far, because it will have a bearing on today’s passage. We know that Moses was born in Egypt and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, but fled the country after he killed an Egyptian. He settled down in Midian, got married, and became a shepherd. One day, while tending to his flock, he sees the burning bush and hears a call from God to go back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites from slavery. To show Moses that God means business, God gives Moses God’s name to tell to the Israelites – “tell them ‘I Am Who I Am” sent you.” The giving of God’s name establishes a relationship between Moses and God.

Moses goes to Egypt and after some intense negotiations and 10 plagues, Pharoah lets the Israelites go, but quickly has Pharaoh’s remorse and decides to get them back. Pharaoh traps them at the Red Sea, but God parts the sea and the Israelites pass through, while the Egyptian army gets swallowed up. Finally, the Israelites are free from slavery and headed toward the Promised Land.

The problem is that the Israelites aren’t very good traveling companions. Before the Red Sea mud is off their feet they start complaining about the lack of food and water and un-luxurious traveling conditions. God responds to their grumbling, but the ungrateful Israelites grumble even more. Then God gets mad and Moses intervenes, things settle down, and then it the cycle starts all over again. The relationship between God and the Israelites is a bit dysfunctional.

The finally make it to the base of Mt. Sinai, where the Israelites set up camp while Moses goes up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments from God. The Israelites accept the commandments and pledge their undying loyalty to God…until about a week later. While Moses is gone up the mountain, they break the first two commandments by fashioning a Golden Calf which they can worship in God’s place. God finally loses patience and threatens to wipe out the whole lot of them and start over with Moses, but Moses talks God out of it.

That’s where we left off last week. An important point to note in the Golden Calf story is that, at one point, Moses is so mad at the Israelites for breaking the commandments that he takes the stone tablets, on which the commandments are written, and smashes them on the ground. By doing sot, Moses breaks the covenant that had been made between God and the people. Their relationship is strained, their vows have been broken, God is ready to wipe them all out, and once again, as we’ve seen many times before in this story, the Israelites are at a dead-end. God went into God’s room and slammed the door, the Israelites went into their room and slammed the door, and Moses is caught out in the hallway, completely helpless.

In the beginning of our chapter today, God commands the Israelites to leave Mt. Sinai and head toward the Promised Land, where God will drive out the foreign nations – the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Termites, and the Cellulites – so the Israelites may live there. Then God says, “Go to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you, or else I would destroy you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

My youth group was driving from Chicago to Kansas City in two church vans for a mission trip. About three hours into the drive, the lead van pulled off to the side of a busy highway. I was driving the second van, so I followed suit, worrying the whole time what was wrong. Did someone get sick? Is the van having problems? The driver got out of the van, stalked around to the side door, opened it, and dragged out one of the middle school boys. He grabbed him by the arm, marched him to our van, opened the door, and said with deep exasperation, “Here. He’s all yours.”

I think that might be how God is feeling here. God basically says to the Israelites, “If we make this journey together, one of us won’t reach the destination.” We talked last week about how God is often portrayed in the Bible in human terms, and in this instance, God’s frustration with the Israelites boils over. “Fine, you all go, but I’m not going with you.”

So in our passage today, we’re overhearing a conversation between God and Moses that takes place right after this pronouncement. We know that Moses and God share a close relationship, to the point that the Bible tells us the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. I don’t take this literally, as if they stared at each other, but it is a testimony to the intimacy of their relationship.

Moses is disturbed by God’s pronouncement, and lets God know about it. He says, “Look, you told me to lead these people, but how do I do that if you’re not with me? If you really trust me, God, give me your exact marching orders. Tell me step by step what I’m supposed to do. Show me your ways.” This is a critical moment in the relationship between God and Moses. By asking to be shown God’s way, and then asking to see God’s glory, Moses is seeking to know God as much as possible. The more he can truly know God, the more comfortable he will feel in his faith, which is probably true for every single one of us. I know it is for me. “If we could only know you, God! Show us! Tell us! Let us see your face! Post a neon sign so we’ll know exactly what to do.”

In this world of ambiguity and competing agendas, sometimes we just want to KNOW, don’t we? We may not be lugging around a million stiff-necked, cow-worshipping ex-slaves, we may not be able to part the water in our bathtub, but we have our own burdens and anxieties, don’t we? We need a pep talk from the Big Coach now and then. We need God to pull out a clipboard and show us exactly what the plan is. Most of the time in my life I’m OK with trusting, but sometimes I need to know. I think that’s where Moses is in our story. At this critical juncture, he needs to know God is with him.

And God says…”No.” God doesn’t offer Moses a glimpse of the plan, but God offers him something even greater. After some negotiations, God retracts his earlier threat and promises to go with Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, saying, “I will do the very thing that you asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses was so focused on what he thought he needed to know, that he forgot that he was known. We do that too, right? We have this strong desire to know and we forget that what really matters is that we are known by God. No matter what happens, good or bad, we are known by God.

Moses asks for God to confirm this promise by showing Moses God’s glory. In one of strangest instances of humanizing God in all of scripture, God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock, covers the opening and passes by, removing God’s hand so that Moses can see God’s back. Have you ever seen that? I bet you have. In the moment, we have trouble seeing God, concluding that God isn’t with us or God doesn’t love us. But in hindsight, as we look back, we can see where God has been, what God has done, how God has left a mark in our lives, like the divine wake God leaves behind.

Through this action, God recommits to Moses and the stubborn, stiff-necked Israelites. At the burning bush, God sealed the agreement with Moses by giving God’s name. Here, God seals it with a more intimate encounter. The only way to know someone more closely than knowing their name is meeting them in person, even if it is only from the back. In the next chapter, Moses will make two new tablets and write God’s laws on them, re-establishing the covenant that was broken with the Golden Calf. Once again, through God’s grace, a dead-end turns into a path through the wilderness.

That covenant will last, even though the Israelites will continue to break it. God gave them all these laws to help them know how to be God’s people in this world, and yet time and time again the people broke them. So God sent prophets to the people, folks like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to remind the people of the covenant God made with them. The people would repent for a time and recommit themselves to following the laws, but they were humans, so eventually they would revert back to their sinful behavior, breaking their end of the covenant even though God was honoring God’s end.

Finally, God threw up God’s hands and said, “This isn’t working.” It would have been completely understandable if God had given up on us, if God had truly turned God’s back on these stiff-necked people and left them to rot in the cesspool of their own unfaithfulness and sin. But instead of turning God’s back, God turned the other way. In Jesus Christ, God turned around so we could see God’s face. Through Christ, God says to us, “Here I am. I love you. I want to know you. I am with you.” We have seen God face to face.

We’re told that after Moses came down from the mountain his face was radiant because of his encounter with God. The Bible says, “Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory on his face.” In fact, his face shone so brightly he had to wear a veil. That’s what a personal meeting with God will do to you. Which makes me wonder…if we have met God face to face through Jesus Christ, do our faces shine? Can people look at us and just know that we have seen God? Does anything about who we are and what we say and how we live radiate the love of God to others?

