August 5, 2018

Nothing More Than I Can Handle? Really?

11th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Exodus 7:8-13

Second Lesson:  Hebrews 11:24-28

Gospel Lesson:  John 6:60-69

Sermon Text:  Exodus 7:8-13

A few years ago during a football game (yes, it is that time of year again so I get to mention it a little more often), we were playing a team whose linemen were bigger than ours.  Their nose tackle was easily 3 bills. Our center, a lanky, 6’3’’, 190 kid, came up to me after one series.  “Coach, that guy is huge.  What should I do?”  We couldn’t do any double teams or offer him any help.  I talked to him about technique, staying low, etc.  Next series, a series in which the guy ate us alive, he came and asked me the same question. “What should I do?”  I told him more tips, none of which worked. He came to me a 3rd time. Before he could open his mouth, I yelled, “Just block him, Corey!  I don’t care how you get it done.  Just block him.”

Clearly not a coaching highlight for me.  I remember watching Corey’s eyes drop as he shuffled away.  His body language sent a clear message – he was done for the night.  Why?  It wasn’t heart. Corey had that to spare.  What got to him, and this is my fault, is that I was telling him to do what he felt was impossible, and I didn’t give him any reason to have hope.  And when faced with the impossible, when they run out of hope, you know what people usually do.  They check out.

I wonder if Moses felt like Corey when God 1st called him. Go back to before our text. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house, enjoying all the comforts of royalty. But he decided to side with his Hebrew brothers. Trying to save a fellow Hebrew from a nasty Egyptian, he killed the Egyptian and had to run for his life. 40 years pass. He’s living a quiet life as a shepherd.  Then God appears to him. You may remember the burning bush.  And God calls him.  To do what?  To go back to Egypt, to stand before Pharaoh, to demand that the Israelites be set free, and then lead them to their new homeland.

Do you realize what God was all telling Moses to do? Maybe this will help.  God telling Moses to do all that would be like me telling Corey to snap the ball to himself, block a guy, throw the ball in the air, run as fast as he can, catch his own pass, then make it into the end zone.  Oh yeah – and one more thing.  He has to do all that while the opposing team is not just trying to tackle him and hurt him.  He has to do all that while some of the defenders are trying to kill him, to take his life. 

And, actually, Moses did react like Corey. He made excuses why he isn’t the right guy for the job, and in the end, he basically says, “But I don’t want to go!” So how does God get him to go? He has an answer for any of the excuses/problems Moses used to get out of this.  Moses asks, “Who am I that I should do all this?”  God tells him, “Don’t worry.  I will be with you.” Moses - “Who should I say sent me?” God - “Tell them I AM sent me to you… the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   Moses – “What if the people don’t listen?”  God – “The elders of Israel will listen to you.”  All this was meant to bolster Moses’ confidence and faith. God would be with him. Things would work out.

And one more thing.  This ties in directly with our lesson. Moses said, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”  Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD…has appeared to you.”

Get the point?  God didn’t just say the equivalent of “Corey, just block the guy!”  He didn’t say, “Moses, just get the job done – somehow/way.” He told him he had a tough road ahead, but he promised to be with him, and he gave all these heads up about what he’d face and how he’d see him through.  To ask one man to do what he did and to do it on his own, that would be impossible.  But Moses was not alone.  The end result of this whole situation is that his faith was firmed up.

And we see that in our lesson. Nowhere in there does it say, “Moses hesitated for a second,” “Moses hoped this staff thing would work,” or “Moses figured he had nothing to lose.”  No.  He does what God tells him, seemingly without hesitation or reservation. And what God said would happen did happen. The staff became a snake. Then something happens God did not mention. Via black magic, Pharaoh’s guys do the same thing.  But Moses’ staff/snake swallows all of theirs.  And this only put more steel in Moses’ spine.   How so?  Even something God hadn’t told him about – their staffs turning into snakes – was something he could handle.  Even when God didn’t tell him exactly how things would turn out, they did work out.  

One more thing.  How do you think Moses felt walking away from this? I bet he was so confident because of this victory that he finally felt like he could do what once seemed impossible – stand up to Pharaoh and lead the people home.

Now, with that as the backdrop, when is the last time you felt God was treating you the way I treated Corey? When was the last time you had something huge in front of you and it felt like God was simply saying, “Just get it done – somehow/way”?  When was the last time you felt like Moses – ill equipped to handle a seemingly insurmountable task?

