November 8, 2020 Sermon
“The Forest For the Trees: Done”
1st Scripture Reading – Numbers 11:10-15
10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
2nd Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:28-30
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“The Forest for the Trees: Done”
When you remember Moses, how do you remember him?
- Do you remember him as a mighty “prince of Egypt” in accordance with the name of the Disney movie based on his life?
- Do you remember him as the man who encountered God in the burning bush? Sure, he argued with God a bit in that encounter, even said “no” to God a few times, but eventually went along with God’s plan and traveled back to Egypt to deliver God’s people.
- Do you remember him as the man who demonstrated God’s power before Pharaoh, unleashing the power of 10 devastating but miraculous plagues?
- Do you remember him as God’s mighty Deliverer, as the man who, with God’s help, delivered God’s people out of Egyptian slavery and to the edge of the Promised Land?
- Do you remember him as the man who stretched his hand out over the Red Sea…and the sea divided…and then as the man who stretched his hand out over the sea again, and the sea returned to normal, thereby crushing the entire Egyptian army?
- Do you remember him as the man whose appearance changed – his face began to shine – after spending time on the mountain with God?
- Do you remember him as the only one of all the Israelites of his time who could stand to be close enough to God’s presence to talk with God and hear God’s voice?
- Do you remember him as the man who listened as the mediator through whom God gave God’s law to God’s people, as the man who listened and wrote down God’s law to be shared with all of Israel?
- Do you remember him as the man who continued to lead God’s people and perform miraculous works on the journey toward the promised land – turning bitter water sweet, bringing water out of rocks, turning the tide of war by lifting his hands, quenching the fire of death kindled by God’s anger, stopping a plague that killed thousands of people?
Do you remember Moses as a man who did amazing things, performed amazing deeds, or do you remember Moses as he is presented in our reading from Numbers today, as a man who was so DONE, so burnt out by his work for God and by the stress of trying to minister to, for, and on behalf of God’s people, Israel, that he was ready to die? Not just ready to die, but BEGGING God to let him die, telling God that letting Moses die – striking Moses down, actually – would be showing God’s favor but that allowing Moses to live would be ensuring Moses’ continued misery.
Today is the sixth Sunday of a 7-week long sermon series entitled “forest for the trees.” Throughout my ministry, it has been very easy to feel like we in Christ’s Universal Church struggle with seeing the forest for the trees. So, God has directed me to offer a sermon series to help you – help us – wrestle with this issue, to help you – help us – prayerfully seek discernment about what constitutes the forest and what constitutes the trees…at this moment in human history.
You might recall that what I’ll refer to as “the forest” during this series is what Jesus was primarily about and so what God calls Christ’s Church to primarily be about…which is communicating the gospel of God’s grace, communicating the message that God offers us life when we by our sins deserve death. And I’ve told you that another way to state Jesus’ primary purpose is in terms of ushering in God’s kingdom here on earth, God’s kingdom, of course, being the place where everyone does the will of our God who is graceful.
Presently, we’re in the midst of looking at some of the trees that get in the way of our focusing on that amazing forest of God’s grace. In these sermons, we’re looking at the trees God identified in the scriptures, particularly looking at how these trees manifest themselves today, how they distract us from our primary purpose in this time and place. AND, we’ll be looking to see what we can learn from the scriptures about how to overcome the distractions, how to look past the trees and get our focus back on the forest, back on our primary purpose.
Today’s tree is one of the most biblical of trees but one I don’t think we spend much time considering – it’s the tree of being DONE. I don’t think we spend much time considering this as a biblical tree because we have a tendency to lift up the heroic deeds of God’s faithful people in the scriptures, which also results in our minimizing or even glossing over the reality that so many of God’s faithful people in the scriptures are presented as having moments when they just felt done; they had given God all they could give and were ready to cry “no more, God; I’m done!”
- Remember Jonah? Jonah was a great prophet of God whose ministry saved the lives of more than 100,000 people…that we know about. He was “done” on multiple occasions. He was done when God called him to go to Nineveh; he went the other way. He was done when he was on a boat while a terrible storm was brewing…so he asked to be thrown into the sea. He was done after God showed mercy to and saved the Ninehvites; he was so done he asked God to allow him to die. Jonah was done.
- Remember Elijah? Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of God who performed amazing miracles like defeating the prophets of Baal in an amazing battle of the prophets. But not long after that amazing miracle – and a few others along the way – Elijah was “done”. He was fleeing from Jezebel, the queen who had killed almost all the other prophets of God – and Elijah was ready to give up; Elijah asked God to take his life. Elijah was done.
- Remember Job, a man described as “blameless and upright”, a man who turned toward God and away from evil? After all his property was destroyed and all his servants and children died, Job was done; he wanted to die. Worse, Job wanted to reverse the day of his birth – to make it so he would have never been born. Job was done.
- Remember David, the greatest king of Israel? Throughout the psalms attributed to David, we read of David feeling “done”. So often in his life, David encountered difficulties; they’re described throughout 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. In Psalm 22, in the midst of but one of those difficult circumstances, David describes himself as “poured out like water”. To be “pureed out like water” – sounds pretty done to me.
