This is the time of year when churches send groups on service projects and mission trips. Sometimes our groups will stay in Manheim or go to another state to do good deeds for other people, and sometimes they travel to faraway places. When you travel, do you have a packing list of stuff you always take with you? Maybe you always have a travel bag packed, just in case. The last time you traveled, what was one thing you forgot? That’s why our Missions Team gave everybody a packing list!
Our theme this month is called “To the Nations.” Next week in worship, Christine Baer from Church World Service, in Lancaster, is coming to talk about refugees from other countries who have come here and are living among us. In one way or another, people in God’s kingdom travel. There is always movement, spiritually and physically. Almost every week in worship we say, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” You may have lived in the same place for a long time, maybe you think you don’t go anywhere, but if nothing else, you are on a trip through time. And the landscape keeps changing, doesn’t it?
We believe that God leads us on this trip. We are not alone. There’s probably no more famous example of a journey with God than the story of the Hebrew people escaping slavery in Egypt. This might be the biggest camping trip anybody ever tried to put together. It’s been a few weeks or months since they came through the Red Sea. Let’s check in to see how it’s going…
Exodus 17:1-7. From the wilderness of “Shin” the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
So, the Hebrew people have run out of food and water and they’re starting to hurt. They were complaining. Depending on your translation of the bible, they were grumbling (NIV) or murmuring (KJV). They were not happy and it was not just a case of being cranky before a meal. These were real circumstances and I imagine that at least the parents with kids were starting to worry. The story says there were many thousands of these people – these families – out in a desert with no way to support themselves. It was a serious situation. This was a problem only God could solve, which is the point of this story. God was using this experience to teach them how to rely on God and turn to God. And they were not learning this lesson very easily.
Instead, the people put a target on Moses. It’s true that God had made him their leader, but it was as if, suddenly, God didn’t exist. All they had to do was tell God what they needed. Instead, they complained at Moses, whose response was, “Why are you complaining to me?”
God watches them walking along in the desert wilderness, free from slavery, but still much to learn about being free. God says, “People! Shake your fist at me! In scripture, when the people learn to do this, when they learn to release their problems to God, God gives them a way. When the people start speaking to God, even complaining to God, God has a way of guiding them and bonding them.
It seems counter-intuitive, but the best moments in church life I’ve seen are when the church has to face some serious issue together. When we decide to put aside the individuality, when each of us decides “it’s not about me,” when each of us takes the skill or talent or resource God gives us and offers it for the common good, when together we ask God to get us out of this mess, this wilderness, beautiful things start to happen. When we turn to God together, God brings water out of a rock.
If you have faith in the power of Jesus working in your life, if you expect that a door will open, God will do it. It just might not happen in the way you think it will or want it to.
The Inheritance. Once upon a time, there was a man who promised to give all 10 of his children 100 gold coins each on the day of his death. At the time he told his children of what he intended to do, the man had far more than he needed to fulfill this promise. But toward the end of his life, he fell on hard times. He found that he did not have enough money to keep his word to all his children.
On the day of his death, the children gathered at their father’s bedside at his request. One by one, they stepped forward, embraced their father, and received a purse with 100 gold coins. When it was time for the youngest son to receive his inheritance, the father waved everyone out of the room.
“My son,” he said, “I have terrible news. Though I have been able to give 100 gold coins to each of your brothers and sisters, I only have 20 for you.”
The youngest son was angry. “But father, if you knew this, why didn’t you adjust what you gave them so that everything would be fair?”
“It is better that I keep my word to as many as possible,” the father said. Although I cannot give you as many gold coins as I promised, I can give you my greatest treasure. In addition to the 20 gold coins which I have for you, I offer my 10 closest friends. Their friendship is worth far more than all the gold I ever possessed. I urge you to treat them kindly.”
Just after he spoke these words, the old man died.
When the days of mourning were over, thrilled by their sudden wealth, the nine oldest children went on vacation. The youngest soon stayed at home, deeply disappointed. When he paid off his debts, he found he had only four gold coins left. Though he had no great desire to see his father’s friends, he decided he must honor his father’s last request. Reluctantly, he reserved a room at a banquet hall and invited his father’s 10 friends to dinner. It was a wonderful meal. His father’s friends weren’t so bad after all!
When the meal was over, the 10 elderly people said to one another, “This is the only child who treats us with kindness. We will return his affection.”
The next morning, each of the father’s 10 friends sent two cattle and a small purse of money to the youngest son. Several of the old farmers helped with breeding the cattle. Soon, the youngest son had a large herd. Others offered advice on how to invest the money. It wasn’t long before the youngest son had greater wealth than any of the other nine. Above the door of his home, he wrote these words: “Friendship is of more value than gold.”
John Wesley said,
Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as you ever can.
God, you are able to do miracles in our lives. You are able to heal, you are able bring peace. We believe; help our unbelief. Break down our walls and help us see a glimpse of the life we can have simply by allowing you to take control. Give us the courage, and the willingness, and the circumstances to step out for you. Take away our fear of commitment.
Help us communicate to our world that we are Christians, not just church members. Then give us dark places to go where we can carry your torch, showing the world that life is not as hopeless as it might look right now. Through your Spirit, give us the a supernatural ability to resolve our issues in helpful ways, and the patience to be compassionate. Help us carry each other along the path you’ve given us to walk, following your son Jesus. Amen.