Through Christ, God has said to us, “I am with you. My presence goes with you.” And each day, we have a chance to see this presence, to glimpse God’s glory all around us. Where do you see it? I see it anytime I visit a newborn in the hospital. Maybe you see it in a radiant sunset or a blooming flower. Maybe you hear it in a cat’s purr or a loved one’s voice. Maybe you smell it in fresh baked bread or taste it at the communion table. God’s glory is ALL around us! God IS with us! We have seen it!

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries, and daub their natural faces unaware.” Do our faces reflect the glory we have seen? Do our words echo the joy that fills us? Do our actions imitate the grace we have received? The glory of God has been revealed to us – to us! How can our lives be the same? How can our faces not reflect that amazing fact? Show the world what you know, that you are known, and that God is with you.

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Delivery Man sermon series – #6: God’s Top Ten List

This is the sixth sermon in my series on the life of Moses.

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 20:1-21

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lordyour God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for theLord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days theLord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 21 Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Delivery Man sermon series
#6 – God’s Top Ten List
Exodus 20:1-21
August 2, 2015

Before we read the scripture passage, let’s take a quiz: How many of the Ten Commandments can you name? Four? Six? I’ll prime the pump for you a bit. “Do not kill” is in there. “Keep off the grass” is not. “Do not bear false witness” – in there. “I before E except after C” – not in there. “Honor your father and mother” is in there. “Always use your turn signal” – of course not…but it should be! Let’s listen to the complete list as it’s given in Exodus.

We continue our sermon series on the life of Moses by looking at this watershed moment in the history of the Israelites. When we left them, the Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, as Moses had led them through the Red Sea and into freedom. But the Israelites were an ungrateful bunch, and immediately started complaining about how life was better for them as slaves than as nomadic wanderers in the wilderness. God answered their grumbling by providing manna for them to eat, but also gave them strict instructions on when and how much to gather. God did this as a test to see if the Israelites were going to obey God and be faithful.

That quiz was just a precursor for the big exam, which we get today. Moses leads the Israelites to the base of Mt. Sinai, where God gives to Moses the laws that God wants the people to follow. Eventually they will receive over 600 laws addressing their clothing, their food, their work, and their relationships. But it all starts here with the Top Ten List.

I know the 10 Commandments have been a lightning rod in our culture. Their absence from schools and courthouses has been lifted up as a symbol of our increasingly de-Christianed culture (never mind that the laws are thoroughly Jewish). At times it has felt to me like there’s been more energy expended in fighting over the laws than actually following them.

There has also been a lot of debate on how to apply these laws. They are frustratingly ambiguous. “You shall not murder” – does that include self-defense? What about as an act of war? “Honor your father and mother” – even if one of them is abusive? I had a congregation member say to me this week he was afraid he was breaking the commandment to not covet because he really wanted a Ford Mustang. I assured him that his spot in Heaven was still secure.

That highlights one of the misuses of the Ten Commandments. When we read them, we immediately apply them individually, as if they are a checklist for our own personal spiritual lives. But that was never their intention. The commandments were not written for individuals; they were written for a community. In the Israelite culture, there was not real sense of individualism. Everyone was part of a community, and individual actions had social and communal repercussions. God’s focus here is not to make them really nice people. It’s to foster social cohesion, to create a community saturate with godliness so that they can be agents of change, image-bearers of God to the nations around them.

We’ve talked several times in this sermon series about how the Moses story is a renewal of the creation story in Genesis. God is re-creating God’s people as they pass through the waters and into freedom. With the law, God is taking the chaos of this wandering band of former slaves and bringing order to it by saying to them, “Do this and be blessed. Don’t do this and be cursed.” Just as God drew a boundary with Adam and Eve by telling them not to eat of a certain tree, God is drawing boundaries for the Israelites by saying, “If you want to be my people, here’s what you are to do and not do.” God is giving them an instruction manual for living as God’s people.

Have you ever tried to put something together without instructions? I’ve muddled my way through the construction of many pieces of furniture with nothing but a few pictures and some directions written in Japanese. I usually come with several parts left over and a final project that looks like an MC Escher drawing. You can’t overvalue good instructions, and that’s what God is providing to the Israelites with the law.

It’s important to note that the law is not a condition for the Israelites becoming God’s people. “Do this and I will love you.” That’s already happened. This isn’t about winning God’s favor; it’s about being the people God created them to be. It’s about helping them purge Egypt from their systems and live out the freedom God gained for them. As Brian McLaren wrote, “Through the 10 plagues, God got the people out of slavery. Through the 10 Commandments, God is getting the slavery out of the people.” They are no longer beholden to the forces that kept them down. They no longer have to meet certain criteria or quotas in order to be deemed as valuable. That’s important for us to remember when we turn faith into a to-do list, as if we can earn our way onto God’s good side. We mess up and think God doesn’t love us any more or we’re not worthy of being God’s child. But that’s already been decided when Christ died on the cross. We’re eternally on God’s good side, which should compel us to live in a way that reflects it. By living out the law, people see God through us, as imperfection as that reflection may be.

OK, so let’s take the scenic overview trip through the laws. Each one could be its own sermon, so I’ll just hit some highlights on the tour. You notice God starts by grounding the laws in who God is:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” In other words, “Because I have done for you what I said I would do, now it’s your turn to show me what you can do.” In other words, chosen people are expected to act in chosen ways.

The first law sets the tone for the other nine. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Notice God doesn’t say, “There are no other gods.” The Israelites spent the last 400 years in Egypt, where multiple gods was the norm. And they’re about to move into territory where the surround polytheistic nations will bow down to a number of deities. God is basically saying that other gods may exist, but none of them saved the Israelites from slavery. They may be tempted to worship other gods, but they need to remember to Whom they belong.

Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have to face that temptation anymore? I’ve never considered praying to Zeus or worshipping Ra or Osiris. But I am tempted to worship other gods, like money, power, security, property. “You shall have no other gods before me.” What gods do you put before the Great I Am? I wonder if being right is a false god we worship. I wonder if making a name for ourselves is a false god we worship. I wonder if our own convenience is a false god we worship.

The second commandment is related to the first: Don’t make idols or graven images of God. As soon as we think we can capture God in a statue, we start think that actually represents God. When I was a kid, my favorite baseball card was a 1976 Topps All-Star George Foster. I worshipped that card! Then one day, it accidentally got torn, and for weeks I worried that the actual George Foster was going to have a bad season because I tore his card. If you make a statue of God, you start worshipping the wrong thing. With this commandment, God is basically saying, “You look silly bowing down to statues. You don’t need them. You have me.”

The commandment about the Sabbath is interesting because (1) it’s a positive command and (2) the law is linked directly to the creation story, where God rested after six days of work. The Hebrew word “remember” is here an active remembering, not a passive one. It’s the different between remembering your anniversary – “Hey, I think today’s my anniversary” – and actually acting on that memory, which I highly recommend doing!

