Friday, March 16, 2012

Israel and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Time - Exodus 6

(This is a sermon by Matt Banner, our assistant pastor.)

    One of the most famous children’s books is also one that I enjoy.  It is called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Spl Ltd edition (September 22, 2009).  In it, it tells the story of Alexander, how everything goes wrong for him.  It starts out like this:

    “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…..I think I’ll move to Australia.”

    And things just get worse for poor Alexander.
  • At breakfast, his 2 brothers, Anthony and Nick, get prizes in their cereal.  He just gets cereal.
  • On the way to school, he has to sit in the middle of the car.
  • At school, his teacher doesn’t like his drawing of an invisible castle.
  • He sings too loud.
  • He left out the number 16 when counting (who needs 16 anyway)
  • His best friend leaves him to become his third best friend.
  • There is no dessert in his lunch.
  • He goes to the dentist and has a cavity.
  • The elevator closes on his food.
  • Anthony accidentally knocks him into the mud.
  • Nick calls him a crybaby for crying about it.
  • His mom punishes him for punching Nick for calling him a crybaby.
  • The shoe store is sold out of his favorite shoes (blue and red), and he has to get white ones.
  • At Dad’s office, he messes up everything (the copy machine, the books, and the phone).
  • The family has Lima beans for dinner (which he hates)
  • There is kissing on T.V. (which he also hates).
  • The bath has too hot water, soap in his eyes, and he loses his marble down the drain.
  • He has to wear his railroad train pajamas (he hates those PJs).
  • At night, his nightlight burns out.
  • He bites his tongue.
  • Nick takes his pillow.
  • The family cat chooses to sleep with Anthony.

    It is no wonder he wants to move to Australia.  But, at the end of the day, his mom assures him that everyone has bad days, even people in Australia.

    I have been in Alexander’s shoes before.  Life follows the adage, when it rains it pours.  When life is going bad, it seems like things get worse and worse.  And I shout out, why?  WHY?!!  Why do bad things always happen to me?!  And I get more angry and angry.  And suddenly even things that are not bad seem bad, and I cannot see any good in my life.  I get caught up in myself and my own pain.  And I start to expect that whatever comes next will be bad.

    Now, the people of Israel had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad lifetime.  They had been the people of God.  The honored and privileged.  Then it seemed like God had abandoned them.  They had been conquered by their enemies.  Their holy city had been ransacked and destroyed.  And they were made into slaves.  They were living lives of labor and pain.  Then, a man, Moses comes as God’s messenger to save them.  And what happens?  Moses gets them all extra work and they have to make their bricks without having the straw provided, as we learned last week.  Things got worse.

    This is where we enter today’s story, found in Exodus 6:1-13.

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
 2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself fully known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
 6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’”
 9 Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.
 10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 11 “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.”
 12 But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”
Family Record of Moses and Aaron
13 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

    Let’s see if we can dissect this passage.  The Lord is proclaiming to Moses what He is going to do.  God tells Moses to sit back and see what he will do Pharaoh.  It is because of God’s hand that Pharaoh will let my people go.  God tells Moses that he hears the people’s cries for liberation.  God remember the covenant he made with the people of Israel.  God promises that the people of Israel will receive the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    FINALLY, after the years and years of hard life, the Israelites are about to be saved.  All those years of belief and faith in God are about to pay off for the people.  The biggest, baddest God on the block is in their corner, ready to knock down their oppressors and show everyone who is the boss, who has all the power.  So. Moses goes to them and tells them the great news…

    …and they won’t even listen to him.  They have been beaten down so much.  They have been bullied and hated and downtrodden.  Life has been so rough, that they have become bitter and resentful.  They no longer believe that their God will do what he has promised.

    The strangest thing is that the Israelites have good reasons for being bitter.  Their life justifies their feelings.  They are not being petty or spiteful.  They have just had such a hard time that they have been worn down.  They no longer have the strength to live a life of hope.

    This happens with us.  Sometimes life is awful.  Sometimes life is unfair.  Bad things happen.  I’m not talking about getting gum stuck in our hair or losing our marbles down a drain.  I’m talking about really bad life experiences.  Unexpected deaths.  Betrayals.  Disappointments.  We have every right to get bitter and turn our backs on God and on each other.  No one would blame you for feeling and acting that way.

    But here’s the thing.  When we lose our hope.  When we live lives of bitter resentment, it is to our own detriment.  When we close up our lives, we fail to see that God is working in our lives.  Even when it is not obvious, God is hearing us, and sees our pain.  Sometimes, it appears that God is not doing anything.  And that can hurt.  But sometimes God is preparing a Moses for us.  Someone or something that will help bring us freedom, if we will only listen.  God remembers his promises to us, that he will never leave us or forsake us.

    The only thing that keeps the Israelites from running from God and never allowing God to work in their lives is that they have nowhere else to turn.  They are at the end of their rope.  It seems as if all is lost.  They are slaves being worked to death.  And only God could help them.  So, despite their bitterness, they allow God to work in them and for them.

    Let us not wait until we are down to our last chance before we allow God to really work in our lives.  Too often, we live in this world that tells us that when we get hurt, we need to hurt others back.  It tells us that we need to act strong, even when we feel weak.  We pretend that everything is alright, even when our world and our lives are falling apart.

    I like this quote from Abraham Lincoln (by unknown sources).  He had just won a seat  in congress by a vote, when, using an obscure law, the state decided to send Stephen A. Douglas instead.  When a sympathetic friend asked him how he felt about been snubbed in this way, he responded  "Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh."

    I don’t care if all you have is a stubbed toe, or maybe a broken heart.  It is one moment of stepping away from God that leads to another step away from God and then another.  Soon, we don’t remember being part of God’s family at all.

    Then we can say, “Look, this is not my fault!  Life handed me a raw deal!”  And when we say that, we are correct.  We have the right to be angry.  And when things go badly, we can shake our fist at God or turn our back on God.

    But we will be the ones who are missing out.  We are the ones that will not see the miracles that God can perform.  We will never get the lives we want unless we can love and trust and hope in God.  Luckily, even when we turn our back, still God fights for us and loves us.
    It is not God’s duty to fix everything that’s wrong in our lives.  But, God hears us when we cry out.  And God sends people into our lives to set us free.  We just need to accept that freedom.
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