July 29, 2018

Trust the Trustworthy One

10th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Exodus 16:1-15

Second Lesson:  1 Corinthians 10:1-5,11-13

Gospel Lesson:  John 6:24-35

Sermon Text:  Exodus 16:2-15

Imagine you are having a tough time.  Pick whatever problem comes to mind.  You see a Christian friend at the store.  She knows you are struggling. So she says, “Don’t worry. God will provide all that you need.” How do you react? Chances are you nod your head, so amen, and go on with your day.  You know what she said is true.  The is a biblical promise.  But what happens during those moments before you fall asleep or when the problem is really bad?  Our questioning minds kick into overdrive. “Will God really do that? How? When? What do I now?”  Let’s hit it head on: will God always provide all we need?

Focus on our Exodus lesson. God used 10 plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Moses led them out. This is amazing enough, but when Pharaoh changed his mind, he sent his forces to bring his slave labor “home”.  His army was bearing down on the people whose backs were to the sea. But God came through again. He parted the water and the people crossed, but when Pharaoh’s guys tried the same, they were crushed. A miracle if there ever was one.

You’d think the people would’ve been elated for weeks. Nope. Soon after, as they march, they complain about no food. They grumble against Moses and Aaron, talking about how they feasted in Egypt, but Moses brought them out to die in the desert - a lie. They were slaves who couldn’t wait to get out of rathole Egypt. But a little gnawing in their bellies and they turned on their leaders and on God. He either didn’t give them enough or put horribly inept leaders in charge.

If you were God, and you had just answered their prayers in Egypt and at the Red Sea, how would you have reacted?  Parents, what do you do when your child complains about the clothes, chores, or food? You lose it like I do.  You use words like selfish, unthankful, and ungrateful. Certainly God would’ve been just using any of those.  But how does he react?

He says, “I’ll rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.”  He doesn’t answer their prayers. They weren’t praying. He answers their complaints.  He tells them that he will take care of the issue. What amazing love, patience, and grace!  Again, parents, if your kid says, “I hate beef stew. I want pizza!” do you run to Caesar’s ASAP? No. But God answered their grumbling complaints. He essentially says, “I will take care of it.”

He does.  He promises bread from heaven every morning.  And, he goes a step further.  Later he has Moses tell them he’ll also provide meat every evening. That is exactly what happens.  Manna appears each morning.  They could eat it plain, bake it into cakes, and do a number of things with it.  Each evening, quail go through the camp, and the people get their necessary protein.  And it went on like this for years and years and year.  The people were in need, and God provided.

But God does also want to teach them through all this.  He mentions their grumbling, that it’s unacceptable.  He points out they are complaining about the God who in love freed/forgave them. Like an adult who chastises a child by mentioning what he did 3 times, God does the same. He wanted appreciation, not complaining. Also, on the Sabbath they weren’t supposed to work, not even to collect manna/quail. So God told them on Friday, they can collect enough for 2 day and it won’t spoil.  God provided, but he added an element of trust.  If the people didn’t trust him and collected on the Sabbath, the food rotted.

And he tested them with the daily part. Daily, as they collected food AM and PM, they were reminded it all is a blessing from God.  Each day there was a reminder they’re needy and their gracious Lord would provide, which he did.  And as long as the people remembered God’s instructions, kept looking to him in thanks, and trusted him to provide, he did.  In fact, he did so for 40 years, almost half a century. They were in needed, and God provided, just as he promised.

What can we pull from that? It backs up the earlier statement - God will provide all you need. So… amen? Just nod and leave it at that? End early on a summer day? If you’ve never struggled with that thought – that God provides all you’ll ever need – get up and go. If you’ve never complained about how God has provided, you are free. If you’ve always been an appreciative recipient of all of God’s gift, see you next week. No one moved. Why? In part because it’d be weird to leave. But the deeper reality is that none of us can say we haven’t ever struggled with this, have never complained, and have always been thankful. Often we’re the exact opposite. Our minds want to argue. “Those ungrateful jerks complained though God has just done amazing things to provide for them. I’d never do such a thing.” But we have.  Why?  Why the doubt, fear, or worry God won’t come through?  

1)  We forget. We don’t live in a “what have you done for me lately society?” society. Ours is, “what did you do for me 5 seconds ago?” Life moves at breakneck speed and we live in the present. God seeing us through this problem 5 years ago or that problem 5 months ago is quickly forgotten. “What about now?” We worry/doubt when it comes to God providing what we need because we forget the fact that he has promised to do this and repeatedly lived up to that promise for years.

2) We are worried, nervous, or doubting, because we fail the test.  God told the Israelites to trust him and collect double on Friday and none on the Sabbath.  He wanted them to trust he’d provide. Doubt is the exact opposite of trust.  And God tests us on a regular basis.  He lets needs arise to see if we’ll handle them as people of faith should or as people of the world.  And this is for our good.  God, in love, is helping us see if there are areas in our faith lives that need to shoring up. When we look elsewhere than to him in our time of need, we fail the test.  And that means, yes – worry, nervousness, and doubt.
3) We foolishly think it all depends on us.  I do this with the catechism kids every year when we talk about God providing.  I need a helper.  What is a meal you ate recently?  How did that meal come to you?  Who provided the sun and rain and feed for the plants and animals?  How were you able to purchase that?  Who gave you a brain to get a job and make money?  Who established a government in which we can exchange currency for goods and services? It all goes back to God.