The first four commandments are about conduct toward God; the last five focus on conduct toward others, and this is where the ambiguity comes in. For example, “Do not kill,” even though God and the Israelites do plenty of killing in the Old Testament. One commentary said that this most likely refers to the type of killing God wouldn’t allow. When you figure out what that is, please let me know, because I really struggle with how to apply this commandment.  “Do not bear false witness” would be very important in the Israelites society for enacting proper justice. They didn’t have DNA testing or video cameras back then, so guilt or innocence depended upon the reliability of eyewitnesses. False witnesses would actually have to bear the punishment intended for the accused.

The last commandment, “Do not covet” is a summary of the others. If you covet your neighbor’s wife, you’ll commit adultery. If you covet your neighbor’s stuff, you’ll steal. If you covet more substantial things, it could lead to murder. In other words, be happy with what you have, which is something we still need to hear today.

So, what do we do with these laws today? Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, which means technically we are no longer beholden to them. And yet, in the course of his teachings, he reiterated nine of the 10 as being important (the only one he didn’t was the Sabbath). They are obviously still important to follow, or else the whole of society would disintegrate. It’s easy for us to judge others who break certain commandments, while forgetting that each and every one of us has broken, will break, or is currently breaking one of these commandments.

Here’s what I think we should do with them. I think we should keep them close to us as guidelines for who God is calling us to be, and the focus on the ones that we find most difficult. I’ve done a pretty good job in my life of not killing; that’s one I feel like I will be able to keep. But I haven’t been so good about not coveting or about putting other gods before the Great I Am. And each time I break one of these, I’m not only hurting myself or others, I’m hurting my relationship with God.

Just as with the Israelites, how well we follow these laws has an impact on how well we reflect God’s image. Like them, we are surrounded by people who don’t know God, or worse, don’t care. And one of the reasons they feel that way is that they’ve seen how Christians have acted down through the years. If we’re honest, we’ve done our part to tear at the social fabric of America, praising God’s name on Sunday and then worshipping false gods or using God’s name in vain or coveting something or someone the rest of the week.

So the challenge given to us today is the same challenge given to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. God loves us and wants us to fulfill our potential as God’s people, called to a higher standard of how we live our lives. Here is who God is calling us to be. Do these things and be blessed. Don’t do these things and you will not be a blessing to others. The laws have been given, Christ has shown us how to live and love and serve others. So he choice is ours. Are we God’s people…or not?

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Delivery Man sermon series – #5: Bread and Whine

This is the fifth sermon in a series on the life Moses. I hope you have a blessed day!

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 16:2-15 –  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumblingagainst him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against theLord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.

Delivery Man Sermon Series
#5 – Bread and Whine
Exodus 16:2-15
July 26, 2015

This morning, we resume our sermon series on the life of Moses. When we last left him, Moses was leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, away from their time of slavery in Egypt and into an unknown future with God. Our scripture today is one of the first stories that takes place as the Israelites begin their march to the Promised Land. Let’s listen…(READ SCRIPTURE).

Ah, road trips! When we lived in the Chicago area, several times a year we’d pack up the car with suitcases, toys, snacks, and pillows and make the six-hour drive through the Windy City and down the entire length of the state of Indiana to see our family in Jeffersonville. And inevitably, about a half-hour into the trip, it would start: “Are we there yet? I’m hungry. I have to go to the bathroom.” I’m sure Leigh and the girls got tired of hearing me complain like that. And I’m equally sure that Moses got tired of hearing the Israelites doing the same thing on their journey together. The group is only about a month removed from their miraculous trip through the Red Sea, but they are already starting to grumble against God.

You know the job of cheerleaders, right? I’m convinced the Israelites had gripe leaders, people whose job it was to stir up unrest and convince people that they are unhappy. “Two-four-six-eight – slavery in Egypt was really great!” What else would explain the fact that the Israelites actually wax nostalgic about the great food they ate while in slavery? Something tells me the prison cafeteria wasn’t serving filet mignon, but the Israelites are convinced that God has forgotten them…just a month after God delivered them from the hands of Pharaoh.

Are you familiar with the term “hangry”? It’s a combination of hungry and angry. When I’ve gone too long without food, my mood turns from hungry to hangry. Well, the Israelites are hangry. Hangry at Moses, hangry at God, hangry at their situation. Their complaining is not the deep, soul-searching laments that we find in the psalms. There is such a thing as complaining because of your faith in God. “God, I love you, why don’t you do something?” But the Israelites’ complaining shows a lack of faith in God.

As a pastor, I’ve dealt with my share of grumbling, so I know a bit how Moses feels. So imagine my glee when I read the line in which God says, “I’ve heard your grumbling, and I’m going to rain…” Yes God! What are you going to rain on these hangry grumblers? Fireballs? Big boulders? Telemarketing calls? No! God says, “I’m going to rain bread from heaven for you.” Say what? And then I find myself grumbling, “You’re going to actually give the grumblers what they want?”

To understand why God responds this way to the Israelites, it’s very important to understand the nature of their relationship at this juncture in the story. We made the point a few weeks ago that when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in their existence. God actually reset their calendar back to Day 1 so that the Israelites would have a fresh start. Because they’ve been in slavery for 400 years, they’ve lost their connection to God. They have no knowledge of who God is, and I believe God is also relearning who they are. So as they make their way into the wilderness, God and the Israelites are getting to know each other all over again.

I remember very well my first date with my wife Leigh. September 24, 1993. We went to Tubby’s and had baked spaghetti, and then jumped on my sister’s trampoline. Yes, I was that kind of smooth romantic in my younger days. For some reason she agreed to a second date, and the more time we spent together, the more we learned about each other. That’s how relationships grow in strength and closeness.

In our passage today, God and the Israelites are basically on a date. They are getting to know each other, feeling each other out, figuring out what they like and don’t like. More importantly, God is learning about the Israelites’ ability to be faithful. Will they be the people God created them to be? Will they be steadfast in their faithfulness and strong in their obedience? Will they be grateful and honorable and loyal? Well, the short answer is “No.”  But God doesn’t know that yet.

So God tests the Israelites by responding to their plea for food, but giving very specific instructions that go along with it. God provides a daily ration of bread for the Israelites in the form of manna. We’re not exactly sure what manna is. The name itself actually comes from the Hebrew phrase “man hu,” which literally translates into “What is it?” The prevailing theory is that the manna is actually bug juice. A insect native to this region of the world feeds on local tree bark, and secrets a yellowish-white flake or ball of juice that is rich in carbs and sugars. The flake hardens but also decays quickly, lasting only about a day. So manna could very well be hardened bug secretions. Coming soon to the next church potluck!

Every day the Israelites were to go out and get their daily share of manna, except on the day before the Sabbath, when they were supposed to get two days’ worth so they could rest the next day. If they gathered too much, it would go rotten. If they tried to gather on the Sabbath, it wouldn’t be there. In this way, God tests the Israelites’ ability to follow instructions, to be faithful in their obedience to God. They didn’t do so well.

