Be one, too: Don’t give up!

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 12, 2014.  This message is meant to freely flow from a moment with children to a conversation with adults.  It’s a new style of preaching for me in a new experimental worship experience we’re trying for the next few weeks at Lee Memorial.

 

Invite kids to the table:

Have you ever felt like not doing what you’re told?  Have you ever felt that doing the right thing was just too difficult?  Have you ever felt like giving up?

In the story I’m about to read, the people of God are frustrated.  They’re leader, Moses, and God have been on a mountain having a private conversation for 40 days.  The people have grown impatient.  They don’t like being left alone.  They get angry.  They forget about Moses and God.  They give up: they stop believing in God and they turn their backs on Moses.  They give up.

Sometimes it’s easy to give up.  Sometimes being faithful to God and those we love is really hard; and, it can be tempting to give up.  We need each other to help us be our best.  We need people around us who will remind us to do what we’re told, what’s important and right: people who will encourage us when we feel like giving up.

Sometimes it’s tempting to give up; but it’s through persevering (not giving up) that we experience true joy.

Let me show you what I mean.  I have three small marshmallows here.  You can eat them now; but, if you wait, I’ll give everyone a large marshmallow (if your moms and dads approve).  It’s going to be tempting to eat it before I say it’s OK, but if you can help each other persevere—not give up—I’ll give everyone a large marshmallow.

Got it?  Ok.  Help each other out.  Don’t give up.

[Read Exodus 32:1-14]

Sometimes it’s easy to give up.  Don’t.  Because the reward is always in doing what we’re told (especially if God’s the one speaking): the reward is in doing what’s best for everybody.

The people, Aaron, even God—they all give up in this story.  Thank heavens, Moses was around to help everybody do the right thing.  He is surely a saint (and he didn’t even get a marshmallow): and “I mean to be one, too.”

As soon as you get the head nod from the adult that brought you here, you can now have a marshmallow.

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Let’s pray.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen. 

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There are only a handful of television shows that I will do my best to watch each week, especially this time of year: in late summer, it’s America’s Got Talent; in fall, it’s The Voice and Biggest Loser; in the spring and throughout most of the summer, I hope to be spending so much time outside in the garden that I don’t make plans to watch anything regularly, except for reruns when I’ve got the time on Amazon Prime.

Right now, we’re a few weeks into Biggest Loser: The Glory Days.  The show is featuring athletes—former high school athletes to retired professional athletes and Olympians—who have, for lack of a better description, given up.  The reasons each has reached the point they are—a point of extreme un-health—is varied: for some, it was an emotional trauma, for others an injury, and for others still simply a lack of focus.

Regardless of what got them to the point they are now, the truth (that is so often painful to face) is that they lack the drive to be what they used to be.  They’ve given up; and, it is, quite literally, killing them.

There is, I think, an eternal truth there: when we give up, we become less than we were, less than we could or should be.  In the words of Jay Sheets (the guy in the cowboy hat), one of the contestants from last season (season 15), “It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are.  If you believe in something or there’s something you want to do you have got to put forth 100 percent to do it.”[1]

Don’t give up!

In our reading for today there are many Biggest-Loser-esque characters who have given up.

God’s people gave up.  It’s amazing really to think about.  Here is a group of people who were delivered out of slavery in Egypt by a series of miracles; a group of people who walked through the sea on dry land; a people who, when they were thirsty, received water from a rock; and, when they were starving, received manna and quail from the dew.  Here is a people who have just received the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-21), renewed their commitment to be God’s children and God to be their God, and they’re about to receive instructions (a bunch of them, see chapters 21-31).  Moses has been gone for forty days and nights (see Exodus 25:18) and the people are growing impatient.  They give up on Moses; and make Aaron their leader.  They give up on God and fashion an idol out of gold.  They violate the first two commandments (see Exodus 20:3-4) God has just given them.

Aaron gave up.  He has witnessed even more than the people.  He was recruited by Moses, his brother, to go on this incredible journey to free God’s people.  It was Aaron’s shepherd’s staff that was turned into a snake before Pharoah (see Exodus 7:8-13).  It was Aaron who slept next to the most holy place in the tabernacle near the Ark of the Covenant, God’s “throne” on earth.  Of all the people, aside from Moses, Aaron had the most direct contact with God; and even he gave up, eager to take power, leading and appeasing the people.

All of this angered God.  And, it seems to me, even God gave up.  “Your people,” God screams to Moses, people “whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! […] I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are.  Now leave me alone!  Let my fury burn and devour them” (Exodus 32:7, 9-10b, Common English Bible, emphasis added).

God’s people, Aaron, and, I think, God all gave up.  And, like those who aspire to be the next biggest loser, they’re snapped out of their defeatist attitude by a trainer, Moses, a man who hadn’t give up on God or on God’s people, a person who intercedes and encourages everyone to not give up.

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I’m not here this morning to vilify or damn anyone who has ever given up.  We’ve all been there—you, me, the people of Israel, Aaron, even God (and even Moses, but not in this passage!).  We all struggle to live into and be the best we can be for God and one another.  But, praise be to God that there are trainers, practitioners of the faith who refuse to give up: people of tremendous faith (who aren’t afraid to standup and change even the mind of God?) who refuse to lose hope; people who encourage and inspire us when we feel like giving up.  These people are saints; and, I hope and pray that you mean to be one, too.

Don’t give up.

In the words of the Apostle Paul, don’t get tired of doing good (see Galatians 6:9), don’t get discouraged in doing what is right (see 2 Thessalonians 3:13); but as for you, people of God, don’t give up, “instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11b-12, Common English Bible).  Don’t give up.  “By holding fast,” says Jesus, “you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19, Common English Bible).  Don’t give up.

Let’s pray:
Gracious God, help us to not give up.  We thank you for those who have inspired us to live our faith.  We thank you for the saints—those who are still with us and those for whom we’ll be reunited in eternity.  We thank you for the saints, O God, and we want to be one, too.  Help us to be faithful in our living that all we do might be an offering to you.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

[1] “Jay Sheets: ‘I Tell My Kids Don’t Ever Give up’” by Andrea Billups, People.com, January 17, 2014  < http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20777222,00.html> Accessed October 10, 2014.