This Week’s Lectionary Sermon

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Unexpected Treasures in the Desert: God is Enough!
Deuteronomy 6:1-15; 20-25
Rev. Deb Mechler

            It was about fourteen years ago when I sensed the call to go to west Africa so that my husband and I could decide whether to join the work of the Luke Society.  Along with two other members of the team for Mali, I flew to Paris and then Bamako, the capital city. 
            I had prepared myself both physically and spiritually for the trip.  I packed a carry-on bag with sandals as well as long skirts and shirts with sleeves to respect the local custom of dress.  I packed a hat and sunscreen to protect from the intense sunlight.  I packed my English/French dictionary in order to communicate.  I also did my best to pack an open mind and heart, because I knew that God was going to help me and teach me in ways I could not anticipate ahead of time.
            I had been growing a lot in my understanding of God’s love, so I felt I could trust God with all my heart in a strange place.  God cared enough to stay with me and care for me there.
             Our hosts had the wisdom to give us enough time to process all we were experiencing.  We rested even in the midst of a tight schedule.  The missionaries told us their stories of many years’ work, patiently waiting on God to give the increase of souls brought to faith in Jesus Christ. 
            The vocabulary and grammar I learned in French 30 years before in high school came to me when I needed them, mostly.  The Bible verses I needed to meet the challenges were there in my memory to keep me mentally secure.  My mind was fortified with enough knowledge to navigate this overseas adventure. 
I felt God giving me enough strength to overcome jet lag and the courage to accept the invitation of each day’s activities.  God enabled me to endure many hours of driving, bouncing along poorly maintained roads in a Land Rover. 
Did you hear the common theme in my story?  I learned that God is enough for me to face whatever path I am led to follow.  God did not ask me to do something without God’s own help and presence.  God had also given me enough ability and wisdom within myself to face any challenge.  In fact, God is enough and gives us enough to love and serve God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. 
We have seen how God did the same for the Israelites in the desert wilderness. And as we read in Deuteronomy, when Moses gave his final instructions to the people before they finally entered the land of Canaan, he reminded them that God was enough for them in that new place too.  When he commanded them to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength, it was not as though they had not been given the tools to do it.  (It was Jesus who added “mind,” so we’ll include it in today’s teaching.)
They had learned that they could love God with all their hearts.  God had heard their cries for help when they were in misery in Egypt.  Out of love God forgave them when they disobeyed and sought different answers to their complaints instead of trusting the God who loved them. 
In our wilderness today, we also cling to the love of God to get us through.  God does not abandon any of the people in our world who have suffered in poverty, violence, discrimination, and exile.  We are just now getting a very small taste of the suffering that much of the world has to endure daily, with no end in sight.  We see no easy solutions to the epidemic, no quick answers to the financial and emotional crisis that has only begun.  But it doesn’t have to be a spiritual crisis too.  God’s love will never run out, and we have the promises in Scripture (e.g. Romans 8:31-39) that none of this can separate us from the God who loves and cares for us.  We can love and trust God with all of our hearts in this wilderness because God’s love for us is enough!
The Israelites had to learn how to entrust their souls to God.  The gift they received for this lesson was time.  Soul work does not happen quickly.  It takes a long time to accept that the old ways no longer work.  The former slaves had to let go of the gods of Egypt that had surely crept into their consciousness over the years.  Oppression always includes setting up idols.  The people even set up a golden calf at the foot of the mountain where God was creating a covenant for them!  They got impatient and let their panic drive them to disobedience.
In the desert the people learned that time was not theirs to use however they wished.  God commanded them to rest on the Sabbath each week.  This was a gift for the well-being of their souls.  They had to internalize a constant rhythm that established in their minds that six days is enough to strive and survive.  They could stop working and enjoy a day of simply being human and giving thanks to God for all the gifts of life. 