Do we do any better? I would like to think that grumbling against God stopped when the Israelites finally reached the Promised Land, but I know better. Today, we continue the rich tradition of complaining to God, which proves two things: our own stubbornness and God’s infinite patience with us. Even after God gave us the true bread from Heaven in the form of Jesus Christ, we still find things to grumble about.

Why? Why do we grumble? If we’re honest, it’s because we don’t get our way. We grumble when our comfort is disrupted. We grumble when our entitlement is threatened. We grumble when things do go according to our plan. “God, you were supposed to heal me. God, this job was supposed to be better. God I want you to act now!” Are we there yet? I’m hungry! We’ve heard the Israelites’ complaints come out of our own mouths.

One commentator calls this grumbling “selective forgetting.” The Israelites selectively forgot that God had delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh and only chose to listen to their grumbling stomachs. How often do we forget what God has done for us in the past and instead only focus on our present circumstances? We pray for the miracle we want, forgetting that God doesn’t always provide what we want, but God does always provide what we need. And yet, when we don’t get what we pray for, we think God isn’t listening or, worse yet, God isn’t there. Meanwhile, we’re missing all the other things God has done and is doing for us – things like bug juice, or a compassionate friend, or moment of rest in a busy day, or a piece of bread and a cup of juice – grape juice!

God does indeed provide for us, but maybe not in the way we expect. For the Israelites, God only provided what they needed for each day, nothing more. That accomplished two things. First, it required the Israelites to be dependent on God’s provision. Each day they were reminded that they needed God to survive. And second, it put everyone on the same level. No one would have more than anyone else. The local bigwig couldn’t invite people over to show off his manna collection. Each day, everyone was equal.

Wow, has that changed! What does it say about us that we seek to build up a lifetime of manna while others go hungry every day? Because we selectively forget God’s provision, because we don’t believe God will be as good to us tomorrow as God is to us today, we eat and spend and mortgage way more than a day’s ration. We don’t just gather enough for today; we gather enough for the next hundred years, and leave others to fend for themselves. And then we grumble when the security we have built for ourselves is threatened.

The risk we have in building up a stockpile of manna is that we will come to rely on what we have accumulated rather than on the God who has provided it for us. We’ll come to think that we’ve earned all that manna we’ve collected and we’re not under any obligation to share it with someone whose plate is empty and whose stomach is grumbling. For many of us, we’ve never known a day without bread, and so there’s no urgency in our dependence on God. It’s good to know God is there when we need to send up a prayer, but otherwise we’ve got things covered.

Each day, we need to rely on God. Each day, we need to talk to God. Each day, we need to ask God what God wants us to do to share our abundance. It could be as simple as buying bread for a homeless person or as challenging as committing our time and resources to changing the systems that make people homeless in the first place. But make no mistake about it: each day, we are called to do something to provide manna for someone.

The Israelites’ grumbling won’t stop with this story. It will continue on for 40 years, until the reach the Promised Land. What about our grumbling? Will it continue on, or will it stop today? We can replace our grumbling with gratitude, being thankful for all that God has provided, selectively remembering that we have what we have because of God’s goodness. Every good thing you have today comes from God. And everything good thing you have tomorrow will come from God, too. Our challenge is to remember each day to thank God for our daily bread, and then to go into the world and share it.

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Delivery Man Sermon Series – #4: Troubling Water

This is our fourth sermon in a series looking at the life of Moses. Enjoy!

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 14:10-31 – As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord.11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged[a] their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lordand in his servant Moses.

Delivery Man Sermon Series
#4 – Troubling Water
Exodus 14:10-31
July 12, 2015

We’re continuing our sermon series today on the life of Moses as we arrive at what is probably the best-known part of his story, the crossing of the Red Sea. Before we read the passage, let me provide a little context so that we can better understand it. When we last left the story, God was giving the Israelites their instructions on how to avoid the 10th plague, which was the killing of all the first-born in Egypt. By painting lamb’s blood on their doorway, they ensured that God would pass over them.

The Israelites are finally given the OK by the grieving Pharaoh to leave, so God begins to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian territory, using pillar of cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night. Meanwhile, Pharaoh takes some time to reflect on his decision to free the Israelites and realizes that he just released the bulk of his country’s workforce, so he has a change of heart. The Bible actually says that Pharaoh exclaims, “What have I done?” So he gathers his army and chases after the Israelites before they get away. We pick up the story from there (READ SCRIPTURE).

When I was about eight, I visited my grandmother in Southern California. One of our tourist-y stops was taking a tour of Universal Studios. I got to see Bruce, the mechanical shark used in Jaws, and several of the set pieces from “The Six Million Dollar Man.” If you remember that show, you are officially old! But the thing I was most excited about doing was driving through the water special effect that was used to film the crossing of the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments.” I was always fascinated by how they filmed that scene. I imagined going through this elaborate construction with water towering over me on either side. And I admit I was a bit scared. Should I wear a life jacket? What if Bruce was in the water?

So imagine my disappointment when we get to that part of the tour and our trolley arrives at what looked like a glorified puddle. The water was pushed aside using two glass walls and our trolley drove through it. The water was about knee-high, which made me glad I decided against the life jacket. I was so excited to finally figure out this mystery, and yet when I got the answer it was not nearly as satisfying as I had hoped.

That same thing can happen when we start asking questions about the “special effects” of the Bible. When we read a story like this our minds start to race about the nuts and bolts of what happened. This is especially true in our modern age, when science and technology make so many things understandable that back in ancient times would have been considered supernatural. Could you imagine explaining to Moses that today, if he wanted to communicate with all the Israelites, he could send a mass text message? That would have made his life so much easier!

We have to be careful about getting bogged down in the questions a story like this raises. Scholars have wasted forests full of paper trying to explain what actually happened here. But I choose to take this story at face value here, because where it happened and how it happened and even if it happened ultimately don’t impact the meaning of this story for me.

That meaning is one of great importance for us today, and it continues a theme we’ve already seen in Moses’ story. Remember, when we started a few weeks ago the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt with no hope in sight. They were at a dead end. And yet, God finds a way to lead them out of slavery. In our story today, the Israelites are at another dead-end – literally! The path they are taking out of Egypt leads them to the Red Sea, and Pharaoh and his pursuing army block any escape route, leaving the Israelites completely stuck.

So, in the first of what will be many, many “customer satisfaction surveys,” they say to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Wow, the Israelites can be a little snarky when they’re upset, can’t they? They conclude by saying, “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
As the Israelites see it, they only have two options: slavery or death. Being held captive or dying. That’s the place where the Israelites are left this morning.          But Moses knows there’s another way. With God, isn’t there always another way? Haven’t we already seen that our God is a God who breaks through dead ends? Abraham and Sarah were at a dead end when they couldn’t have children. Jacob was at a dead end when his brother Esau wanted to kill him. Joseph was at a dead end when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. And then God breaks through the barrier in front of us, and suddenly there’s a path when there used to only be a wall.

