What Reality Do You Choose?
We live in a very affluent society when you look at the rest of the world or even to the not so distant past of our own. One of the dreaded questions I know our family faces daily, and the same may be true for your family, is this question; “What is for dinner?” Back in the 1800s I have a feeling this was an easy questions to answer in Indian Trail. You ate whatever was available. You ate whatever meat, baked goods and home grown vegetables. “What’s for dinner?” wasn’t a hard question because there weren’t a lot of options.
Skip to today and that question gets a little harder. Now in our refrigerators, freezers, and pantries there are probably a half a dozen meals that could possibly be made. Now which one do you want to make becomes a little harder. Then there is the option if you don’t eat at home. If you go out where will go? Do you go to one of the umpteen fast food chains, or the local restaurants, or the ones in Monroe, or Waxhaw or Matthews? Instead of one option now there are actually hundreds and so the question gets even harder when we are asked daily, “What’s for dinner?”
Think about it another way. If someone asked you to pick them up some shampoo at the store what would you pick up? There may have been two or three options 70 years ago, but not there are whole isles in the grocery store that give you 30 some odd options for shampoo, let alone conditioner. Does the person want one that smells fruity or like coconut? Do they want one boosts the volume of their hair, helps fight dandruff, or leaves a nice shine. You couldn’t even say, “Could you pick me up some Pantene because there are about 12 different varieties of Pantene on the store shelves. With the amount of choices we have in our society it is a challenge if not a nuisance to make decisions.
It is always nerve racking meeting a new church for the first time. You don’t know who you are meeting. You don’t know what agendas you are going to be met with. You don’t know the truth about a lot of the situation before you get there and dive in. A friend of mine received a call from her DS and was told that she was going to her next appointment. After trying to figure out where that church was and where the town was, she asked about the church situation. The DS informed her that they have had a couple of interim pastors until they could appointment her there. This peaked her interested and she asked more about why they needed two interim pastors. The DS told her that the pastor had been sick.
Some weeks later she met with the Pastor Parish Relations Committee Chair and the Lay Member to Annual Conference. During the conversation she asked them about their recent history and why they needed two interim pastors. They looked at each other and then at me and they looked embarrassed. She told me she was thinking to herself, what is there to be embarrassed by your pastor getting sick? But then they finally opened up a little and shared their story. Come to find out their pastor had an affair with the music director. The pastor confessed everything to their DS the right before Christmas. The church was rocked to their core and had been dealing with all the feelings that come with a pastor being removed from their appointment, spending Christmas with no pastor, and then two interim pastors who came in to lead the congregation until she was appointed. As this pastor moved into this appointment reality started to sink in as she talked with key leaders and other laity.
What was interesting was finding out later that they still do not like talking about that incident. They feel ashamed and scared to admit what had happened. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t do anything. It was something that the pastor and the music director did but the congregation members were the casualties. As the PPRC Chair stood to read a letter from their now former pastor the Sunday of Christmas Eve and the congregation was faced with a new reality they had a choice to make. They could have folded up, melted down, and ran or they could pull together as the Body of Christ and rise above the fray.
In today’s scripture we have a major decision happening. The Hebrew people had left Egypt and they have traveled from Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness to the edge of the Promise Land. They are camped on the outskirts and ask 12 spies to venture in and see what they can see. He asks them to , “inspect the land. What is like? Are the people who live in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the land in which they live good or bad? Are the towns in which they live camps or fortresses? Is the land rich or poor? Are there trees in it or not?” Moses is walking with over a million people and he wants to make sure things are okay when they decided to move into the land that God promises. They are right there but they had to do some research first.
So the 12 spies go in and explore for 40 days. They see a fertile land and plenty of grapes growing. They take a cluster with them on their journey to prove how nice the land is. When they come back all 12 spies agree that this land is full of milk and honey and show the fruit as proof. They are honest about the people they saw too and the huge fortified cities. They list the clans they saw and the areas they lived in. Worry starts to creep through the people and people start to panic.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people. They follow Moses out of slavery in Egypt and through this strange land to the place where their leaders promised was from God. When they get there they find it full of people but also potential. Now they are faced with a decision to make and two options come up. Ten of the spies, give one option and two of them give another.
How we define reality is extremely important. The spies did a great job when they first returned. They named the land correctly saying it was full of milk and honey and people in fortified cities. They named their current reality well. The church I spoke about earlier had to name the reality that their congregation when through a hard time and went through trauma. When we are faced with choices or those moments in our lives when we know a decision has to be made, naming the reality we live in is extremely important. All 12 spies do an excellent job in this.
