“What Can We Expect from God?”

Exodus 19:1   On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone
forth out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the
wilderness of Sinai. 3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to
him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of
Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You have seen what I did to the
Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to
myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my
covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the
earth is mine, 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation.

Rom. 5:2b …We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More
than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces
endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces
hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been
poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to
us.

Matt. 9:35   And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching
in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing
every disease and every infirmity. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had
compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep
without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is
plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 pray therefore the Lord of the
harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” …10:1   And he called to
him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits,
to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. 5
  These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the
Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the
lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And preach as you go, saying, ‘The
kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse
lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.”

What can we expect from God?

Some years ago, I was approached by a man who was disappointed with his
church. His pastor had promised that, if members of the congregation
would only tithe, God would visit them with a financial bonanza,
multiplying the remaining 90% many times over. My friend said, “I have
done my part; I have tithed; but I can see no evidence that God is
multiplying what I have left.” It was about this same time that I got
to know a young husband and wife who had just closed a business they had
loved, victims of the recession of 2008 They said, “We have continued
to pray, and go to church, but we have lost faith in the idea that
‘everything will come out alright in the end.” For them the end was not
the End of the World and the Triumph of God, but the end of a lifestyle
they had nurtured and loved.

After these conversations, and others like them, I found myself thinking
about how you, the members of this congregation, hear me. Though I have
discouraged “giving to get,” I have said that it is impossible to out
give God. That is the doctrine of the New Testament church and it is my
personal experience, too. Likewise, over the years, I have attempted
to comfort people with the word that God spoke to Israel through his
prophet in Jeremiah 29:11. “I know what plans I have for you,” says the
Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a
hope.” In using this text, I have always pointed out that God made this
promise primarily to the whole nation of Israel, not to us as
individuals. Nevertheless, I believe, and have openly declared that
this text contains a promise for individuals, too. How could I think
otherwise and continue to preach?

But enough about me. What does the Bible say that we can expect from
God? That is the unspoken question that the various texts of the
lectionary seem perfectly poised to answer. What can we expect from
God?

First, I would point out that according to Exodus 19, it perfectly
reasonable to expect that God will help us in the future, in the same
way that God has helped us in the past.

In Exodus 19, God speaks to the people of Israel through his servant
Moses to remind them that he bore them out of the slavery of Egypt to
himself “as on Eagle’s wings.” It is a metaphor. In point of fact, the
children of Israel did not fly out of Egypt they walked out of Egypt and
across the desert. This text is a metaphor, but it is hardly an
exaggeration. In Exodus 14 we read how the people of Israel were
trapped between the army of Egypt and the waters of a great inland sea.
But God caused a strong east wind to blow all night and the waters were
divided, and stood in a heap to the right and the left. And the people
of Israel went across the sea on dry ground; but when the armies of
Egypt followed them into the midst of the sea, the sea rushed back upon
itself, and all Pharaoh’s horses, and chariots, and horsemen, were
destroyed. This deliverance at the Sea is the central miracle of the
Old Testament. It gave the people of Israel an historical event in
their collective past, upon which to pin their hopes for the present and
future. Over and over again, when the people of Israel got into
trouble, their priests, prophets, and leaders encouraged them saying,
“Do not be afraid—remember what the LORD did for you when he delivered
you from the slavery of Egypt.” The meaning is clear: What God has done
before, God can do again.”

In the same way, the Resurrection of Jesus is the central miracle of the
New Testament. Christians live in the knowledge that the same Power
that took Jesus from the tomb is available to us, not just in the moment
of death, but in the midst of life. Thus in 2nd Corinthians 1:10 and
following, St. Paul describes a situation in which he and his companions
were so bitterly and unbearably crushed that they despaired of life
itself. “This,” he said, “was to make us rely not upon ourselves, but on
God who raises the dead.” He continues:

“God delivered us from so deadly a peril…. and…on him we have set our
hope that he will deliver us again.”

When we experience the faithfulness of God, we expect faithfulness from
God. Have you experienced the faithfulness of God? I think I have.

In the summer of 1973 while I was still in the Marines, I felt called to
ministry. By January of 1975, I was out of the service, and enrolled in
Asbury Seminary near Lexington, Kentucky. Uncle Sam had our household
goods in storage; but Elayne and I had not found a place to live. We
went to the Lexington, and spent two days looking; but found nothing we
could afford. At the end of two long days, we decided we would get a
good nights rest, and then take a break and visit my parents in nearby
Indiana. The next morning we were leaving town, when we said, “Well—God
has called us here. God will make a place for us.” So we decided to
drive back to the seminary, a distance of about 17 miles, and check one
last time for a place to live. To our great delight, five minutes
before our arrival, a student had just posted the availability of a nice
little duplex on a quiet treelined street in the neighboring town. We
took the address from the registrar and rushed to see it. The
seminarian who had posted it lived in the other side of the duplex, and
he came out to greet us. He said, “There is one more couple looking at
this rental, so you may want to pray about it before taking it.” I
said, “Do they have a place to live?” He said, “Yes, they are right
down the street.” I said, “Good! Because I have been praying for just
such a place as this, and I am claiming it as an answer to prayer.”

