Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Murmuring, Grumbling, And Looking Through A Pink Cloud

It is the nature of people to grumble.  It is particularly the nature of church people to grumble.  Much as we hate to admit it, it seems to be in our DNA.

If you have trouble with believing me, please take a look at these three passages of scripture: Exodus 16:1-8; Numbers 11:18-20; and Numbers 14:1-4.

In each of these cases it seems that the people have a very short memory.  They continue to say things like, "it would have been better to stay in Egypt and serve the Pharaoh;" or "remember how good the food was back in Egypt?  We never went hungry, we just hung around the cooking pot and ate whatever we wanted;" or even "let's pick a new leader and head back to Egypt."  Even though God has show remarkable power in freeing them; parting the sea; guiding them with a pillar of cloud and fire; and feeding them with manna....they still keep grumbling.

My friends in 12 Step programs have a phrase: "pink cloud thinking" that aptly describes this situation.  It's when, after the dust settles from whatever trouble your addiction (say drinking for example) has gotten you into, you begin to look back on the "good old days" when you could drink.  'Wasn't it great to sit with friends on the porch and pop open a cold one?' 'It always helped me to unwind after a long day at work.' 'My wife and I always enjoyed a good bottle of wine.'  These thoughts ignore the fact that one's friends no longer speak to you because of your drunken behavior; you've lost your job for showing up late and bombed out of your mind; and your wife left a year ago because she just couldn't take it any more.  Pink Cloud.

I'm going to suggest that this kind of grumbling has 3 basic sources; and three different responses from God.  The types are fear, petulance, and rebellion.

The first type is fear based.  When the Hebrews get out into the desert, they're scared.  They've lived all their lives as slaves.  They've never been out in the wilderness like this.  Moses responds by reassuring them that God will provide.  He doesn't 'go off' on them like he will at other times.  He, and God, both seem to understand this fear driven grumbling.  Those of us who have been parents know about how a scared child can behave in a way that looks like this.

The second type is a whiney petulance.  This attitude of being angry and annoyed when we don't get our own way.  There are almost always some kind of consequence for this type of grumbling and murmuring.  That's why Moses says (my paraphrase) "you want meat, God will give you meat; and you'll eat it til it's running out your nose (that's really Moses' phrase-not mine)" or "you'll eat it til your so sick of it you're vomiting and it's coming out every orifice." (That's my phrase, but it fits the description).  It's the kind of grumbling that draws that famous parental phrase, "don't make me have to come up there."

The third type of murmuring and grumbling leads to an active kind of rebellion.  In Numbers 14 the people not only refuse to enter the Promised Land, they start making plans to head back to Egypt.  At this point God says, "not one of them will go into Canaan."  This is the kind of rebellion that results in the parent following through on the threat and actually turning the car around.  No trip to Disney, no vacation, nothing.

C.S. Lewis said that there are basically two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, "Okay, your will be done."  Having God release us to our will is a terrible thing.

Coming from slavery/addiction/sin into freedom/salvation/redemption is not easy.  It's free. It's Grace.  But letting ourselves live in that freedom is hard.  That Pink Cloud follows close on our heels.  We forget the bricks without straw; we forget the failed marriages and the throwing up for hours; we forget the arrests and the shame. 

But.....there is always forgiveness.  God waits for us to repent/turn around. 

Follow the pillar of fire and cloud.  Not the pink cloud of denial and forgetfulness.

Hope to see you Sunday.
Shalom,

Stephen

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crossing Over On Dry Land

This week we're looking at Exodus 14.  This is the account in Exodus of the crossing of the Red (or Reed) Sea by the Hebrew people with Pharaoh in hot pursuit.

This is, in fact, the event that I think most people think of when they hear the word "exodus."  And in their minds is a movie version of the event.  That's not a bad thing, it just leaves out a lot.

First of all, you gotta wonder about Pharaoh.  After choking on nats, and stepping on frogs, and drinking from a polluted Nile river....not to mention the death of the first born of EVERYTHING in the land; you'd think that Pharaoh had had enough.  But no.....he decides that he can't keep his economy going without these slaves who previously served him.  So he harnesses his chariots and masses his troops (think tanks and humvee if you want a more modern equivilent) and sets off after the Hebrews.  He thinks they're wandering aimlessly and have no idea what they're doing.

Then there are the people.  They look up and see Pharaoh's army kicking up a cloud of dust and say to Moses (in one of the snarkier moments of scripture) "Oh, so there weren't any graves in Egypt; you brought us out here to die."  To Moses' credit, instead of going off on them like he will sometimes in later parts of their journey, he realizes how terrified they are.  He says to them, "These folks....take a good look....cause they're going to be gone soon.  And you won't have to do anything; just stand over there and watch."

