Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
July 31 and August 1, 2021
“Where Does It All Begin?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Where did it all begin? That is the question we ask when things all over the world go wrong. That is the same question we ask when we experience the most wonderful time we’ve ever had. For the good, the bad and the ugly – where does it all begin?
Our reading from the Old Testament is from Exodus. But the only way you can make sense of this section is to know what began much earlier. Our account is from about 1500 BC (Before Christ). Moses is the character who is central in this book. The people of God, the people of Israel, have been in Egypt and now are in a desert.
But before you have the book of Exodus you have to have the book of Genesis. Before you have Moses about 1500 BC you need Abraham about 2000 BC. Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob (given the name of Israel – from which the nation of Israel gets its name) and Jacob had 12 sons – one of them is Joseph. Through God’s hand of provision Joseph goes to Egypt and eventually the people of Israel arrive in safety in Egypt. For a while all was well for God’s people in Egypt.
And that is where we begin our account in Exodus today. In the first chapter of Exodus (verse 8) we read something ominous, “Now there arose a new king in Egypt who did not know Joseph.” The kindness shown to his descendants was about to end. The people of Israel became slaves for over 400 years. But God had not forgotten His people nor the promises He had made to Abraham. He sent one who was going to deliver His people – Moses. God showed His power to the Pharaoh – the King of Egypt – by bringing 10 plagues to that area. God showed that He alone was God. And when the tenth plague came – the one that gives us an understanding of the Passover – Pharaoh expelled God’s people.
God told His people that He was sending the angel of death to Egypt. But if one took the blood of a lamb and covered the door frames of their house with that blood, the angel of death would pass over their house. The people of God believed what God said and found rescue, but the Egyptians did not. The angel of death cursed the Egyptians, including Pharoah’s household, and with the anger and grief of Pharoah the Jewish slaves and their leader were told to leave.
God’s great hand wasn’t just in deliverance from Egypt, though. Remember? Pharoah, who had changed his mind numerous times about the release of the Israelites from slavery, changed his mind again. When he pursued them God protected them with a wall of fire and then when God opened the Red Sea so His people could go through on dry ground, He closed it when the Egyptians tried to pursue them. Miracle after miracle kept coming.
Our account from Exodus 16 is exactly 30 days since the Passover miracle of Exodus 12. And this is what we read, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve the entire assembly to death.’” (Exodus 16:2-3)
Do you know where this all starts? All this complaining, grumbling, moaning? Where does it begin? In the heart. It starts in the heart. It starts in my heart and in your heart. And it is not very pretty. In Matthew 15, Jesus’ disciples were getting into trouble because they didn’t eat their foods properly and they were told that made them ‘unclean’. To this Jesus would say, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that makes a man ’unclean.’” (Matthew 15:11,18-20a)
After all the mighty works that God had done for our folks through the Passover, the Exodus, through the Red Sea, His people grumbled and moaned. Where did it begin? It began where all things – good, bad or ugly, begin – in the heart.
When I see God’s reaction to the complaining and moaning, I wonder if I can learn something about the heart. Consider what these people were facing in those days. They were refugees. They had no home. No food. I’m not sure where they had water. You’ve seen pictures in the paper or news, on the TV, or information on the internet, which follows a group of people who have to flee from one country to another. They are in a situation that is unlivable and they just go, hoping for some safety and mercy and compassion from others. I can’t imagine having a stomach which hurts because it has not eaten for days. I can’t even think about having children or a spouse or relatives who just ask for something to eat and you can’t provide it to them. I’ve never had the pain of not knowing where I’m going to be at rest in the evening. They did. I guess I shouldn’t have such a hard heart toward them when they grumbled.
Where does it all begin? In the heart. That is what we see in the heart of God to His dearly loved people. They were angry and they complained and they were worried and they didn’t know how all this was going to end.
God, with the right heart, spoke, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” (Exodus 16:11-12) His heart acted with compassion, understanding, forgiveness and provision. That is where it all begins with God – it begins in His heart. Jesus, in the New Testament, connects what God did through Moses to what He would be doing by the life-giving bread He would give. In John 6, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Verses 48-51)
Everything the Old Testament people had, and everything that we, the New Testament people have, comes from the right heart of God. Do you remember what Paul says about the heart and will and action of God for us? “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
This past Tuesday, Scott Luethy, the chair of our Board of Elders, shared with us a video about the Paralympics. The Paralympics is like the Olympics, except that these athletes have some disability. Some 4,400 athletes will be in Tokyo to begin their games about two weeks after the Olympics are over and they will compete from August 24 until September 5.
The video we saw was of blind athletes running the 100-meter dash. They are blind. How would they know where the finish line is at? How could they stay in their lane? These athletes are tethered to another athlete, one who has sight, and together they run that race. The tether- the string – is about 6 inches in length. The challenge is that they have to be at the same speed, having the exact motion of raising one foot and bringing down the other at the same time. That has to happen many times over the course of that race. They have to be balanced. The blind athlete and the seeing athlete have to be a team, they have to have more than the right actions, they have to have the right heart. It all begins there.
When I read the accounts in the Bible about hearts that went the wrong way I think of my own. But my thinking can’t end there. Life can’t be simply about where it begins but where it ends. Every day, now and forever we end up in the heart of our Savior, Jesus. We are tethered to Him and He is tethered to us. We trust in Him for everything that we need.
To a frightened, discouraged and complaining people, the heart of God spoke, not in anger but with compassion and help, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
Our life begins and it ends in the very heart of our God. It’s the right place to be. Amen!!