But some of them surely also had to learn the flipside of the Sabbath: that one day in seven is enough for rest.  Anybody who was lazy or wanted to party all the time had to learn hard lessons about holding up their end of the work.  Six days of work, and a seventh day set apart is a rhythm that shows us we are enough, and we have enough time, for dwelling together in the kingdom of God.
We have been given the gift of time in 2020 also.  Lots of time to look at the ways we have claimed not only time but all of God’s other gifts as our own, and either hoarded or squandered them.  We can see how we have suffered from our own misuse of these gifts.  We are realizing that those on the front lines must have enough time to rest in order to keep doing their important work.  We are also learning how important it is to spend relaxed, unhurried time with those we love.  We are finding that Sabbath is a good thing.  We can love God with all of our souls because we have enough time when we follow God’s wise rhythm of work and rest.
God had to teach the Israelites a new way of thinking in order to love God with their minds.  They knew the stories of their ancestors, but they needed their own experience of God in order to become the nation God wanted them to be.  The plagues got them started.  Along with the people of Egypt they got the unmistakable evidence of God’s power as the forces of nature were manipulated by God’s hand. 
God brought them out to the desert to get a greater vision.  The gods of Egypt were unable to respond to the needs of the people and the whims of the Pharaoh.  The one God of the Israelites had big plans for the lowly slaves under Pharaoh’s thumb.  God was keeping the covenant with Abraham that seemed impossible to him when he received it, old and childless as he was. 
When the time came to enter the promised land, God gave the vision to Joshua and Caleb, only two of the twelve spies sent to scope out the land.  These two knew that even though the people of Canaan were strong and well-equipped, God is greater and carries out the plan with no problem.  Joshua’s vision as a leader, his bold faith and God-given courage were enough to enable the people to love God with all their minds.
We, too, need God’s vision right now.  We have seen how the church has struggled and declined in recent years.  This is our opportunity to let God fill our imaginations with hope!  The people are in despair as never before in our lifetimes.  God alone can give them hope for the future.  But we have to be willing to open our minds as a church to God’s leading.  God’s vision planted in our minds is enough!
God taught the people in the desert that their strength, daily and hourly, came from the divine hand and from no other way.  Only God could provide the manna and quail and water they needed to survive.  God led them and protected them from surrounding tribes.  God continually reminded them, “I am the one who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”  We hear it as merely a refrain, but it was a truly astonishing miracle that the people experienced in real time. As one of my friends like to say, “God is large and in charge!”  The people could love God with all their strength because God gave them enough!
Today we feel our lack of strength so desperately.  Our bank accounts may not be enough once the reality of the crisis hits.  If we catch the virus, there may not be enough treatment to keep us alive.  Our security has been misplaced in our money, our status, our families, our health.  We are realizing that we are all going to die.  Our security does not lie in immortality, as hard as we fight to avoid death.
We read it Psalm 103 that we are here on earth for only a moment.  Everything keeps changing, including us.  We are born, we grow up, we face trials and tragedies, we die.  But the psalmist reminds us that we are held in the midst of all this change by a God who loves us deeply and eternally.  Our security is in God, in God’s love alone.  We can love God with all of our strength because God is indeed enough to secure our future, no matter what happens and when.
When I went to a strange land far away, I felt helpless at first.  Much of the time, the people around me were speaking a language I didn’t understand.  I had to trust the love and hospitality of my hosts.  I had to lean into the reality of God’s presence and love for me.  God gave me enough in my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength to not only survive there, but to thrive.  Not only that, but God took me back there three more times, to learn more and more.  I hope I get to go return.  My experiences there have informed my faith, and my entire life.  When you learn that God is enough in one place, you trust that God is enough everywhere. 
There are treasures in this wilderness time of 2020.  But in order to see them, you have to let go of your pining for the past.  It is gone.  I believe one of the greatest treasures is one we may not have appreciated for a long, long time.  It is the gift of Sabbath, which holds much more than a few hours of rest.  It is a way of life to remind us that God is enough for us, now and always.  Lynn Ungar says it well in her poem titled “Pandemic.” 
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
Used by permission.