February 24, 2017
This was not the first time the Israelites expressed an abundance of bitterness and negativity toward Moses and the Lord. They did it again and again. When there was a crisis of some sort as they made their journey to the promised land, they defaulted to expressions of bitterness and negativity. Their expressions were about their pending death, graves and grave yards, starvation from lack of food, thirst from a lack of water, and being homesick for Egypt.
Also, their expressions consisted of quarrels, grumbling, complaining, whining, crying, and anything else to show their bitterness and negativity. Up to this point there were three of these expressions of bitterness and negativity. The one today seems to be the peak of them. "And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
This expression is directed at God. The others were clearly directed at Moses and Aaron and also to God but indirectly. But here it is directed at God.
Why did the Israelites get stuck in behaving in this way? Was it because they had spent centuries in slavery? Is this what people do when they have been enslaved? We do not know the answer to these questions. But we ask ourselves today why do people get stuck in bitterness and negativity toward God and others? That question is worth our attention this morning. It happens too often. It happens despite all that God does for them. God had done everything for them. We get our very first look at it here. That same bitterness and negativity continues to live on from generation to generation. It's as current today as it was back then. Nothing kills it. You see it everywhere today. It lives in families, churches, places of employment, our government, and other places.
Before I proposed to marry Sister McCreary, I searched for an apartment to rent in East Cleveland. I had lived with and near my aunt Sang on East 66th and Wade Park Avenue in Cleveland. And most if not all of the people in our church lived near the church. It was expected that all of us would continue to live in the ghetto. That was the expectation without any words being spoken about it. I had a different plan. My plan was to vacate the Ghetto and to rent my first apartment in East Cleveland. When I made my plan known, there was an abundance of bitterness and negativity. The bitterness and negativity seemed to have been focused on my being better than the others who chose to remain in the ghetto. The expressions were "He thinks he is better than we; he frowns on where we live here in the Hough Area." For sure that was not it. But they defaulted to bitterness and negativity. Here again, I don't know where they learned this kind of thing. It still bothers me that they were stuck in such bitterness and negativity. I didn't let it stop me.
Many people get stuck with saying bitter and negative things. I've heard a number of them:
"You will never amount to anything. Your daddy didn't and you will not either."
We too often get stuck in bitterness and negativity. Bitterness and negativity live on from generation.
There is one other thing that too often get us stuck. We fail to see that help can be found in unexpected places and given in unexpected ways. God instructed Moses to "Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." Did you say, "Water came out of a rock?" Yes. That is the text! God blesses us in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. "We are always helped by unexpected people, in unexpected ways, and at unexpected places." (The People's Bible, by Joseph Parker, page 136)
Let me share a not too recent example. I was in a long line of traffic going through a turnpike toll booth. When I arrived at the toll booth. The attendant instructed me to proceed through the gate and informed me that the guy just ahead of me had paid my toll fees. I received a blessing by an unexpected person, in an unexpected place, and in an unexpected way. You probably too have been blessed by unexpected people in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways. So often we fail to see or to even think about the help we get from unexpected people, in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways.
In our country today, there seems to be help coming from unexpected people, in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways to deal with guns. In response to the massacre in Parkland, Florida students seem determine to get assault weapons and guns in general out of the hands of people who shouldn't own them. They see a solution to the gun problem even though their representatives in Washington D. C. do not. They see a way to limit the power of the NRA despite its power, wealth, influence, and huge number of supporters. They see hope despite the fact that we are divided into camps of republicans and democrats fighting all the time. So, we see help coming from unexpected youth, in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways. They may very well be our answer to this problem. We often get stuck in not seeing what they are seeing. We need to see what they are seeing. There is help out there from unexpected people, in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways.
However, our greatest help for not being stuck comes from what the Lord shows us. He showed his people again and again that they didn't need to be stuck. When they were stuck in bondage in Egypt, God delivered them. When they were being chased by Pharaoh and his chariots and in front of them was the red sea, God delivered them through the sea on dry ground. When they were thirsty in the desert and found water that was too bitter to drink, God instructed Moses to put a piece of wood into the water that made it fit to drink. When they were starving for food in the desert, God bought them quail in the evening and bread from heaven in the morning. When they arrived at Massah and Meribah and was again thirsty, God gave them water out of a rock.
You may be stuck. You may be stuck in anger. You don't have to be. You may be stuck in bitterness and negativity about yourself and others. You don't have to be. You may be stuck in self-pity, you don't have to be. You may be stuck in hopelessness. You don't have to be. You may be stuck in depression. You don't have to be. You may be stuck in things I have not mentioned. You don't have to be. God frees us from being stuck. God shows us that we can get help from unexpected people, in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways. Amen.