Monday, June 13, 2016

Responding to tragedy: Pointing fingers or asking questions

Words seem to fail at times like this, to adequately convey the range of emotions that a tragedy like the Orlando shootings bring forth: sadness, fear, anger, resentment, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness and more.

Yet, this morning, I have felt compelled to add some more words to the conversation.  Truth be told, I have lots of  words that I have wanted to share: I have a whole list of tweets ready to send off that highlight and blame all the things/policies/people that I think contributed to this tragedy;  There are people I want to scream about and scream at; There are friends and relatives I want to call and ask - 'do you get it now?'

But, somewhere in all of this, there has been a still, small voice that at first just seemed to be saying 'no - don't send that tweet. no - don't post that rant to facebook or send that email'.  So, I haven't (but to be clear - I had some devastating tweets/points aimed at those I disagree with!) This morning, that voice - God's Holy Spirit (I hope) - started speaking more than simply, 'no' and started asking 'why?'

The 'Whys' I have been wrestling with this morning:

  • Why do you really want to post those tweets and facebook rants?  Why do you want to start conversations with phrases like, 'Now do you get it?'  Could it be that I want to be right, that I want to feel better and like a schoolyard bully, the easiest way to do that is to pick on someone else?  
  • Why am I so quick to blame everyone that I disagree with - politically, theologically, socially?  Could it be that assigning blame to those I disagree with or that look/act/believe differently than I do might also make me feel, at least a little better about all of this?
  • Why am I just as quick to absolve everyone that shares my beliefs (political/theological/social)?  Could it be that I am more interested in expressing my 'righteous anger' than in pursuing constructive, cooperative solutions - especially if I might have to change or sacrifice in some way to achieve them? 
So today, in the vain of Jesus' teaching in Luke 7 to remove the plank from my own eye before talking about the speck in yours, I have resolved to stop pointing fingers and instead respond to this tragedy by looking in the mirror and asking the following questions:

  • Are there areas of my life where I have allowed subordinate beliefs (political, cultural, social or even theological) to  supercede the rule of love that Jesus Christ both calls us to and modeled for us?  
    • Jesus' words and life is to be our model and guide in this life: His response to those that came to arrest them was to heal the soldier arresting him and call his followers to put away their swords.  Jesus, as he was being crucified, asked for forgiveness for those who put him on the cross.  
      • How do we speak about and act towards those that attack or vilify us or our beliefs?
  •  Do I seek out those that are mistreated, targeted for abuse (verbal, physical, psychological, et al) threatened or persecuted and then actively work to help, support and protect them - working and sacrificing to bring them justice and peace in God's name, no matter who they are, where they are from or what they believe?  
    • Jesus healed leapers, gave sight the blind and he made a habit of sharing grace and justice where societal/cultural norms would have expected judgement - the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, syrophoenician woman, the criminal he was crucified with, etc.  
      • Do we show and share God's love to all those in need or just those that we like, look like or agree with?
  • How do I respond when those who share my beliefs and/or views in one (or more) area promote hate/violence/bigotry or discrimination?  Another, more direct way to ask this is: what are my true priorities?  Am I first a Christian or an American?  Am I first a follower of Jesus or a Republican/Democrat?  Am I first a child of God or a believer in the 1st/2nd amendment? 
    • Jesus, quite literally, sacrificed everything out of love for us - so that we might know God's love.  Almost without exception, Jesus' anger was reserved for the religious authorities - those in power - who used that power to help themselves and/or oppress others.  
      • Do we, like Jesus, work and sacrifice Justice for all - or only those that agree with us?
  • Does my life - my words, my actions, who people know me to be - point those I encounter to God's love, grace and forgiveness or am I known by what I am against?  
    • In his interactions with people Jesus always lead with grace, love, forgiveness and healing - after someone had encountered Jesus and been changed by that interaction, only then did Jesus call for repentance and a changed life.  If we as individuals, churches and Christians are known for what we judge rather than who has forgiven us - we are not following in the way of Christ.  If people - the LBGTQ community or anyone other individual or community - only hears about our love (or our 'thoughts and prayers) after a tragedy, but the rest of the time only hear our condemnation - how can we expect them to accept or see God's love for them in and through us? 
      • Do people see Christ's love or my judgement in and through my life?
In the coming days I am going to continue to wrestle with these questions and I would invite you to wrestle with me (not against me!)as we seek to live into our call to take part in the work of the family of God - to share God's love with the world and invite everyone into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Hug your family and friends, cherish the time and share the love and peace of Jesus Christ with all.

