Tag Archive | Moses

Are We EVER Satisfied??

Exodus 16:2-15/Matthew 20:1-15

Take my words and speak through them, take our ears and hear through them, take our hearts & set them on fire with love for you. Amen.

Let’s set the scene: As the Israelites left Egypt, we would expect them to be overjoyed and relieved because their prayers for deliverance were finally answered, but instead we find an ungrateful and cynical nation. They complained to Moses:

“was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11)

So, God hears their complaining and splits the Red Sea and delivers them from the Egyptians to begin their journey to the Promised land.

But are they happy yet? NO!

You would think that the camp would be thrilled with their new-found freedom. They were leaving bitter bondage behind and were traveling toward the Promised land. But instead of rejoicing, we read that the Israelites were grumbling:

“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”. (Exodus 16:3)

They were hungry. So, God provided them with manna. Manna, a sweet gum or resin type bread, appeared on the ground each day and they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. By evening what manna had not been eaten disappeared. In order to honor the Sabbath, the manna lasted for two days on the sixth day, because it was a holy rest day. So, they always had something to eat.

But were they happy? NO! They complained because there was not meat!

The Israelites continually reminisced about Egypt, as if it had been Paradise. How soon they forgot the brick pits, the task masters whip, how conveniently they forgot the cramps from the hard toil, and the blood, sweat and tears they shed slaving for Pharaoh. Like Lot’s wife looking back toward Sodom, they looked back toward Egypt, as if it had held something good for them to miss. The more God’s miraculous powers, protections, and provisions are made for them, the more ridiculous and loud their complaints were. With children so disrespectful and ungrateful as these, God might have rained down fire and brimstone, but instead He rains down sweet manna from heaven.

And yet again, they grumbled:

They began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

How foolhardy it was to look at the gifts from God with contempt. Manna was free. They didn’t have to work for it. It wasn’t hard to gather. It was sweet. It was versatile and could be used in a multitude of ways.

‘Nothing but Manna!” (Numbers 11:6)

Once again, God listened to their grumblings and gave them what they wanted:

The Lord said to Moses, ‘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.In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. (Exodus 16:11-13)

Were they EVER going to be happy with their lot?

Just what was it going to take to please these people?

You know, it seems we can always find something to complain about. There is always something to complain about, even when there isn’t. We can find a grievance if we want to, no matter how unreasonable it is. We grumble and complain when it’s too hot, when it’s too cold, we grumble when it rains, we complain when it snows. We complain when the weather has been too sunny for just a day longer than we would like it to be… and that is just about the weather!

I guess it has been that way since the creation of Adam and Eve and will be that way until the end of time. People have always been grumpy and complaining. King Solomon, one of the wisest men on earth, prophesized it in Ecclesiastes 1:9:

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”.

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Indeed, we hear the same type of complaining in today’s Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15).

This difficult parable attributed to Jesus only appears in Matthew. . . and there is probably a really good reason for this.

It addresses the greed of people who feel they deserve more than anyone else. Not a topic that most people want to hear about.

And, it also turns the world’s commonly-accepted idea of fairness upside down – also, not a popular idea!

Those workers who toiled all day in the hot sun were bitter because those who only worked a short time were paid the same amount as they were paid. They protested:

“It’s Not Fair!”

The estate manager hired laborers for his vineyard about 6:00 a.m. for what amounts to about one dollar, which was considered to be a fair day’s wages. Then he shows his generosity as he hires laborers at nine, noon and three. He actually didn’t need them for the harvest, but was compassionate because they were unemployed and their families were hungry.

When paid, they not only received payment in reverse order, but all workers received the same wage for their efforts. The workers who were hired first appealed to the estate manager using common sense, fair play, logic, and reason. Their complaint was not necessarily that the last hired received the same wage, but that if the manager was that generous with the last, then certainly he might provide them with a “bonus” for having endured the heat of the day. But a contract is a contract, and therefore the laborers hired at the beginning of the day had no real cause to quibble or argue – they got paid exactly what they had contracted with the manager. But they felt they had a legitimate complaint – based on the worldly principles of fairness and logic.

In fact, some of them felt so cheated, that they left without their pay.

I suggest to you this parable is not about fair labor management, but rather is a statement about the radical nature of God and the Kingdom, and the wideness of God’s grace. The nature of grace not only finds human labor to be  insufficient to gain grace, but ultimately unnecessary because of God’s love for all people. Participation in the Kingdom of God does not come about by works, but rather comes from the unmerited and unending grace of God. And all will receive that grace, regardless of when they come to accept the love of God.

I suggest to you, the real message of this parable is not about money and fairness, but

The kingdom of God. . .

And God’s Grace.

Grace is defined as ‘unmerited favor, unearned gift or blessing given, regardless of our worthiness’. It is God’s unconditional love that we don’t deserve, that adds strength to our daily lives, that provides forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings, and gives us assurance of eternal life.

No, life is not fair and, thank God, grace isn’t fair either!

