You have met them before. You can even probably look across your life and call them by name. They are people of strong opinions, but unfortunately they see the world through pessimistic lenses. If the day is beautiful they are convinced a drought is just around the corner. If it is raining then the floods will break loose at any moment. If the wind stirs you can just bet that they will predict a tornado will soon be crashing down on you. When a child is born they are the ones that will tell you how much responsibility a child is and that “you’ll end up paying for this kid the rest of your life.” They will couch their language in terms of having a conservative approach to life and money and rather than being risk adverse, they do not take any risks at all. They will tell you that you have to be careful in what you do because if you are not careful you might fail. The fear of failure has held them back from every dreaming anything – ever trying anything – ever reaching out for anything that they are not sure the can do – so in reality they do very little. It is a safe life. It is a secure way of living. But, they miss out on all they could have accomplished. They miss out on a bold walk with God. And, if you if are drawn in by their voices, you will too.
Our focal passage for the morning takes us into dramatic moment in the life of God’s people. God has brought them out of Egypt and captivity, through the Red Sea, and across the desert to the point where the Promised Land appears within reach. Moses and Aaron call out a group of spies whose task will be to sneak into the land to see what they can see and then report back their findings. The report is not offered in the quiet privacy of a tent, but is instead hear at around the fire with a crowd of excitable spectators listening in.
Earlier in the service we heard the passage read from the New International Version. Let’s listen again, but this time from Eugene Peterson’s interpretative translation, The Message.
26-27 They presented themselves before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the People of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told the story of their trip: 27-29 "We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit!
Can’t you imagine the crowd leaning in with excitement rushing through their veins? I can almost hear the buzz as people turn to each other whispering to those behind them – “did you hear that? It is a land that flows with milk and honey.” Others whispering back, “they brought fruit with them. It’s huge and beautiful. I bet it is sweet. ”
Our passage and the story continues; The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan."
“Oh no,” the whispers go out. “There are giants and armies!” I believe that Caleb could feel the fear that the contrary voices has fostered in the heart of the crowd. 30 Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, "Let's go up and take the land—now. We can do it."
But the contrary voices could not be silent. Where Caleb saw hope they saw obstacles. Where Caleb called the people to go forward boldly with God, the contrary voices were shaken with fear. Their fear was contagious. Our passage finishes; 31-33 But the others said, "We can't attack those people; they're way stronger than we are." They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, "We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it's a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers."
This morning we come to bless our graduates. Some this morning mark graduation from high school. Others celebrate the close of their college careers. My word to you this morning is that throughout your life you will be surrounded by people that will tell you about the impossibility of your dreams. They will tell you that the mountains are too tall to cross and that there are giants in the land. They will give you a hundred reasons why passionately pursuing your dream – your sense of call from God – can lead to failure and tragedy. Do not listen to them. In their efforts to help you, they hold you back. Make sure that the first voice you hear is the voice of God. Make sure the first steps you take are the ones set for you by God. Go up and take the land – now. You can do it.
But hear that this is a word for the rest of us as well. There is more to this story. The contrary voices won the day. The people stood up and rebelled against Moses and God. Their rebellion was so strong, their distrust of God’s plan so sure, that God pronounces that all of the contrary voices and all who participated in the rebellion would die before they could go into the Promised Land. While there was some remorse, the people came up with an alternative plan. They were too close now to hear God speak of 40 years of wandering – they would take the land on their own. Moses pled for them to hear God but they would not, they could not, listen. They mustered the troops and attacked those who lived in the land. The results were disastrous.
It is tempting for us to take a look at our resources and come up with our own plans for our lives and plans for our church family. We are tempted to only see resource and capabilities we can hold in our hands and do not consider what God might do in and through us. While we must be open to hearing constructive criticism and committed to be good stewards of the resources God has provided us, we must make sure in our caution we become frozen in place. If our plans are not in accord with God’s plans for us, no matter how carefully deliberated and strategically done, then we will be wasting our time and resources. The only plan that matters is God’s plan for us.
In a matter of two short weeks I will begin my sabbatical period of research, rest, and reflection. It is a time of listening and preparation for our next season of ministry together. On Wednesday night LaJuanda Speegle announced that our PrayFirst ministry, in concert with the deacons and our church staff, will be hosting a house prayer meeting called First Connect Live every week while I am away. Let me encourage you to actively take part in these times set aside for prayer. It will be a way you can be an active participant in our collective listening for God’s will for us in our next season of ministry. We must make sure we are attune to God’s voice and ready to move boldly forward when God calls. We need to make sure we are not distracted by our fears or our own calculations, but ready to go. When God directs us we can move forward in partnership with God. The time is coming when we will go up and take the land where God calls us – we can do it.