Tensions in the WildernessPosted: September 21, 2014
Tensions in the Wilderness
SLIDE 3: WE LIKE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT LEADERSHIP
People are always complaining. And they like to complain most about leadership. Whatever is happening something isn’t right or the way they want it and it is the fault of leadership. Save people from slavery and bondage and they complain of hunger and thirst, never trusting that God will provide enough. I don’t know if the Exodus narrative is absolutely factual, but it is certainly true. “Moses, we don’t have enough to eat. Moses, we don’t have enough to drink. Moses this freedom thing is just too hard.”
SLIDE 4: FREE BUT LOST ON THE WAY
As Bill Tucker likes to say, “Establishing blame is the first criteria for working on a problem. It’s your fault!” In so many ways the followers of Jesus are like the children of Israel trudging through the wilderness. In the words of the prayer of confession this morning: We are driven by dreams, hungry for faith, lonely with doubt, a mingling of saint and sinner, free but lost on the way. Like the Israelites in the wilderness we are free, but lost on the way.
SLIDE 5: STRUGGLING FOR A VISION OF THE FUTURE
We are struggling for a vision of the future, and we cannot see the way forward clearly. In all directions we see wilderness and we are afraid we do not have the resources to survive. In our desperation we want to blame one another. How did we get here? Life was good back then and over there, but we cannot go back to the past. We cannot go back to Egypt.
SLIDE 6: YOUR PROMISED LAND MIGHT NOT BE MY PROMISED LAND
So here we are like it or not in the present moment seeking a way through the wilderness of uncertainty, in what seems like an alien and changing culture, and I believe the example of Moses and the children of Israel in the their wandering in the desert can give us some clues how to find a way forward. First, let us be honest and acknowledge that there are tensions, when a group tries to find its way forward in uncertain times. If we were only responsible for ourselves, and all we need do is choose a direction and go that way, we would eventually arrive somewhere. But when we are traveling in community, inevitably there is more than one opinion about the way we should go, and we may not have agreement about where we ought to end up. Your promised land may not be my promised land.
SLIDE 7: WE MIGHT NOT AGREE ON THE ROUTE
Even if we could agree on the final destination, we might not concur upon the route. You might want a more expeditious road, while I prefer a more scenic path, or your appetite for risk may go way beyond my threshold for caution. Also the more people we include in the caravan the more differing needs and opinions will become factored into planning our itinerary. A dozen people all pointing in different directions is likely to lead to paralysis.
SLIDE 8: EMPOWER LEADERSHIP OR STAND STILL
Empowering leadership is important in order to avoid standing still. Followership is every bit as important as leadership. If we follow an “every person for him or herself” strategy, then the group will not survive. One of the great challenges of diversity and freedom is whether or not a truly diverse and autonomous collection of people can even become a community.
SLIDE 9: GIVING UP AUTONOMY TO INVEST IN COMMUNITY
So the first tension we must resolve in the wilderness is whether or not we can find enough people willing to give up some of their autonomy to invest in community. The people of Israel took forty years of wandering in the wilderness to resolve that issue. In the desert, the cowards never started and the weak died along the way. In seeking to become the people of God the egotistical never start and the self-centered die off on the journey to community. The Body of Christ is an investment of self in order to follow the way of Jesus, unless we lose ourselves we will never become the community of faith.
SLIDE 10: GUIDED BY PRAYER
The second tension in finding our way through the wilderness is we must allow ourselves to be guided by prayer. The more we trust our own wisdom. The more we assume we are the smartest people on the planet, the more we will become lost in the wilderness. God knows the way. Prayer can open our eyes to see God’s way, when there seems to be no way.
As a community of faith we must devote ourselves to prayer. How often? Every day. How long? At least thirty minutes. Only when we take time out of our busy schedules and open ourselves to our connection with the divine can we be led by a wisdom beyond ourselves. We also need to pray in community in worship, and also before every meeting and event. We need to constantly remind ourselves that God is God and we are not. Our way forward will come from divine inspiration.
SLIDE 11: TRUST GOD FOR THE RESOURCES
Our third tension in our journey through the wilderness is learning to trust God for guidance and resources. Suppose we pray and don’t immediately receive any insight? We have to be willing to trust that if we continue in prayer the inspiration will come. We also have to trust God for the resources we need to accomplish our mission.
SLIDE 12: GETTING ALONG ON GOD’S ENOUGH
Over and over again I hear people say, “We have to run the church like a business.” But the community of faith is not our business, it is God’s enterprise. And we have to learn to trust that if God is in it, God will provide. Like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness who were given quail and manna, we have to trust that God will provide for our needs. Of course that means we have to adjust our expectations to learn to get along with God’s enough. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But we assume that is not enough and we want tomorrow’s bread, and next week’s bread, and next year’s bread in reserve. We want money in the bank and a cushion besides, while Jesus is saying to us: “Consider the birds, how God feeds them, or the lilies of the field, how God robes them in splendor, and who among us can add even a cubit to our span of life by worrying?”
If we are about the mission God has given us, to be a blessing to all the earth, then the resources to make that happen will be provided. Again, like manna no more than we need. Remember from our scripture: “Gather the manna, every one of you, as much as you can eat; you shall take an omer apiece, according to the number of the persons whom each of you has in your tent. And the people of Israel did so; they gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, the person who gathered much had nothing over, and the one who gathered little had no lack.” Trust God to provide enough and learn to be content with God’s “enough.”
SLIDE 13: THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST STUFF
The truth is most of us need a little less “enough.” We eat too much and we have too much stuff. I am reminded of the picture of the treasures of King Tut’s tomb with the caption: “The one who dies with the most stuff wins.” Once we are dead, stuff doesn’t mean very much. Sort of like the wisdom Rabbi Ballon imparted to me before he died. “When I was young, I had more time than money. Now I have more money than time.”
SLIDE 14: TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN A YELLOW WOOD
That brings me to the fourth tension on the journey through the wilderness, considering the road less traveled in Robert Frost’s poem:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
SLIDE 15: WAY OF FAITH TENDS TO BE THE LESS TRAVELED BY
Frost wisely leaves it up to our imaginations the meaning of the two roads and what difference the choice has made. I believe the message for congregations is that our life as a faith community is made up of thousands of choices people make individually and corporately. Sometimes we are not even aware of making choices. The way of faith tends to be less traveled by. As a diverse collection of people we are challenged to make the decision give up some of our autonomy to invest in community. The path less traveled by is not the road back to Egypt, but the way through the wilderness. The way of tension living on the edge of enough — praying, gathering manna and moving forward even when we cannot fully see the way ahead. For God has called us to be a blessing here in the Tennessee Valley a progressive congregation sharing the vision of diversity, where everyone is welcome at the Sharing Table of Jesus.