In Christ,


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Who Approved your message?

Below is the message (including scriptures) I shared with Good Shepherd on Sunday Nov. 4th.  It was not originally my plan or intention to talk 'about' the election this Sunday, but over the course of the week, I felt a real call to share these thoughts - maybe it was the robocall from Matt Damon . . . . anyway here it is

Matthew 22:34-40 (Today's New International Version)

 34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"  37 Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' [a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

2 Corinthians 3 (The Message)

 1-3Does it sound like we're patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we're not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (The Message)

 4 Attention, Israel!   God, our God! God the one and only!   5 Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that's in you, love him with all you've got!
 6-9 Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

I feel like I should begin by saying something like ‘I’m Chip Stapleton and I approved this message.  But if I never hear another political ad begin or end that way, I would be happy.  
In the culminating days of a national election it seems that everyone gets defined by who they are voting for or what party they are in.
But the passages we just heard from Matthew & Deuteronomy  remind us that republican, democrat or even American is not the primary way we ought to define ourselves – rather, we are first citizens of heaven.  We are Children of God and that comes with its own set of responsibilities.  The passages detail our primary responsibilities as the people of God – as citizens of heaven.
Simply put we are to Love God and Love people.
In the world of 24 hour news – everything matters in an election: words, facial expressions, clothes.  Everything.  Likewise, all that we do each day sends a message to the world around us.
As we go about our lives we are sharing a message to those we meet.  What does that message look and sound like?  Sometimes we are very intentional about the message we send – and we use visual aids – like lawn signs, bumper stickers or t-shirts.  We use images to help communicate the message we want to send
When we want to be clear about the message we are sending we make sure to reinforce it: we use our words, our actions and even our clothes, stickers or signs.
People then hear, read or see the messages we send in a variety of ways and often times make judgments about us based on the messages we send.   Just like in campaigns, when it comes to the message we send every day in life  everything matters, but especially our words and actions matter.
So the question is – do our words and actions match up with the message that has been approved for you by God, the simple message Jesus echoed to the Pharisee in Matthew?:
Love God
Love others
As we think about if we are living up to the actual message we have been ‘approved’ to give.  Let’s look at what this two part message from God might look like.
Love of God  - This is simply putting God first – having your love of God and your relationship with him at the forefront of your life – that means it has to invade every area of your life:
Even Politics
Jesus Christ has to be at the center of all we do – the base from which all that we do begins and ends.
The way we talk has to be colored by our faith.
The way we act has to be colored by our faith.
The way we live has to be totally colored by our faith.
Love of Neighbor - This one is a little trickier for us.  It is often easier said than done.
How are we doing in actually loving our neighbors?   Are the conversations we have with our neighbors laced with the love of God?
What about the neighbors that have different signs in their front yard?  Maybe we simply ignore them: What kind of love is that showing?
Jesus was clear about this.  The parable of the good Samaritan – the famous story Jesus tells to explain who we should view as our neighbor - is so powerful because of the back-story between the Jews and the Samaritans.  They didn’t disagree about economic policy or tax rates, they were real enemies – bitter rivals for centuries.  That was not an accident or a minor element of the story, It was the point of the story.  Jesus was saying that is the kind of love we are supposed to have for everybody
Not ‘even’ those we disagree with or are our ‘enemies’ but especially them.  Maybe you could care less about politics but the point is still true – you too have things you are passionate about and that people disagree about. 
There is the first place you have to make sure you allow the love of God to invade in your life
