“There Is Enough!” Numbers 21:4-9 March 11, 2018
Endless complaining. It starts from the very beginning and it never seems to end. Here we are in the book of Numbers, near enough to the Promised Land that we might expect the Israelites to have pulled themselves together, figured out how to live, or at least to have discontinued their relentless complaining, but No!
That’s not how we work, is it? That’s not how we’re built.
For us the grass is always greener; the whole garden is never enough, not when there’s one tree smack in the middle that we aren’t allowed to touch. “If I just had that one tree, just one bite at the fruit, then I know I’d be satisfied.”
Ever felt that way before? Can we be satisfied? Can anything ever be enough?
After all, here we are in the Book of Numbers, decades into their desert wandering, after the dramatic escape from Egypt. And what were the Israelites running from? The endless toil of Pharaoh, the relentless striving of more bricks, even when there is no straw.
There was never enough for Pharaoh. They were slaves to Pharaoh’s “never enough.” Pharaoh always wants more – more pyramids, more storage for more grain and more security.
Ever heard of anyone who’s a slave to their stuff, to their work, or to their bills? Do you know anybody who is a slave to security, to feeling safe? They tend to take it out on the people around them, don’t they? Just like Pharaoh.
And these Israelites were rescued from all that by a God who commanded them to rest. Rescued from all that by a God who knew that Sabbath is the only means of satisfaction.
Because God made the world from nothing, with nothing, and so nothing could never really be a threat. If nothing, just a black and empty void, was plenty to make all that is, then there is enough. All around us there is enough.
But that’s not how we work is it? That’s not how we’re built. For us, there is never enough. And so, we complain in our own way. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water. And we detest this miserable food.”
We’ve been complaining about hunger for a while now. After the Red Sea splashed back together we took just a minute to give thanks, but from that time forward, we have been complaining about our hunger; about how things are in our lives today.
We are afraid there isn’t enough, that there isn’t going to be enough. As if the God who brought the world into being couldn’t provide food enough for the people.
The story is the same, from beginning to end. Manna falls from heaven, and it isn’t enough. There is no food; it is detestable food: it isn’t enough. The whole blessed garden, save that one tree there in the middle: it isn’t enough.
What will be enough? Maybe going back to Egypt. “Even our slavery to Pharaoh was better than what we’ve got now. At least then we knew what each day would bring. Now we don’t know where our next meal is coming from…except that God said it would come.”
Complaint after victory; complaint after complaint. No water, no food, bad water, bad food. Moses can never satisfy them; God’s own self can never satisfy them. Complain, complain, & complain. And then a plague of serpents, biting and poisonous. And they blamed God.
They figured that after all their complaining, God must have conspired with Moses to bring these snakes out among them. Not a bad theory. But, it’s one that I don’t particularly like nor agree with. I don’t like to think about God calling down snakes on anybody, even the whiny and the grumpy.
But they pretty much figured it had to be God. And so, they went to Moses demanding an answer. “You’re pals with God; you figure this out; you got us into this mess; you get us out of this mess.”
I don’t like it, but they were as sure as they could be: God did it and God could make it right. I wonder why they were so sure. I wonder why I am so sure that God wants nothing to do with snakes and petty retribution.
Cameron Howard of Luther Seminary says this about the Hebrew people and what they knew of God. She writes, “The Hebrews who wandered through the wilderness did not experience God as a safe and comfortable companion. In the great showdown with Pharaoh, God sends ten vicious plagues to show the superiority of the God of Israel over Egypt’s gods, including Pharaoh. On the way out of Egypt, God appears as a terrifying pillar of cloud and fire. God thunders on the mountain in fire and smoke, terrifying all who witness it. These are not the images of God that call us to snuggle up in God’s everlasting arms, ‘safe and secure from all alarms.’”
The truth is, it’s God, and so anything is possible. Even if you took the Bible literally, anything is possible. God sends serpents bent on vengeance. God sends his only Son, bent on love. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved…” (John 3:17)
One liners about God are rarely any good, but one of my favorites comes from Theologian & writer Walter Brueggemann who writes, “God is not useful.”
You see, God will not be used, not by those seeking their best life now, not by those who pretend that judgement is the end and not mercy. God will just show up in lives, often uninvited, ready…or not.
We are of two minds about God. On the one hand, God sends poisonous serpents to smite evil doers. On the other hand, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved…”
There’s the God we bargain with, as if goodness or mercy were a thing to be traded. Then there’s the God who finds us when we come to the end of all our accounts, finds us and makes us live, no matter the cost.
The truth is, this is a story about God, and so redemption is always around the bend; always around the corner. Those bitten by the snakes had only to look on a bronze serpent, and they would be healed.
Funny how that works. If you’ll turn and face the thing that’s “killing” you, a lot of times you won’t be dying any more. Instead of getting sick to our stomachs with, “It’s not enough, I’m not enough, there will never be enough,” we can turn, & look, and face the very things that make us feel like there isn’t enough.
But it’s hard, next to impossible really, to face the truth, not when there’s mortgages and dance recitals and laundry and mystifying coworkers and a cat who consistently misses the litter box and work or school deadlines and biopsy reports and soccer pictures an hour before the next game. When all that is going on, I’m pretty sure that there isn’t enough of me to go around.
Maybe that’s the point. There ISN’T enough of me. But there is enough of God. Enough of God’s creative power, all that power that took nothing and made everything.
There is enough.
Resurrection didn’t end on Easter Sunday all those years ago; it began, just got started for all of us who can’t ever believe that there is enough, which is all of us who have ever lived, all the way back to the story was about two people, and a whole garden.
There has been enough and there will be enough. Enough love, enough redemption, enough salvation, & enough life.
What if it worked like this?
Like there was nothing, just a black nothing, and into that nothing God said, “Let there be light.” And it happened, just because God said so.
It would be as if the strongest, oldest, prettiest ones never got chosen, but instead the weakest, youngest, least likely ones were chosen first.
It would be as if God came and met Moses out in the middle of nowhere, while God was just going about business, not because Moses was looking for God, but because God was looking for Moses.
As if when Jesus died, after everyone had run out on him and betrayed him and really never been much good at following him anyway, as if after getting raised, Jesus did not go looking for a better group, but instead came right back to that same sorry lot who didn’t quite understand what was going on.
It would be as if God said, “Death isn’t the end,” and then started rolling away stones and emptying every grave of every kind.
It would be as if the word written on the throne of God was not “judgment” but “mercy.”
What if all that were true? Would it be enough?
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory. Amen.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, March 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 3-11-18” name of the sermon.