Sermon on September 7, 2014

 

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Deuteronomy 1:34-45

September 7, 2014

  As we’ve indicated earlier, today is traditionally called “Rally Day” in the church.  The day signals the beginning of a new church school year.  It’s a time to rally the troops!  Rallies need a good cry, and ours for this year is “From the Beginning.”  God has been involved from the beginning and that is from where I hope comes.  It is my prayer you all will find a way to be involved in some form of Bible study.  As Christians, we’re to constantly be growing in our faith as we strive to know more about who God would want us to be. Since today is rally day, I thought I would remind you of one of the rallying cries from the Reformation, that era of when the Protestant Churches broke off from the Roman Church.  We often hear the short-cut version, “The church reformed, always reforming.”  Unfortunately, this abbreviated version implies that change—in and off itself—is good.   The full quote goes like this, “The church reformed, always to be reformed, according to the Word of God.”[1]  Change that is not led or approved by God is dangerous as we’re going to see in our text this morning. Last week we looked at the passage from the first chapter of Deuteronomy where Moses recalled how he sent spies into the Promised Land and they brought back wonderful reports of a rich and productive land.  But there were also the reports of the inhabitants of the land, giants who lived in walled cities that reached up into the heavens.  Pondering this, the people’s hearts were troubled and they rebelled against Moses and God, asking why God hated them so much that he delivered them from Egypt only to let them die at the hands of the Amorites.  This week, we’re looking at the second half of this passage, where God metes out judgment and Israel’s surprising response that leads to a hard lesson learned.    Read Deuteronomy 1:34-45

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  I’m going to show him!  I’m going to show her!  Such an attitude more often than not can get us into deep trouble.  Think about the baseball player who, after making an error on the field, comes to the plate ready to swing for the fence…  And he strikes out.  Or the girl dumped by a guy and just to show him picks up his best friend and begins a bitter relationship that’s not good for either one of them.  Or the salesman who, after a critical review, vows to show his employer and works hard but when things aren’t working out resorts to finagling figures… We are all valuable because we are created by God.  However, the desire to show someone else how valuable we are based on our skill or hard work can be dangerous and, if we’re not careful, can lead to our destruction.  Let’s look at our passage for this morning and see if we can learn from Israel’s mistakes and not have to repeat them. When word of Israel’s rebellion reaches God, he’s angry.  We don’t like to think of an angry, wrathful God, but perhaps we should.  God is holy and has high standards and Scripture has numerous examples of God getting angry.  Perhaps we can best understand this in the analogy of God as Father.  Even though we as parents become angry at our children, it doesn’t mean we don’t love them.  We have expectations for our children and when they disappoint us or don’t trust us, our anger may be kindled.  Hopefully, it’s because we care so much for them that we find ourselves angry, not because we don’t love them—even though that may be how our children interpret our anger.  Certainly Israel interpreted God’s anger in this manner. The wilderness experience was a time for the people to learn to trust God…  Because of the people’s lack of trust, God pronounces judgment upon Israel’s rebellion.  None of the people who are of age, who experienced God’s miracles in Egypt, will live in the Promised Land (except for Caleb and Joshua and their families).  All the rest will die in the desert.  Even Moses, who argued for the people to follow God, will not set foot in the Promised Land.   Sometimes the consequences of our lack of faith extend beyond the guilty.  Caleb, if you remember, was the faithful spy who argued for the people to move forward…[2]   And Joshua is the new leader of the people. The only other ones to live in the Promised Land will be those who are not yet of age, who do not yet know right from wrong, and who did not witness of understand the great miracles that happened in Egypt.   As God promises the land to the children, we are given an insight into why Israel was so concerned about going forth into battle.  Israel was afraid her children would end up being slaves, the booty of war.  Now the children will get to wander in the wilderness and learn the hard lesson from their parents’ lack of trust. Moses then tells the people they are to turn back toward the Red Sea, away from the Promised Land, where they will reside for forty years.  It’s at this point the people realize their foolishness and decide to take things into their own hands.   “We’re going to show God we can be faithful,” they think as they prepare for battle.  (If you ever find yourself thinking you’re going to show God something, you better have an attitude adjustment!)  God isn’t going with Israel into battle, as Moses warns.  Yet, after confessing their sins, they foolishly go forth, only to be defeated by the Amorites and chased away as if they were being chased by bees.  That’s not a pretty picture! Sincere confession leads to forgiveness, but there still may be consequences for our actions. Israel’s defeat doesn’t result in an orderly retreat that allows the army to regroup and fight again.  Instead, the defeat turns into panic as every man runs to save his own life. The parent/child analogy helps us to understand what happens here.  If you as a parent give an ultimatum to a child, it better be one you can keep if you want to raise the child up right and to teach the lesson you hope to teach.  So if you tell a child if they misbehavior in a certain way, they’ll be no ice cream after dinner and the child, sensing the loss, tells you he’s sorry, should you relent and let him eat ice cream?  Not if it’s a lesson the child needs to learn.  But now let’s suppose that the child, after confessing and when you’re not looking, heads to the freezer with a bowl and spoon.  This is kind of what Israel did.  What would be your response if you are the parent?  If you want to remain in control, you will have additional consequences for the wayward child.  Maybe you’ll extend the punishment.  No longer is it the loss of ice cream for the evening; now it might be no ice cream for a week, or a month (or forty years)… You see, God wants the Israelites to trust him and if he relents and lets the people go forth without leading them into battle, they will get the idea their power is in their swords and arrows, biceps and tactics…  Such ideas can be dangerous for they will begin to trust themselves and not God.  This week, as we did last week, we learn the importance of faith and trust in God.  Last week, the message was to trust God when we are moving forward.  This week, the message is to trust God and not act if we don’t feel God is with us or leading us. If God is not with us, we should be willing to step back into the wilderness and see what God wants us to do.  Our actions should be based upon the right motivations.  If we’re just doing something by ourselves, we might find ourselves greatly disappointed in the outcome.  God has a way of humiliating the proud and the one who takes things into his or her own hands.[3]  God wants us to be faithful and to trust him—that should be our motivation for all that we do. As I’ll say over and over again, when it comes to faith “It’s not about us.”  It’s about God and what God wants.  The question we should all be asking, praying about and bring to our reading of Scripture is “What is God’s will for us, today?”  Not what did God want us to do last year or in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or even last week.  Let us be asking what is God calling us to do today and tomorrow.  We need to prayerfully seek out such answers.  As people of faith, we live with the understanding that God is good and, in the long term, wants what is best for us and for all his children.  Amen.  

 

©2014 



[1] Ecclesia reformate, semper reformada secundum verbum Dei.  This phrase is found in the opening of the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order, F-2.02
[2] Numbers 13:30.
[3] Proverbs 3:34, 25:23; James 4:6


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