When we identify ourselves as Christians – by what we wear, what we say or what we do – even if it is ‘just’ by coming to church.  We are putting ‘Jesus Christ approved this message’ at the beginning and end of everything we do
There is a recent book, based on years of work from the Barna research group about what non-Christians think about those of us that call ourselves Christians.  The book was particularly focused on 17 to 30 year olds  - the ‘quote, unquote’ next generation.
The Book, titled, ‘UnChristian’, paints a chilling picture of just what message those outside the church see, hear and perceive from Christians.    %87 thought Christians were judgmental.  %85 felt like Christians were hypocritical.  %70 saw Christians as insensitive to others.
At one point, the author states:  The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. . . . The growing hostility toward Christians is very much a reflection of what outsiders feel they receive from believers.  ‘Christians cannot generally live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe’
The final, staggering insight is that we, as Christians have become famous for what we oppose, rather than what we stand for.
But is that really a surprise –We see, not just in politics, but seemingly in all areas of our lives that to lift myself up, I have to pull you down. 
Nobody likes ‘negative’ attack politics, but it works, so people keep doing it. 
But remember, It was God that spoke his name in the beginning of our lives – and who’s Spirit emanates every aspect of our life and message – if we allow him to. 
This way of communicating is not the only way.
In a book written by an Anglican priest called ‘Never Silent’ I came across a story that highlights exactly how to live the message approved by God, even in the face of extraordinary circumstances.  In a section called, ‘I love Idi Amin’ by an Episcopalian Bishop from Uganda –
The bishop, Festo Kivengere writes: I had to face my own attitude towards President Amin and his agents.  The Holy Spirit showed me that I was getting hard in my spirit, and that hardness and bitterness toward those who were persecuting us could only bring spiritual loss.  This would take away my ability to communicate the love of God. . . . So I had to ask for forgiveness from the Lord, and for the grace to love President Amin more . . . for he is one of those for whom Christ shed His precious blood.  As long as he is still alive . . . Pray for him.
This is the message we have been approved to share:
Love God, Love people
Bishop Kivengere sought, through the power of the Holy Spirit to find love for a murderous, terrorist, dictator of a ‘president’.  He found a way to love even the man that was directly responsible for unspeakable acts of violence and persecution. 
Kivengere sought to love him – so that he could communicate the message he had been approved – that he had been called to give.  Love.  Love God.  Love People.
Many of us spend too much time focused on whatever our differences may be – and make no mistake we have real differences and disagreements.
But Christ calls us to be known and marked by our love and we can and we will – through the power of the Holy Spirit change the message outsiders hear and see when they see us.
Democrats and Republicans, all of us, children of God can be united in bringing one message to the world – Love.
Love God, Love People.
Every day, everywhere you go and you will change the world in a way no election ever could
Together, through the power of the Holy Spirit we can change the world by spreading the message of Jesus Christ’s saving, redeeming love to every single person we meet – starting with our neighbor that is voting the ‘other’ way on Tuesday.
Because our primary message and concern can’t be about taxes or jobs or the economy or anything but Love. 
The Love Christ first showed us.
The love we return to God.
The love we share with others as a response to the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.
Love.  Nothing more, but nothing less is the message we have been approved to share.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Choosing Wisely

As part of the 'sermon catch-up project' I am also going to be posting some of the short 'meditations' that I have been sharing as part of our monthly Shepherd 701 service.  After the meditation there is usually a time to interact with the Word and think about God's leading in our hearts as we 'experience' the Word through various prayer stations.  Obviously you don't have the chance to share in that part with us but I do hope that you hear God speaking in this meditation about Mary and Martha and the priorities we have and so often confuse.  God Bless:

