God of Transitions: Faithful Uncertainty

Sunday, June 6, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune

Numbers 14:1-10

Grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Back to normal.

That is what the people wanted. More than anything as they struggled with being in the wilderness, they wanted things to go back to normal.

Back to Egypt.

Back into slavery.

Back to the plagues and thirst and the harshness of their captivity.

Then all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us into this land? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?”

Why is it, when we are faced with uncertainty, when we are faced with transitions and when we do not know what tomorrow will bring, why is it that we always long to go back to the way things were? Or the way we imagined things were?

They had sent spies to search out the promised land. They reported giants in the land, “and we seemed like grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them.” Even though Joshua and Caleb brought back a positive report, the people chose to believe the negative report.

Back to Egypt they said. Better to die there than go into a new land and maybe die by the sword. Let us choose a new leader and go back to Egypt.

  • It is safer there.
  • We are at home there.
  • Everything is familiar there.

The people of Israel are stuck. They refused to move forward as they stood on the doorstep of the land God had promised them long ago.

Rather than live into faithful uncertainty they were choosing fearful certainty.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

That longing to go back to the way things were, the way we imagined them to be, the good old days.

How many times have you said ‘I wish things would just go back to normal’ over the last 15 months?

But we cannot go back. In the words of the early 20th century author Thomas Wolfe, ‘you can’t go home again.” Why we may ask.

Well, the world has changed, again. The change is happening so fast we are unable to absorb it and as we work harder and harder to understand the implications of all this change, our lives, our families, our spirituality, and our churches are all deeply impacted.

We feel the trauma of this kind of change more deeply in times of transition.

We feel the uncertainty of this kind of change more deeply in times of transition.

As you listen to this story in Numbers 14, you can feel the anguish as the people cry out, we want to go back to Egypt. We want to go home again. We are afraid of the giants in the new land. We are afraid of what might happen there. We are afraid of all the uncertainty you are asking us to move into as we go forward.

One of the reasons I chose this text for today as I preach the first of my last four sermons at Augustana is because it highlights the struggle that we all have in moving forward in life. This story highlights the struggle the church has in facing change, in leaving behind that which we hold on to as dear and important and moving forward into the promised land.

The God I know, the God I love, the God that has shaped and formed me over the course of my 65 years on this earth is a God that is always pushing us forward.

The full scope of the biblical narrative is one of movement.

  • Of going forward.
  • Of trusting in what God says.
  • And what God wants us to do.
  • And then trusting God enough to do it.
  • To keep moving forward.
  • To not look back.

If I were to sum up the whole biblical story into one phrase it would be a story of the journey from death to life.

  • To go back to Egypt was death. To cross into the promised land was life.
  • To go back to slavery was death. To trust God’s leading hand was life.
  • To go back is to live in fear. To move forward is to live in faithful uncertainty.

Each day we make a choice about this, as individuals and as a church.

Augustana has had 48 years of leadership from two senior pastors and now we stand at the edge of the promised land.

We are moving into new territory, uncharted waters. And we are making this change on the back end of what may well be the most challenging 15 months most of us will ever face over the course of our lifetimes.

Are we ready to keep moving forward?

Do we recognize the need for change, the need for new ideas, new ways to be the church in the 21st century?

Moses and Aaron tried to convince the rebellious Israelites to move forward. They could not go home again. At this critical moment in time, when the fate of the people hung in the balance, while they were in the wilderness unsure of how they could keep moving forward, the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting before all the children of Israel.

The glory of the Lord was a reminder of who is in charge.

The glory of the Lord was a visible sign that God was present, and they need not fear the giants in the land or the changes that would come. All because God was leading them.

  • Do not be afraid. Your future is ahead of you, not behind you.
  • God says, I know the plans I have for you, a future, with hope.

A recent devotional I read said this and it really struck a chord with me.

“Our natural inclination is to be so precise– trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next– that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty.

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life– gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises.” [1]

This is the God I know and trust.

This is the God who is revealed in glory.

This is the God we follow.

Into transition.

Into uncertainty.

Into the promised land.

This is the God I know, a God of transitions, always taking us from death to life.

Thanks be to God. Amen

[1] My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, April 29

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