Sermon Disclaimer: This sermon was given to our churches as we are about to come together for worship and face the challenges of two separate congregations sharing one space. Hopefully, though, this sermon will inspire you to turn to God always in your valleys.
We are in a valley.
Even though we have much to be thankful for, it feels like we have been in a valley and maybe, right now especially, at the very lowest part of that valley. So many people have passed away lately. So many people who at one time or another contributed much to the life of our church. We have been struggling financially, both churches. First UMC is about to run out of money and Palm UMC just lost a big source of revenue and help when the Apostolic Church that was renting from them told us last week that they would no longer be able to continue. Starting a church is even more high risk that starting a restaurant these days. Our membership, in both churches, has not been this low for probably 50 years or more. At First, their 200-seat sanctuary was once filled to capacity. I still don’t know where all those people parked. At Palm, it seems lately that more and more of our pews sit empty. We are in a valley. When is it time for OUR deliverance?
I think we read some of the stories in the Old Testament and wonder when will our miracle happen?
It seemed to happen regularly for people in the Bible. We’re going to hear one of these miraculous tales in worship today, so if you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phones, please go to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament beginning with chapter 16, verse 11. Exodus 16:11. This takes place soon after the parting of the Red Sea and the Israelites escape from Egypt. If you remember, Moses led the people out of slavery from Egypt and pharaoh wasn’t very happy about it. He pursued the Israelites until they reached the Red Sea and crossed it safely, while his own forces were demolished. The Israeli people were free! But then they had other problems. After three days without water, the people began to grumble and wondered if this was such a good idea and God led them to water. But that only solved one of their problems. A couple of weeks later, they didn’t have any food and again they complained about their situation saying it would have been better to have been in slavery with a full stomach than free without food. So this is what happened next.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
We hear these stories and we can’t help but wonder, when will it rain manna down on us?
When will God start pouring down answers to our problems like he did for the Israelites in the desert or like he did for Gideon when he defeated the armies of his enemies or help us make everlasting bread as he did for Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath? We read about these miraculous stories of salvation and we wonder, where is God in OUR lives? Isn’t our valley deep enough? How deep does it have to be before God steps in to save us? I think the answer is – he already did. He already did. So often we are looking for evidence of God in some sort of miraculous event but we completely forget that he already did it in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our salvation comes in the form of Christ who died to save us from our sins, to restore us in the eyes of God, and to bring us new hope. And when he left, he brought to us the Holy Spirit, who resides within all of us. And we know these things because God inspired us to collect these stories and teachings into a book we call the Bible. THAT is our manna from Heaven. The love of Christ, the company of the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. THAT is our manna from Heaven.
God hopes that we look for him in every part of our lives.
He’s not done performing miracles. It’s just different now than it was back then. Through the Holy Spirit, God uses his people to do some pretty amazing stuff. The problem is we are not always receptive to seeing it. We keep looking for the BIG miracles, the “parting-of-the-Red-Sea” miracles, without realizing that God is active in our lives every day. Too often we are locked into seeing the world from our point of view when we need to see it with fresh eyes. That was the case in an episode of The West Wing when President Bartlett seeks counsel from the priest of the parish he attended when growing up. The President is feeling trapped by a tough decision he has to make and says that he’s often prayed for wisdom and none has ever come. The priest shares with him this story:
You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well… the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?” God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What are you doing here?” He sent you a priest, a rabbi, and a Quaker, Mr. President. Not to mention his son, Jesus Christ. What do you want from him?
Sometimes the answers are all around us. We just need to learn how to see it.
How many of you were afraid to open your eyes underwater? I was. I can admit it. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of – maybe that the water would hurt my eyes, maybe that the chlorine would damage my sight, whatever it was, I didn’t want to do it. Sure enough the first time I opened them underwater, for that brief millisecond, it DID hurt! But I didn’t go blind. I still couldn’t see anything, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It took a few more tries before I was able to keep them open, but when I finally did, it opened up a whole new way of looking at the world. That’s what it’s like to finally see the world with a God point of view. The world is a little bit different. We get a different perspective. But for whatever reason, maybe fear, maybe stubbornness, we don’t want to do it. We hesitate. And it limits our vision. But when we finally decide to take the plunge and open up our eyes, we can see God in all sorts of ways we couldn’t see him before. trust in something To see God’s work in the world, we have to look at it with different eyes. We have to be able to see things from a different perspective.
Where is God leading us?
Maybe in a direction that we don’t want to see. Maybe God is challenging us to open up in new and different ways. Or maybe God is telling us that our time is done. Every church has a beginning and an end and there is no shame in that. And if ours ended at this time, we could look back at it as having been a huge success. Think of all the people who have come to have faith in Jesus because of the efforts of this church. Think of the ways you’ve affected people in our community and in our world through your time and money and commitment. Open Gate Ministries, the missionaries we have supported, the projects. It has been an effort worthy of praise. And if that is the case, we should choose the best way for us to go out. The best way we can continue to lead people into a relationship with God. We could do that by supporting a new church start. We could do that by becoming a sister church to a church that could use our support. But maybe, just maybe, God isn’t done with us yet. Maybe God is calling us to do something different. What if the closing of the apostolic church isn’t an opportunity lost, but an opportunity gained? It gives us a chance to be more flexible in our worship times. It gives us more space and more storage opportunities. It allows us to perhaps rethink our plans for outreach. I am hoping that in the weeks to come, we will all be actively praying about the future of our church. We will seek to open our eyes to what God is doing in and through us. And we will be ready to respond when we know God’s will for us. We’re constantly hoping for manna to fall from the skies to save us from our plight, but maybe the manna is already on the ground waiting for us to pick it up. Let us pray.
God of miracles, we know that you have done a great many works in us already. Our two churches have been a blessing to this community many times over. Through your love and grace, you have used our willing hands and feet to help lead others to you. But now we are at a critical time in the life of our churches. We need you to help us see the world as you see it, to see your plans laid out before us. We pray Lord that you will lead us not where we want to go, but where you want us to go and that we will have eyes to see and ears to hear. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.