1 Allison UMC September 24, 2006 Numbers 13 and 14 A Choice to Make (SLIDE) There are two accounts of the same story within these chapters, like two people talking about the same event or sermon. It seems almost like they were in different worlds, we all hear and see two different things. But with two accounts, we get a fuller idea of the story and that is always helpful. I love the narratives of the bible, the stories of adventure and mystery and here in Numbers we read where spies are sent, reports returned, fighting disagreement over the next step; sounds like a good action movie to me. This story takes 88 verses in Numbers to play out the major acts as you heard in summary and scripture this morning. So what can this story teach us, you might ask. Don’t make God mad, you will die? Or God has a temper, watch out! Or people of all ages exaggerate stories, they just got caught. I think it is a bit deeper than that. This morning we will look at four points from that force us to contemplate and make a choice about how we will respond to God. (SLIDE) The first point is Moses underestimates God’s power. Moses starts off his mighty pastoral and traveling host career telling God he cannot do it. Moses says to God, I cannot speak, I am not a people-person, I am not a leader, and God says yes you can. Moses says, no, I am not! And God says, okay here is what we will do, your brother Aaron will be your speaker, your leadership, his voice, you will lead my people out of Egypt and into a new land that will be plentiful. Moses underestimated God’s power and ability to use him, thinking of the limits instead of trusting in God’s plan initially. Moses uses all that God gives him, has Aaron as his right hand man, and focuses on talking with God often. Here again, as the people are on the verge of the land of Canaan, Moses underestimates God’s power and his trust in God’s ways falters. When the people refuse to go into the new land because of the reports they hear, Moses weeps openly and tares his sackcloth as he is ashamed of his followers. In anger, God decides to strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, writing off all the people forever. 2 (SLIDE) Moses appeals to Yahweh quoting the best liturgy and tradition at that time. He appeals to God’s loving character, God’s promises, and God’s steadfast love.(verses 13-16, 17-18, 19) When God responds that the people will be forgiven and not die all at once, I can see Moses’ face showing relief. Yet as God continues to say this generation will die but their young will go into the Promised Land, I suspect that even Moses is a bit skeptical. The children of these unfaithful people will live. Moses only expects God to go so far, but God gives grace and forgiveness much greater than even Moses could foresee. God provided forgiveness and continuation of life that even Moses was unable and unprepared to ask for. We can choose to be like Moses and underestimate God’s power, or ask for God to do as God knows best and expect God to do beyond even our wildest dreams. (SLIDE) A second choice is we can be like the spies or like Caleb. I won’t ask you to raise your hands, but how many of us have seen something or done something and then when retelling the story, the characters, actions, or event gets a little larger than life? Yes, I too have done this! And this is what the spies do when they return to give the report to Moses and the tribes awaiting to go into the Promised Land. The spies found a land that is ripe, rich in harvest and plentiful. They saw the towns were strong, and the people were the ancestors of Goliath. Yet as the spies spoke to Moses and the people, they were able to focus only on their inabilities to enter this land and survive against these people. It seems the spies got caught up in their imaginations and fears, forgetting all that God had done to get them to where they were. They only saw the size of the people instead of the size of their God, and they refused to go into the new land. (SLIDE) Caleb speaks out that yes, they may be larger than us, but says in verse 30 “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Caleb remembered what God had done for them and was confident that God would continue to provide protection and guidance, even against people and obstacles that seemed formidable. Joshua says “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us.” (14:18) Both Caleb and Joshua were willing to step out in faith and trust God’s leading. 3 Though the land was plentiful, their fears forced them to stay in the wilderness, or want to even return to Egypt and certain death rather than going into the new land. The people reject Caleb’s confidence and call to go forward. They threatened to stone Moses if he led them into Canaan. (14:10) The people wanted to stay where they were in the present, in the area they knew, and were paralyzed by their fears. (SLIDE) Thirdly, we can be paralyzed by our fear. The people were paralyzed by their fear because fear can be a very destructive force. It paralyzes us, calls us to question everything, calls us to exaggerate what is real, and calls us to want to hide in the past even if the past is painful. The destructive forces of fear caused this first generation of people who left Egypt to be blind to God’s leading