What God has gotten us into

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.

 

 

 

 

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A Petition for those in or seeking a political office.

Becky and I just returned from a morning in Ruma and Evansville, Il. As I prayed the Prayer of the Church, I thought of the inundation of political ads where one minute a person is somewhere between a saint and a savior of us all and literally the next minute is portrayed as somewhere between the chief of sinners and a devotee of Satan who has suffered catastrophic loss of pigment and appears grey and zombie like.
I found the following petition appropriate:
“To Your kindness, Lord, we commend all who have been entrusted with public service in our land. Keep them ever mindful that they will give account to You. Protect them from every impulse to serve self and to live in luxury or self-indulgence. Fill them with Your wisdom, and make them a blessing to our people.”

Job: A Best First Sentence

Some years ago there was a listing of the ten books with the best first sentences. Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael.” Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

This morning I started to read Job. It begins, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Seems quite fitting for today and everyday, for everyone. Just insert a name, yours first.

Good Day so Far

The Old Testament lesson from Numbers 11 for Sunday is an episode in Israel’s journey in the wilderness. I thought I might use the Pickles cartoon from the paper today in my sermon as an example of the journey into the wilderness of aging.

I didn’t brush my teeth with Bengay this morning. The shower head didn’t fall off while I was taking a shower. And I didn’t lock myself out of the house getting the morning paper. Yup, this has been a good day so far.

Humble and Childlike Faith

 

Jaroslav Pelikan was a graduate of Concordia Seminary well before my time.  He taught at Harvard, translated some of the volumes of Luther’s works and much more.  To quote Yogi Bear, “he was smarter than the average bear.”   When I used to meet with parents prior to their child’s baptism, I would conclude by often pointing to the shelves full of books in my office.  I would say that no matter how much theological learning one had, it all comes down to what Pelikan said one time, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  I thought of that when I read the request that God would “grant us humility and a childlike faith.”  And then the will and the follow through to carry out what determined I should do.

“O God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, grant us humility and childlike faith that we may please You in both will and deed; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit one God, now and forever.”

What about the Roof?

 

In Luke 5:17-26 a room full Pharisees and Scribes were listening to Jesus, when up on the roof they heard such a clatter. What could be the matter? Dirt and debris rained down on their heads.  Then, through the hole in the roof a man on mat descended from above.  But Jesus took no notice of the deliberate destruction nor, it seems, of the man’s disabled condition.  He saw only faith and he said the most surprising of things, “Your sins are forgiven.”

“What?” thought his audience, “Does he think he’s God?  How deluded can he be, for all of us know only God forgives sin.”

“Ah, yes,” said the Lord, “I know what you’re thinking.  You see, its as easy for me to forgive sins as it is to tell the man to get up and walk.”  So that you see that I’m not just talk, “Sir, pick up your mat to home you will walk.”  And man did just that, picked up his mat and went home.

People were amazed, to God they raised praise, and no one asked, “What about the roof?”

 

Adam Pondering

I was at the Sem. library yesterday and picked up some weighty books for sermon and bible class preparation. Have I mentioned before that theology is not for wimps?
They were also getting ready for an art show. The one piece that caught my attention was a painting of the newly created Adam. It showed the upper torso of a young man from the back. Grains of sand stuck to his back and arms as if he had been laying on the beach. A handful of sand was streaming through the fingers of his left hand with the rays of sun shining through the grains and and also lighting his face and left arm.  It looked to me as if Adam was pondering how he had come to be, of sand?

Holy Cross Day

 

The epistle for Holy Cross Day is I Corinthians 1:18-21.  In verse 23 Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”  What kind of god would save people through the cruelty of a crucifixion?

Wouldn’t it have been easier and more popular to have a superhero savior who at the last minute freed himself from the cross, pulled it out of the ground and used it to pulverize his enemies?  Wouldn’t Communion be more appealing with a cup of coffee and a crème filled chocolate covered doughnut?  Wouldn’t it be more appealing to hear that deep down inside we’re all okay after all?

But God has made the cross the thing.  In a display of foolishness and weakness God showed his power and wisdom through Christ crucified.  An instrument of death is become an instrument of life.

The psalm for the Day, Psalm 98, is also a psalm used at Christmas and Easter. “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”

Merciful God, your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, one God, now and forever.

 

A Couple of Thoughts

If being a career politician is such a bad thing, why are millions being spent on illogical ads by people who want to become career politicians?
There is the matter of the exfootball quarterback and Nike shoes. One person, a former parishioner, was so upset that he said he was getting sick. I find that when I am upset putting on my “Nikes” and going for a half hour walk is calming. My walking takes me through a cemetery where I can remember that we humans aught not to take ourselves so seriously. The cemetery reminds me that one day, as Job said in 17:1, “My days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me.”
Our hope is not in our political stance nor in those who are or would be career politicians, but in Jesus who for us and for our salvation “made his grave with the wicked.” and rose again that we too might rise leaving our sins behind and claiming our full sainthood.

Creation and Our Behavior

 

The Sunday paper contained an article about a large boom being launched into the Pacific to tackle a trash patch between the West Coast and Hawaii twice the size of Texas.  The OT lesson this week, Isaiah 35:1-7, reinforces the strong connection between human behavior and the land. Not everyone in our society is able to accept that biblical truth.

Israel is experiencing a dire situation of helplessness, hopelessness, quaking fear and racing heart beats.  The text doesn’t attach itself to a specific situation.  We can apply it to ourselves when we face similar conditions.

Suddenly, the prophet promises, the desert and the dry land will rejoice and blossom as bubbling springs, pools and streams break forth.  Animals will also leap for joy and find rest there.  Then people too will have hope in the Lord, they will lift drooping hands, quaking knees with be strengthened, the eyes of the blind will see the glory of the Lord at work, the deaf will hear God’s promises, and those without voice will shout.

When Jesus was on the cross the sky darkened and upon his death the earth quaked as it also did at his resurrection.  Paul promises that nothing in all creation can separate us from Jesus Christ.  Indeed, the whole creation waits for humanity’s redemption.  St. John promises, that we are God’s children now.  What we will be hasn’t been made fully apparent.  But when Christ suddenly appears we shall be like him, we and all creation.

The creation belongs to God as we ourselves do.  Take care of our home.