Let It Go
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
September 2, 2015
Numbers 13: 25-14: 9 (CEB)
They returned from exploring the land after forty days. 26They went directly to Moses, Aaron, and the entire Israelite community in the Paran desert at Kadesh. They brought back a report to them and to the entire community and showed them the land’s fruit. 27Then they gave their report: “We entered the land to which you sent us. It’s actually full of milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28There are, however, powerful people who live in the land. The cities have huge fortifications. And we even saw the descendants of the Anakites there. 29The Amalekites live in the land of the arid southern plain; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the mountains; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the Jordan.”
30Now Caleb calmed the people before Moses and said, “We must go up and take possession of it, because we are more than able to do it.”
31But the men who went up with him said, “We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we.”
32They started a rumor about the land that they had explored, telling the Israelites, “The land that we crossed over to explore is a land that devours its residents. All the people we saw in it are huge men. 33We saw there the Nephilim (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.”
The entire community raised their voice and the people wept that night. 2All the Israelites criticized Moses and Aaron. The entire community said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in this desert! 3Why is the LORD bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken by force. Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4So they said to each other, “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.”
5Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the assembled Israelite community. 6But Joshua, Nun’s son, and Caleb, Jephunneh’s son, from those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7and said to the entire Israelite community, “The land we crossed through to explore is an exceptionally good land. 8If the LORD is pleased with us, he’ll bring us into this land and give it to us. It’s a land that’s full of milk and honey. 9Only don’t rebel against the LORD and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are our prey. Their defense has deserted them, but the LORD is with us. So don’t be afraid of them.”
I spent this past week in Nashville. I was at the United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries Office along with about thirty others to be trained as a Discipleship Coach. We are piloting a new program called Building HOPE. HOPE is an acronym for Hospitality, Offer Christ, Purpose, and Engagement. The goal of the Building HOPE project is to double the number of vital United Methodist Churches, where a vital church is one that has a culture of discipleship, a church that is continually “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” As a Discipleship Coach, I will be paired with a church that I will work with over the coming months to help them move in the direction of building a “discipling” culture and becoming a more vital congregation. It is my hope that this training and experience will also help me in my work here at Wesley with each of you and the community around us.
I share that with you to say this…we spent an entire morning this week talking about change and all the barriers there are to change. And yet, change is a given; in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our churches, change is inevitable. I’m sure you’ve heard many times, “Nothing is certain in this life but death and taxes.” Well, it has also been said, “The only constant in life is change.” I think we can all agree that change cannot be avoided. In fact, we should not try to avoid it because change really is inevitable! And yet, change is SO hard. We struggle through it, we don’t like it, we resist it, we fear it. So, during the month of September, we are going to consider the idea of change; we are going to acknowledge our hang-ups about change, we are going to look for Biblical guidance on dealing with change, and we are going to consider the ways that God is calling us to change both individually and corporately.
So we begin this morning by looking at a time when Israel was wandering in the wilderness, moving away from Egypt where they were enslaved, and moving toward the Promised Land known as Canaan. At the point at which we pick up the story here in Numbers, the Israelites are right, smack-dab in the middle of some pretty significant change. They have spent generations under the thumb of Pharaoh, enslaved in Egypt; these people know nothing but slavery. But now, they find themselves in the wilderness, led out of Egypt by Moses and the power of God, and they are quickly approaching their destination, the land promised to them, to their ancestors, the perfect place, the Promised Land.
So that they know what lies ahead, the Israelites have sent Scouts to take a look at the land. Where we pick up this morning, the Scouts have returned to the Israelites with their report. And this is where the story gets really interesting. Indeed, this is a land “flowing with milk and honey,” but there is more. This is also a land inhabited by “the other.” And the Israelites are intimidated by them, perceiving them as their enemy, as stronger than they. So they begin to spread rumors that the land is occupied by giants, and then people really begin to get scared. They weep, and moan, and cry out to God. And then they start working on a solution. But the solution is not how they will overcome these supposed giants. The Israelites plan is to return to Egypt. THEY WOULD RATHER BE ENSLAVED IN EGYPT THAN ENTER THE PROMISED LAND!!!! Can you BELIEVE it?
