“Light in the Wilderness” Sermon - Summer Sonshine #3

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Fri, 07/26/2019 - 10:15am

Readings: Nehemiah 9:6-15; Nehemiah 9:16-23   6 And Ezra said:[b] “You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you. You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham; and you found his heart faithful before you, and made with him a covenant to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite; and you have fulfilled your promise, for you are righteous. And you saw the distress of our ancestors in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea.[c] 10 You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted insolently against our ancestors. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they passed through the sea on dry land, but you threw their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 Moreover, you led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light on the way in which they should go. 13 You came down also upon Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known your holy sabbath to them and gave them commandments and statutes and a law through your servant Moses. 15 For their hunger you gave them bread from heaven, and for their thirst you brought water for them out of the rock, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you swore to give them.

Nehemiah 9:16-23   16 “But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments; 17 they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had cast an image of a calf for themselves and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud that led them in the way did not leave them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night that gave them light on the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell22 And you gave them kingdoms and peoples, and allotted to them every corner,[d] so they took possession of the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and the land of King Og of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their descendants like the stars of heaven, and brought them into the land that you had told their ancestors to enter and possess. 

“Light in the Wilderness” Sermon July 21, 2019 at Harbor Church

The headline of A CNN News story published yesterday is entitled:

Massachusetts police ask residents to refrain from crime until after the heat wave passes

By Scottie Andrew and Melissa Gray, CNN 6:17 PM ET, Sat July 20, 2019

(CNN)It's dangerously hot across much of the country this weekend -- so hot, in fact, that police in Braintree, Massachusetts, are imploring would-be criminals to hold off on illegal activity until Monday.

The Braintree Police Department asked the community to put a pin in crime until the heat wave passes in a Facebook post Friday.

"It is straight up hot as soccer balls out there," the department wrote in the post, which has racked up more than 106,000 shares since Friday.

Yes, a police department really used the phrase "hot as soccer balls."

The department confirmed to CNN Saturday that the post is, indeed, legit.

The heat is criminal enough. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of the eastern United States, including Braintree in eastern Massachusetts.

While temperatures in the area could reach 102 degrees, it'll likely feel even worse: The heat index, or the more accurate temperature your body feels when air temperature and humidity are both factored in, could be as high as 115 degrees, the weather service said.

That's simply too hot for lawbreaking, Braintree police said.

Committing a crime in this sort of weather is "next level henchmen status," the department said, not to mention dangerous to the offender's health.

In the post, the department suggested everyone wait out the heat wave indoors and suspend the illegal stuff until things cool down.

"Stay home, blast the AC, binge Stranger Things season 3, play with the face app, practice karate in your basement," police said. "We will all meet again on Monday when it's cooler."

The message is signed, "The PoPo."

The setting for Today’s Bible readings is the Sinai Desert, where it is ALWAYS HOT, and the average daytime temperatures are around 100 degree F.  This is the desolate wilderness which the Israelites traversed after the escaped from slavery in Egypt and were travelling to Canaan, the Promised Land which is described as a wondrous place flowing with milk and honey. They spent forty years on this journey, every day blistering with unrelenting heat and hardship. When we consider this, it helps us make allowances for the almost constant complaining and grumbling they did along the way.   One of the truly epic stories in the Bible, it contains not only marvelous insights into human nature and the character flaws of humankind, but also illustrates the benevolent nature of God, and the Lord’s unfailing love and desire to respond to people’s needs whatever they are and wherever they find themselves . Its such an important narrative that it is recorded in several different places in the Holy Scriptures. I chose this particular reading for a couple of reasons. First of all, how much time do we actually spend reading the minor prophets like Nehemiah, and I wanted to illustrate that we can find gems of light and truth scattered throughout the entire Bible when we look for them. Second, it is a great summary of some pivotal events in the lives of God’s people. It is a wonderful description of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the hands of their oppressors in Egypt. Then it goes on to describe how the Lord led them through the wilderness towards the land of promise. this account combines many great themes together in one amazing synopsis of God’s faithfulness in terms of His Promises, His Perpetual Care, His Provision in desperate times, and His Protection from both adversaries and adversity.

