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Sunday, July 25, 2021

She Prayed to the LORD

 1 Samuel 1: 1-20

A sermon preached by Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

July 25th, 2021,   Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Way of God’s Justice 16/20


There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite1 from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.

 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

 3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD.

 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters;

 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion,1 because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb.

 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.

 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.

 8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"

 9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the LORD.1 Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD.

 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly.

 11 She made this vow: "O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite1 until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants,2 and no razor shall touch his head."

 12 As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.

 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.

 14 So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine."

 15 But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.

 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time."

 17 Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him."

 18 And she said, "Let your servant find favor in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters,1 ate and drank with her husband,2 and her countenance was sad no longer.3

 19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her.

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the LORD."

 (1 Sam. 1:1-20 (NRS)


In the book ‘Path of the Prophets’ Rabbi Barry Schwartz says, while people often think that the Bible is full of people praying that’s really not the case.  While people do pray throughout the Bible, the act of prayer isn’t often displayed with a lot of detail.   Think about it?  What do you remember about the prayers of Abraham, Moses, or even Simon Peter?  We have many prayerful words from Paul, including one very emotional prayer from Jesus, but specific acts of prayer and praying are harder to find.  However, one obvious depiction a person overtly praying comes from this story of a woman named Hannah. 

You would probably pray too if your life depended upon it.  Most people pray in that kind of moment, haven’t you noticed?  In fact, Scholars believe that cave drawings found in southwestern Europe, going back 30,000 year ago, come from people attempting to communicate with the world beyond.   Still today, even in the most unsophisticated way when people get frustrated, they pray.  Haven’t you heard someone say: “O, my God!”.   My uncle wasn’t a overly religious man but every time he got mad I’d hear him say with southern draw, ‘I god’, instead of ‘By God’.   What would you read into that?   Also, when people get distressed, as during times of the great need, they often cry out whether they are believers or not: ‘Dear God, please help me!’   This is elemental, but it’s still prayer.  It seems to prove, as one scientist has claimed, that we humans are ‘wired’ to pray.

After the twin Trade Towers came down in New York, churches filled up all over this nation, even though church attendance was in decline.  Why did many people go back to church?  It evidently was not to change their minds about church or God, since church attendance is in decline again.  No, people went back to church because they felt they needed to pray.   In times of great need, people pray.  We put our humanness on display.  We reveal who we are way deep down.  We are dependent, creatures who need saving and redeeming.  Even people who do not pray, or do not believe in God, when troubles come our lives we will utter some kind of prayer, an outcry of distress.

In today’s Old Testament text, Hannah was desperate and deliberate in prayer.   In fact, the text says she went to the temple and continued praying (v. 12), even begging God.   She wasn’t praying because she wanted to get close to God.  She was already close to God because she went to the temple to pray over and over.  In this text the even the priest thinks Hannah is intoxicated because lips are moving so fast.  It was her own desperate situation constantly drove her to her knees.  Let’s take a look. 



Hannah’s situation was what every woman and couple fears—infertility.  The inability to conceive a child.   Her value of self came down to whether or not she could conceive.   To reduce a woman to her womb was an act of cruelty in the ancient world.   It was a time when men dominated, and a woman who was unable to have a child was marked as barren.  A woman’s future and worth depended on her having children.  If a woman had no children, and her husband died, she could end up barren both in life and death.

As heavily as this burden weighed upon Hannah’s heart and soul”, as was customary in such situations, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, had taken a surrogate wife to fulfill her duties.  Polygamy wasn’t that common among the Hebrews, but it was legal and morally acceptable, especially when necessary to produce children.   Unlike Hannah, his second second wife, Peninnah was able to conceive and she bore several children (1 Sam. 1:4 NRS).  This only added fuel to the fire to Hannah’s pain and hurt.  Even though it was obvious that Elkanah loved Hannah, she was still childless and the ‘other woman’ was unnecessarily rubbing it in.