God has no reason to be accepting and forgiving of us other than that He is love incarnate and loves us. We have no reason to expect, much less demand that grace, except that He promised it to us. If we were to receive what we deserved, if we lived by our idea of fairness, most of us would be left out and ignored, humiliated and condemned by normal expectations. We would work and receive little; if we arrived late, we would receive nothing. But God does not treat us as we deserve. He gives us His unconditional love. He extends to us the grace to do something worthwhile with our lives. He voluntarily promises us life with Him. So how can we whine or quarrel when He has given us, all of us, much more than is fair?

If we got what was fair, none of us would get to heaven.

Let me repeat that:

If we got what was fair, none of us would get to heaven.

God doesn’t give us what is fair, but gives us His love and grace, in spite of what we deserve!

The test for us is how will we accept that love? What kind of people will we be? Will we picture ourselves as those who ‘deserve’ grace and favor and complain about everything God has given us, or will we picture ourselves as those who are blessed undeservingly? If we end up resenting the grace God gives to others, we miss the point of God’s grace.

The grumblers that could only see obstacles on the way to the wonderful Promised land of God did not even see the blessing of God’s sweet manna. Today, I remind us to accept a new type of manna, a new type of bread.

Then Jesus declared “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Christ is the ever living, everlasting bread; bread that nourishes us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually

by His example and love,

by His mercy and forgiveness,

by His Holy Spirit that surrounds us every moment of our lives if we will be open to it.

This bread will sustain our soul forever!

When you find yourself cynically complaining and dissatisfied with life or the world around you, remember this quote from the Rolling Stones:

You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try some time, you just might find,
You get what you need.

And what we need is that sweet manna from Heaven, that Bread of Life, the love of Jesus, that will sustain us as we travel to the Promised Land.

So, when we come to the altar rail for communion, let us forget our daily complaints, and remember if we will receive it, we are offered this Bread of Life for eternity.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 24 September 2017

Listen to Your Mountaintop!

Luke 9:28-36

Even as a child, I loved to watch clouds – as they moved, changed shapes and colors – they fascinated me. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I am frequently posting hundreds or maybe even a thousand pictures of sunrises and sunsets and the formation of clouds that surround them. Some people have even accused me of being obsessed with clouds. When I was a little girl, my friends and I would lie in the grass and analyze cloud shapes – a horse? a boat? a dragon? a face? The interesting thing was that rarely did any two of us see the same thing – different experiences conjured up different impression in our minds.

As in so many passages in the Bible, we read about the Transfiguration of Jesus told in a language we can only accept as a metaphor.

In this modern world, we do not expect, or even look for, a literal appearance of God on mountaintops, . . . in clouds, . . . in mystical or supernatural appearances, . . . or actually talking to us today. But that is exactly what our gospel reading is about

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

The ancient Biblical writers often used clouds when they depicted important occasions when God was dealing with his people. We can recall:

  • When the Israelites fled from Egypt, a pillar of cloud led them by day.
  • When Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, a cloud descended upon the mountain, obscuring it. The people looked up, and they could no longer see Moses.
  • When God instructed the Israelites to construct a portable tabernacle, God filled the tent with his Presence in the form of a cloud.
  • And, later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, once again a cloud filled the sanctuary.

So, in our Scripture reading, when the cloud descended over the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, John and James…

we shouldn’t be surprised.

The scripture writers, once again, were depicting a time when the Presence of God was enveloping them, as the Presence of God has done time and time again to His faithful people.

It is this Biblical account of Jesus’ transfiguration occurring on a mountaintop – as well as the experience of Moses at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew Bible, that has given rise to the commonly used term ‘mountaintop experience’ – a moment of such intense joy and beauty in one’s life that we are somehow changed – and never forget it.

To depict God, appearing as a cloud, says something important about God. Clouds are not crystal clear, but rather dense and opaque. But, also within clouds is brilliant light, reflecting from and off the clouds. That is a great mystery; how can something opaque and dense put forth brilliant light.

So, perhaps then, it is fitting that clouds are used to remind us of the mystery of God – the lack of clarity and precision, the sense of wonder and transformation.

In our world we want to know things. We want Google at our fingertips to tell us everything about anything, and we want Facebook to instantly tell us everything else—like what our friends had for dinner, or how mom’s cruise is going. We humans have a hunger and thirst for knowledge; we have always been curious and wanted answers, the facts. And, as technology has advanced through the millennia, we want more and more knowledge, provable tangible facts within our grasp immediately and at all times.

And, as Christians, we are no different in our quest for answers about our relationship with God. We want to know specifics about God, and our relationship with him. Moreover, we want to know why we are here, what is the meaning of life, where is God, and where will we be after death  –  none of this ‘now we see through a glass darkly’, or in a cloud. We want to know how this story, or that proverb, or this anecdote applies to our life. What it really means. And, we want to know right now, on demand. We don’t want to wait!

So, what really did happen to Jesus and Peter and James and John on that mountaintop? How could we understand what this biblical story means for us? Can we be transfigured on a mountaintop? Or do life-changing moments of mystery and wonder not happen today? Does God no longer ‘speak’ to us?