But when we are struggling, we don’t think that way. “I need more money, so I’ll get a 2nd job.” That thinking isn’t necessarily bad, but that plan will only work if God wills it.  “I need peace, so I’ll take this class or read that book.”  Again, not necessarily bad, but if God isn’t blessing that class or that reading, it will be pointless.  “I need X, so I will do Y.”  God does want us to use our skills wisely, but only what he wants to prosper will prosper. But often we think it’s all about us.

Need I continue?  If I asked how many of you struggle with God’s promise to provide – as the Israelites did – how many hands would go up?  The hand of every honest person would. Everyone else would be a liar. That’s the truth. When we hear about the people in our text, we’re not looking at ants behind glass in an ant farm. We’re looking in the mirror.  They – along with all their sinful struggles – are us, and we – with the same struggles – are them.  We lack faith in God’s provision.  We doubt he will come through.  And worry when we should be confident.  We crawl back when we should call out.

If you have an honest bone in your body, you know this is us. Knowing that, let’s see what God has to say about that.  And what he has to say is very simple.  “I will provide.”  That’s what he said to the Israelites, though they came to him with less than pure hearts or motives.  That is what he says to us, even though we come with the same.  “I will provide.  Trust me.”

But how do we know that? Are those just words off a page? No. The best way to prove it is to think about our greatest need. Call it faith. Or forgiveness. Or a place in his family. Whatever you call it, the point is we need God’s grace more than anything. You can live without water/food.  Your body may die, but the real you lives forever with the Lord.  What we can’t live without is grace. And God provided that, even though we didn’t even want it. He dragged us into his family kicking and screaming.  He filled a need we didn’t even know we had.  The need to be loved, to be one with him, to have every sin washed away. The need for real, true, solid hope. Because he loved us and knew our needs, he provided. We know how.

It was through our Savior – Jesus. How did he provide that grace we need? He who had everything – and I mean that in every sense of the word – made himself nothing.  I mean that word as well.  He left glory and majesty to come here.  He left holiness to dwell among sinners.  He left perfection in exchange for human needs like food, water, and sleep – needs, by the way, his Father perfectly met.  And having done all that, he did the unthinkable. He gave his life.

Why?  It wasn’t for anything he did.  It was to pay for what we did.  It was so that instead of the consequences of our sin falling on us, it fell on him.  And it was so that instead of having to face God’s wrath, with sins forgiven, we can call on our Father in our time of need and know that he will answer us.  We deserved none of this, but all this he did because he loved us, and because he knew he had to do something about our need for forgiveness, for life, for peace, for hope.  And that is exactly what he has brought us.  With all that in mind, can the believer in you really doubt that the God who delivered concerning your greatest need will forgot the other needs that are far, far below that in importance?

And another way we know he will is that we have seen it time and time again.  Yes, we easily forget, but the past is concrete.  It isn’t changing. Years ago a man ran a home for orphans out in the country.  They scrapped together whatever funds they could from various sources to keep things running.  One day, they were flat broke – money all gone.  The man prayed and prayed for God to provide.  One hour later there was a knock at the door.  It was a door to door frozen food salesman. Due to intense heat, the cooler was fried.  All the meat/milk/cheese was going to spoil.  

Then the salesman did the unthinkable. He gave the food away. He knew the truck wouldn’t be fixed in time, so he donated it.  The man remembered his prayer, and seeing the answer to his need stirred something in him. From that day on, he jotted down all his prayers in a book.  Each night he would read them again.  When a prayer was answered, he would say a quick thank you, and make a check mark next to the prayer item.  When he passed away, his family found the book.  There were over 7000 entries, and the only ones that didn’t have check marks were ones he had entered the last week of his life.

God does provide. But maybe we don’t always see it because we aren’t looking.  Maybe that means actually writing it down, as the man did.  Maybe it means just being more conscious of it.  I would love to have such a book in my life, because I would see the same thing that man did.  Whatever the need was – food, money, security, hope, confidence – it was taken care of by our Lord who promised to take care of it, just as he promised the same and delivered on that promise with the Israelites.  So whether it is Scripture and the completed plan of our salvation, or the day to day provision God delivers, you know what he does?  He provides.  Just as he promised.

Like I said, next week we will pick this subject up again and focus especially on our response to this glorious providing.  But today, keep the focus on keeping focus.  Think about your needs – be they great or small, spiritual or physical.  Know that God knows what they are.  And realize that he will come through, just as he did in the past, just as he has always promised to do so.  And with that focus, with that understanding, remember to say thanks.  Why?  God is faithful.  God keeps his promises.  God provides.  Amen.