Pentecost 19 2018 Ruma/Evansville, Il. Numbers 11
In 1848 Father Theodore Van den Broek, a missionary in Wisconsin along the Fox River southwest of Green Bay, returned to his native Holland to take care of some family business. While there he recruited three ship loads of Dutch people, including my great great grandparents, to emigrate and found a catholic colony. These emigrants were far from well off in Holland, but when they arrived at their destination they found pretty much wilderness, woods, forests and not much else. Dealing with such primitive conditions led some to return to Holland. And among those who stayed many began to grumble and vilify Father Van den Broek asking, “What have you gotten us into?” They felt they had been sold a bill of goods without the goods.
As we turn to our Old Testament lesson we find the people of Israel in the wilderness. It’s one year since God rescued the Hebrews from over 400 years in Egypt, much it as oppressed slaves. You know the story, edicts to make bricks without all the supplies. Orders to kill new born Hebrew boys; however, the midwives outsmarted Pharaoh. Then in the desert of Midian the voice of God in a burning bush called 80-year-old Moses from shepherding sheep to shepherding his people out of slavery. Then the plagues, the Passover meal, death of firstborn Egyptians, escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Then the singing and tambourine led dancing, “For He has triumphed gloriously…The Lord is my strength and my song. And he has become my salvation.” Then at Mt Sinai their declaration, “We will do all that the Lord has spoken.”
But now, the riffraff is grumbling, murmuring, weeping. It is contagious and leads to 600,000 people wailing because they have had enough. What have you gotten us into? They are fed up with being fed day after day with “nothing but this manna to look at.” Fed up with daily picking it off the ground. Fed up with grinding it, pounding it, baking or boiling it. For the remembered taste of cucumbers, melons, leeks and onions they would rather reverse God’s salvation; reject their freedom; return to Egypt and be slaves again.
God heard their grumbling and got hot under the collar. Moses was distressed because it was just getting too much. He had had enough. “God what have you gotten me into? These are your people. You conceived them. You gave them birth. But now I am left to nurse them like a bunch of crying colicky babies and carry them into the land You swore to give to their fathers. They want meat, but where am I to get meat? Unless you do something, you might just as well kill me and let it be done. God, do something to help me.” It is not well with God and people.
Some years ago, I taught a breakfast bible Class at a restaurant. The day we covered our text for today, one person laughed and said, “It’s still the same today. We haven’t changed.”
Here’s the thing, for those homeless Hebrews, journeying in the wilderness, for those Dutch emigrants in the Wisconsin wilderness in 1848, and for you and me in 2018, we all find ourselves on occasion in a wilderness of one sort or another. We all are emigrating from our earthly home to that promised eternal home in heaven. Furthermore, we all live under the same blessing of God. We hear it week after week.
“The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Then the bible says, “So shall they put my name upon them and I will bless them.” So, we leave this morning with the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit upon us.
That blessing is well worth remembering when we enter our own wilderness in our life. Sometimes it can feel like Job. “Here I am an honest and upright person who believes in God and salvation through Jesus Christ and I try to avoid evil.” And then things go haywire. Things were going along well for Job, he had the perfect family, He had a mammoth livestock operation supporting numerous hired hands. And he lost it all in short order, his livestock stolen, his children due to a storm, his health and even his wife. And his friends came and piled on a heap of guilt as they tried to figure out why all this happened. Most of the time we can’t figure out why things go wrong, but then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can’t figure out why we are so richly blessed.
Sometimes our wilderness is not all that catastrophic. Some of us are getting along in age and the Pickles cartoon in the paper speaks to us, two men are sitting on a bench in town and one says to the other, “This morning I brushed my teeth and didn’t use the Bengay, the shower head didn’t fall off when I took a shower and when I went to get the paper I didn’t lock myself out of the house. Yup, pretty good start to the day, I’d say.”
Whether we are into a latter year of our journey, whether we are young and have a long journey ahead, whether we have small children to carry on our hip; whatever our journey we will find ourselves in one sort of wilderness or another not knowing which way to turn. And we want to cry out, “Enough!” What have I gotten myself into?
We also do well to remember God didn’t pull Moses out of his situation. Moses had been blessed with the Holy Spirit, and God took some of his spirit and put it on 70 elders who would assist him in managing the day to day life of all those people. God also gave the people meat, sending flocks of quail, knee deep, covering the camp.
What does that have to do with us? I suspect that if we didn’t eat breakfast it was because we chose not to. Furthermore, before those Hebrews started their journey, they passed through the waters of the Red Sea. St. Paul says this was a baptism of sorts. Those Dutch people who emigrated in 1848, had passed through the waters of baptism, and it is the same for you and me gathered here in 2018. In that act God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is with us and we are added to the blessed number of God’s people. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment on the promise that as we journey through the various wildernesses in which we might find ourselves during our life, that despite our grumbling, despite our cry “enough” God will never abandon nor forsake us. For in Jesus he himself spent time in the wilderness tempted to reject God and remained faithful in our stead, and on the cross, though abandoned by his own heavenly Father, he still held firm in faith in our stead. So, when God looks to us, he sees not us, but he sees His Son and he says, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of Your master.” And so we will enter and our journey will at last be complete. That’s what God has gotten us into.