What seems most cruel in this situation, however, was this ideal that ‘the LORD had closed her womb’.   To attribute both good, bad, or whatever happens to be under God’s control, is comforting to some.   But this can certainly backfire badly.  That’s one reason we should never claim to know more than we know, especially when it comes to God.  Think about it.  While it may seem good to say God is in absolute control of everything that happens, or that life is always going according to God’s plan may sound reassuring, but is it really?   Is God responsible for hungry children?  Is God responsible for natural catastrophes?   Is God responsible for cancers, accidents, or other evils in our world?   How could Hannah attribute her dire situation to God, then keep praying to that same God for help?

 To some people, throughout history and still today, the Old Testament makes God look like a ‘moral monster’ who punishes, judges, rules or controls the world.  But is this a fair understanding of what the Hebrews actually believed?  Certainly, there is growth in the understanding of God throughout the Bible and  God wasn’t understood in the same way as God is more fully revealed in the servant life and suffering death of Jesus Christ.  But still, this doesn’t mean the Old Testament view of God is different.  God is God.  God is the God of compassion and mercy in the Old Testament, as God is in the New Testament.  As God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 33:18–19 (NRSV): “Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’   No, God isn’t different, but people are different.   Humans ways of understanding and knowing God has changed and continue to change. 

Thus, when Hannah’s understood that ‘the Lord closed her womb’ she wasn’t holding God responsible for her misfortune, but she was actually making a faith-statement in worship of God, just like people still do when they trust God through difficult situations.  ‘Where else can we go but to the Lord,’ the song rightly says.  Hannah was acknowledging God’s presence, even in her own difficult situation.  She’s wasn’t blaming God for making this happen to her.  She felt, especially through the ridicule from husband’s second wife, that she herself was somehow responsible for her barrenness.  The common understanding of that world had almost no grey area, but very black and white.  To the Hebrew mind God is only good but humans have a propensity toward evil.  The only way a righteous God could respond to human sinfulness, and remain holy and righteous, is to judge and punish sin.  However, since God is merciful and compassionate,  Hannah believed that though she may have been somehow and unknowingly responsible, through her prayers she hope that her merciful and compassionate God might grant her request and end her despair.            

It was this misunderstanding that misfortune always comes to evil persons and fortune comes to those are good, which was the great misunderstanding that Jesus attempted to correct, as we see in the story if the healing of the ‘Man born Blind’.   Perhaps you recall, in John 9, where the disciples asked Jesus about the man’s blindness, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”  This question makes the assumption that since God controls everything, then only bad things happen to those who are bad and only good happens when people are righteous.   Now, such a nicely neat package of ‘tit for tat’  might sound comforting, if you are fortunate that is.  But such a belief can also backfire, especially for those who can’t understand why bad things are happening to them in a particular moment.  This can cause, and has caused people to lose all faith in God. 

What Jesus does when he heals the blind man is to deflect this whole line of reasoning, avoiding any kind of cause and effect answer.  Jesus gives his a spiritual insight that looks for the good, explaining that God allows this man’s blindness so that God can do a work of healing in his life.  But what kind of answer is this, really?  What would Jesus say to those who aren’t healed?   Well, the quick answer is that Jesus doesn’t give any answer to what can’t be answered.  Jesus wanted to move his disciples away from the need of having answers to every situation, but to develop the kind of faith that becomes an answer by working with God for good to bring solutions, hope and healing for the world.   So, while Jesus was indeed a Jew who saw God as ultimately behind all things, even Jesus did not try answer what can’t be answered in life, but as Paul explains more fully, Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the good we can do, joining with God in his saving, healing, and redemptive mission in the world. 

Now, how do we look back to Hannah’s situation through faith in Jesus?   We definitely shouldn’t see Hannah blaming God, nor do we see her attempting to confess some unknown sin to God.  What we do see in this story is a woman of great faith, appealing to her compassionate and merciful God she hoped would answer her prayer and change her situation.   But is this the kind of prayer we should still ask and expect God to answer?  Hannah is probably only part of the biblical story because she eventually, miraculously, bore the child named Samuel who would anoint Israel’s first king.  Does, or should this story give us any hope that God might answer our own prayers?