Luke 10:38-42

 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”     41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Prayer: God, as we have gathered together this night, help us remember and focus on what is important and essential and let the rest fall away.  Help us to fix our eyes, hearts and minds on you and fill us with your Spirit so that we might be led according to your will.  Amen.
I don’t know about you, but the start of the school year is a crazy time for our family. 
There just seems to be more than there is time to do. 
It is a time of year where I particularly identify with Martha. 
Martha who welcomes company into her house – and of course not just any company, but Jesus! – and she expects her sister to help. 
But instead, Mary just sits there and soaks in what Jesus has to say. 
When she can no longer stand it, Martha’s frustration boils over and she asks Jesus to make her sister help her. 
Instead of chastising Mary, Jesus instead explains to Martha (I like to think gently) that Mary has chosen correctly. 
And while it would be easy to simply leave it at that, that Mary got it right and Martha got it wrong.  I don’t think that is what we are supposed to take from this passage. 
Jesus isn’t saying that inaction is better than action; that listening is better than doing.  What Jesus is really trying to do is clarify where our priorities should be. 
Jesus was primarily concerned with relationships.  In this instance, in this culture that placed an incredibly high value on hospitality.  What Jesus was saying is that being with someone and being there for them is of a higher value and is a higher priority that what you do for them. 
Our relationship with God isn’t based on what we give to God or do for God and, although Jesus saving act on the cross is central, our relationship with God is first based on WHO God is.  And who we are able to be because of who God is. 
Everything that we know about God – including his willingness to send Christ to live and die for us – flows out of who he is.  All that we do – all that we are able to do – and all that we can become is in response to who God is.
To get at who God is we must be willing to first sit and the feet of Jesus and listen. 
That is why Mary chose the better thing. 
Jesus is saying that he has to be first. 
Knowing the person of Jesus Christ has to be the highest priority thing that we do.  It has to come first in our lives. 
When we put Jesus first, then that relationship and the person of Jesus Christ can be the only thing.  Because it, because Jesus is enough. 
When we make Jesus the first thing in our lives all that we need to be and everything that we need to do flows naturally out of and from Jesus and our relationship with him through the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sermon Catch-up Project: Soul Print Week 6 (The

Over the Summer I got very lax with the blog and even stopped uploading the messages I gave.  So over the next week or so I will be 'catching up' on the messages that I haven't shared.  I then hope to start blogging again regularly, but we will see.  This first message really should have uploaded a long time ago as it is the sixth and final message in a series based on Mark Batterson's book, 'Soul Print'.  Sorry it took so long for those of you (must be thousands, right?) that have been waiting.