All of this is embodied in the Pillars of Cloud and Fire that the Lord used to shed Light and Guidance along their way. The fancy theological term for this phenomenon is Theophany, which is used to describe a physical manifestation of the tangible presence of the Lord God. A less academic way of interpreting this would be as an object lesson for children. Last week during our Disciple’s Moment I spoke with our little ones about night lights and how they help us to not be afraid of the dark. Think of the Pillar of Fire as a night light for adults. It is a loving Heavenly Father’s way of showing his beloved children that he is with them, keeping them safe, providing for all their needs, and showing them the way of safety through a life that often leads us through hot,  dry and dangerous places. There was also a Pillar of Cloud during the day, to remind them (and us) that God’s is with always with us, all the time, 24/7, 365.

When we examine this short reading, we see that God is able to lead us through just about every conceivable situation.

 Consider some of the following things the Israelites experienced in the wilderness:

Insurmountable Obstacle – Do you ever come up against a figurative wall that you can’t see any way around? No problem for God. He came up with a Red sea workaround. Whether it was a miracle moment like the one depicted in the movie The Ten Commandments with Charleton Heston, or a freak low tide, the reality was that God provided a way where there didn’t seem to be a way.

Physical Danger from others – Rea sea again, that same insurmountable object was placed back in between the Israelites and the Egyptian army to ensure their safety. But there was another aspect to this story as well-

Emotional/Psychological Needs. Fear, Anxiety, Despondency ? In another account of this story from Exodus, the Israelites cry out, “We’re going to die in the desert. We’d have been better off if we stayed in Egypt” Through Moses, God assures the people that His is with them will not leave them, and is leading them to a better place.

Physical needs Food, water, clothing- all good. Water from dry ground, Manna from heaven, quail on the barbeque- God supplied every need that the people brought him.

Health concerns – “Their feet did not swell.” Anyone who works in the heat on their feet all day knows what sore feet feel like. I imagine that more than a few of the wait staff at restaurants here go home after work and soak their feet in a foot bath, or maybe using those vibrating foot massagers for relief.

I wonder if the writer of this story knew about Reflexology , also known as zone therapy, is the application of appropriate pressure to specific points and areas on the feet, hands, or ears. Reflexologists believe that these reflex points correspond to different body organs and systems, and that pressing them creates real benefits for the person's health.

Healthy feet and your whole body is happy! Perhaps this curious phrase is included as a euphemism for any health concern that we may have.

 

Perplexed, confused God’s spirit is the “instructor” that can help us think through things that baffle us. When we are at a loss, God can provide understanding and help us wrap our minds around things that seem beyond our own ability to figure out.

Character flaws Pride, arrogance and presumption. disobedience, stubbornness- described as a disobedient and they were called “stiff-necked” people literally thickheaded, blockheads– God response to this is patience, He is “slow to anger, ready to forgive  and abounding in steadfast compassion.” 

Faithlessness – The Israelites were ready to give up and throw in the towel more than once. God refused to give up on you For “forty years God sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing”

In the face of the people’s faintheartedness and lack of faith, again and again God demonstrated that he is faithful and would not leave them stranded in desperate straits.

Wandering- They wandered, got off track. A forty day journey became a forty year marathon.  When they were in need of guidance and direction and encouragement,  The Lord continued to lead them back on track.

The bottom line is that this story clearly illustrates that there is no life situation, no circumstance, no where and no place that God is not present and ready and available to come and respond to our needs, our crisis, our own personal heat waves.

Why then is it so hard for us to lay hold of this truth and embrace it, to come to God for succor and aid when we need him most. The irony is that during our times of greatest challenge, in crisis when we need God the most, in our moment when we need his resources more than any other, we turn away, either too self-absorbed, or too angry to avail ourselves of the limitless divine resources at our disposal.

 But We Need to be able to Cry Out. “Is anybody out there?” Its OK to cry out. God speaks from heaven – Mother Theresa.

Many times, we are led to believe that God is good to us because we are good. But here is a truth we must embrace: God is good to us because God is good.

 

In spite of this truth that we see proclaimed clearly in the Scriptures, all of us probably have experienced or witnessed life-challenges that seem to contradict the truth, "GOD IS GOOD." All of us have seen or experienced things that just don't add up. As matter of fact, if we added up all of the adversity we experience in life, we might feel like sometimes, God had abandoned us. And in these moments, we wonder, "Are you there, God?"

