May 28, 2017
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
There are only two times in your life when you need to put all of your trust in God. Only two. When things are going really, really badly, and God is all that you have to rely on; and when things are not.
The people of the Exodus, who have arrived at the doorstep of the promised land, are a people who have relied on God. They have relied on God for manna, for quail, for their food. They have relied on rocks that break forth into springs of fresh water to cool their thirst. And because the journey from slavery under Pharaoh to freedom of the new covenant with God and one another is a long and difficult road, they have relied on God’s guidance to see them through.
Now, maybe you have not had such an exodus journey. But I know that some of you have. You have been through the valley of the shadow of death. I know some of your stories. Some of you have walked through the valley of the dry bones of broken relationships, or loss of employment, or loss of health, or the death of a loved one, where your heart lies there on the dry and dusty valley floor, and you have cried to God, “Lord, can anything in this valley of dry bones live?”
And maybe some are still walking there today…
And if you are in the valley of the shadow of death, then it is time to remember that most famous of psalms:
Even though I am in the valley
I will fear no evil
Not as the t-shirt would have you believe, when it says “because I am the meanest son of a ___ in the valley.”
But because the great Thou,
the great I Am,
the God of Exodus and
new covenant and
new life is with me.
The God we know best in Jesus Christ is the God who walks with us through the valley, whether that valley is a broken home, a broken heart, a broken spirit, or a broken world.
Now the people are on the doorstep of a land promised to be flowing with milk and honey. I heard about milk and honey in Sunday School as a child. But it was in Chicago, many years ago, at the Medici restaurant on 57th street that I discovered what it meant. It was a balmy winter day, where the wind chill was somewhere south of zero. And I ordered milk and honey. Here came a mug of steamed milk, with a thing of honey on the side that you could add as much as you wanted.
O Thank you Jesus. It warmed my body, my heart and my soul.
But the problem with milk and honey is, it is so good. It is so rich. The warmth made me sleepy. And that is what having the better things in life can do. We get sleepy. We lose sight of what is important. We forget those days when all we had to rely on was God for manna and water.
I am not saying that the hyper-vigilance of poverty is a good thing. While it helps people survive, the cost to a person’s body, mind and spirit is too high.
The warning we have in Deuteronomy this morning is to realize the freedom we have within God’s covenant and to receive God’s mercy as graciously as we can. (Which is never as graciously as God gives it…) But it is also to not get lulled to sleep by our stuff, our status, our settledness.
For God brought us to this new place as God promised. Just as God has promised to see those who are in the valley out the other side. But having come out the other side, we are not to claim that we did it. There are three “do nots” in our passage this morning:
- Do not forget the Lord your God
- Do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery
- Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
Not forgetting God means living a life of gratitude for the grace that
sees us through the valley, the grace that sees us through the dark night of the soul, the grace that brings us to a place where milk and honey might warm our souls.
When life is calm and settled and good, when we have much to be grateful for, then we need to remember God not simply as the one who called us, brought us out of Egypt, led us through the wilderness, brought us to a place of milk and honey. That same God is also the God who, in Jesus Christ, sends us out.
My pastor growing up, the Rev. Dr. R. Boyd Carter, used to talk about how he had a subscription to every magazine imaginable. From the Christian Century to Rolling Stone. The idea was that if he read enough theology, enough psychology, enough popular culture, enough whatever, he would finally know enough o handle whatever ministry brought his way. Eventually he dropped all but a few subscriptions. He realized that there is always more to learn, and that the deluge of information was not the same as knowledge.
I am still learning this lesson. If I just get the right book, if I just read enough articles, if I get enough education, I will finally be the pastor God wants me to be.
When Jesus sends the apostles, his called and sent ones, out to minister, he tells them to not take anything extra. No change of clothes, no AAA card, no spare change, no extra socks, or emergency credit card. Why? Because as those sent by Jesus, they are not to rely on those things, as helpful and as innocuous as they may seem. They are to rely on God. Only on God.
And yes, I recognize the irony of going to a doctoral program to learn not to rely on credentials or books or my own wit, but to rely on God. This is hard work. This requires prayer, this needs singing hymns, and eating together with others who are working on it, too. This requires a community of faith. I am still working on it, and I am willing to bet none of us are done.
If we are to be the church – especially the big steeple, just off downtown, been here more than a century, church – then there is something we must do.
We must remember God. We did not build this church. We inherited it. And while we struggle with things like membership numbers and budget numbers and repairs and maintenance and bylaws and branding and all the other things that keep us busy, we need to remember God. We plant the seeds; God gives the growth.
And as we go out into our community, into our world, to Be The Church, to:
- Protect the Environment
- Care for the Poor
- Forgive Often
- Reject Racism
- Fight for the Powerless
- Share Earthly and Spiritual Resources
- Embrace Diversity
- Love God
- Enjoy this Life
Let us remember the One who has brought us through the valley of the shadow of death, the valley of dry bones, the wilderness of no food and water, the wilderness of fasting for forty days and forty nights, the dark night of the soul.
And let us trust that:
- those whom God loves, God calls;
- those whom God calls, God sends;
- those whom God sends, God feeds and equips and takes care of.
Remembering this, we can be the church.
Thanks be to God.