Revelation 2:17 (NIV)
   17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

2 Samuel 7:1-21(NIV)

 1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
 3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”
 4 But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:
 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
 8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders[a] over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
   “‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”
 17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.
 18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
   “Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign LORD, is for a mere human![c]
 20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign LORD. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
Prayer: God, we have gathered together to worship you and to seek you and to know you more.  As we come into your presence, help us see you, but also help us see who you have truly created us to be and who you are calling us to be today and tomorrow.  Guide us by your Spirit to leave a legacy, a legacy shaped by not what we have done but by what you have done through us.  Amen.
Today we finish our series based on the book ‘Soulprint’, working towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives. Over the last two months we have looked at five pieces that help us get to understanding who God designed us and is calling us to be
First, we are who we are on purpose, for a purpose.  The secondly, to be ourselves we need a Holy Confidence in a God that is Holy, that loves us and that has planned nothing but the best for us.  This Holy confidence is trusting and leaning on God.  Third, we looked back at our lives and the ‘life symbols’ that help remind us that ‘the ultimate objective of every circumstance is to cultivate the character of Christ in us.
Then we talked about integrity and how its directly connected to our destiny.  God is less concerned with what we do than with who we are becoming in the process And God won’t get you where God wants you to go until you become who God wants you to be. 
We also talked about how God can use even the embarrassing moments of our lives to let us know who we are, who we aren’t and what God might be calling us to do.  Then, finally, we looked at sin and how our sins affect our ability to reach how we were called and created to be.  But we were reminded that it is not our mistakes or sins that define who we are but rather the person of Jesus Christ
All of that leads us to today and our final look at the Soulprints God has given each and every one of us.  Each of us has a unique destiny which only we can fulfill and each of us has been given our own combination of gifts, interests and abilities that fit perfectly with that destiny.
When we view our lives properly they are evidence of God’s providence.  But gaining the right perspective on who we are and what we were made for requires not just asking the ‘right’ questions, but also asking the right questions to the right person.
In our passage from 2 Samuel, David is asking the right question, ‘Who am I?’.  David is not only asking the right question, but he is addressing the right person – as the question is asked of God during prayer.  If David would have asked his father this question, he might have said he was simply a shepherd.  His brothers likely saw an delivery boy that brought them their meals on the battlefield.  Saul at first saw him as ‘only a boy’. 
None of these people had the vision for David’s life that God had.  None of them saw who David was designed and destined to become.  Self discovery begins with sitting in the presence of God and asking God – and no one else, not even yourself – to define you
Batterson says: The reason so many of us are strangers to ourselves is because we don’t sit before the Lord.  If you want to discover your destiny, you’ve got to spend time in the presence of God.  There is no alternative.  There is no substitute.  True self-discovery happens only in the presence of God.  It’s only when you seek God that you will find yourself
Let me say that again: It is only when you seek God that you will find yourself.  And if you try to find yourself in anything outside of a relationship with the one that designed and created you, it will lead to a case of mistaken identity.
I am an only child and when Jack was born, I quickly realized that our two boys were very different.  And as different people, with different personalities I began to understand – and am still working to understand – that I needed to interact differently and parent differently with each one of them.  I needed to love each one of them uniquely, because they are unique.  This is how God loves each of us – uniquely, as if there were only ever one of us – precisely because there is only and will only ever be one of us.  God’s love for you is unlike God’s love for anyone else ever.
And if you remember, that is where we began this journey to understand and discover our soulprints - with the fact that God has created us each to be unique, with no one else, ever just like us.  But, this isn’t a testimony to us, it is a testament to the God who created each of us.  
Our uniqueness is a gift from God.  It is also our gift back to God.  And it is our uniqueness that enables us to worship, serve and share about God unlike anyone else.  No one can worship God like you or for you.  And as we have talked about many times, worship isn’t just about what we do during this hour in this place every Sunday morning. 
The best and truest form of worship is becoming the best version of who God has created you to be.  Worship is more than a lifestyle.  Worship is a life.
In the passage we read a few minutes ago from the book of Revelation, we hear described a time when we will hear the Voice of God.  And we will hear God call us by a name that only God knows, a name we have never head, but a name we will know.  A name written on a white stone.  Our true name.  That name, somehow, will encapsulate all that we are and all that we have done. 
All the pain and all the joy.  All the hopes and fears.  Everything.  In that moment all of our lives will click into place and make sense because God will reveal who we really are – as God sees us. 
Our God-given name will capture the essence of who you are and it will include all that we will become in an eternity spent in the presence of God.  In that moment our Soulprint will be given its true name.  Names are an interesting thing.  And names carry meaning.  Names and nicknames, what we choose to call people, reveal thinks about how we view the people we are naming.  Nicknames especially reveal different aspects of people’s personalities.  Nicknames reveal what we see in the people we are naming.
We usually get our nicknames from others, but sometimes we ask to be called something because of how we want to be viewed.  We had this experience when we went for Charlie’s first parent teacher conference this past year.  We discovered that while at school he was asking to be called Charles.  I don’t think either Traci or I had ever called him by his full name. 
Over many discussions for the rest of the year we gathered that he was asking to be called Charles at school – actually just in his classroom – not because he liked it better than Charlie, but because he sensed that it was the more formal or serious name.  Charlie loves school, but he takes it very seriously and he deemed Charles more appropriate than Charlie for his school work.
What we want to be called and what others choose to call us tell us about how we want to be viewed and how others really see us.  Jesus often called people by names that meant something. 
He looked at Simon and saw Peter – the rock that he would build the church on.  He saw James and John as the ‘sons of thunder’ calling out in them the potential buried deep within their personalities. 
Similarly, when God looks at you, he sees the real you.  The you that He created you to become.  And in calling you your true name Jesus is calling us to live into the destinies that we were created for. 
Who are you?  How will you be remembered?  What is your legacy?
Ultimately, our destinies are determined by the choices we make – It is in our actions and our reactions that we live into the name that defines us.  That daunting idea is made wonderful by this fact: In Jesus Christ we are redeemed and made clean.  We are not defined by our bad choices or our mistakes –what we have done wrong.  Instead we are redefined by what Christ has done right. 
When we accept the grace of Christ we are defined by His righteousness, His perfection and His obedience.  That is both our destiny and God’s legacy. 
It is never too late to become who God has called and named you to be. 
Let this be the moment that you begin to live into that name, by entering into the presence of God and asking the question: Who am I? 
Then allow the Holy Spirit of God write the answer on your heart with the life you live. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Unfairness of God