         Our human need to pray, especially when we face misfortune desperation is where Micah’s requirement of humble walking with God comes in.  How do we humbly prayer to God when we need something to happen, either for us,  or in the world?   Do we do like Hannah does, make vows to God and then hope for the best, trusting that somehow God will answer?  

        One of my professors in Seminary did exactly this.   Delos Miles was in a fox hole when the North Koreans suddenly attacked and unexpectedly overran their position.   All the people in the fox hole line with him were shot and killed, but somehow he survived.   When the enemy were coming to inspect the dead, he pretended he was dead by lying completely still.  With the enemy all around him, he laid there for 9 hours praying, making vows saying,  “God, whoever you are, if you get me through this, I’ll do anything.  I’ll serve you in ministry.”  And sure enough, Dr. Miles survived and he kept his vow too.  He returned home from the war, went to college and seminary, made straight ‘A’s and became a much beloved Seminary professor, teaching Evangelism where I studied.  He preached the baccalaureate sermon at my graduation ceremony.  But here’s the thing.  Is this really what prayer is about?  Is prayer really making vows, even promising ourselves to God to get things from God?  As I heard a TV preacher say: ‘Expect Great things from God.  Get great things from God.  Besides, wasn’t Hannah’s prayer selfish, even though it certainly wasn’t self-serving?   If God fulfilled her request, she did promise her child to God.  Interestingly, in a Hebrew culture, that wasn’t so dramatic because every first born male child was dedicated to God, but what made her vow special was how she was making a ‘nazarite vow’, promising abstinence, making her child uniquely available to God.   

 So, let’s consider this further.  Is this what prayer means, that we make promises to God and make a promise that increases our chances of a getting a favorable answer?   It would seem, if we reduce prayer to ‘promising’, ‘asking’ and only ‘getting’ what we ask for, then we’d have to also say that Jesus was a failure at prayer, wouldn’t we?  Jesus prayed,  Lord, it be possible, take this cup from me!’ but God didn’t ‘take the cup’ nor did God even immediately answer why’ Jesus was forsaken at the cross.  We can now see the good in ‘why’ God didn’t answer and allowed Jesus to suffer, but what does this mean for us, when make promises, or when we live righteous lives, yet our prayers aren’t answered as we need; when we see no good that comes to us, or to others we love?    

        So, thinking about Hannah’s vow and also about my professor’s prayer in the foxhole, what’s in prayer for us?   While we can obviously see something of our human condition in bargaining with God, but what does prayer mean whether we do, or whether we don’t get what we ask for?  What if God had answered ‘no’ to Hannah, would she have returned to the temple to pray anyway? 

One thing for sure, at some time or another, we all run up against a situation, a problem, or a dilemma when are in desperate need and will pray, even bargain or make promises to God.  But what I think makes Hannah stand out, is not only was she very human in expressing her need to God, she’s also very unusual, like my professor was after the foxhole incident, of someone following through with their promise by giving themselves fully to God.   

Think about this.  We don’t really know about Hannah because she prayed, nor because her prayer was answered.   No, we only know about Hannah, just like I only knew my professor, because they kept and followed through with their promises.  Because Hannah actually gave her child to God, even before she conceived, and because she held nothing back, we see and know about her.  We don’t simply know her as an example for getting answers from God, but as being an answer for God in who they are and how they pray.






        As this story ends, the final point isn’t simply made only that the Lord answered Hannah’s prayer, granting Hannah’s request exactly as she prayed.  But the text expresses answering much more personally, saying rather, that ‘The Lord remembered her’!  God’s answer as remembering us, points beyond what happens or doesn’t happen when we pray, but it moves to answer most importantly who God is and who we are to God.  In other words, the text doesn’t end with a mere objective result; We pray, God answers.  No, it ends by asking us to consider this God who cares, and has compassion on us, not just the answer God gives to us.

To say that God remembers certainly doesn’t mean that God is capable of forgetting us, but it points to the fulfillment of God’s promises in the life of God’s people who trust and hope in Him.  Sometimes God remembers us by answering our prayers as we ask them, so that we may hardly remember even asking.  Other times, however, God remembers us by giving us much more than what we ask, so that we never forget.  The answer becomes part of us and changes not only our situation, but everything about us.  That’s what is being implied here. 