- And remember Moses? Despite all the amazing things God had done through Moses – things I imagine most of us would give just about anything to have had happen to us – Moses couldn’t stand leading God’s people anymore. They kept complaining; they kept FORGETTING God’s presence among them and God’s acts on behalf of them. And Moses was done.
And yet, this being done thing, this being done tree, it doesn’t have to manifest itself in your wanting to die – like it did with these heroes of the Bible. No, I think for us it manifests itself more often in us just being so tired, so burnt out, as a result of our efforts to follow Jesus that we close ourselves off to God, close ourselves off to whatever it is that God might be calling us to do in the moment:
- I’ve known so many people who work tirelessly to help those in response to God’s call that they wake up one day just burned out, feeling like they have no energy left to give. Too often, instead of just taking a break for a day or a week, they decide to stop helping people in response to God’s call ALTOGETHER. Everything they had been living for – everything that gives them life – they decide to leave behind.
- I’ve known so many people who spend every Sunday going to worship…for years and years and years. And they enjoy worshipping God every Sunday, but they also see their friends and neighbors doing something else. And then, one day, they decide to do something else…just once. And it feels good. They realize they’ve become burned out with worshipping every Sunday; they discover they are done. So they leave regular worship; they leave the church, often never to return.
- I’ve known so many people who take time daily for prayer and Bible reading or weekly for Bible study…who suddenly decide they’ve been living too much for God and not enough for something else…they see or hear all the stuff their friends and family have been doing on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights and, at some point, they decide they want to check out what they’ve been missing…and they don’t want to miss those things anymore; they’re done.
- And I’ve known so many people who serve in various leadership capacities within the Church – Board officers, elders, deacons, committee chairpeople, committee members, men’s or women’s group leadership – they serve in leadership positions of their local congregations for years, always saying “yes” when asked to serve some more…and they wake up one day with nothing left to give, very much like Moses. They’re done. Instead of lightening their load a bit, one day they just say “enough is enough” or their health gives out…and they completely stop doing these things for which they had been living for so long.
This being done thing is real…today. It’s not something confined to the Bible. And it’s most definitely not an indication of being a “bad” person or a non-Christian person. It happened to the heroes of the faith, after all. And Jesus suggested in our second reading it would happen to us. If not, he would have had NO REASON to say “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus spoke these words precisely because he knew people would be done and need rest.
And this being done thing, this being done tree, I hope you can see how it gets in the way of us seeing the forest, the big picture of the gospel of God’s grace and the ushering in of God’s kingdom.
- It’s rather difficult to focus on God’s grace, it’s rather difficult to even see or recognize God’s grace, when you’re so burnt out that you stop looking and listening for God at all.
- It’s pretty much impossible to participate in ushering in God’s kingdom – which, remember, is the place where people do God’s will – when you shut yourself off to God’s will or shut yourself off to acting in accordance with God’s will…which is what happens when we’re done.
Ok. So, this being done thing – this being done tree – is real. We do get burned out. We do get so tired in our efforts to follow Jesus that we can feel like we’re done. And we do so precisely because we’re trying to do what Jesus told us to do – we’re trying to follow him, even take up our cross to follow him. So…what can we do? How can we NOT allow this tree to get in the way of our focusing on what really matters, our focusing on following Jesus, when it’s our focusing on following Jesus that places this tree in front of us in the first place?
Not surprisingly, if you’ve been following this sermon series, the answer is simple – not necessarily easy to follow, but simple. And the answer can be found in both of our readings for today.
Let’s consider the gospel reading first. Jesus TOLD us how to prevent this tree from getting in the way. When we’re weary, when we feel like we’re carrying heavy burdens, when we feel done, Jesus told us to GO TO HIM and he would give us rest for our souls. It seems a bit odd to me that Jesus would tell us his “yoke is light”…since it’s so often his yoke of taking up our cross to follow him that gets us to this place of feeling done in the first place. I suppose this is one of the many paradoxes of faith.
Maybe Jesus is trying to tell us that he’ll help us carry the burden…he’ll help us lighten the load…so that even though following him isn’t promised to be the easiest thing in the world – it can be quite taxing actually – if we take our feelings of weariness, of done-ness, to him, he will ease the burden.
In fact, going back to our scripture from Numbers, that appears to be something God had been doing for a very long time. What we didn’t read this morning is God’s response to Moses. Moses told God he was done, and God responded by providing what was necessary to help lighten Moses’ load. Hear the words of Numbers 11:16-17
16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 17 I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.
That’s what God DOES. In fact, it’s what God did throughout the scriptures when people of faith felt done…and then took their feelings of doneness to God. And, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it’s what God will do for you…if only you will take your feelings of done-ness to God instead of giving up on faith, giving up on God, and going in a different direction. So this solution, it might sound counterintuitive, but it’s really important: whenever you feel done as a result of your work for God, instead of running away from God, take those feelings TO God…like Moses AND Jonah AND Elijah AND Job AND David did. Instead of choosing to abandon God and God’s kingdom, choose instead to take your weariness and frustration to God. God can handle it. More than being able to handle it, God will give you whatever it is you actually NEED…so you can get back to living into the purpose for which God made you, the purpose for which God keeps calling and equipping you. Take your feelings of being done to God, and – just like God gave Moses some help to lighten his load – God will give you EXACTLY what you need to lighten your load, to feel done no more.