when God asks them to go into the new land. God sees the new land as plentiful and rich, yet with fear the scouts see it as a land of death. They turned the people of the new land into monsters, freaks of nature that will surely kill them. They fear death if they step into the future so much that they choose rather to die in the wilderness or return to certain persecution in Egypt. (SLIDE) Their lack of faith astounds God. God cries out in pain, “how long will my people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” In Psalm 13 God also cries how long will you refuse to trust and believe in me, how long do I need to prove my faithfulness and love for you? How long? How long?” But, what about the power of fear in our lives today? For the Israelites, fear pushed God’s plan further into the future. Fear can be like that for us today. Fear can paralyze us, make us stop and not move forward, cause us to forget God’s love and faithfulness. Fear can push the Promised Land further into the future for us, just like it did for the Israelites. (SLIDE) We have another option, we can let our fear be fear that propels our faith to trust more in God. Last year in my bible study, I was shocked to learn that another translation for fear from the Hebrew language can mean awe. We can be in awe of God and not in fear of God. Whenever I am fearful of something, of stepping forward, I make myself replace the word fear with awe. This helps me be like Caleb and focus on God’s 4 power instead of the destructive force of fear. Caleb and Joshua are the only scouts from this generation who will lead the 2nd generation into the promised land because they were in awe of God’s power, not allowing their fear to control their decision. Unwavering faith in God will break the fear of the large inhabitants; faith in God breaks the fear of fortified cities, and of unforeseen obstacles ahead. Faith in God breaks the fear of encountering change, faith in God breaks the fear of the unknown because all is known to God, and faith in God makes all things possible, even when we cannot foresee the outcome, God can. (SLIDE) Martin Luther in his Small Catechism says “You shall fear, love, and trust God above all else.” Fear as awe, respect, and reverence should be given to God. Caleb knew this and Caleb feared God to trust in God’s power to conquer giants and save the small children. The spirit was within Caleb as he saw God’s promised land. Caleb had faith that feared, loved, and trusted God. (SLIDE) A few years ago, the movie the Matrix was very popular. In the Matrix, Keanu Reeves plays Neo who is forced to choose either the red or blue pill. Take the blue pill and everything will say are normal. For the Israelites, they wanted to take the blue pill and stay roaming in the wilderness or even preferred returning to Egypt where they were persecuted. It was familiar and comfortable. For us today, we can choose the blue pill as in the Matrix and stay in the known; returning to life as normal. At Allison this means keeping the same programs, always with the same people involved, being a member and contributing but not tithing, not wanting anything to change, because this is familiar and this is how it has always been. Or we can take the red pill. For Neo in the Matrix, the red pill opened up a new world, a rabbit hole if you will that leads to unknown places, that is moving forward with adventure in the future. If the Israelites took the red pill, they would have entered Canaan without losing a generation to death in the wilderness. They would have entered the land, not been paralyzed by their fears, but allowing their fear to be in awe and trust of God’s plan. Stepping into the unknown, knowing God is leading and preparing the way. 5 (SLIDE) At Allison we too can take the red pill by making a choice to step into the future, into the unknown land, not paralyzed by our fears but empowered knowing and trusting that God provides steadfast faithfulness and God is leading the way. Taking the red pill means letting go of the way it has always been, stepping forward but not forgetting the past, letting go of our current ways of church, and going strongly in a new direction. Trusting God to provide leadership and direction, trusting God to provide new ministries that touch lives and new ways of being “church,” being a disciple that faithfully goes where God is calling, never underestimating God’s power, but trusting that we are on the brink of a new step of the journey of Allison Church and the land before us is plentiful if we will just make the choice and trust God. So what will it be, the blue pill of the known and comfortable, paralyzed by fear of the future, staying with the spies? Or the red pill of the unknown, of life with Caleb and Joshua living in awe and the power of God going forward into the unknown, never underestimating God’s power but fearing, loving, and trusting God above all else. It’s time to make a decision. Let us pray: God it is all about you and about where you are leading, but at times we forget that, get side tracked, or avoid the unknown. Remind us that to you all is known and to listen where you are calling. Help us today make a commitment to take the red or blue pill, to go where you are calling, and to live our lives trusting in you. Amen.