Below is the message I shared at Good Shepherd on Sunday morning.  I hope you are able to hear God speaking to you through it.  One of the texts for the message is embedded in the message (Exodus 16), but I also used Matthew 20:1-16 - The parable of the workers in the vineyard.  That passage can be found here

Our scripture passages this morning are not paired together by accident.  They share a few common themes.  Primary among them is that they both tell stories about complaining to God.  The gospel passage comes in the form of a parable, but like many parables it isn’t that hard to imagine them playing out in real life. 
            In the gospel passage the workers that have been working the longest see that the master has given those that had only worked one hour a full day’s wages.  The long time workers suddenly expect to be paid more than what they had agreed to.  They are disappointed to receive the same wage as all the other workers. 
            The workers go as far as claiming that the master (God) is being unfair!  Of course he is.  But not to them, all the workers got exactly what they were promised, he is a good master.  His unfairness comes from what he promised to the late-coming workers, giving them far more than they deserve. 
            What I think we need to understand about this parable is that none of us are those first workers.  The ones there from the very beginning, the ones that worked all day through – remember these were 1st century workers, not 21st century ones, there was no lunch hour or 15 minute breaks. - Those ‘deserving’ workers had been there from the beginning with the master and had never stopped working during the day. 
            Can any of us really say that we fit into that category with our master and our God?  I know that I can’t.  So we must realize who we really are in this story – one of the undeserving workers (it doesn’t matter which ones) that are undeserving recipients of God’s grace. 
            When we start looking at and coveting the gifts and blessings that others around us receive, we run the risk of forgetting the blessings and gifts – all undeserved – that God has given us.  The reminder from this parable for us this morning is to trust in the master that keeps his promise to all of us and offers us that which we do not deserve, and not to be so caught up in comparing our blessings or our level of ‘deservedness’ to others.
This morning’s other text, Exodus 16:2-15, deals with another problem and another case of God demonstrating his unfairness for our benefit.  The Israelites are not comparing themselves to other people, but instead complaining about the situation they are in as a result of following God.
To get the whole story of the Israelites, I am also going to be reading selections from the rest of the chapter as well as doing a very quick summary of what has happened in the story so far – a sort of ‘previously on . . . .’ . 
            So the story so far: 
Exodus 1:8 tells us that after the Israelites had lived in Egypt for some time in relative peace, "a new king [pharaoh] arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." That pharaoh oppressed the Israelites, and their cries for help reached the ears of God.
We read in Exodus 2:24-25, "God heard their groanings, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them." God called to Moses from the burning bush and sent him to demand that pharaoh allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.
A series of confrontations between Moses and pharaoh, in which God demonstrated his power over the Egyptian gods, culminated in the death of all the Egyptian first-born. Afterward, the Israelites left Egypt and began their journey to the land God had promised to their ancestors (Exodus 6:7-8). 
No sooner had the people left Egypt, however, than they began to grumble against Moses and God. When they reached the shores of the Red Sea and saw that the Egyptian army was pursuing, they cried, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Exodus 14:11). As we talked about last week, God intervened, allowing the Israelites to cross the Sea in safety. Exodus 15:1-21 records the people's joyous celebration of their miraculous deliverance.
Only three days later, the people were thirsty, having found only bitter water and they grumbled again, saying, "What shall we drink?" (Exodus 15:24). God provided fresh water and they continued on their journey. And here is where we pick up our reading for this morning:
1-3 On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, "Why didn't God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You've brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!"
            Did you catch where we are in the time line – the 15th day of the second month.  45 days into their escape from Egypt – even less time removed from their miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  45 days and already the Israelites are drowning in their sorrows.  Less than two months removed from lives of captivity – lives of slavery so harsh and cruel that their children were being killed – and they are already looking back, across the sea to ‘better times’. 