 

Some of us might be saying, "I'm too spiritual to admit that! We all know that God doesn't abandon us!" Well, maybe so, but we’ve all heard of Mother Teresa? She is the late Roman Catholic nun whose aid to the poor and needy of Calcutta, India, served as the picture of faithfulness and devotion to God. But according to recently released letters that she wrote, there were times when even Mother Teresa felt abandoned by God. It's true!

 

Listen to some of her statements: "I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul," she declares in one of the letters. In another letter, Mother Teresa states, "In my soul, I can't tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible, I feel like refusing God."

 

That's Mother Teresa! If she has experienced times where she questioned the closeness of God, surely we do too. How do we handle it when we feel we have done the right things but things didn't turn out right? We must begin to live out the truth of God's Word and take comfort, as Mother Teresa did, in God's supernatural care for us.

 

When we feel like God has abandoned us and we question the closeness of God, remember that God IS faithful. In the midst of rough times in life, remember that God has not abandoned you and me. It's easy to think that God leaves us in the tough times in life. But in reality, God is close and faithful to us in the tough times. Someone once said, "God is closer than our very breath." His words ring true and encourage us: When we wonder if God is there, remember that He IS faithful.

 

God isn't faithful to us because we are faithful to Him. He is faithful to us because that is His very nature! We are faithful to Him in response to His faithfulness to us. And when we are unfaithful, He remains faithful because that is who He is!

 

When we follow God and circumstances are bad, us, we need not despair.  When we wonder, "Are you there God?", WE need to take comfort in the truth that He will never leave us. Remember God is faithful at all times and in all circumstances, even in the tough ones.

 

Cliffhanger Joke. Once we finally turn to the Lord for help, We need to be ready for God to respond in unlikely and unexpected ways. “Remember the story, about the guy who fell off the bluffs here a few years ago and grabbed a branch on the way down. He cried out for help, someone heard him and called for the rescue squad. They arrived and called down to him, stand by we’re going to throw you a rope! That’s OK, he replied, God is going to save me. So the Rescue Squad called the Coast Guard who sent a helicopter. When they arrived, They hovered over him and said , stand by we’re going to let down a ladder! No need he replied, God is going to save me! Then a few moments later, he lost his grip, and plunged to his death. When he arrived in heaven the first thing he asked the Lord was, Didn’t you hear me crying out for help? Why didn’t you save me? The Lord replied with his own question: “Didn’t you see the rescue squad and the helicopter I sent you?”

 

We need to make sure that Don’t put God in a box.  Once we ask God for help, we need to be prepared for God to respond to us in whatever way he thinks is best, even when its not what we desire or even hoped for.

So, What is the bottom line? What is the greatest area of need in your life right now? It doesn’t have to be something as big and dramatic as people trying to kill you, or that you are dying of thirst. It doesn’t have to be life-threatening to be soul-threatening.

We need to Dare to risk – to come to the Throne of Grace for aid. It’s a scary thing to place our lives in the hands of God Almighty. But maybe it is scarier not to…

  1. S. Lewis, in one little episode from his book "The Silver Chair" illustrates God's invitation and our resistance. Aslan, the lion is representative of Christ and Jill one of us. This is the first time they meet. Listen:

 

When Jill stopped, she found she was dreadfully thirsty... She listened carefully and felt almost sure she heard the sound of running water. Jill ... looked around her very carefully. There was no sign of the Lion; so she plucked up her courage to ... look for that running water.

 

... she came to an open glade and saw the stream, bright as glass... [A]lthough the sight of the water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn't rush forward and drink. She stood still as if she had been turned into a stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just this side of the stream lay the Lion...

 

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

 

"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.

 

"Then drink," said the Lion.

 

"May I -could I - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

 

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

 

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

 

"Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill. "I make no promise," said the Lion.

 

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

 

"Do you eat girls?" she said.

 

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion.

 

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

 

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

 

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

 

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

 

What a powerful illustration this is. We thirst for God. Christ invites us to come and be filled by Him. Yet, fearful of the risk we turn away from Him, still thirsty, or overcome by the heat of our situation, or still wandering around in the dark .

 

There is no other stream. There is no other light to which we can turn than that which is freely offered by the Lord our God. So turn to him. Or turn back to him and let him meet your needs and heal your soul.

There is no time to cry out for light in the wilderness like the present moment. There is no way to anticipate how and when the Lord will respond to our need. And there is no other way to avail ourselves of God’s provision than for us that to take a risk, step out in faith, and follow the Lord’s light in the wilderness. Amen.