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They Didn't Want to Go
September 10, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EXODUS 3:7; 14:11-12; NUMBERS 11:10-14

Have you ever planned a trip or a nice dinner, made all the arrangements, and then the kids didn’t want to go? I remember when we moved to California, we pulled our travel trailer and when we were coming to Salt Lake City we made plans. We hit Salt Lake City about the middle of the day so that we could go into the Great Salt Lake. We talked about it for days about how we could actually sit down in the water, float and not sink. When we got to the water and took one smell, the kids wouldn't go. How frustrating! 

I imagine the Lord gets frustrated when he makes elaborate plans for our lives or for our church, he calls us and then we don't want to go. You remember the central act of the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, when the Lord saw the situation of the slaves. In Exodus 3:7, the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen how cruelly my people are treated in Egypt. I have heard their cry that they were made slaves.” Now none of us here have ever been a slave. We have no conception of what it means to live where you're told, do what kind of job you're told to do, to be told your hours, to be told where you go and when to do it. You have no freedom. We have no conception of what that is like. 

Remember the conditions under which they lived—the whip of the taskmaster, the hauling of bricks, the laying of bricks, the hard physical labor under a hot blazing sun, the terrific heat. How they cried out, “O God, take us out of here!  O God, rescue us. O God save us.” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard their cry. I will rescue them and I will send you to be the leader. Moses, I want you to go back to Egypt. I want you to lead the slaves out. I will fight with the Pharaoh. I will make Pharaoh let them go. I want you to lead them out of slavery into freedom, lead them out of bondage into self determination, lead them out of being peons and slaves to be their own people. I will lead you to Canaan, to the promised land, the land I promised to your ancestors— Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I will lead you to the land that is fertile and spacious.” Fertile and spacious, a land of milk and honey. And so Moses went to the slaves. And do you know what their response was? What's the title of the sermon? They didn't want to go. 

Sometimes when we read the early chapters of Exodus, we get caught up in the struggle that Moses had with the Pharaoh, that huge battle that Moses had with Pharaoh. The Pharaoh kept changing his mind. He'd say, “All right, let them go.” And then he would change his mind so God would send another plague. It took ten plagues upon the land of Egypt until Pharaoh finally let them go. We get so caught up in the struggle that Moses had with Pharaoh, we forget that Moses also had the difficult task of convincing the slaves that they ought to go. They didn't want to go. 

When finally Pharaoh let them go, they packed up their belongings and started walking. Can you picture this scene? We don't know how many—probably a few thousand men, women, children, old people, with their belongings on their backs, and a few animals—a few cattle and sheep. And they set out as a ragged motley crew. They set out and then suddenly came word that Pharaoh had changed his mind and soldiers were coming. And so they hurried until they came to the Sea of Reeds. There they were blocked by water on one hand in front of them, and the soldiers coming in from from the back. You heard in the Bible lesson what they said to Moses. Listen to it again.  Exodus 14:11-12, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Were there no cemeteries in Egypt? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may go on serving the Egyptians’. For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. In slavery, we had food. In slavery we had homes.” This was the status quo. 

To change takes a drastic, horrendous decision, to take a chance for the comforts of slavery are better than the risks of freedom. The comforts of security are better than the uncertainties of freedom. Then in the desert, after they had escaped across the sea, came the problem of what to eat, and what to drink. In the 16th chapter, they said to Moses, “We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death.” They really didn't want to go. 

Their first reaction, though, when Moses came back was of joy and gratitude. The Bible says they bowed down, they worshiped God, they thanked God for this great deliverance, they thanked God for the Promised Land until they realized there was a wilderness. Getting to the promised land would be alright. But they didn't like the idea of a wilderness, of problems, of struggles of what to eat and what to drink, of how to get along together. When they got to the wilderness, they didn't want to go. How frustrating for the leaders. 

Because Moses knew all along what people are like, Moses didn't want this job in the first place. He argued with God, he tried to get out of it. He didn't want it. He said in Exodus 4:13. “Lord, send someone else. Please, Lord, send someone else. I can’t do it. I can't talk eloquently enough. I can't lead. Lord, send someone else.” But the Lord insisted so Moses went and delivered the message to the people. And then the Lord said, “Now you've got to go tackle the Pharaoh. And Moses said in chapter six, “O Lord, even the Israelites won't listen to me so why should the Pharaoh?” 

And then in the wilderness after the complaining, Moses tried to resign. In Numbers 11:10-14, “Moses heard all the people complaining as they stood around in groups.” Can't you just see that? It is so vivid. Can't you just see a little group of people over here, a little group of people over there, some are outside the door, a few mutterings over here. Moses saw all these people standing around in the groups complaining, and he said to the Lord, “Why have you given me the responsibility for all these people? I didn't create them or bring them to birth. Why should you ask me to act like a nurse and carry them in my arms like babies all the way to the promised land? Where could I get enough meat for all these people? I can't be responsible for all these people by myself. It's too much for me.” But the Lord wouldn't let him resign. 