            The Israelites are crying out "If only we had . . ." Words of regret in the present, of fear for the future. "If only . . ." they say again and again.  But just a few short months ago, the Israelites cried out to God in their oppression under pharaoh. God sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead them out of their oppression. God guided them through the first perilous days of their journey to freedom.
God provided water when they felt they could go no further. At every juncture, God was there. According to Exodus 13:21-22, "The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day . . . and in a pillar of fire by night . . . Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people."  So, when God hears the people’s grumbling it would be very understandable, or we could say fair, for God to be upset, even angry at the Israelites lack of trust, lack of gratitude and lack of, well faith.  But as we continue the reading listen to how God responds:
4-5 God said to Moses, "I'm going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day's ration. I'm going to test them to see if they'll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration."
            Instead of greeting their complaints with anger, which would have been the expected and ‘fair’ response, God immediately states that he will continue to provide for every need that the Israelites will have – including the need for food. 
But, God makes clear that there is a catch to this provision.  The catch is played out in two almost contradictory ways: first, the Israelites must only take enough manna for that day – they must not store it or try to ‘stock up’ on it.  Second, on Fridays they must collect and make enough to last through the next day’s Sabbath. 
            You see God was calling them to live by faith, trusting in him to continue to provide for them.  We often tend to think of faith as an noun – it is almost like a possession, faith is something we ‘have’.  But this is not the Hebrew understanding or usage of the word.  For the Israelites faith was a verb, an action, something they did.  And God was calling on them to act and live in faith.  God was calling them to actively trust in his unfair provision for them– to live their faith in him every day. 
And that is why every seventh day God commanded that humans stop, individually and as a community and put aside their daily chore of gathering bread, and marvel at God's care for them. In the wilderness, God forged a relationship with the people that called them to trust God to provide for their every need, not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.  Continuing at v. 6
6-7 Moses and Aaron told the People of Israel, "This evening you will know that it is God who brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the Glory of God. Yes, he's listened to your complaints against him. You haven't been complaining against us, you know, but against God."   8 Moses said, "Since it will be God who gives you meat for your meal in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, it's God who will have listened to your complaints against him. Who are we in all this? You haven't been complaining to us—you've been complaining to God!"   9 Moses instructed Aaron: "Tell the whole company of Israel: 'Come near to God. He's heard your complaints.'"  10 When Aaron gave out the instructions to the whole company of Israel, they turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the Cloud.
            Moses has Aaron tell the people to ‘come near to God’ because from the very beginning what God wants, what God desires from the Israelites and from us is a relationship. The Glory of God that was ever present with them in the wilderness, a cloud in the daylight and a ball of fire at night.  It was a constant visual reminder that God was, quite literally with them. 
 11-12 God spoke to Moses, "I've listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: 'At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you'll eat your fill of bread; and you'll realize that I am God, your God.'"  13-15 That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was. 15-16 So Moses told them, "It's the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God's instructions: 'Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.'" 19 Moses said to them, "Don't leave any of it until morning."  20 But they didn't listen to Moses. A few of the men kept back some of it until morning. It got wormy and smelled bad.  31 The Israelites named it manna (What is it?). It looked like coriander seed, whitish. And it tasted like a cracker with honey.   32 Moses said, "This is God's command: 'Keep a two-quart jar of it, an omer, for future generations so they can see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness after I brought you out of Egypt.'"  35 The Israelites ate the manna for forty years until they arrived at the land where they would settle down. They ate manna until they reached the border into Canaan.

