Friday, October 7, 2011

Where Can I Be A Gate?

Exodus 32:1-14 and Philippians 4:1-9          
       Our scripture readings both deal with intercession.  In simple terms a person who intercedes stands between two opposing forces and brings peace and protection.  I was reminded that at one point Christ referred to himself as the gate in a sheep hold.  He stood between the sheep and the wild animals and thieves who would come to do harm to the sheep.  This is intercession.
       Our message from the Hebrew Bible is an interesting story that has so many possible sermons in it.  We could talk about how quickly these people turned their backs on the God who saved them from slavery.  We could build a sermon around Aaron who so easily gave in to the pressure of the people.  We could focus on the righteous wrath of God toward this ungrateful congregation of freed slaves.  However, the thing that jumped out at me years ago when I first read this account was that Moses argued with God and God relented!
       Let us take a look here starting in verse 7 “God said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything.”
       Did you catch that?  God told Moses “YOUR people whom YOU brought out of Egypt
       I want to ask the parents in the crowd to ‘fess up to something.  When the kids have just done something that just got on your last nerve, have you turned to your spouse and said, “YOUR kids are driving me nuts!”  Not MY kid or OUR kids but YOUR kids.
       God is saying that they’ve already turned from the way He commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve already made idols for themselves and said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.’ ” 
       God is saying to Moses, “You haven’t even had a chance to take them the commandments that I’ve given you and they’ve already broken three of them! “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with.
       They are impossible to deal with!  I have four children of my own.  I love them each dearly.  I remember telling someone that I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them.  However there are days I would have given you the SET for free! That is not true of coarse but, in a way, I can relate to the frustration that God is feeling.  Here He is just moments from fulfilling everything that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Here is the NATION that God had said would come from their seed.  This plan had been in process for over four hundred years.  In just a short time they would reach the promised land.  Land that God had made rich for them (remember “a land flowing with milk and honey”?). 
       God had brought Moses to the mountain to give them ten laws (the shortest list of laws that any nation has ever had to live by) and during that very time, they had turned to worshiping a god created by their own hands.  No wonder God was saddened and disappointed by this ungrateful and unfaithful mob of people.
       God’s plan had been irreversible changed by the very nation that He had brought into existence.  He was ready to go to plan B. So He said, “Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them.”
       Gasp! What?  But God is a loving God who is willing to forgive over and over and over! (Remember Jesus saying to Peter that he had to be willing to forgive seventy-seven times?)
       Yes He is.  However, He has limits.  Remember the story of Noah begins with God saying nearly the same thing.  The people have become so far gone that He decides to tear it all down and start over – again!  He had been pushed past that 78th time!
       Then God promises Moses the same thing that He had told Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob; “I’ll make YOU into a great nation.”
       Moses could have done the same thing that his ancestors did, accept the covenant from God.  But instead Moses pleaded with the Lord his God.  He becomes the gate between God and the nation of Israel when he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?”
       Moses reminded God that it was God and not he, Moses, who brought these people out of Egypt.
       Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people.
       Moses said to God, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.’ ”
       Moses reminded God that it was God who had made the original covenant and then repeated it to successive generations of Abraham’s line.  This was not a contract that men had made with God.  This was a contract that God had made with men and could not be broken.
       So the Lord reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.
       God reconsidered.  God relented because Moses interceded for the people.  This vast multitude of people would have perished without the persistent prayer of this one man.  God listened.
       In the new testament reading Paul asks the congregation at Philipi keep their relationship with the Lord firm! And he encouraged both
Eu-o`-di-a and Syn`-ty-che to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have.
       There was a division in this church that was destroying it.  God’s plan for this people was in jeopardy of being destroyed by the people themselves.
       Paul intercedes and becomes an advocate on behalf of the whole congregation by reminding the ‘combatants’ to be open to the love that God intends them of have.  He is asking them to look past their differences and remember that they are both children of God and should love each other as family.
       Then Paul gives them guidelines on how to achieve this harmony.  He says, “Always be joyful in the Lord!”  That is so important that he repeats it by saying, “I’ll say it again: Be joyful!’     Remember the image of the gate on the sheep hold?  Paul is standing between the sheep and the wolf and saying, “Be joyful in the Lord!”  What amazing insight!  How can there be conflict where there is the joy of the Lord?
       So step one is joy. Step two is being considerate.  Being considerate means that you look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
       Now step three is never worry about anything.  You know what worry is?  Worry is the interest that the Devil charges on a debt you don’t owe.  Worry is nonproductive waste of time and energy.
       It is easy to say, “Don’t worry.”  But how do we do that?   Paul explains, “In every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks.”  Turn it over to God.  Leave it in His hands and trust that He will turn it to good.
       Here is the good news.  If we follow these simple steps, then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard our thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.
       Paul’s final thoughts on this conflict resolution are, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.”
       As you read the Bible it is very easy to find examples of people of God stepping into situations where they became the gate between warring people and factions and brought about a peaceful settlement; examples where righteous people have provided shelter for the weak and guidance to the hurtful.
In my own life I can think of times when someone has stepped in to do intercessory work on my behalf.  I’m sure that you can think of examples in your life also
       We know that we have an intercessor in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and acts as an advocate for us.  This same Christ commands that we do the same for others.  We are to be the bringers of peace and love to the world. We need to look for opportunities to be gates in the sheep hold.  Amen

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