- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

The following are excerpts of a sermon yesterday by the Rev. Benjamin A. Shambaugh at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olney.

We began with an Old Testament reading from Numbers 11:4-29. It tells us of Moses’ frustrations with the complaining of the people of Israel after they had received manna to eat.

Even with stomachs full of bread, the people were complaining about not having meat and leeks, and onions and garlic.

Nothing was working. In the whole company, the only spiritual stuff still being done was some prophesying by outsiders with the names of Eldad and Medad — who seemed to accomplish little except to annoy those in control. Burned out and angry, Moses was fit to be tied.

In our second reading, James [4:7-5:6] writes out of a similar level of frustration with the members of the early church. Out of anger he cries: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. … Anyone who knows the right thing and fails to do it commits sin.”

Like the Israelites in Moses’ camp, the people in James’ church knew what they should have done, they just didn’t do it. Instead of doing ministry, they were caught up in controversy with, annoyed by, and a little suspicious of those who were doing the work.

Today, things haven’t changed much. Despite a myriad of opportunities at today’s outreach fair and enthusiastic hand-clapping worship, the reality is that we, like those in James’ church, still need an occasional dose of repentance and a shot in the arm.

It seems that you don’t have to go far in the body of Christ to hear a longing for the garlic, onions, and the good old days … even if, as in the case of the Israelites, the good old days weren’t all that good.

What do our Scriptures say about all this? When, in our Old Testament lesson, the leaders of the Israelites were threatened by those who were doing something outside of the tent, outside of the traditional structures and institutions, Moses listened to their concerns and then said very simply: “Would that all the people were like that.” Or, “Would that the rest of the people would work as hard as they are.”

In Mark 9:38-48, the disciples were concerned about a someone they didn’t know doing work in Jesus’ name. Jesus responded, “Do not stop him. … Whoever is not against us is for us.”

In the words of an ancient Chinese proverb: “The one who said it couldn’t be done should get out of the way of the one that is doing it.”

There is much going on in the world and in the wider church these days that is exciting to some and bothersome to others. In the midst of it all, it can be hard to see good news. Sometimes it takes something as dramatic as the lights going out to remind us just how much of God’s power surrounds us all the time. What about those out there who are doing things you or I wouldn’t necessarily do? Jesus instructs the disciples that instead of being threatened or annoyed with those who do things a little differently, we should encourage them.

As James wrote: “Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it commits sin.” We who call ourselves the body Christ, know how to act. And, like it or not, the way we act has an impact on others. The way we live shows them what we truly believe. As those who follow Jesus, we have a responsibility to encourage — and not get in the way of — others who wish to do the same.

Though we know better, we all do things that are stumbling blocks to those around us. We all have rather rough growing edges that need to be smoothed down.

Today’s Scriptures tell us that if we focus on God’s will rather than our own, God will use people to give us what we need, both to survive … and thrive.

Can you put yourselves in Moses’ sandals? Does his frustration strike an all-too-familiar chord? Do James’ feelings remind you of a situation at work or at home? If so, I hope you will take some time this week and reflect on this morning’s readings. They are tough but equally profound.

Reflect on those who threaten you, those who are working in what seems to be a way that seems annoying, and while you are trying to sort out their stumbling blocks, take a few minutes and sort out your own.

As James wrote, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” If you let him do that, if you let him make those rough places plain, you may just find that the one who is not against you is for you, and that you have far more company on your own side than you realized.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide