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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

God Provides

Harmonies of Faith, a sermon series for the Summer on the core beliefs of harmonious faith, week 4 of 14, preached June 23, 2024

Context

We believe different things and differences can clash and create conflict… maybe inside us, in our relationships, in the church, or the nation and world.

Now, conflict is not the point of beliefs, of faith, or the will of God. God calls us beliefs we can all be at peace, trust that a better community is possible for all people, and where we all embody God’s justice and love for one another. But the differences in our faith makes that feel impossible.


So, some try to make that feeling go away by getting everyone to believe the same thing. I don’t think our goal is to all believe exactly the same thing. I do believe our goal is to tune our different beliefs to God, to put all our faiths into harmony with God’s faithfulness.

So we are calling this summer series, Harmonies of Faith. Each week, we are talking about one theological belief, using the book "Presbyterian Beliefs (the latest Revised Edition, from 2017)" by Donald McKim as a resource.


Each week, we are introducing a song that speaks to each belief, with a different style or artist as examples of how differences can harmonize.


And each week, we start with a Question/ Today’s question is…

Question of the Day

"We believe God provides, provides what we need and provides guidance. Has God provided for you or guided you, in your life?” Ready? Go! 

 

Prayer for Illumination

Before we read and preach from God’s word, let’s pray… God as we open your word, may it open us. As we read your word, may it read us. Amen? Amen.


Scripture               Exodus 16:1-6, 17:1-7 - God is Provider

16:1 The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim and came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.


2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and ate our fill of bread, but yall have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”


4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way, I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because God has heard your complaining… against the Lord. For what are we, that y’all complain against us?”


8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against God—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

 

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with ME? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do for this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.”


Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”


This too is the word of God for the people of God… (Thanks be to God)


Sermon                 God is Provider

So far, in this series, we have reminded ourselves, this God we worship reveals God’s own self, does not stay hidden… in creation, in Scripture, and in Jesus. This God is Triune, always one and always three... Father, Son, Spirit, or Creator, Christ, Comforter. And this God is Creator, the source of creation, and the love behind all created things. God Reveals, God is Triune, God Creates.


There are different ways to talk about these beliefs, and nuances to each, and those differences are meant to help us. Our different ways of saying our faith helps us all grow and learn, as long as we stay humble enough to remember, not one of our personal beliefs fully captures the whole of God.


This week’s doctrine is Providence. The word sounds more complicated than it is. It just means God provides.


From the earliest Christianity through the Reformation and into the 19th 20th and current century, there has been a metaphor some use for God that suggests God is like a clock maker or watch maker. It goes something like this:


Sure, fine, God reveals God’s self in creation, and sure, God created all things and put them into their place…


But then, a sect of some Christians and some others beyond Christianity began to imagine at some point…


When God was ready, God made and assembled creation, wound the spring, and then backed off, and is letting creation wind itself down.


In this way of believing about God, all things are a part of God’s plan, or design. Everything that happens, everything that has ever happened or will ever happen was designed into creation when God created and assembled it. And sometimes, I hear folks say things that suggest they believe in this kind of clockmaker God. “Well, I’m sure it’s all part of God’s plan” or “we just have to trust God meant this for good.”


Those phrases by themselves are not a problem. We can believe, God has a great plan, and we can say, God does mean for all things to be good. But sometimes, these phrases are said and meant to explain away sin, evil, war, greed, poverty, or death, as if those things were designed into the created system by God, and now, God is distant and removed while creation winds down, and the things that hurt us, that don’t look anything like God’s promised kingdom, well, we must just be misunderstanding, not seeing the bigger picture. This God has a design, a plan and even these horrible things were somehow designed into the system by God for good.


Let’s compare that theology with what we read in Scripture. Long before today’s reading, when the children of Israel got jealous and mad at their brother Joseph, they sold him into slavery, but somehow he rose to be second in command in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. When famine came and the family of Israel were about to die of hunger, they found their way to Egypt and found Joseph alive there, with storehouses of grain, and Pharaoh and Joseph welcomed and fed them. Joseph said, you all meant it for evil, but God used it for good.


When future Pharaohs who had forgotten about Joseph were in charge, they oppressed the people of Israel into slavery. But, God lifted up leaders to free them and lead them safely out of Egypt.


Then, in the wilderness, the people freed from slavery and headed toward a promised land got nervous and complained against Moses and Aaron.


“Why did you lead us out here? Just to starve us to death? We have no bread. No meat. No water. What have you done? We’d be better off as slaves in Egypt!”


It’s as if the Israelites are saying slavery in Egypt must have been God’s plan, God’s design. This trip into the wilderness isn’t what God wants. Take us back!


Notice what Moses and Aaron say. Your complaint is not against US. Your complaint is against God. It wasn’t God’s plan to sell your brother Joseph into slavery. That was anger, and jealousy. But God stepped in and provided the connection that would save your people from famine. It wasn’t God’s plan that the people of Israel would become slaves to Egypt. That was greed and xenophobia. But God stepped in and provided a pathway out of slavery toward a promised land. And it isn’t God’s plan for you to starve or die of thirst in the wilderness. The same God that has provided for you in times of great trouble time and time before, will do so again. In the morning, there will be bread from heaven. In the evening, there will be quails for meat. And from this rock, where you complained, there will be fresh water.


Do you see the problem with a clock maker God? It suggests God designed everything, the good and the bad, and doesn’t care how bad or hard anything gets. Those bad things, sin, evil, are God’s plan.


It also suggests this God isn’t involved. God planned it, built it, and left it alone to do whatever it does, and anything it does is God’s intention. It attributes to God all the bad stuff that happens as part of God design, but doesn’t attribute to God the good stuff that God is actively doing, and asking us to do with God, to undo the damage of the bad and turn all things back to peace, justice, and love. This God we worship is not distant, removed, hand-off, waiting for the grand design to wind down. This God is present, active, and involved, working for justice, peace, and love. This God is maintaining, repairing, and providing. This God is bending, steering, and guiding. This God is calling us, begging us to cooperate with God until all creation is God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

The author of our book says it this way:


“The doctrine of providence is both an extremely comforting as well as an extremely challenging doctrine. It assures us that our world and our lives ARE held secure in God’s hands. God preserves creation and our human existence. It presents challenges to us when we face evil and suffering… It also challenges us in all times to cooperate with God’s purposes in this world, to live according to God’s divine will, and to seek that will for our lives… belief in the providence of God helps us recognize that God IS guiding our lives, directing our circumstances, relationships, and course in life… that God is at work within us and among us to accomplish the divine will and plan.”


A God that provides and guides and wants cooperation is so different than a clockmaker God. The life God has created has enough of everything, but greed or selfishness, sin and evil, trick us. Even then, God is present, providing comfort to those who suffer, and challenging all to be a part of God’s greater purposes by ending the circumstances that cause pain and suffering.


This God is not aloof, distant, removed, watching a grand plan wind down, but is aware, present, and actively repairing and healing all broken things to continue toward God’s great plan. This God is providing and maintaining. This God is guiding and nudging. This God is leading and wanting our cooperation to make sure all creation has what God has provided, enough…. More than food, water, shelter, and safety, more than enough peace, justice, and love.


Will you pray with me…

Prayer

Amen? Amen.


Charge

 

Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you this day, this night, this moment, and forever more. Amen? Amen.

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