So Moses tells the Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you, you only have to be still.” The English translation can’t convey the anger that was in Moses’ voice, but a more literal translation of the two-word Hebrew passage is, “Shut up! How dare you grumbling in the face of God! How dare you limit God to your humanly-conceived options! Don’t know you that God is on your side? Isn’t that enough?”
So, using Moses, God makes a way out of no way, parting the sea and allowing the Israelites to walk through the waters to dry land. There is so much awesome symbolism in this story that the Bible geek in me is about to have an aneurysm! This is really meaty stuff. First, let’s deal with the connection between this story and the very beginning of the Bible. When we talked about Moses’ birth story, we made the connection between the boat in which his mother put him and the ark that Noah built. Both were stories of new starts for the Israelites.

The author is doing the same thing here in even more powerful ways. If you remember the creation story, you remember the first thing that happens is that God’s spirit hovers over the waters and brings order to the chaos of the creation. God says, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let dry land appear.” And then God creates the plants and animals and insects and gives Adam dominion over them.

What we have in our story is the reversal of that creation. Those plants and animals and insects that humans are supposed to control – things like frogs and gnats and flies – rebel against the Egyptians in the ten plagues. Then, at the Red Sea, God takes the waters that God gathered together at Creation and separates them, allowing the Israelites to pass through. In Genesis, the appearance of dry land brings forth life in the form of creatures. Here, the appearance of dry land gives life to the Israelites. This moment in the history of Israel is a time of new creation, a fresh start for God’s people as they are released from slavery into the freedom God has for them.

It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Egypt plays a role in the story of God’s people. Abraham spent time in Egypt. Joseph was a slave in Egypt. Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt when Herod tried to kill him. All roads to freedom lead through Egypt, through a place of exile, through a place of captivity. Freedom does not come freely. It is earned through trials; it is earned through perseverance and stubborn, persistent hope in the face of a dead end.

The story tells us that once the Israelites safely reach the other side of the sea, they looked back and saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. They looked back and saw the thing that had kept them in slavery, the thing that had oppressed them and held them back, lying dead on the seashore. And seeing that, they believed in God and God’s care for them.

All roads to freedom lead through Egypt. What’s your Egypt? What have you gone through, or are going through, in order to reach the freedom God has for you? Are you a slave to technology, or to your calendar? Are you held captive by anger or resentment or greed? Are you in bondage to the voices that tell you you’re not worthy of being loved or forgiven? We all have an Egypt.

But we also have a God who has parted the sea for us. We talked last week about how the Passover meal that Israelites shared has a strong connection to our celebration of communion. Today, when we as Christians talk about passing through the waters, we are referring to the baptismal waters. Jesus has gone ahead of us and parted those waters so that we may enter just as he did, dying with him as we go down and being resurrected like him when we come up. Through Christ, we have been delivered.

So we do we still live like we’re captive? Why do we choose to stay captive in Egypt rather than explore the freedom we’ve been granted? Why do we live with fear or anxiety? Why do we live like God’s provision isn’t enough, God’s grace isn’t enough, God’s love isn’t enough?  Maybe it’s easier to stay in slavery than to forge a new path. Maybe it’s more comfortable to remain captive than to do the hard work of change. Better the devil you know than the God you’re not sure about, right? Better to stay put than to walk into the troubling waters that might lead to freedom.

But here’s the thing: We are not waiting for God to trouble the waters. We are not awaiting God’s deliverance. God’s deliverance has already come through Christ. It’s our choice whether or not to pass through the waters from death to life, to leave comfortable captivity for unpredictable freedom. But make no mistake about it: We’re already on the other side of the sea. Because we have passed through the waters of baptism, we can look back and see whatever has held us back lying dead on the seashore, not because of what we’ve done, but because of what God has done for us.

The Israelites thought they only had two choices: remain in slavery or die. They never imagined that there was a third option. But we’ve seen it, read about it, experienced it. We’ve heard Jesus tell us that he has come to show us a better way, better than being slaves to sin, better than being resigned to death. We are standing on the other side of the sea! We have passed through the waters! Don’t you know God is on your side? Isn’t that enough for us to start walking toward freedom? We are walking on dry land! Why would we choose to live any other way?

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Delivery Man Sermon Series – #3: God Passed Over

This is the third sermon in my series on the life of Moses.

SCRIPTURE – The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Delivery Man Sermon Series
#3 – God Passed Over
Exodus 12:1-14

You remember those decisions you make that at the time sound like a great idea? Like that decision to sign up for bungee-jumping on your next vacation, or that decision to see if tin foil can be microwaved. That’s kind of the way I feel about choosing to preach on this passage a few months ago. “Sure! The Passover will be an interesting scripture. I’m sure I’ll come up with a clever way to talk about God killing all the first-born sons in Egypt.” To quote Ron Burgundy when he jumps in the bear exhibit at the zoo in the movie, “Anchorman,” “I immediately regret this decision!”

Before we deal with this passage, let’s get caught up on what happened since last week’s story. When we left Moses, he was hemming and hawing at God’s call for him to go to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. After Moses turns aside to see the burning bush, God calls him to be a deliverer of the people of Israel. Moses churns out a bunch of excuses, but ultimately God – “I am who I am” is the name God gives – persuades Moses that he is indeed the man for the job.

So Moses sets out toward Egypt and is met by his brother Aaron, who will be Moses’ spokesperson. The meet with Pharaoh, who not only doesn’t free the Israelites from slavery, but increases their workload. Moses complains to God, “Why did you send me to do this if it’s not going to work?” God says, “I’ve got this.” That starts the 10 plagues that God sends to Egypt, each one designed to force Pharaoh into giving the Israelites their freedom. In case you were wondering what the plagues where, I think they included boils, frogs, gnats, hail, flies, slow internet connections, lane closures during rush hour, and 24-hour news channels. Can you believe the Pharaoh still didn’t give in after all that?

Finally, God announces the 10th plague, which will be the death of the first-born sons of all the Egyptians, from the lowliest slave to Pharaoh himself. So let’s pause to deal with this, because we can’t hear the rest of the story unless we get some kind of explanation here. The question on my mind is this: Why would God kill children to free the Israelites? I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I could wave an interpretive wand and explain away this horrific part of scripture. But I can’t. Here’s what I can say. I don’t believe in a God who would do this. The God portrayed here doesn’t sound like the God I believe in. So how do I reconcile this? I try to make sense of it by telling myself that this is simply a literary technique used by the writer to explain how God dealt with Pharaoh’s evil oppression of God’s people. I tell myself that this story conveys the lengths to which God would go to free God’s people from slavery because God loved them so much. I tell myself that back in those days, the people understood God to work this way, that it was a much more violent, primitive society. I tell myself that the character of God changed once Jesus came along, from a God of vengeance and punishment to a God of grace and love. I tell myself those things to help me process this story, but it’s still right there in the Bible, and each time I read it I have to live with the discomfort it causes. There are some things in the Bible to which I simply have to say, “I don’t like this,” and this story is one of them. But despite my discomfort, the narrative continues, and there is more to see and more to learn.