By saying that God remembered Hannah means that God gave Hannah a gift even greater than her child—if that can be imagined.  And that is exactly what is being expressed here.   God not only remembered to give Hannah’s request his full attention, but this merciful, gracious God who remembered her, was also giving Hannah, and God’s people a gift they would never have to give back.  In remembering Hannah, God gave Her the greatest gift—himself.

This means, or what I hope it means to you is that you can make Hannah’s story something inspiring for your whole life.  While I sincerely believe that prayer always makes a difference, prayer shouldn’t be reduced to only to getting answers.  If that’s what prayer means, then ‘walking humbly with God’ would go out the window of probability, wouldn’t it?   We all have what we want, so we would for get, right?  But God makes sure not only that if we want to remember to him, we will, but God also makes sure we all know, through this story that God also remembers us, when we pray. 

Even if there isn’t always a direct link between our asking and the answers, that doesn’t mean God isn’t listening or that God isn’t remembering what we pray, seek or ask.   Prayers always have an impact, and I believe they always influence an outcome in our lives and in our world.   Everything seen is influenced by things unseen, isn’t it?   When I pick up a saw, a pencil, a paintbrush and try to create something from an invisible, original idea in my mind, I transfer those concepts to my hands and feet to make an impact.   In the same way, when I speak my heart to God who loves, cares, and continues to work through us all in this world, I can be confident that God works from and through our all ours hearts and minds too, bringing his own universal mind to bear his perfect and loving purposes into our wills and lives through our own hands, feet, and actions that can create a better world and loving responses.   In other words, prayer isn’t just mind over matter, but it’s means we matter, because God works through all our situations, through mind and matter to bring about most everything that we know as real in life.

Also, when I know that my thoughts impact the world, and when I trust that the words l say and the way I live makes a difference; I also know that God remembers, as the song says, ‘even me’.  I can also be confident that the prayers I express to God will somehow impact the events I live, although I might not always see it directly.   As William Temple, once quipped, ‘When I pray, coincidences happen.  When I don’t pray, coincidences don’t happen.”   In other words, we may not always see how our prayers change the world, but we can always know how prayer changes us, from the inside out.  

In the final scheme of things, having a God who remembers us, you and me, is always what matters the most.  As Jesus was about to suffer and meet his death, this was his greatest concern too.   Jesus didn’t primarily take his leave of this world only saying go do what I say or did.  That came later in the fulness of his resurrection power, but not in the weakness of his flesh.  On the night when he was betrayed, the Scripture says, as Jesus felt the full weight being human,  Jesus expressed to his disciples was that his greatest need was, and still is, to ‘Remember me!’  Do this, in remembrance of me.’   Do you hear, really hear this?  In the Old Bible, a human is found praying and hoping that God will remember them, and God does.  In the New Bible, however, God inhabits human flesh, praying and hoping that He will be remembered by us.  Now, as I see it, that’s is the spirit of prayer.  Prayer isn’t mostly about WHAT we need, but WHO we need.   This God whom we need, also needs, and wants to remember us.   When you know that, you are walking humbly with God.   Amen 



Sunday, July 18, 2021

Let Us Go Up…

 Numbers 13: 25-14:24

A sermon preached by Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

July 18th, 2021,   Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Way of God’s Justice 15/20



Numbers 13:25–14:24 (NRSV): The Report of the Spies

25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. 33 There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”


The People Rebel

14 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”

5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the Israelites. 6 And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9 Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 10 But the whole congregation threatened to stone them.

Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”


Moses Intercedes for the People

13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for in your might you brought up this people from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people; for you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go in front of them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 And now, therefore, let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke, saying,

18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,

forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty,

visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children

to the third and the fourth generation.’

19 Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked; 21 nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord— 22 none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me wholeheartedly, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.


         In this series of messages on Pursuing Justice, I’ve divided this discussion into three sections, following Micah 6:  Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  

We are now in the third and final section, considering the spiritual foundations of extending God’s justice and love in the world.  Through Old Testament characters and stories from the foundational books of Gods law, the Torah, we want to try to answer more fully, how do we walk humbly with God in our lives today?  