We get newsletters from different churches. A newsletter came a few months ago from a United Methodist Church. The minister was being transferred and he wrote in the newsletter why he was being transferred. I'd like to read this to you to give you a little insight into a modern leader’s frustration. In his opinion, the church didn't want to go. He wrote, “I have felt for a couple of years that the work I've been doing has leveled out. Church membership is not growing as it should. The church school is not growing as it could. Attendance in church is okay, but not good. Less than one fourth of our members are in church on any particular Sunday, and I have not been able to inspire others to come more faithfully. We have a corps of good hard working officers. They have given so much of themselves to the life and ministry of this church. They have been creative, imaginative and dedicated, but there are too few of them. And they do not find the support and cooperation they need to really help this church realize its potential. I feel good about the ministry that has happened in the past six years. We together have made significant strides. We have built some very solid things which will not easily die. There are new programs, a firm budget, dedicated members of the choir and church school teachers. And there are many who faithfully and cheerfully are present, lending moral support and a smile, even if health age or other factors will not let them take the kind of active role they used to or would like to take. We've come a long way together building on the foundation that has been laid by previous ministers and laity. We’ve been here, we've done some good things. Why has the growth leveled out? Why have we lost in the total number of members the past three years in view of a growing community. Why haven't we at least stayed even? I'm not even going to try to answer these issues. But I believe that a new minister with new ideas, different gifts, who has the renewed commitment of the church can begin a new cycle of growth and building.” 

He believes a new minister will make a difference. I doubt it. We always look for the Messiah to come. This pattern fits not only churches, but most institutions. Most groups start off with enthusiasm, start off with expectancy. And then comes the wilderness. Then comes the problems. Then comes trouble. Then comes the idea that there's got to be struggle, there's got to be work, there's got to be sacrifice. Then comes the realization that we're all human beings. There aren't any perfect people. Then we either don't want to go or we get in there and make it work. 

Where is the Lord calling us? Where is the Lord calling you in your life? Where is the Lord pushing you? What changes do you need to make? What are some of the old habits you need to throw off? What are some of the new visions you need to have? Maybe there's some negative attitudes that are holding you down, that are preventing you from being what you could be. Maybe you're too shy. Maybe your self image is too poor—“Oh, I can't do that.” Maybe you're undisciplined, you can't manage your time. Maybe you need to set priorities. Maybe you need to take charge of your life and decide what you're going to do and when you're going to do it. You decide. Where is the Lord calling you? And wherever the Lord calls us, it’s just a matter of human nature that we don't want to go. We don't want to go, we don't want to change. It's more comfortable doing it the same old way. It's more comfortable staying with tradition. It's more comfortable to stay in Egypt than to go. Where is the Lord calling you? 

Where is the Lord calling St Paul's Church? Where is the Lord pushing us? I feel the Lord has been pushing us this past year and certainly this coming year I feel his call. The Lord is calling St. Paul's Church to go in two directions—down and out. Down into the depths, down into the spirit below the surface below. We’re just skimming on the surface. I feel God is calling us to go down, down into the spirit and drink the living water, down into prayer, down into a closer relationship with God, down into the Holy Spirit, down to discover the resources that God has for us. God is pushing us down into really being the community and the people of God. 

A huge part of that call is education. God is calling us to grow, to learn. Your ministers are really committed to a program of education. The American Medical Association has said that if a doctor is out of medical school for five years, and has had no refresher courses and has been to no seminars in five years, that doctor is out of date. And in 10 years out of medical school, a doctor that has not had any continuing education is a fraud. According to the AMA that doctor is a quack because that doctor is hopelessly out of touch with all that's going on and that's true for any profession—teacher, educator, lawyer. Certainly the ministry and certainly the profession of being a Christian is to grow, to learn. 

We're committed to education and we teach. In not many churches do the ministers teach like we do. We teach in Sunday school. Marilyn will start a personal growth group next week, you read it in the newsletter. In October we will start Sunday evening classes again. I believe we can grow until our mind is stretched, until we try some new ideas. For what we've always believed, what we've always thought is to stay in Egypt. I believe the Lord is calling us to go down. 

And I believe the Lord is calling us to go out, to reach out, to share all that we have—our talents, our money. What a vast group of capable potential in this room is beyond imagination—the ability, the power that's in this room and God calls us to share it with the world. We respond well to Haven of Peace. The United Methodist Women went to a meeting the other day and learned that their mission giving is among the highest of all the churches in this district!. But there's more we can do. You read in the newsletter how we're being asked to respond to hunger in Bolivia. Our mission appeal this month is to dig down, to sacrifice, to commit, to give to this hunger cause. We need to reach out. We are not just a little isolated church in Manteca. We are here for the world. 

I believe the Lord is calling us to reach out in evangelism, to reach out into this community and invite people into our church. Everyone in this community has the right and privilege to be invited to know the gospel. We live in a new housing development now. Four churches have knocked on our door. We haven’t, although we do it informally. I know there are people out there who do that for I hear about it. John Patzer is trying to organize a calling program and do an evangelism project. He's getting hardly any support. You are not committing to it. 

How many are in church this morning? Ushers? 258. I  looked up last year. We had 246. So we're up by 12. Good. But let's hit 300. We ought to have 300 here every Sunday. I'd like 150 in Sunday School. I’d like the choir doubled. I’d like the youth groups growing. If we're not growing, we're going backwards. There's no such thing as status quo. 

I believe the Lord is calling us down and out. The Lord called the slaves and the Lord said to the slaves of Egypt, “I will rescue you. I will lead you from slavery to freedom, from oppression and bondage to self determination. I'll lead you from being slaves to freedom in your own land, to the promised land, to my future, to the kingdom!” But they didn't want to go.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris