1 May God’s love and peace be with you. I would like to begin with a question. What was the very first thing that you thought of as you got up this morning? What came up first in your mind as you got up this morning? You could have thought of what you thought last night. You could have thought of your children. You could have thought of your church as it is Sunday. If you ask me the same question, almost every morning, I used to get up thinking of sermon. Right after my alarm goes off, the first thing that comes up in my mind is sermon. Yes, I do have a bit of pressure in my mind. And I tend to be driven by the pressure. I think I want to do well. So, once one service is over, I start thinking about the next service. Actually, I already know the scripture for the next Sunday. When I have spare time, I browse the internet and the book to find inspiring stories to be used for the next service. I am off on Monday. So, I do laundry. I clean the house. I sort out things. Even though I receive emails, I try to push them away. Please excuse me. But, pushing away the pressure about sermon is always hard. So, I find myself sitting on my desk to work on the sermon on Monday night. I know it is not healthy. And I always feel that I don’t have enough time. And I always feel busy. But I know this. I have never run out of time. The truth is, my mind is busy. As my mind is busy, I feel I am running out of time.How about you? What are you driven by? What were you driven by last week?
A couple of days ago, I read an interesting article.It was written by a dentist who has a clinic in New York City. After the lockdown was lifted, he finally started working at his clinic again. But he found something unusual. He found something very unusual. He says he has been seeing so many patients coming in because of tooth fracture. He says he has seen more tooth fractures in the last six weeks than the last six years. He asked other colleagues if they have the same experience, and they said yes. One of the reasons that people have tooth fracture is this. As many people are working at home now, they tend to have poorer posture than they work in their office. That can cause tooth fracture during the night. So, let’s take a moment and correct our posture. And the other major reason is, according to his assumption, the anxiety that people have / caused this problem. He says many people are struggling with a sense of uncertainty, and it leads to health problems.
A couple of weeks ago, there was an important event in the stock market. I don’t buy stocks, but I just follow them up because I can learn many things from them. There are major IT companies, such as Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the like. A couple of weeks ago, their stock prices had fallen. For example, now, Apple is bigger than most countries in the world in terms of finance. And the stock price of Apple dropped 8%. It is a lot of money. I heard a professional talking about the reason why the stock dropped. He said people were afraid of being afraid. People were anxious about being anxious. So, the price dropped. Apart from the virus, apart from the current situation, it is so easy for us to be driven by negative feelings. It is so easy to be driven by pressures. So, let me ask you the same question, but with different words. How are your teeth? How is your soul?
2 We are reading the book of Exodus. As you may remember, the people of God are in the middle of the wilderness. They escaped Egypt, and they are walking toward the promised land. They have already crossed the sea. They have overcome many challenges. But today, again, we see them facing another problem.Now they were tired. They were thirsty. They were hungry. But they were not the actual problems. They started to be driven by anxiety. Worries in their hearts started dominating them. So, they thought to themselves. They talked to each other, what is going to happen tomorrow? What is going to happen next week? What is going to happen next month? Can we possibly reach the promised land? Can our children live in the promised land?
The Bible tells us that God guided them with a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. So, when the pilar moved, they had to move; when the pilar stopped, they had to stop. It means they only knew how far they were going to move just for today. They only knew the destination just for today. Among the congregation, there must be young people. They were very confident about their health. And they could have been very frustrated about the situation. They could have said, “I am confident about my health. And I am concerned about the future of my people. If God allows me, I can go further. I can go faster. But why does this damn pilar stop right here?”
As the future became unclear, something came up in their minds. It was yearning. They started yearning for the past. Yes, they suffered a lot in the land of Egypt. They were forced to work. They had to work without ceasing. They were sick and tired of the oppression. But, amid the challenges of today, the memory of suffering and pain in the past turned into a good memory. Which is something that we experience from time to time. So they said: “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt … There, we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
We tend to think of them as bad people. We tend to think of them as an unfaithful congregation. But if I were there, I think I could have been one of them. What they show us is this. How fragile when we cannot control the future. How fragile we are when we are driven by anxiety. So, I cannot dare to say that they were unfaithful. We cannot exist in the past. We cannot exist in the future. We only exist in the present time. We are only allowed to be in the present time. But, the problem is the present is very short. If I say now, then the moment when I said now has already become the past. So, the present barely exists. It means we barely exist in terms of time. We cannot change the past. We cannot know the future. So, American Jewish teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel said: we are controlling many things in the world. But time is out of our control.
3 In March, I got a call from our DS, saying I will be serving North Ferrisburgh United Methodist Church. I was very excited. I was excited about serving this church and living in Vermont. Even before I moved here, I searched many places to go in Vermont. I tried to know this church more. I think I went on to the church website five times a day. And I exchanged emails with Kim. I assume some of you might want to know about me before I came here as well. You could have searched my Facebook. And still, you might be wondering about what kind of amazing vision I have for this church. It is absolutely important to have a vision. We will figure out what we can do for the next generation of this church. We want to strengthen and expand our ministry for our neighbors. But one of the most faithful attitudes that we can possibly have is to be sincere in every moment. It is to be sincere in every given moment.When the people of God were yearning the past,God brought their attention to the present. And God said to them: Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. But there is a condition. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day.”
There is something that we want to focus. It is not the fact that the food rained from the sky. But the fact that the people of God had to pick up as much as they needed just for that day. The people yearning for the past became happy now that they have food. If I were there, I would be more than happy because I can eat meat in the middle of the wilderness. But there were people who picked up the food for tomorrow, for the day after tomorrow, and for the next week, and the next month. And they found that the food became unedible the next day. Through it all, they learned what it means to be faithful. They learned that they could not change anything with concern, but they learned to focus on the present, and they learned to focus on what they can change today. Do you know that? They have never found a way. They have never had to find a new path. They were not pioneers. But, they learned that being sincere in every given moment was the only way to receive the promised future.
We know a similar scripture in the New Testament. Jesus said: “I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? … “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.
Do you know to whom Jesus preached? Jesus preached to the people who were peasants and tenant farmers. Jesus preached to day laborers. They were in extreme poverty. They had to work today to feed their family tomorrow. Jesus does not say that “do not have a plan.” But Jesus says that we have to be sincere in every given day and every given moment. This teaching was not just a teaching, but it was also a consolation. And it was not just consolation but was also a proclamation. Jesus proclaimed to the people’s hearts that do not worry. Do not let your worries dominate your heart. So, I am no longer thinking of sermon first in the morning by God’s grace. Now I think of my dog first in the morning. He makes me busy. I have to take him out every two hours to pee. But, I am trying to take a better rest than before.
When can we rest? When we finish our tasks? When we have a lot of money? When your children are all grown up? When we are finally retired. No, only when we believe that God is in action in our lives we can have true rest. My siblings in Christ, God is in action in your life. My siblings in Christ, God is in action in your children’s life. Let us rest in him. Let us walk with him. And let us be mannah for our neighbors. Then we will be arriving at the destination of our journey in God’s grace. Amen.