Sermon for May 26, 2019 -- GOD IS WITH US


--a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 5-26-2019 Pardeeville

(Exodus 17:1-7)



     Did you ever have a tough situation to deal with?  Maybe a health crisis for you or someone close to you?  Have you ever had a tough week or month or longer…a period of time when it was just one thing after another?  Did you ever go through a time so stressful that you wondered if God cared…if God was even around…if God would act to help you?  And while this was going on, did you ever wonder if anyone else has undergone the same kinds of feelings? 

     Everyone will find themselves in an unpleasant situation.  It doesn’t matter if it lasts a short time or a long time.  If for no other reason than we are human, we’re going to have questions in our troubles from time to time about where God is.  But when it comes to whether anyone else has had the same feelings…the answer is yes!  And we need look no further than the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus.  The Israelite people went through a bunch of difficult times.  And even when they failed to recognize it, God was always around.  God was acting to help them.  Hopefully, deep down, we realize God’s presence in our lives but we all have moments when we wonder where God is.

     The chosen people lived in exile as Pharaoh’s work force for generation after generation.  We’re talking hundreds of years here.  But we get a indication as to how God felt about the chosen people early on…well before their release from bondage.  During the exchange that took place between God and Moses at the burning bush, God said, “I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt.”  “My people” God said.  MY people!  And God came to their rescue.  Proof positive that God will stay with us at all times, even when we deem the circumstances to be hopeless, even over long periods of time.

     So Moses pleads in front of Pharaoh and, with a little help from ten plagues sent by God upon the Egyptian people, the chosen people are allowed to leave Egypt.  But there’s more.  God’s presence was visible both day and night…by day in the form of a cloud and by night in the form of a pillar of fire.  The chosen people headed out of Egypt…no doubt thrilled to be free of Pharaoh’s oppression.  Then Pharaoh changes his mind.  “OMG!” he said to himself, “I just dismissed my entire labor force!  How will I build everything I want to build?”  He sends his army after the chosen people to bring them back.  And when the chosen people see who’s coming after them, they absolutely panic.  They complain to Moses that this is going to be the end and why did we think we could get away from the Egyptians and we knew something like this would happen.  But you may remember that God split the Red Sea so the Israelite people could cross safely to the other side.  (Not so for the Egyptian army!)  So God continues to provide for us even during the scariest of circumstances.  That’s a really good thing!

     For a large group of people who escaped generations of slavery in a foreign country, the chosen people sure complain a lot, don’t they?  They get scared; they complain.  They get hungry; they complain.  There is a story in the book of Exodus about a time the chosen people were so hungry they actually regretted leaving Egypt.  How could you actually wish to be back in a place where you had to do hard work every day and were treated so poorly?  In answer to the peoples’ hunger, God provided manna in the desert…not once but six days a week for forty years!  It’s important to note that, despite the way the chosen people treated God at times, God still took care of them.  And though often we would like answers to come right away, God doesn’t always make our problems disappear instantly.  God does however, continue to provide what we need.

     Moses was the man God selected to lead the chosen people out of Egypt and through the desert.  He’s the same man who, more than once, bore the burden of the peoples’ complaints.  You may wonder how Moses held his temper or kept his sanity throughout this journey.  I know I do.  When the Israelites complained to Moses about something, it was always a large crowd doing the complaining.  When they whined at the shore of the Red Sea because they thought the Egyptian army was going to wipe them out, Moses told them to stand their ground, that God would save them.  And God saved them.  When they complained about being hungry, Moses told the people that God would feed them.  And God fed them.  Moses was not without a few moments of anger though.  When the manna started showing up, Moses delivered God’s message to gather only what was needed for a single day.  No one was to keep any of the manna for tomorrow.  Some kept it anyway and it spoiled.  Some went out to gather it on the Sabbath but there wasn’t any.  Some of the people were unable to follow God’s directions about manna.  And Moses exploded.  “How long are you going to disobey my commands?” he asked. 

     In today’s story, the people are grumbling again.  This time they’re thirsty.  And who takes the brunt of it again? Moses!  This grumbling takes on an all-too-familiar tone.  “We were better off in Egypt than we are out here.”  The chosen people continue to make the same mistakes.  They continue to show no faith in God.  They again fail to pray to God.  As we heard this morning though, Moses prayed.  He prayed for his life!  Moses is afraid that this crowd, however large they are, will become an angry mob and stone him to death.  Moses’ prayer is, “God, you’ve got to help me!”   Well, God hears Moses’ plea and directs him to go to Mount Sinai with some of the elders.  It’s there that Moses strikes the rock with his staff and water pours out!  Once again God provides what the chosen people need.  This happens over and over again.

     There are some Biblical scholars who suggest the people demanded Moses find water in order to prove his ability to lead them.  Perhaps then, we should take a look at Moses’ credentials.  We are introduced to him very near the beginning of the book of Exodus.  As a baby, he is hidden in the bull rushes by his mother in order to spare him from the current rampage that Pharaoh is on.  Later Moses is taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep and he sees a burning bush.  God wants Moses to go to Egypt of all places and demand the release of the Israelite people from slavery.

     And Moses says, “I don’t want to!”  God quickly promises to be with Moses on the entire journey.  And Moses asks, “What is your name, so I can prove to the people that you have sent me?”  God replies, “Tell them I AM has sent you.”  To which Moses replies, “What if the people don’t believe that you appeared to me?”  Do you get the idea that Moses still has absolutely no interest in doing what God is asking him to do?  God gives Moses two ways to prove to the people that God has sent him.  Now that’s a pretty convincing argument.  Moses is not convinced yet and tells God, “Don’t send me.  I have never been a good speaker.”  Moses is trying to use any and every excuse to get God to stop bothering him.  He wants God to send another person to do this job.  But every objection by Moses is met with an answer from God.  Eventually, Moses decides to go to Egypt accompanied by his brother Aaron.

     The story of Moses is the story of God’s love and providence.  God saved Moses’ life as a baby.  God provided what Moses needed to respond to God’s call.  God told Moses God’s name and gave him two ways to prove to people that God had sent him.  God provided someone to accompany Moses.  Today’s story is yet another example of the support Moses received from God, just as God had promised that day at the burning bush.

     The book of Exodus is filled with examples of God’s continued presence with the chosen people.  Certainly all of the plagues show that God is around.  Even when the Israelites are out wandering around in the desert, there was a pillar of fire every night and a pillar of cloud every day.  God kept the people safe when Pharaoh changed his mind and sent the Egyptian army after them.  What happened at the Red Sea was still another way that God was around to protect the people. And it seems that God was willing to be present with and to care for the chosen people whether they were happy or complaining.  Throughout our life, God is going to be there for us.  We can call on God in one of two ways.  We can whine about our situation or we can pray.  Praying is better than whining because complaining, to God or to anyone else, accomplishes nothing.  Just the act of offering prayer to God is an indication that we understand God is with us.  It means we are relying on God to listen to our concerns and to act.  The chosen people made many mistakes during their forty year journey to the Promised Land.  Being human, we’re going to make a mistake now and then too.  But we should always strive to declare to ourselves and to others that God is present with us in any situation and especially when we experience tough times.  We benefit from the stories in the book of Exodus because we see that God does act to save the chosen people.  Let us believe this good news and show gratitude when God acts the same way in our lives.  Thanks be to God!





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