Life is full of mountaintop experiences. They are the times when we find healing, or unexpected love, when we suddenly have an ‘aha’ moment and clearly know the answer to a problem or important life decision.

Sometimes mountaintop experiences are visions of the intense beauty of nature: the Grand Canyon, the Redwood forests, the Rocky Mountains, a field of sunflowers.

For many mountaintop experiences are inspired by music, art, poetry, . . .or perhaps gathered with others around a campfire, . . .or in an energized and inspiring worship service. Almost always, words cannot express or explain these moments – they are ‘of the spirit’ and involve deep feeling and an ‘inner-knowing’ that is, in fact, more real and true to us than anything we can find on Wikipedia.

It’s tempting to want our life’s journey to be made up of only mountaintop experiences. Then we might bypass the chaos, the challenges, and the struggles. In our mountaintop moments, something inside us cries out, “it is good for us to be here. Let’s just bask in the glory of this place.”

But it’s also true that life – especially if one is a Christian– continually calls us down from those breath-taking moments, down from the mountaintop, and out into the world. We inevitably must descend from our moments of profound glory, celebration, clarity and joy, into the valleys of this world where life is messy, confusing, challenging, and inhospitable.

To follow the teachings of Jesus in a relationship with the Creator isn’t easy. God isn’t composed of a series of facts; the Creator of life is a series of mysteries and questions we can’t easily or quickly understand. God’s Presence is enveloped in mystery. In fact, coming into God’s Presence is like entering a thick cloud where definition is not always precise, but it is there -where answers are not linear and logical, but they are there – and in that cloudy presence, that mountaintop experience we are transfigured – changed for the better, enlightened for a time, aware at the core of our being that there is Order, Reason, Mercy and Love at the heart of everything.

Our encounter with God in mountaintop moments changes our lives. Changes how we look at the world by making us very more aware of how we are to live and what God is calling us to do in the world. It is in these mountaintop experiences that we learn the most, are often brought to uncontrollable tears, inexplicably changed even though there is no way we can explain it to anyone. And in most cases, we don’t totally understand it ourselves.

Encountering God, whether on the mountaintop OR at your kitchen table, leaves you with a sense of awe and joy – often something that you can’t even explain. But you know you have somehow been changed. And you will never the be same ever again. That you have a feeling of being surrounded with love and joy. For at least a time, you suddenly understand what is not understandable.

Moses came down from that clouded mountain with a radiant face—forever changed. Jesus was changed on that mountain – enveloped in the love and light of God, given the highest blessing anyone could ever receive from His Father.

Peter, James, and John were changed on that mountain—forever. And, not because they learned lots of facts. In reality, they probably descended with more questions than answers. But they saw Jesus changed and heard God’s voice. They didn’t know why, but they knew that they would never be the same again.

For like Moses, they met the Presence of the Living God. And, that’s what changed them and what changes us. That’s what alters the course of our lives. And, as Christians, that’s what we’re all about: seeking God’s Presence, experiencing an epiphany, an enlightenment, an awakening.

We try to move too fast in the world today. We want what we want, when we want it. Right now! We want it handed to us on a silver platter, all wrapped up in an explanation. We want no uncertainty; no fogginess; nothing that we have to think about.

But meeting God doesn’t work that way. It is in the time and way of the eternal Creator that we learn and find answers. Our task – our challenge – is to stay open to experiencing the mountaintops, to hearing the voice, to receiving the answers, to following the directions.

It isn’t an accident that Mathew, Mark, and Luke, the three gospel-writers who mention the Transfiguration, infuse the story with foreshadowing of Jesus’ death. In our scripture reading for this morning we are told that Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about “his departure”, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. “Departure” here is another word for death. We are meant to understand that the distance between the mountaintop and the cross is not so great, and that Jesus’ followers should never lose sight of either one of them. In our mountaintop moments we must recognize the sacrifices that we are called to make, just as Jesus did. In our lowly moments of despair we are to remember God’s sovereignty reigns over all things – that indeed “all will be well”, despite the pain and loss and struggle. The mountaintop cannot be separated from the cross. In the struggles also lies the glory.

In the end, the test of any mountaintop experience is what happens back at ground level. Whatever mountaintop experiences we have individually, or as a member of the Body of Christ, what we do with these experiences here on earth in our daily lives is really what matters. Our transfigurations must

change us for the better in the way we live and the work we do. . .

enlighten and sustain us . . .

and motivate us to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives.

As transfigured children of God, we must heed God’s voice

This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! (Luke 9:35)

So, in my obsession with clouds, maybe that is my mountaintop experience – seeing and hearing God in the opaqueness and light of those clouds over Columbus.

What and where are your mountaintop experiences?

I only know that we must stay open – through prayer, meditation and calm reflection through shared study and service – to be willing to walk into the cloudy mist and seek the Presence of God. And then go forth to work for the transfiguration of the world into a world of beauty and holiness, of joy, and of love.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 6 August 2017