Sermon for September 30th, 2018
I don’t know about you, but when I go to the doctor I want him or her to fix my problem. Diagnose my problem, tell me what’s wrong or why I am sick, give me the proper medication or schedule the surgery or procedure and let me get on with my life. That is what I am paying you for, isn’t it? You’ve got the education, the credentials, the prescription pad and the scalpel, so please use them and make me feel better.
What I find irritating (and maybe some of you do too) is when I go to a doctor and they look at me and say “this is what YOU need to do to get healthy. You need to lay off the dairy, cut back on the salt, drink less, exercise more, take a multivitamin, take control of your desires and impulses, etc..” Or worse yet, the doctor will tell you that you just have to wait for this to pass or for your body to heal. No, I want a doctor that will fix my problems, not one that gives me homework. But doctors do it all the time, you go to them for their expert advice, and time and time again they send you away with a list of things that you need to do. It’s very irritating; I wish they’d quit doing that.
But of course, we know they can’t. Doctors can do things for us in moments of great crisis, but when it comes to our day to day health, we are the ones that have to do the heavy lifting. Doctors can give us advice and direction and expertise and wisdom, but they can’t exercise for us and they can’t eat our vegetables for us. We know that. We may get a little frustrated that our problems don’t have easy fixes, but deep down I think we understand that there are necessary limits on what a doctor can do for us. If we really want to be healthy, at some point we must take responsibility. A good doctor will help us take responsibility for our own health. There are some things the doctor just can’t do for you.
We understand that when it comes to our physical health; but I don’t think we always understand that when it comes to our spiritual health.
In our passage from Numbers today, Moses is at the end of his rope. He is ready to quit. He has heard one complaint too many and it is a complaint that he has already heard: “We’re hungry! We want meat! We used to have meat when we lived in Egypt! There is nothing here to eat!” And on and on and on. Moses has heard all this before. They complained about not having food before and Moses prayed and God gave them Manna. They complained about not having water and Moses struck the rock and there was water. Each time there was a crisis, the people complained, Moses prayed, God sent a miracle and the problem was solved.
But this time is different.
This time is different, because unlike those other times when the people complained, this time there is no crisis. The people aren’t starving. There is no mention of a lack of water. They don’t have Pharaoh’s army on their heals. They have plenty of food; they have the manna from God, which they don’t even have to work for, they just have to pick it up. And the Bible says that they made it into cakes that tasted like rich cream. I have to tell you, I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but if I had to survive by eating cake every day, I would persevere.
There is no real crisis here, the people just do not want to control their own desires. They don’t want to endure or adapt. They don’t want what God has given them. They want to make it to the promised land, but they want Moses to carry them there crying all the way. Moses can’t do it. It’s not that he doesn’t want to. He simply can’t. Just like a doctor can’t force us to eat right, Moses can’t force people to eat the food that God has given them. He can intercede on behalf for the food, which is what he did before, but now that the food is all around, he can’t make them eat it. These are God’s children, and God’s children have free will. As long as God’s children have free will neither God nor any of his prophets and servants can force them to do anything. They can only lead. It’s like the only saying you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Moses has lead the Israelites to food, but he can’t force them to eat it.
God shows Moses that a different type of leadership is called for now. Moses isn’t just called to intervene anymore, now he is called to empower. He is charged to raise up leaders within the community. He learns that he need to help others to take responsibility for the spiritual health of the community, and ultimately he realizes that each and every individual has to take some ownership over their own walk with God. He can still provide direction, but getting to the Promised Land will require them to put one foot in front of the other themselves.
In James’s epistle this morning he says: “are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” In the gospel this morning Jesus says if you find something in your life that is a stumbling block to your walk with God, then you need to remove it. A priest or pastor can pray for you, but no priest or pastor can do YOUR praying for you. We all must take some responsibility for our community life and for our own walk with God. Yes we still need leaders, just like we still need doctors, for wisdom, guidance, expertise, direction and even for intervention in times of crisis. James also said, that if you are sick (that is, in times of crisis), you need to call the elders of the church, but when it comes to our day to day spiritual health and our walk with God, there comes a point where we have to take responsibility for receiving what God has given us.
When it comes to our spiritual health, just like our physical health, there are some things the doctor just can’t do for you.