By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
June 13, 2021
Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/332903435076086
Scripture: Numbers 11:10-17
This week’s worship theme is “Everything is Sacred: Moving Edition.” Now, I will tell you what I told the folks in the Garden on Thursday evening. I am preaching about this topic by mistake. See, when I made plans for this sermon series, I was hoping Pastor Peter would be here to preach this week. Alas, due to a delay with his work visa, you can see he is not here.
So I am stuck preaching about finding the sacred, finding God, when we move. This is totally ironic because I hate moving. I hate moving so much, that as I thought about preaching on this topic in the garden and realized it would be like 98 degrees that day, I thought, “Well, that’s perfect. Because it will be as hot as hell in the garden…and that’s kind of how I feel about moving.”
I was not coming up with anything good to say about moving this week, so I decided to crowd-source this sermon. I asked on Facebook and on Instagram for people to share some stories of where they experienced God’s presence when moving. To my surprise, a number of you responded!
Some of you mentioned the small, natural reminders of God’s presence: like the pastor friend who named a rainbow in the sky as she entered her first pastoral appointment and a baby cardinal on the steps of another new church when she moved there. Speaking of church, a couple of you mentioned moving to a new congregation and finding God’s love in the welcome there. Heather noted how she felt the Spirit of Christ in the way she was welcomed here at Hanscom Park church.
Rosemarie noted how a church family supported her in particularly vulnerable time in her life. She wrote this on Facebook, “When I was first divorced, a group from a Church [where] I was attending divorce care [helped me]. They helped show me some love when I wasn’t feeling very loveable. They helped pack and provided a pickup truck with trailer to move, [including] muscle and clean up service. They helped me be an active Christian not a passive one. They helped me understand how I could parent three children and celebrate my blessings. When we were done moving, they blessed our new rental. God was there every step of the way. We shared a meal together in my new home with our kids.”
Another one of you, Cindy, shared with me on Instagram that she had the blessing of helping two of her adult children unpack in the span of one week! Now that is a commitment to helping people move. And she did it with joyful hope about the future that would unfold in these homes where her kids and their partners and families were settling.
I am so grateful for these stories because they dislodged my cranky disposition toward moving, and they brought back memories of the people who had helped me move as well. One particularly notable example was when Matt, Ruby, and I were getting ready to move from Omaha to Madison, New Jersey so that I could attend seminary. Before the move, I was at church talking with my friend Joel Walker – you know Joel; he has preached here before.
Joel and his family had just moved to Omaha from seminary a couple of years earlier. So Joel and I are standing around church coffee hour talking about the fact that we are going to be moving. And he is very interested in this. He asks me, “So are you going to move yourselves?” And I was like, “Yep, we are renting a U-haul.” Joel is like, “Are you renting the 15-footer?” And I’m like “Yes, we are.” …and I’m thinking, “Wow, Joel you seem really interested in this.” Then Joel says, “Can I come and help you pack?” And I’m like, “Sure?”
Then he says, “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to be in charge of packing the truck because we’ve moved with that one a bunch of times, and I know some of the tricks to getting everything to fit in.” And I was like, “Absolutely, Joel! Have at it!” Mostly, I was like, “Thanks be to God!” because I was so worried about how we were going to get everything in that truck, and here’s Joel like manna from heaven volunteering to be my truck-packing director. Matt reminded me that not only did Joel help us that day, but my parents also came from Wisconsin to help, along with my Omaha friends Kate, Tim, and Howard. God is good.
See, when I was originally thinking about moving this week, I had forgotten that I never have to do it alone. I was remembering the moments when I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure how I was ever possibly going to get this big moving project accomplished. But I had forgotten the moments where so many people have helped us move over the years.
In our scripture today, we encounter Moses freaking out thinking he has to do something alone. Moses is also in the process of moving. He is in charge of moving the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and into the Promised Land. In the moment in today’s scripture we hear, things are not going great. The group is sort of lost in the wilderness. And, not unlike a child who asks for the one-millionth time, “Are we there yet?” the Israelites have gotten on Moses’ last nerve.
