Hello-Goodbye sermon series - May 2, 2021

Deuteronomy 1

Now, let’s turn to our scripture for the day. Ahh, the Israelites. Man, I love these folks. The Israelites in the desert are real people. They fuss. They complain. They forget easily and they are awfully nearsighted. Those people are real people. None of this glorified sainthood stuff--just everyday people, loved by God, trying to be faithful, often distracted and moving of course...they’re like a breath of fresh air. They’re not shiny and perfect, they’re real, and sometimes a little whiny--which sure feels relatable to

me.

So, here in this section of scripture, we find the Israelites in the desert. They’re not exactly wandering at this point, in fact, they’ve settled in. They have a camp that feels more permanent than temporary and things are maybe, arguably feeling a little normal for them. Remember, prior to this they had been slaves in Egypt--not just treated as servants, but abused and mistreated. They had pled with God in prayer to save them, and God called Moses to help get them out. Long story short, they get out and then start making their way in the wilderness where they often kavetch and seem to forget what life had really been back in Egypt. Right? They’re uncomfortable, they don’t have a solid place to live, they don’t have access to much food, enough to sustain them, but not any kind of variety--manna and quail, that was it. Manna and quail day in and day out. And they started to grouse. Why have you brought us here? Why doesn’t God care about us? We’re never going to get there! We would be better off back in Egypt!

Moses reminds them they would not and urges them to keep going. So they do, and they get here to the camp where we see them today. Things seem to be ok and yet, they are not yet in the promised land, so they haven’t fully arrived. This was a stop-over place, but when you’re an entire community trying to find your way in the desert you can’t just get to your destination. You have to farm in order to have food, you have to stay in each major stop for an extended period--maybe a year, maybe more, we don’t fully know. But here they are in one of those staying places.

And God talks to Moses and indicates it’s time to get to the next place. So Moses faithfully sends scouts to check things out and the reports are good. Things look good. There’s good fruit, it’s worth the move. So Moses tells the people it’s time to start packing. And did you hear how they responded? No thanks.

So Moses reminds them...again...don’t you remember how God was faithful and you were whiny, but God kept providing? And God blessed you and helped you through. And then you whined some more but still, God was faithful. And it was uncomfortable for a time, but then it was better and we were ok, and God called us to something else and you didn’t want to go….do you see the pattern? You drag your feet, God helps us through hard stuff, you’re grateful for a hot second and then you start fussing again. But God sticks with us. God keeps us moving toward the end goal--well, here we are again ready to move closer to the goal. It’s time.

But for some reason, this time, God got angry and told the people they wouldn’t get to see all the good things...or maybe, they fussed and it took a generation of time before they finally arrived in the promised land and when their kids and grandkids looked back on the story they figured that the fact that their parents and grandparents didn’t make it in was because they fussed too much? Maybe they simply laid their assumptions onto their ancestors and used it as a warning--don’t whine too much or God won’t let you go in. Like lots of things, we don’t really know, and it’s not the heart of the story. The big takeaway for me is the pattern...God helps the people who need help, they are grateful for a minute but then seem to forget all that God has done for them and when God calls them to something new, they fuss. They resist change, even if change is for the better. They settle into a pattern and even if it’s not ideal, it’s at least routine.

And to me, that sounds very human. It’s what people do. Right? We find ourselves miserable in something and so we fuss about it. We might be tasked with a lot of work to change things and so we fuss about that. We can be terribly myopic and only see the parts that we choose to focus on. But God keeps leading. God keeps calling us away from suffering and into life. And in the midst of it all, we often find a routine. We develop habits around the new things and there’s comfort in those habits. We get ready to stay in those places forever. And we sometimes forget that God has a bigger plan. But God hasn’t forgotten and so God calls us to get up and move, do the work, get to the next place--and how do we respond? Generally? With resistance--it seems to be human nature. That’s the pattern, but not the calling.

The calling is to avoid complacency. The calling is to go where God invites us. The calling is to meet new people, see new places, and try new things. The calling is to examine our habits and make sure they’re really worthwhile before we throw down trying to protect them. The calling is to be a people who believe that God calls us out of our suffering and into abundant life.

In this season of our lives, as individuals living in a pandemic, as families transitioning at school and work, as a church adapting to a new season of ministry under new leadership--we’re being called to a lot of change and many of us are feeling pretty close to the Israelites--wondering why God doesn’t care more about us, why God is so demanding, why God is so unfair, why things aren’t better NOW. And it’s ok to fuss. It’s ok to vent and get it all out. As long as we remember we aren’t called to complacency. We aren’t asked to stay the same. We aren’t faithful when we refuse to move. God’s plan requires much of us, it is not without sacrifice, it is not without discomfort, it is not without a little time lost and wandering in the desert. But it is full of the greatest gifts God has to offer--the fruits of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The journey isn’t easy, but it is worth it.