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Worship Theme: Love overcomes jealousy and suspicion.
Sermon Theme: Christian Community
Not long ago, a single-family home burned down in a nearby neighborhood. It was a complete and total loss. Thankfully the family escaped unharmed, but the husband along with his wife and two young children had nowhere to go and no longer anything to call their own. But that’s where their community stepped in. The next-door neighbor opened up her house to them, even when the Red Cross offered up a hotel for them, the neighbor insisted they stay with her. People from around the neighborhood daily dropped off new things like clothes, toys, meals, and gift cards. There was even a GoFundMe fundraiser set up that raised thousands of dollars to help the family rebuild. The community came together to support this family in an amazing way.
How do you define community? Maybe you define it as people who live in the same area; your neighborhood, your building, or your city. Or maybe you offer up another definition - a group of people who share something in common, who share the same interests or goals. Perhaps community to you is a sense of belonging and having a group of people to support each other. A community, very simply, is a group of people united by something. As you know, that comes in a variety of ways.
You belong to different communities. While each of us have our different communities and even live in in various communities, here at Grace, we are a part of another type of community – the church family or community of faith. We are united around the gospel, the good news of God’s grace shown to us through our Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s an important community and one much loved by you. But as you well know, as beneficial and supportive as community can be, there are challenges and strife found within, even the Christian community.
Today we are given the important reminder of what Christian community is all about and why Christ’s love is so necessary within it.
Here’s why we need that reminder. The first reading from the Old Testament book of Numbers chapter 11 starts out with the people of Israel in the midst of their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. What are they doing? They are complaining. The whole community. Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. What were they complaining about? “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna.” They were hangry. But it’s not like God had forgotten about the people or that he hadn’t provided them with food for their journey. In fact, the verses right after this complaint describe the blessing of manna, the bread from heaven. It was plentiful and it was good.
I think I get why they were complaining. The opening verse said this, “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing.” The rabble were non-Israelite people who were tagging along. Think like an Egyptian married to an Israelite spouse who was now on the journey. It was this group that instigated the complaining and influenced the Israelites to complain as well by romanticizing the past. Remember how good we had it? Really? Like when they were horribly mistreated and forced into labor? Like when they were forced to kill their babies? How quickly they overlooked the current blessings from the Lord and longed for the cruel past.
The influence of a world that rejects God can affect you in the same way. It urges you to complain to God about your lack of current relationships, longing for past ones, even though your last relationship was abusive and hurtful. Complain to God about your current job, longing for the last one, even though that job had you so focused on work that you lost sight of Jesus. A world that tells you that you could have it better without following the Lord. This draws you into all sorts of sinful complaining and thoughts that God doesn’t really care for you or provide for you the way that you really need. It ignores the reality.
The Lord became exceedingly angry with the Israelites. And Moses who’s leading these people was troubled to the point that he cried out to God, “I can’t do this! I can’t lead this community any longer! It is too heavy of a burden. Just take my life!” I think that it’s safe to say that Moses was overwhelmed to be the mediator and intercessor for the sinful people of Israel.
When you are influenced to turn against the Lord in complaint and when you feel overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life, know that the Lord provides an even greater mediator who intercedes on your behalf – God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ. While the Lord did not take Moses’ life, he did take the life of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice to set you free from your sins and your slavery to death. Because of Jesus, God says I forgive you, even when you complain and sin time and time again. Because of Jesus, you are forgiven and set free every time. Believe this and live in the security of life with God as you are brought into his Christian community.
As a Christian community, we have the confidence of knowing that God provides and cares for us in this life and for eternal life with him. In this Christian community, we are privileged to support and uplift one another, to be led and encouraged by those whom the Lord puts in places to lead us. Because of God’s amazing grace, he answered Moses’ plea by providing seventy elders who were known leaders in the Israelite community and the Lord equipped them with his Spirit. Those leaders would ease the burden that Moses bore and help lead and direct God’s people.
God still provides those leaders to his Christian community of believers. Those are pastors and church leaders, teachers and encouragers. In that way the Christian community can be built up in the grace of God and reminded of the salvation that is ours in Jesus. Those leaders pray for the Christian community and help to bear each other’s burdens.
Yet as tremendous as the blessings of Christian community can be, there can also be its challenges. When the seventy elders were summoned to come before the Lord, two of them with cool sounding names, Eldad and Medad, remained behind. But God still sent his Spirit upon them and they too prophesied, or proclaimed God’s Word, even though they weren’t with the others. News of this came back to Moses and his aide, Joshua, spoke up, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake?”
Joshua was jealous. It seems as though Joshua saw these two as “not official,” acting without permission, and perhaps trying to take some honor and leadership away from Moses. Moses didn’t give into jealousy and recognized that they too were equipped with the Spirit. Instead of reprimanding them, he encouraged them.
Jealousy is a cruel emotion. It stems from an angry desire to have or protect something and it can lead to resentment, bitterness, and even hostility. A great example of this is found in the family of the Old Testament forefather, Jacob. He had twelve sons. His obvious favorite was Joseph. It was so obvious and so sickening that Joseph was the favorite that it made his other brothers super jealous, to the point that they wanted to kill him. They settled for a slightly less deadly option by selling him to a caravan of traders.
You get this. You know how divisive jealousy can be. It can ruin relationships, destroy community, and consume you to the point that you don’t function in the way that God intends for you. The sad reality is that jealousy can find its way into the Christian community too, just like it did with Joshua. Maybe it’s jealousy of the gifts to serve the Lord that others have, or that others get recognized for their service and you don’t. It could be jealousy that someone else seems to have a stronger faith or their life seems more put together than yours. Jealousy that another church is bigger or attracts more people or has better music, whatever it might be. Jealousy creates rifts in the Christian community and breaks down the ability to serve and love as God’s people. Satan loves nothing more than to break up and divide Christian community. What’s the story of your jealousy?
Thank God that he is a jealous God, in a good way, in the fact that he wants to steal you from sin and death and guard and protect you as his own. In Jesus, you are forgiven and made new.
So, you see, there is no reason to be jealous because it is God who gives gifts for the good of his kingdom, for your good and mine. We can trust that God gives just what you need and what his church needs. With a heart of faith, you can push aside jealousy like Moses and instead rejoice! You can marvel at the gifts and service of others knowing that it is to proclaim Christ and build Christian community. There is no place for jealousy among us, but our prayer should be, “Lord, let me not seek my own glory, but to glorify you in all I say and do.”
Community can be a tremendous blessing, but it can also be messy, even Christian community. But the Christian community is unique. It is built upon and united by the love of Christ for us. It’s that love of Christ that covers over our failures and at the same time moves us to love one another as we bear burdens together and rejoice in the gifts of others. I pray that God’s love shines in all you do as we gather as a community of believers for the glory of the eternal God. Amen!
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