So Moses just freaks out when he is talking to God. He’s like, “God! I cannot deal with these people’s complaining anymore! You have just foisted them on me to take care of all of them. Did I give birth to them? Are they my people? (Subtext here is: no, they are YOUR people.) So now do I have to be responsible for nursing them like a mother so they don’t die out here in the desert? And have you heard them complaining? I cannot do this anymore. You know what (and he literally says this to God), why don’t you just kill me so I don’t have to listen to them complain ONE. MORE. SECOND?”
God, who, I’m not going to lie, sometimes is pretty harsh in the Book of Numbers, takes this rant from Moses very well. God is like, “Okay, Moses. Settle down. I think you need some help. Gather 70 of your people, and I’m going to give them some of the spirit that I have poured out on you. That way, they can help you lead. They can help you bear this burden. You won’t have to do it alone.”
So that’s what God does. Does that mean Moses quits leading and quits trying to do what God wants him to do? Not at all. But it does make it possible for him to keep going and keep leading the people to the Promised Land – with a little help from his friends.
Listen, I am not good at asking for help. I don’t like to burden people. Honestly, I can be a little bit of a control freak. But this scripture reminds me that when I do ask for help, and when I receive help from others, it is a chance to see God at work. It is a chance to remember that God has given us each other – to help one another. Every time we give help or receive help, we are living into God’s design for us: to be people in relationship, people in community, people who cannot survive without each another.
I want to end with a story that a friend emailed to me after seeing the Facebook post asking for help with my sermon today. It is a story that was deeper than I even imagined when I asked the question. I think it shows that sometimes asking for and needing help can utterly transform a broken situation. So I’m just going to share my friend’s words with her permission. She wrote:
“Years ago, when I finished grad school, I wasn’t able to find a local job, so my husband and I decided that I would move to another city where I had found a job. We talked about my husband joining me in a couple of months, but I realized as we packed the truck, that he wasn’t coming. So, I set out on my eight -hour drive in our newly rebuilt truck with no air conditioning and our carsick cat.
I stopped at a park every hour to let the cat get a break from the car and would strike up conversations with the people there. At nearly every stop, people promised to pray for me. Every time, a voice in my head said, “Don’t pray for me. Pray for my marriage.”
A little past the halfway point, in the loneliest stretch of the drive, the oil pressure started to fluctuate radically. I stopped at a payphone to call my husband (who had rebuilt the truck) and asked him what to do. He said the only option was to hope it kept working and try to get it fixed when I got there.
As I drove up the onramp, the truck started to sputter…the truck died near the top of the onramp.
So, I picked up our dehydrated, carsick cat in my arms (so he didn’t have to endure the swaying of the carrier) and walked down the side of the onramp. As I walked, a pair of large dogs started down the top of the hill barking. Our cat was irrationally terrified of dogs and under most circumstances would bolt as soon as he noticed them. I thought to God “You can do whatever you want with me, but why do you have to torture my poor cat?” The instant I completed the thought, the dogs froze and became as silent and still as statues for the rest of the walk. I have had many prayers answered, but none so swiftly and dramatically. From that moment forward I had no doubt that God was leading me somewhere.
My husband says that the moment I called, he suddenly desperately wanted to be there to help. I had taken the only vehicle we owned that had any chance of making it, but a friend kindly offered her truck, and he drove up as soon as he finished his 12 hours shift. We met up in the middle of the night at the motel where I asked to be towed.
When he woke up in the morning, my husband found that there was nothing serious wrong with the truck and quickly had it running well. But, after what had happened, he decided to follow me to my new apartment. There would still be lots of work to do to fix our marriage, but we had decided to do it, and God guided us in that, as well. This took place in 1997, and I am still married to my best friend.”
Thanks be to God that we need one another.
Thanks be to God when we show up to help.
Thanks be to God that we don’t have to journey alone.