Finding that place to live was a foundational miracle for me. My life
has not always gone that smoothly. Many hopes have been deferred and
many prayers have gone unanswered; but when I hit a rough patch, I find
myself remembering how God helped me in the past, and trusting that he
will give me the help I need in the future. Some of you know that I
have a modest collection of old, portable typewriters. Just this week, I
bought an old typewriter that is relative rare at a great price. I
never expected to really own one. This one contained the card of a
former owner, a Major in the Salvation Army. On the back of the card he
had written, “In God’s timetable He supplies all of my needs and even
some of my wants.” That is my experience, too.

2. We can expect training and discipline.

If it were up to us, none of us would ever willingly choose to live
through hardship, or sickness, or failure, or anything else that is
remotely unpleasant. Of course, we don’t get to choose, and these
things invariably come our way. The New Testament warns of this. In 1st
Peter 4:1 we read that Christ suffered in the flesh, and we ought to arm
ourselves with the same thought. Why would the apostle say this?
Because he wants us to know that life is hard. Why does he want us to
know that life is hard? simple, as the Christian psychologists Scott
Peck has said, “Life is hard, but the moment we know that life is hard,
life ceases to be as hard, because we know life is hard.” Evidently, it
takes a world with trouble in it to make us into the kind of people God
wants his children to be. Therefore, in Hebrews 5:8 we read that,
though Jesus was a son, yet he learned he obedience through what he
suffered. And, in Hebrews 12:7 we read that when we face difficulty, and
feel disciplined it is because God is treating us like children, too.
This is father’s day. In Matthew 6:8 Jesus taught that we have a
heavenly Father who knows what we need even before we ask him! He knows
even when we need training and discipline.

3. We can expect compassion.

According to Matthew 10, in the days of his flesh, Jesus looked out over
the people of Israel and had compassion on them, for “they were harassed
and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” This is a clear case of
like Father like Son, for Jesus reveals the heart of his Father. Psalm
100 teaches that we are the sheep of God’s pasture. And Psalm103:13
declares:

As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him.

It was immediately after Jesus saw the people were like sheep without a
shepherd that he turned to his followers and said, “The harvest is
plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the
harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus sent the
twelve out to preach to the loss sheep of the house of Israel. He told
them not only to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but to
heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out evil
spirits.” Jesus tied preaching with helping. And he told his disciples
to give as freely as they had received. This is important for two
reasons. It is important for the people who receive our message, for
they want to know that we care, before they care what we know. It is
important to us, because it is in giving that we continue to receive.
St. John leaned that lesson. In 1st John 1:4, he wrote that he wanted to
share his joy with others so that his own joy would be full. Likewise,
St. Paul learned that lesson. In 2nd Corinthians 1:4 we read that:

God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to

comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with 
which
we ourselves are comforted by God.

4. We can expect that whatever happens to do us good.

In Romans chapter five the apostle writes:

5:2b …We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than
that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces
endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces
hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been
poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to
us.

In this passage Paul talks about suffering, but suffering and failure go
hand in hand. Most suffering will pass, and most failure is not final.
Failure is not the end of the world, it is just the end of the world as
we know it, and this is is not necessarily bad. In his book, “Falling
Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” Richard Rohr says
that God can hardly ever teach us all God wants us to know until we have
met with some great failure. Philosophers, psychologists and counselors
of every stamp all agree: We learn more from failure than we do from
success! Christians learn even more than most from our failures,
because we learn under the watchful eye of the God who has poured his
love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Why is failure so important?

1. Failure makes us human, and approachable. People can seldom
identify with someone who has known nothing but success. When we
rejoice, we often rejoice alone because we stand out from the crowd.
When we grieve, we grieve with the whole human race, for failure is part
of what makes us human. If you doubt this, just read Genesis 1-3.

2. Failure makes us honest with ourselves and that enables growth.
Failure knocks the props out of our false confidence, and reveals our
weaknesses. Therefore failure teaches us humility, for true humility is
the ability to reflect reality. It was Clint Eastwood who said, “A man
has got to know his limitations.” It was St. Paul who said, “Do not
think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but think with
sober judgment.” This is father’s day. My father gave me many things.
I treasure most the text he gave me at my confirmation. Philippians
4;13 declares, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
My father left one thing unsaid: Before we can do all things through
Christ, we have to learn there are many things we can not do alone. We
have got to know our limitations.

3. Failure teaches us lateral thinking. We learn new ways of doing
things and new things to do. Scott Peck says that most people will stay
on the path they are on, even if it is the wrong path. Failure knocks
us off the wrong path so that we can find the right one. God guides by
open doors and closed, and when the right door opens, and we find the
right path, then, though we may be walking, slogging along step by step,
metaphorically speaking, it feels as if God is bringing us to himself on
eagle’s wings.

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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