The problem arises when they interpret that reality in light of the decision they have to make. There are two options available to the Hebrew people. They can run away from the promised land because they task seems to big or they can move forward into what God has promised. They can make this decision from two places, out of fear or out of faith. Ten of the spies give their recommendation from a place of fear or perceived reality. This perceived reality leads them to give us Numbers 13:33, “We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.” The task of going into the Promise Land was so big that the people living there turned into giants. The ten spies said they were grasshoppers when compared to them. Fear got a hold of their reality and turned normal people into giants.
The “Grasshopper report” came out of a place of fear. The fortified cities, the population that already existed, the Hittites, Jubusites, Amorites and Canaanites were all too much and so the rumors were spread that these people were giants. You can start to get a sense of the fear involved. The other thing involved was the murmuring. “Murmuring is the language of perceived reality.” God’s chosen people love to murmur. That is true today as it was back in Moses’ time. It didn’t take them long to start either. They had just left Egypt, just walked across the dry ground through the Red Sea. They were simply three days into their journey when Exodus 15:24 records their first account of murmuring, “the people murmured against Moses.” When things get scary the people of God complain, whisper, gossip. But this is all the language of perceived reality, the reality defined by fear.
“Murmuring is the word that describes life in churches that allow fears of the present and future to be coupled with a desire to cling to the past.” Focus is moved from hope in the future to fears of the future. The ‘what ifs’ creep in and taint the dream or callings God is laying on the people. This is when the “Back to Egypt Committees” rear their heads. When things got bad for the Hebrew people they suggested that they leave Moses and go back to Egypt. At least there they knew where they would get their food and where they would sleep. This is true but they tended to forget that this is also when they were being brutally oppressed as slaves. But that is the issue with perceived reality, the past, even though it may not be as good as the present, still looks better than the unknown future.
Now that things are getting tough again, “the entire community raised their voice and the people wept that night.” They laid all the blame at their leaders feet. It is all Moses and Aaron’s fault! “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.” Now I am sure this never happens in modern day congregations. I am sure there has never been people who blamed the pastor, the Chair of a Committee, or a Committee as a whole as being the source of their problems. I am quite certain that never has happened here at Indian Trail United Methodist Church. I am certain you all understand sarcasm. It is really easy to place blame on leaders or on the pastor. But once again that is a symptom of perceived reality or of a murmuring congregation. As the book I’m using for this sermon series says, “People live out the behavior pattern of murmuring as they cling to the perceived security of the past even when the past has the power to enslave them in the present.”
Now if perceived reality is bad what is the better way to interpret the reality we are in? For that we go to Caleb and Joshua. They are the two spies that spoke up and gave a different perspective. How they interpreted reality is called Envisioned Reality. Do you remember what they reported to Moses and Aaron. We find this in Numbers 14:7-9. They say, “The land we crossed through to explore is an exceptionally good land. If 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. Only 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.” They came from a place of faith in God not of fear. They realized that if God brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, provided for them during their journey, guided them with pillars of fire and smoke, they why wouldn’t God lead them triumphantly into the Promise Land like God promised?
That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be hard. To defeat the current inhabitants and take over the land would be very difficult. Yet, Caleb and Joshua encouraged the congregation of Israel to face the giants without fear. The other ten spies had a “Grasshopper sized” perception of reality whereas Caleb and Joshua had a “God sized” perception. They made their recommendation from a place of faith in God instead of fear. They knew that if the vision of the future, the calling of God, is real then the people will succeed no matter how great the task.
What we are faced as a congregation journeying towards the Promise Land is where we will make decisions from, perceived reality or envisioned reality? Will we make decisions from a place of fear or a place of faith? Here is an important question we need to consider, “The question a local church must answer as it plans its ministries is the following: will we plan our ministries based on memories of the past, or will we plan ministries formed by the promises of Jesus Christ?”
We know that both reports regarding the Promised Land became true. The people decided to first follow the words of the ten and because of their lack of faith God sent them to spend 40 years in the wilderness. He said no one from that generation would get the privilege to enter the land he promised. When we do not have faith in God and what God promises there are consequences and there is judgment. When we live and make decisions through faith we experience and envisioned reality. A reality that is filled with God’s grace and love. It doesn’t promise to be easy but it is the Promised Land. So the question we are left with today and the one we will discuss tomorrow night is this: “As we consider the Promised Land Jesus envisioned (last week’s sermon), what vision of reality will we choose to live into?”
And all God’s people said…Amen.