The manna found in the desert was a gift to our ancestors in faith and it was a test. The gift was food for the journey; the test was of faith in God's promise of good provisions.
God providing the manna and the quail for the Israelites has always been the most interesting aspect of the story to me I have often wondered if there was any way to explain the miracle. 
Well, I was quickly able to find a well documented natural phenomenon that occurs in the Sinai Peninsula (which, as it turns out is located between Egypt and ancient Israel).  A type of plant lice punctures the fruit of the tamarisk tree and excretes a substance from this juice, a yellowish-white flake or ball.  During the warmth of the day it disintegrates, but it congeals when it is cold.  It has a sweet taste.  Rich in carbohydrates and sugar, it is still gathered today and baked into a kind of bread (called mana).  The food, though, decays very quickly and attracts ants and other insects. 
As for the quail, apparently migratory birds flying in from Africa or blown in from the Mediterranean are fairly common and are often exhausted enough from their flight to be caught easily by hand. 
So, you see.  The Manna and the Quail were not really a response by God to the complaints of the Israelites.  Rather they were part of God’s divine plan – from the very beginning – to care for and provide for the Israelites while they labored in the wilderness of the desert. 
If you begin to take away the (quote, unquote) miraculous aspect of this story – God raining down bread and providing quail out of nowhere – the level of God’s provision actually increases and becomes more profound.  In the setting up of the world, he made allowance to provide for His people as they struggled through the wilderness.  At the beginning of time, during the formation of the world God was thinking of His people.  God was thinking of the Israelites and God was thinking about you and me. 
The kind of God that would do that – set up a naturally occurring source of sustenance for the Israelites from the beginning of time.  That kind of God is not a reactionary God, only stepping into our lives or getting involved at the bleakest moments with a miraculous turn.  No the God that would order the world to provide in this way – our God - is a God that is a presence in our daily lives and a God that desires a connection with us every day. 
God doesn’t go about making a show, he has no interest or need with such things.  Instead all that God does, whether obviously miraculous or seemingly ordinary is done because he loves us and is done with the purpose of showing that love and grace and bringing us into a relationship with God. 
With a God like this – one that is so unfair to our benefit, giving us much more than we deserve - the only question that remains is – why would we doubt, why would we worry?  Why would we ever lack trust in a God that not only knew that his beloved people would be hungry and thirsty in the desert, but a God that also was able to provide the food and water that was needed.
We are blessed to live in a world where we are surrounded by conveniences and products to meet ‘needs’ that we don’t even know we have – but yet we are still plagued by worry and doubt about so much.  We wonder how we will get by in this new, more volatile economy.  We wonder how we will continue to pay all the bills when we pay $4 a gallon for gas and the price of everything seems to be rapidly rising. 
We wonder, and in our wondering we eventually find ourselves in the middle of the wilderness.  A wilderness where we are filled with fear, where we doubt that we will be taken care of or that we will make it through this time of trial. We find ourselves standing in a desert, thirsty with no water in sight and hungry with nothing to eat. 
God invites us into the wilderness and allows us to be there so that we can begin to understand his care for us.  Too often in our world, surrounded by all that ‘we’ have made and that ‘we’ have provided we lose sight of God working in the everyday rhythms and patterns of life.  And we begin to see only ourselves. 
God invites us into the wilderness so that we can experience God’s love, care and providence.  It is only in the wilderness of our lives, where our eyes are opened to the needs that we have, needs that we can’t fulfill on our own.  It is in the wilderness that these needs are clearly separated from the passing ‘wants’ that change by the day and don’t really satisfy. 
And just like it was for the Israelites it is in the wilderness that we can most easily and clearly see and feel God’s presence working in our lives and through all of creation. 
The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert slowly learning the lesson of trust in God – They remained in the wilderness until they began to fully trust in God – a whole generation had to pass before that transition could be complete. 
How long are we going to remain in the wilderness of not really trusting on God?  Of wishing for anywhere but where God has placed us?  Of not seeing God working in and through all of creation to care and provide for us?
Manna from God, in whatever form it takes in our daily lives, is God's promise to provide for us; it is God’s promise to give us more than we deserve and be unfair to our benefit; it is up to us to gather the manna during the days it is given and to trust in God that it will be there again tomorrow.  God provides and cares for us always – but often we must go into the wilderness to see it.