In the midst of announcing this 10th plague to Moses, God pauses the story to give the instructions we read today. It’s a peculiar piece of scripture because of the level of detail it gives. Who gets what portion of the lamb, how it is to be cooked, what you’re supposed to wear while eating it. This would be an easy part of the story to gloss over. But there is deep meaning here from which we can learn something about what it means to be God’s people.

The first thing God does in the instruction is he changes the Israelites’ understanding of time: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.” Do you get the significance of what God is doing here? It’s as if God came to us today and said, “OK, timeout! From now on, July 5 is going to be the first day of the year.” God is basically hitting the reset button the whole Jewish calendar. Why would God do that?

If you’ve ever golfed, you know the term “mulligan.” If you hit a shot and it goes horribly wrong, then you can take a mulligan, a second shot, that won’t count against you. Sometimes I need several mulligans until I get a shot I like. Or, as a kid, while you were playing a game, did you ever call for a do-over? You’re playing kickball, you make an out, but you hit the reset button by shouting, “Do-over!”

In our story, God is taking a mulligan. God is calling for a do-over. This moment in time, this exodus from Egypt, marks a new chapter in the lives of God’s people. No longer will they be slaves in Egypt; no longer will they be held captive by Pharaoh. From this day forward, they will be free, and God marks that by restarting the calendar. From now on, every time this part of the year comes around, the Hebrews will remember the Exodus.

We still do that today, don’t we? We mark certain days as special and remember their significance. Why do we remember the 4th of July? It’s just one day among 365 days. But something significant happened on that day, and so we commemorate it as a way of remembering what happened. We need to remember how we got here, the sacrifices that were made, the courage that was shown. Granted, the day may have evolved into a celebration of cookouts and fireworks, but the true meaning of it is still there with us, and so we remember it each and every year. It is the day that symbolizes our freedom, just as the Passover symbolizes the Israelites’ freedom. It’s no coincidence that the word “holiday” is derived from the term “holy day.”

There’s something very special about the way God wants this day to be remembered. All the details spelled out in the passage are important because subsequent generations will be expected to do the same things as a way of remembering. If you’ve ever attended a Passover meal, you know they use the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. When a Jewish family celebrates this meal, they are not only remembering it; they are enacting it once again. They are participating in the Exodus all over again, so that the meaning of the original Exodus is real for them today.

What does that have to do with us? Well, we also have a meal we re-enact. Ours is on a weekly basis. And part of the re-enactment ceremony is the repetition of the words said at that first meal. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and said, “Take and eat, this is my body, broken for you.” Likewise, after supper, he took the cup, and after blessing it he shared it with the disciples saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of their sins. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, do so in remembrance of me.”

Like the words of scripture we read this morning, those words are our instructions on how to enact this meal. When we come to the table, we don’t just read those words and hold up the elements for you to see. We share them, we pass them through the midst of the congregation, we drink and eat just like they drank and ate at that meal in the Upper Room. As we re-enact that meal, we participate in it ourselves, we experience the meaning of that meal anew in our own lives.

What is that meaning? The same thing we celebrate on July 4th and the same thing the Israelites celebrated at the Passover. Freedom. Freedom from the captivity to sin. Freedom from the voices, external and internal, that tell us we’re alone, we’re not loved, we’re not good enough. Freedom from the world’s expectations and pressures.

But the Exodus and the Last Supper were not just about freedom from something. They were and are about freedom for something. We are freed to be the people God created us to be. We are freed to live out the call God has placed in our hearts. We are freed to treat people as God wants us to treat them, not as the world says we should. At this table, just as at the Passover, we celebrate both our “ freedom from” and our “freedom for.” What freedom will you claim at this table today? What are you being freed from? What are you being freed for?

That’s the significance of ritual. Passover is celebrated every year so Jews will remember what God has done for them. We celebrate this meal each week so we remember what God has done for us. The more we do this, the more familiar it becomes, the more it becomes a part of us. And that’s important in today’s world, where most of us probably know 10 commercial jingles better than we know any words of scripture. We need to hear this story over and over and over again until it becomes a part of us, until the words roll off our tongues, until we start to actually believe the message we hear about being loved and accepted and forgiven. It’s a message I know I need to hear each week, because at some point in the past seven days, I’ve forgotten.

The story of our faith is not just something that occurred back then, but it’s something we continue live out now. We continue to live out the freedom we’ve been given. And as we do, we continue to tell the story of the Exodus and the Last Supper, a story which resonates down through history with the words, “God is with you. God has not forgotten you. God loves you.” We need to remember how we got here, the sacrifices that were made, the courage that was shown.

The Passover story may not have much meaning for us today, but this story reminds us that before God ever came to earth as a little baby in a manger, before Jesus ever held up a loaf of bread and a cup, God came to the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. And God set them free. Do we take that freedom for granted? When we come to this table, do we remember the sacrifice that was made so we can be free? It’s a freedom we must not disregard, but must claim and live in this world. What still holds you captive? A failed relationship, an addictive behavior, a feeling of not being good enough? Remember Jesus’ words. You are free. You are free. Thanks be to God.

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Delivery Man sermon series – #2: Bushwhacked!

This is the second in a sermon series on the life of Moses. Enjoy!

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 3:1-15 – Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Turning Aside to God
Exodus 3:1-15
June 28, 2015

My family and I love summers because we all enjoy sleeping in, but one of the downsides is that we lose our morning routine. During the school year, we’re up every day at the same time, so the whole family, including our dogs, knows what happens and when. During the summer, we may get up at 6:30 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. or even 8:30 a.m., at which point our dogs come out of their crates with their legs crossed. There’s something to be said for having a routine.

As we continue our sermon series today on the life of Moses, we see in our reading today that Moses had settled into a nice routine. This day he probably got up early, put on some coffee and fetched his copy of the Midian Daily Gazette. He got his kids up for school and threatened to make them walk if they missed their camel. Then he kissed his wife goodbye and headed out to the sheep for a day of tending the flock. Nothing new here, just another day. At breakfast time, Moses was responsible for keeping the sheep safe. By dinner, he’d be responsible for freeing a whole nation of people from slavery.

On this workday like any other, on his umteenth trip up Mt. Horeb, probably chasing a pesky runaway sheep, Moses catches a glimpse of a strange sight, goes to investigate, and has his life changed forever by God. It’s interesting that God would choose to come to Moses, because from all we know, Moses wasn’t a particularly religious man at this point. In fact, there’s no sign up to this point that Moses worships the God of Israel; after all, he grew up bowing to golden Egyptian idols.

Moses’ lack of familiarity with God may explain some of Moses’ reluctance to jump at this opportunity. A call from God isn’t equal to winning the divine lottery, as Moses points out when he responds, “Who am I, that I should go to the Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Or, as it’s translated in the Living Bible, “But I’m not the person for a job like that!” Moses is saying, “Me? God, you couldn’t be suggesting that I go, could you? I mean, I’m a worker not a leader. I’m one of the behind-the-scenes people, not the frontline person. “

Have you ever responded to God like that? I know I have in the past. As soon as I heard a call to serve God, the Excuse Machine started churning: “You don’t want me! I’m not a trained spiritual professional. I can’t find the book of Hosea in the Bible without looking in the table of contents. I slept in one morning last month and didn’t make it to the worship service. I’ve spent a Sunday or two on the green instead of in the pew. You see? You don’t want me, God. I’m a little under-qualified.”

