The message for today, Sept. 28 in our church, St Paul’s UCC in Eureka is as follows. The scriptures used were Exodus 17:1-7, Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32. I titled it as listed above, “Obedience to???”
I did embellish and go off script as I was telling the personal part, but essentially it was as follows. Afterwards I had at least one person tell me she could relate. Her son moved over 10 times while of college age, and she and her husband moved him and his new wife while those two were on their honeymoon. Wow, I never had any help from a parent when moving except the time my parents brought me a couch and my dad helped me move it into the semi-basement apartment. Everyone thought it would take 5 or 6 people to move it because it was so heavy. He picked up one end and I picked up the other. I was 21 and he must have been about 42. I guess he was in the prime of his life at that time. I believe we all received our strength from him. My oh my I miss him as I write this. I believe that he would have really liked little Jaxon. Well anyway, her is the message for the day.
Let me start by saying again how great it is to be back here this morning. I am not so sure that the last two weeks have been this great fall break. Last week I took advantage of the fact that the Schmeckfest committee was in charge of worship and I went on a week-long escapade. By the time I was finished driving from home to Hebron to help Victoria do some packing and then over to Jamestown to spend a night and a day with Jessica to attend the Women in Leadership Development Event put on by North Dakota Farmers Union, I had just about had all I could take road time. I am not a fan of the 75 miles an hour minimum that you get stuck in when on the North Dakota Interstate.
I was happy to be home this past week, but with the tomatoes crying from the table to be boiled into something and the apples calling, “take me out of the pail and sauce me up.” I was ready to leave the kitchen. So on Friday morning James and I headed back to Hebron to help load Nate and Victoria’s household to move them to Dickinson. It was two trips in a 20 foot U-haul as well as our van and their car and pickup. Now I think I have seen enough boxes and duct tape and more Interstate to last me for the rest of fall. I had a hard time sleeping last night because I kept seeing boxes and how to move them around to fit the most stuff into the least space. Packing for me is a puzzle and that is what was going on in my brain.
Part of packing and moving and working under that sort of time pressure is also stressful, and every now and again someone in the group would get just a pit testy. If we wouldn’t have been so intense, we might have had a laugh at ourselves because at times we were good candidates for being on a Snickers commercial. I am guessing that some of you know the commercials I am talking about when I say, “Have a snickers bar.” There is usually someone in the action who is doing something totally out of character, and someone pulls them aside and says, “Have a snickers bar, you are not yourself when you are hungry.” I can relate to that thought.
When I am on a roll or in the zone working on something, it feels like I can go and go and then all of a sudden, I hit the wall, and I have to stop to eat, or sometimes rest because my actions and words get rather muddled until there is food. We were a bit like that this weekend, and I am thinking that was the case with the Hebrew people in the days of Moses when they realized there was no water in this place they were camped. They were upset and maybe rightly so.
We probably would have noticed similar actions by the Hebrews if we had studied them last week. The scripture then was about their having no food and God sent them manna. However we skipped over that particular sermon to host Schmeckfest. I guess we can get two in one here today with the discussion of water. The bottom line is that the Hebrew people were not very happy about being out in the desert with nothing to drink, and they let Moses know about it in no uncertain terms. It seems that he isn’t able to say, “Have a snickers or anything else cute. Moses is almost afraid of what they might do, and he goes to God pleading for help. Moses knows that again this is one of those times when he is not able to come up with an answer on his own, and he needs God to give him the solution.
And once again, God gives him the solution, just like the way God parted the Red Sea, like the way he had Manna drop from heaven, this time God says strike the rock and there will be water, and because Moses obeyed, God made it happen. It almost seems as easy as the Snickers commercial where just eating the candy bar makes everything go back to normal and work out. As much as it might sound that simple, I think it is more complicated. God wanted to protect and care for the Israelites, but sometimes they were off track, and it was only when they turned back to him that they were able to experience the goodness, the escape from the Egyptians, the food in the wilderness, the flowing water that God gave them to help them survive.
In Matthew’s passage today we see the great teaching technique that Jesus uses so often when he asks a question to answer a question. This technique can really be annoying for the person who wants to hear a straight out simple answer, but I see what Jesus is doing in this passage. He is trying to make the questioners come up with the answer on their own, and when they realize that he has actually tricked them, they refuse to answer because they don’t want to be caught in their own treachery.
Matthew goes on to relate a parable told by Jesus about a man who had two sons that he asked to do a task for him. How many of us as parents can relate to this story. You ask your child, perhaps your grandchild, maybe even a niece or nephew to do something for you. Which one would you be happiest with, the one who refused the task then actually did it, or the one who accepted the task then never got off the couch? Boy I can relate to the second one.
James and I were more like the first son this past week. We didn’t think that we would be able to help Victoria and Nate move. I was supposed to be in school in Hazelton and James didn’t think he would get the day off since he had been gone for two days to a conference. But it turned out that we were able to get there early on Friday and help with more packing and all of the moving. We did, though leave them a threat that if there is another move within five years, we will for sure be the second son in this story. We will say we are helping, but instead we will leave the country until they are in their new house. I actually wanted them to sign a statement saying they promise not to move for another five years.
I might joke about the way these two sons acted when asked to do a task by the father, but in all seriousness, either reaction by the child is frustrating. When you stop and think about being the parent in that situation, they both drive you up a wall. And the point Jesus was making is that is how humans act towards God so very often. We either say yes, yes, then fail to follow in the ways that we need to go, or we blow it off when asked, and later realize our mistake and come back to where we belong.
Of course Jesus was making the point that the one who finally went and did the work is the son that did the will of the father. And then we realize that Jesus means the story as a metaphor showing that a repentant sinner is the one who does the will of God not the self-righteous leader who thinks they are above all others. It is the one who repents, who is obedient to God.
Our epistle reading today is about the church in Philippi. The Church of the Philippians that Paul writes to is the very first Christian church in what is now Europe. It was made up of Gentiles, and Paul’s writing in this chapter centers on the topic of unity. He is explaining to them that they need to work together, and their work needs to be Christ centered. They need to look towards Jesus for direction; it is to his teachings that they must put their obedience. It is also for us to look to Christ and his teachings for guidance on how to act, how to work together as a church, how to think as he would have us think. Paul says, have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. That was a mind of humility and obedience to the will of God for him. That is the same thing that God asks of us that we obey his requests of us easy or hard.
Just as Moses obeyed on behalf of the Hebrew people while they wandered in the wilderness, just as the son in the parable told of by Jesus and just as Paul advised the church in Philippi, we need to be obedient to the demands that God has for us. When we humble ourselves and accept those tasks, we realize that God always wants what is best for us. Just like the friend who hands over the Snickers bar and says you are not yourself. God hands us the ability to be our best self when we are obedient to the tasks set before us. Amen!