God, meanwhile, moves around to place God's Self in this pillar of fire and cloud, between the Hebrews and Pharaoh (there is a WHOLE bunch of sermons here about how God in Christ put God's own Self between us and death....and how God continues to put God's own Self between God's habiru and the oppressor.  But later.  Just put that in a corner of your brain and chew on it).  AND God parts the sea with a strong wind.
Facing out on the Pharaoh is the darkness; the light flashing from the pillar of cloud illuminates the parting of the sea.  The people pass over on dry land and watch as their enemies drown in the crushing water, their (for that day) high tech military machinery bogged in the mud.

All of this is God's action.  The only thing the Hebrew people had to do was walk.  They had to put one foot in front of the other and walk between those terrifying walls of water on either side. 

Following God to newness is often terrifying.  We know there is nothing we can do; the sea is at our back and Pharaoh is bearing down on us.  We hear a voice say, "you're problems will be gone.  Just go stand over there and watch what I do.  Then, when I tell you to...start walking."  But the path to newness is through the wall of water on either side.  It's something we've never seen before.  Like the old pray that pleads, "make a way where there is no way; and open doors that no one can shut," it's happened!  Our prayers have been answered.  But it looks NOTHING like we thought it would.  And the place we're going?!? Don't even think about how scary that idea is.

Many of you reading this know exactly what I'm talking about.  It happens to us over and over and over in smaller ways throughout our life; and in the great big way when we come to Jesus; and if we're in recovery from some addiction, it happens in a pretty large way when we go "made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood God; asking only for knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out."   Sometimes, the "power to carry it out" is simply the courage and ability to put one foot in front of the other and cross over on the dry land.  Trusting that the God who lead us, saved us from Pharaoh, and parted the water for us will not abandon us on the journey we're about to take.

Hope to see you Sunday.
Shalom,
Stephen

Monday, October 6, 2014

Lazy, You are Lazy......That's Why You Ask For Anything

This Sunday at Heritage we'll be looking at Exodus 5.  This is the account of Moses and Aarron's first encounter with Pharaoh and the Pharaoh's response.

For the purpose of this discussion, I would draw your attention to two verses here:

"But the king of Egypt said to them, 'Moses and Aaron, whay are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!' Pharaoh continued, 'Now they are mor numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!'" [Exodus 5:4-5]

and

"He said, 'You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.' Go now, and work; for now straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.'" [Exodus 5:17-18]

Pharaoh is no dummy.  His responses are the calculated replies of the despot and the strike breaker throughout history.

First of all, in his initial tirade Pharaoh acknowledges that his building projects, and perhaps even his economic program is dependent upon the Hebrews.  There are so many of them that if they stop working to go out into the desert, everything will come to a grinding halt.

Then he does two specific things:  he describes the problem as being the result of the short comings of the oppressed; 'you're just lazy, that's why you want to go sacrifice....you want to get out of work.'  Then Pharaoh issues the edict about not giving the people straw and making them gather their own.  This will cause a riff within the Hebrew people and set them over against Moses and Aarron. 

From a political standpoint these are very astute moves.  Pharaoh defines the Hebrews as 'lazy people just trying to get out of the work that holds the economic program together.'  Then, he creates an impossible situation sure to create conflict among them.  The Hebrew work foremen will be beaten when their crews do not produces the required bricks.  When they complain, Pharaoh will say, 'it's Moses and Aarron's fault for asking you to be able to take your lazy selves out into the desert to sacrifice to your God.'

As an initial foray into this passage, I would ask us all to reflect on the ways in which our own culture reflects this situation.  Are their people who work for little or no wages (undocumented or questionable aliens are often denied their money when they go to collect their pay and threatened with INS and deportation) who provide a large portion of the workforce that supports our economy?  What would happen if everyone who made $8 or less per hour didn't work for a week; what all would come to a grinding halt?  Think about the language that has been, and is still, used to describe the minority groups that work at menial jobs;  "lazy, dishonest, looking for a handout, breeding like rabbits."

Our answers shouldn't surprise us.  Empires if every kind: Egyptian, Roman, German......American? have always used these tactics.  The question is, are we part of an oppressive empire?  Or part of the liberating work of God that will lead all who cry out into freedom and Covenant with God?

To the degree that we participate in the language of Empire to aid oppression, we are part of that Empire.  It's a sobering question to ponder.

Hope to see you Sunday.
Shalom,
Stephen