Here’s a news flash: We’re ALL under-qualified to do God’s work. Moses made excuses because he felt inadequate to do this alone. Well, he was half right. He WAS inadequate, but he wouldn’t be alone. God tells him, “Don’t worry, Moses, I’m not sending you out alone. I will be with you. I would never ask you to do something by yourself. You couldn’t do it without me, anyway. But with me, you can do anything.”

God’s giving him the hard sell, but Moses isn’t ready to give in that easy. “Well…well…What if they won’t listen to me? What if I tell them I’ve come to save them and just glare and cross their arms and ask, ‘Who sent you?’ What do I tell them?” In other words Moses is saying, “Not only do I not think I can do this, nobody else does, either.”

And God does something never done before: God gives a name: “I AM who I AM. Say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you.” Later, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus gives all his “I am” sayings – “I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the truth and the life” – he is drawing directly on this statement to show his divinity: “I am who I am.”

For Moses and for us, that name means both comfort and mystery. It is comforting because it reminds us of the rock-solid stability of God. In a world where absolutely nothing is stable – jobs, governments, economies, our own bodies – God stays God. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses is our God today, and we can put our trust in God just as much as those people did thousands of years ago. God is the great “I AM.”

But there’s mystery in that name as well. “I am who I am” – what does that mean, anyway? Sounds a little like Popeye, doesn’t it? “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” OK, you are who you are, but who ARE you, God? Have you ever asked that question? When we’re faced with our own crossroads or tough decisions or crises of faith, what does that mean to us that God is the great “I AM”? Who ARE you, God?

I believe we each have to answer that for ourselves, and here’s why. Another translation of God’s name to Moses is, “I will be who I will be.” In other words, “I am God, and what that means for you will depend upon how you life your live.” Who is God in our lives? For Moses, God may have been “I am with you.” For others, God may be “I am patient” or “I am forgiving” or “I am loving.” Who is God for you? Only you can answer that. That’s both the power and the mystery of God in our lives. “I am who I am.”

So after a little more hemming and hawing from Moses, he finally agrees to God’s plan, and the rest is not only history, but epic movie material. Moses’ journey to Egypt is the most important event in the history of our faith, at least until that night in the manger with shepherds and the angels and that bright star.

But did you know it almost never happened? We almost never had any of this story. No Great Plagues, no Ten Commandments, no Charlton Heston in the cool beard. But one thing, one split-second action, made the difference in this story and in the whole history of God’s relationship to his people. One teeny tiny little thing saved all those slaves, and ultimately saved us as well.

Moses is doing his job, living his life, tending his sheep, when he sees the Burning Bush. And the Bible says, “So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that Moses had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush.

What did Moses do? He turned aside. That’s the thing. That’s what gets the whole ball rolling. Instead of keeping his head down, or ignoring this strange sight, or just sticking to his routine, he goes over and looks. And then God calls to him.

Moses could have said, “Wow, that bush is burning and it’s not being consumed! I should probably check that out! But, you know, I’ve got a job to do, and the wife is making meatloaf for dinner, and I’ve already taken a break from work this morning. I should probably just ignore it.” It was certainly his choice. His attention was his to give or not to give. And by giving it, his life was forever changed and enriched by God.

Often times the circumstances of our life and the evil that operates in the world around us keeps us from focusing on God’s presence in our lives. God is right there, in the midst of the storm, in the center of the chaos, but we are so distracted that we don’t even look. In your life, what keeps you from looking? What distracts you from seeing God’s presence around you?

We complete our routine day after day, we tend our sheep and pay our bills and do our best to be good family people and good citizens and even good churchgoers. We fight the good fight and try to keep a smile on even when it feels like there’s not much to smile about. But maybe, just maybe, God’s calling us to something greater, something more meaningful, something more. Maybe there’s a burning bush in our lives, waiting for us to turn aside from our hectic pace and frantic lives, to take our noses off the grindstone and our hands off the panic button and look. And when we look, maybe, just maybe, God’s waiting to speak to us and call us to something far greater than we can ever imagine.

Moses turned aside to see a bush that was burning but not consumed. Today, God may work differently, but no less powerfully. My burning bush was a conversation in a parking lot with the minister’s wife, who said half-jokingly that I should go to seminary. Your burning bush may be a crisis in your life, or an empty nest, a job change, or a simple invitation from someone you know, maybe someone in this church, to serve or to teach or to lead. God speaks to you through those kinds of situations. And it’s your choice, your attention to give. Do you turn aside and look and give your attention to God, or do you ignore it because you think you are inadequate or under-qualified or not ready?

You woke up today, maybe had some coffee, maybe read the paper. When you woke up, maybe you were responsible for doing your job or providing for your family or taking care of your children or just making it through the day with your sanity and your hope intact. Sometimes that’s all we can do. But there’s a call out there. Maybe you haven’t heard it yet. Maybe you’ve already heard it, but don’t know how to respond. What would happen if you turned aside and said to God, “Here I am,” if you invited God to do something extraordinary in your life? Who will you be when you wake up tomorrow?

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Delivery Man sermon series – #1: A Basket Case

This is the first in a sermon series on the life of Moses.

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 2:1-10 – Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses  “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Delivery Man Sermon Series
1 – A Basket Case
Exodus 2:1-10
June 21, 2015

Today we start our summer sermon series looking at the life of Moses. I’m sure this is a story that’s familiar to you. Next to Jesus, Moses is probably the most dramatized character in the Bible. From “The Ten Commandments” to the animated “Prince of Egypt” to this year’s epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” the story of this castaway-turned-deliverer makes for compelling storytelling and even better special effects. But as often is the case, with no offense meant to Charlton Heston or Christian Bale, the Moses we have met on the screen isn’t the same Moses we meet in the pages of scripture.

During this series, we’ll seek to meet the real Moses, starting with his enigmatic birth story. But to understand that story, you have to understand how we got to the events in the second chapter of Exodus. At the end of the book of Genesis, the entire nation of Israel had moved to Egypt to be with Joseph, Israel’s son who had become Pharaoh’s right-hand man when Egypt suffered a crippling drought. To thank Joseph for his service, Pharaoh invites Joseph’s whole family to come and live in the lush land of Goshen.

But that Pharaoh dies and a new one comes to power, and this new guy isn’t too keen on these foreigners occupying such prime real estate. Not only that, but the Israelites have taken seriously the command to be fruitful and multiply, to the point that they are more numerous than the Egyptians. Pharaoh fears a possible revolt from this underclass, so he enslaves the Israelites, making them indentured servants of the Egyptian empire, building sphinx and pyramids and such.