Maybe specifics would help. I like to do this from time to time, so let’s hit a number of different stages of life.  And well go out of order to keep the focus.  I think one time that just about everyone is overwhelmed by is that first day a new child is home from the hospital.  You read and attended classes.  You talked to your mom and other moms.  But when reality that a human being, a soul is now exclusively in your care hits, it hits hard.  And what does God say about newborns and first time parents in his Word?  In the way of particulars… nothing. He does promise he will be with us and will work all things for our good.  But at that moment when tears can start over the simplest thing, those promises seem as far away and as non-descript as the clouds.  You feel like you are facing Pharaoh alone.  You feel like the 300 lb. nose tackle will eat you up.

Another time that can be overwhelming is when there is a big life change later in life.  Maybe it is retirement.  Maybe it is a health issue, which usually are more prevalent the older we get.  Maybe it is the Lord calling a spouse or a dear friend home. We finally get to a stage when we think we have things figured out and then the carpet is pulled out from beneath us.  “How will I adjust when work no longer defines me?  Am I still useful to anyone?  Why do I at times feel useless?”  “I spend more time at the doctor and filling prescriptions than I do anything else.  I thought these were supposed to be my golden years.  My children talk to me like I am a little child who needs constant attention.  How could things shift so dramatically in such a short time?”  “I don’t know what I am going to do without him/her around.  We got each other, we were safe harbors for one another, but the loneliness I feel now that they are gone is crushing.”  If you have been or are in any of those stages, you now how easily you can feel like Corey and like Moses.  “How am I ever going to do this?”

What about when you have your whole life ahead of you – you are young, smart, educated, and ready to take on the world – but you don’t have any clue what to do. College? Job?  Find a spouse?  Move? These choices can define the rest of your life, and you feel like a wrong step can mess everything up. Facing Pharaoh “overwhelment.” You know it… and well.

And while I could go through every possible stage, let’s focus on one more such time that is universal – the “overwhelmingness” of living in line with God’s will in this messed up world.  So many temptations are truly only one click away.  Our society is moving more and more into godless territory, and bucking the trend is not only hard.  It can also bring isolation and shunning.  It seems like those who have it in for God are the ones who are prospering, and the ones who are trying to do the right thing are the ones who are struggling.  It all seems just so unfair.  To fight off all those temptations, to remain pure in an impure world, to go against the flow and deal with all that comes with the upstream swimming, and to keep a solid, biblical head on our shoulders during all this… it just seems to be too much.  It just seems overwhelming.

Moses thought that too, at least for a time.  What changed things?  God built up his faith by reassuring him he would always be with him and living up to that promise.  Go back to some of the scenarios we looked at.  How many of you veteran parents were absolute trainwrecks when the first kid came home from the hospital?  Now, how many of you made it through?  Why did you?  The God who promised to never leave or forsake you lived up to that promise.  Maybe we didn’t see it or feel it at the time, but with 20/20 hindsight, we get that now.  I know a number of you are struggling with issues that often come later in life, but think of all the faithful servants who came before you and how God kept them strong and focused until he called them home.  Think the one who has all our days measured out is going to treat you any differently?  If you have huge life decisions ahead of you, isn’t a comfort to know that the one leading you is the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name?  Isn’t it a comforting thing to know that he knows the plans he has for you, plans that don’t involve harming you but giving you hope and a future?

Either way we look at – whether it is the promises God has made or his fulfilling of those promises in our lives or the lives of other – we come back to the same point.  Our God is a faithful God.  He will give us the strength, the help, and the guidance we need, when we need it, and whatever we need it for.  And nowhere is that more true in spiritual matters.  When we feel overwhelmed against all those who seem to be line up against us, we need to remember that the victory has already been won.  “It is finished’ – spoken by our Savior on his cross – is a victory cry.  The work of paying for our sin, the work of assuring us of heaven, and the work of winning us a place in God’s family is complete.

That means that as we face temptation, we do so relying on him who promised to never give us more than we can bear and the one who promised to provide a way out.  As we face a world growing more ungodly by the second, we find out strength in him of whom the psalmist said, “The Lord is with me.  What can man do to me?”  With him on our side, he will build us up to live lives of faith that lead people to praise our Father in heaven.  As we deal with the unfairness – perceived or real – of living in this world, we recall that in Christ we are just strangers here, that heaven is our home, and we keep moving forward.  God has promised this help during our overwhelmed times, he has delivered on that promise time and again, and he will keep on doing so.  That is what family does.  And he is family in the greatest way possible.

I know there are about 5000 things we could have listed that can overwhelm us, that make us feel like Moses and Corey – given a job that seems impossible.  But as the angel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  He will come through.  As in Pharaoh’s courtroom, he will show his dominance, and things will go do exactly as he said.  Knowing that, instead of shrinking back or curling up in the fetal position in the corner, let’s step out in faith each day, committing each day, each hour, and each moment to our Lord, he who never steered us wrong in the past and will never do so in the future.  Never feel overwhelmed, for nothing is impossible for the one who has an undying, perfect love for you, his child.  Amen.