I mean, if that’s not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard! But here’s what’s really sad about that whole situation. It happens in our lives and in the church over and over and over again. We are faced with a significant change—we can’t be certain of the process of the change, or the outcome, and so we back away from it. Despite the bounty of the “Promised Land,” we, like the Israelites, don’t want to venture there because we are afraid. So sometimes, we actually choose to live in pain, to be unhappy, rather than face the change that could make things better. And we do this ultimately because of fear. There are certainly lots of challenges to change, but I think ultimately what most of them boil down to is fear. We are afraid to “give up” what is familiar. Or we are afraid because we can’t predict the future, we can’t see beyond our present reality. We might fear that changing means admitting that there is something wrong with us or with the way things are. Or perhaps we are fearful of surrendering control. There are all sorts of reasons we may fear change.
But look again at this story of the Israelites in the wilderness. And notice how destructive fear is for the Israelites in this situation. Fear blinds those Israelites to God’s leading and God’s promise of good. Fear changes the wonderful gift of the land into a place of death. Fear transforms other humans, the Canaanites and others in this land into monsters (Anakim), and freaks of nature (Nephilim). Fear in each case is a mark of an end, a form of death. God has the power to defeat it, but not without some give from the Israelites, which he doesn’t get. So it is that, ultimately, the first generation of escapees from Egypt dies in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land because they refuse to let go of their fear and give it to God!
My friends, we serve a God of life. But we cannot experience that life if all we do is hang on to everything that is dead! We have to let go of our fears. We have to let go of our hang-ups. We have to let go of all the excuses we make about why we can’t change! Think about it this way. You’ve heard of metamorphosis, right? Metamorphosis, of course, is the scientific term for change or transformation. The most obvious example of metamorphosis is the caterpillar that goes into a cocoon and comes out sometime later as a butterfly. What if that caterpillar decided he was afraid of the dark? Or maybe he’s claustrophobic and can’t stand the thought of being cooped up in a cocoon? And so the caterpillar refuses to wrap himself in a cocoon. That’s it right? Within a short matter of time, the caterpillar will die. And even if he does live for a while, he will never become a beautiful butterfly; he will never make that amazing change because he’s scared.
I know that change is not easy. I’m living through a lot of it right now. In the last six months, Ken and I have added a new little person to our family, we have moved to a new house, and I have started a new job. That’s a whole lot of change, and I would be lying if I said to you that it hasn’t been stressful, or it hasn’t been tiring. It has! But I know that God was walking with us through all of that time. I know that God has strengthened me when I’m exhausted and calmed me when I was stressed. If we can let go of our fears and embrace faith, then God will equip us and walk with us in times of change. We can move forward with confidence and rejoice in the new life that emerges. Now, as I stand mostly on the other side of a lot of change in a short amount of time, I can honestly say that I’m so glad we’ve been through it. You all know what a wonderful little boy Owen is, and I’m so glad that I am here at this church, with you! Friends, God is present with us, and especially in times of change, if we can let go of everything that is holding us back, then we can make room for something new, and with God’s guidance and God’s promise, I can assure you that something new is going to be really amazing!
I have chosen to focus on the subject of change this month for two reasons. First, because I know the reality of change in our lives. It is something we all deal with and struggle through. But secondly because we stand at the brink of a period of change in the church. It’s true for this congregation, it’s true for our denomination, and it’s true for churches across the American landscape. The “scorecard” for American churches is changing, and churches will have to change with it. A church that is reaching people with the gospel of Christ is no longer measured solely by membership or worship attendance. Rather, it is marked by the way it is changing the lives of people both within and beyond the church. We are going to spend a lot of time in the coming weeks and months considering how Wesley Memorial is touching the lives of people around us. We are going to look at ways to more fully equip the disciples in our midst, each of you, to be at work out in the world making and equipping more disciples so that this world might be changed to look more and more like God’s kingdom. Making this happen is going to mean we might face some change, and sometimes it may very well be difficult change. But I can assure you that it will be good change, change that will move each of us, and this church, to a place of new life with God.
And here’s what we need to remember in the midst of any change: no matter where we are on our journey, God is with us. We have to learn to rest in God’s presence and to lean upon God’s strength in the face of change. We have to turn our fear over to God, and in faith, we must move forward in the face of change. Change is not something to be avoided. Really, it can’t be avoided. So what’s the alternative? Well, to put it quite simply, change or die. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather embrace change. I’d rather be surrounded by giants and freaks of nature than spend every waking hour making bricks for Pharaoh’s pyramid. I’d rather go to the land “flowing with milk and honey” than go back to slavery. I’d rather embrace new life than face death. We really have to learn to see the good of change, both in our own lives, and in the life of the church. If we can do this, then I am certain we will be a part of God’s amazing, transformational, life-giving work in this world!