That doesn’t stop the Israelites from multiplying, so Pharaoh takes a more drastic step. He instructs the Hebrew midwives to kill any boy born to an Israelite woman, because in Pharaoh’s eyes, the boys were the threat. But the midwives outwit Pharaoh, telling him that the women are so vigorous they give birth before the midwives can get there. And Pharaoh, in his infinite wisdom, completely falls for it. And he thought the boys were the threat! The Israelites continues to grow strong, so Pharaoh gets more extreme. He orders that every boy born to the Israelites should be thrown into the Nile river to drown.

So that’s where we start today, and I hope you can appreciate the irony and humor of the story I’m about to tell you. In this country we celebrate American Pharaohs, but this particular Egyptian Pharaoh is about to get his gold-plated headdress handed to him. Upon hearing Pharaoh’s murderous command, one young mother – we’re not even given her name – decides to hide her baby for three months. That may be the biggest miracle in this whole story, because if you’ve ever tried to keep a baby quiet, you know they don’t always cooperate. After three months of trying to protect her son, this mother realizes he’s getting too big to hide. So she makes for him a small basket, places him in it, and sets him off floating down the Nile. How ironic that the body of water the Pharaoh had destined for death this mother is trusting to save her young boy. Pharaoh says throw the babies into the Nile; this mother puts her baby onto it.

The boy floats along, with his sister watching from the banks, until he is discovered in the river by the daughter of the very same Pharaoh who commanded boys like him to be killed in the very same river. Rather than carry out her father’s command, the daughter rescues the boy with the intent to claim him as her own. Notice that her nobility has its limits. She’s willing to save the baby, but she wants not part of changing dirty diapers, so she commissions the boy’s sister to find a nursemaid for him. The sister gets the boy’s mother, who just moments before thought she’d never see her son again, and Pharaoh’s daughter actually pays her to take care of the boy. Not long before this the mother was releasing her son to the fate of the river, and now she is being handed both her son and a wad of cash by the daughter of the guy who wants him killed! I tell ya, you can’t make this stuff up.

Now, who would you say is the main character in this story? Who is the protagonist, the one who is responsible for moving the story along? You might say Moses’ mom, who gets the ball rolling by putting her bundle of joy on the Nile. Or you might say its Pharaoh’s daughter, who makes the decision to spare the boy’s life and ultimately adopts him as her own. You could even make a case for Moses’ sister, who orchestrates the reunion of Moses and his mother. You could try to argue that it’s Moses, but all he really does is float and look cute.

But there’s one person that we would probably all agree is NOT a major player in this story, and that is God. God is not even mentioned in these 10 verses of chapter 2, which may lead you to wonder if God had anything to do with what happened to Moses. That’s not unlike how we sometimes wonder if God is really present in our lives, as well. Well, if you dive below the surface level of the text, you’ll find a treasure chest of symbolism that shows just how active God is at the beginning of Moses’ life.

For example, in verse 2, when Moses is born, the Bible says, “When his mother saw he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months.” Now, there’s nothing unusual about that statement. Every mother thinks their baby is a fine baby, even if they look like a plucked chicken or a wrinkly raisin. And even she didn’t think Moses looked particularly handsome, it’s not like she was going to toss him out the window. No, what’s interesting to note here is the Hebrew word for “fine,” translated other places as “goodly” or “wonderful,” is “tob,” a word which with the original readers would already be familiar. In the creation story, when God makes each thing, he pronounces it “tob,” meaning “good.” For example, “God made the plants and animals, and God saw that it was tob.”

Why does this matter? Remember, the Israelites are now slaves in Egypt. They were originally promised, through Abraham, that they would inherit the Promised Land, but now they’re stuck. Their story has hit a dead-end. So the author connects the birth of Moses to the Creation Story as a way of showing that, through Moses, God was active here, creating something new. There is reason, in the midst of their oppression and slavery, for the Israelites to have hope, because God is with them. If that connection wasn’t strong enough, Moses’ mother puts him in a boat made with bitumen and pitch, the same materials used to make another boat, Noah’s Ark. God also used that vessel to create a new beginning for God’s people. By using these literary devices, the author is saying, “God is at work here, doing something new.” God will use this Moses to bring new life and direction to this dead-end story.

But that will only happen if the people that Pharaoh has discounted are courageous enough to act. You realize that this story simply doesn’t happen without the people in it deciding to do something. Isn’t it delicious that the people who undo Pharaoh – Moses’s mom, his sister, and Pharaoh’s own daughter – are all of the gender that Pharaoh tossed off us not even important enough to fear? And yet, they all demonstrate amazing courage. Moses’ sister risks her freedom to connect Moses back with his mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter risks her father’s wrath by going against his command. And Moses’ mother is courageous enough to let go of her son and trust him to the open waters of life. Is there a harder thing to do as a parent, to trust that God goes with our children when they get on the school bus or go off to camp or get behind the wheel of a car? Moses’ mom exhibits radical trust in God’s presence and protection, and that trust gives her the courage to act.

It’s her courage as much as God’s providence that saves Moses. Even when her infant son is sentenced to die, she doesn’t give up hope that God is with her, although it must not have felt like it at the time. No matter how dead-end the situation, we trust that God IS there. When Pharaoh makes his decree to have all the Hebrew boys killed, God doesn’t throw up God’s hands and say in exasperation, “Well thanks a lot, Pharaoh! Now what am I going to do?” God works through Pharaoh’s inhuman decision and a mother’s maternal instincts and a sister’s protective actions and Pharoah’s daughter’s desire for life over death to bring about good. There’s always going to be a Pharaoh out there, isn’t there? There’s always someone or something that’s threatening us or our loved ones with harm. When a man can walk into a church and shoot nine people because of their skin color, we are painfully reminded that Pharaoh’s death sentence lives on through hatred and prejudice. But that Pharaoh is no match for our God.

That’s what these women have to teach us today. With a mixture of fear and trust, Moses’ mom let go of Moses and entrusted him to God’s care. His sister kept a watchful eye on him, making sure that he was safe. Pharaoh’s daughter took him in and protected him. They didn’t just stand on the bank and pray for a miracle. They didn’t sit idly by and say, “Oh well, God’s surely abandoned us now.” They act, trusting God will be with them. God gives them the courage they needed to stand up to Pharaoh, just as God has given us what we need to stand up to our own challenges.

I can’t imagine the emotions Moses’ mom went through as she put that little ark in the Nile river. We’ve all been in similar situations where we’ve had to let go, to give up, to change our dreams to fit a more sobering reality. It’s not a fun place to be. But we don’t have to stay there. There are situations in our lives where we have a role to play, an action to take, a decision to make to live out our faith in the midst of difficult circumstances. When the hatred of Pharaoh strikes in our world, our country, our community, we can wring our hands and say, “Gosh, what a tragedy.” We can sit back and wait for God to do something. Or we can realize God is waiting for us to do something. We’ll never do so perfectly. We’ll learn next week about how much trouble Moses had in following God’s lead. But let’s remember the lesson this story has to offer us: God has given us the gifts and the graces and the supports to change things, to liberate ourselves from captivity, to defy the evil forces in our lives and in this world. You may be wondering where God is, waiting for God to fix things. But maybe God is right here with us, waiting for us to do the same thing.

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