In this message, we are looking closely at the biblical character named Caleb, one of the spies Moses sent to help calculate how and when the Israelites should enter the promised land.



         I just read to you this interesting story from the book of Numbers, telling us how the 12 spies sent by Moses to survey and spy out the promised land came back with a two-sided report.  The good news was that the land was just as God had promised.  It was described as very resourceful, described as a land flowing with milk and honey.  

But there was also bad news.   This land belonged to someone else: namely, the Canaanites.    Before Israel could inhabit the land, they had to seize, fight for, and take the land.  But that wasn’t the real problem for these well-trained military men.  

The real problem was that the people living in the land were like ‘giants’ compared to the Israelites.  While the Israelites had barely been surviving in the wilderness, these Canaanite peoples had lived on a diets high in protein.  Their size and strength made even these well-trained soldiers tremble in their sandals, feeling like ‘grasshoppers or insects, who could have easily been squashed by their enemies.

         Before we can look closely at Caleb’s unique response toward this Israel’s problem, it’s imperative that we stop to reflect briefly upon our own moral problem with a biblical story like this.  Since we are talking about pursuing justice and loving mercy, we must note that here is a story celebrating one people about to conquer and seize the land that belonged to another group of people.  How can a story like this be part of a human journey toward being just and merciful?

         Well, the bare ‘faced’ truth is that you can’t take a story like this at face value.  You shouldn’t be able to make fit.  This was their world, not ours.  If we tried to justify what Israel did based on our current understandings of justice, fairness, mercy, or righteousness, it would be like trying to put a round peg into a square hole.  You just can’t.  We can’t.  No one can.   We live beyond that world.  

I don’t have time to go into great detail in explaining all this, but it goes against common sense to attempt to justify how people lived then by our own understandings and life-situation today.  We can’t and shouldn’t try to live our lives backwards. 

Even with the Bible in hand, and perhaps especially with the Bible in hand, since it is so ancient, we can’t live or justify what it says backwards.   You can, and should look back to the good but like Lot’s wife, the moral and spiritual truth becomes ‘stone cold’ morally if you live the truth backwards.  Remember, Lot’s wife looked back.

However, we certainly can, and we must learn from the past, or we’d be doomed to repeat it.  Much of our learning comes from what we did wrong, as what we do what we did right, right?  That’s also we shouldn’t  dare justify what Israel did then, just like you can’t always justify what our own forefathers have done.  We aren’t them.  They weren’t us.  You can and should look back, but you can’t live backwards. 

Isn’t this part of the difficult learning going on in our own culture, with questioning about Christopher Columbus, the question of reparations being paid to descendants of enslaved African Americans, or The Civil War statues?   As a society we are learning  that we can’t celebrate Columbus as a moral hero or perfect example on our terms; nor can we justify private or public enrichment based on enslaving or mistreating African Americans, nor should we ever want to go back to relive the Civil War.  No, if we try to live backwards, we can only make matters worse.  

For the same reason that we must learn from our failures, we also  must neither try to live in the past nor completely ‘cancel’ or deny our human flaws and failure or forget the good in the past or the good that flows out of the past either.  We need to adjust our thinking, our believing and our living from what we have hopefully learned from these flaws, successes and experiences, but we must keep living forward, only looking back to keep moving in the right direction, so we can continue to grow and mature and not repeat the past.

         Just as this maturing comes from learning what is most important and good in life, this looking back and learning also comes in an even greater and grander way through Scripture.  The Bible gives us a much longer and larger perspective of life which isn’t only historical, but it’s also inward, spiritual and theological too.   The Bible is about reestablishing our connection with God, our creator, sustainer, and redeemer in life, who leads, guides and shepherds our steps on right paths in right directions. 

In making life choices we can still get lost and freeze in fear of what might or what does lie ahead.  This is what the Israelites were about to do.   On the way to their promised land, they were about to ‘freeze up’ and ‘lock down’ in fear, rather than to accept the challenges of victory.  But to do this, they had to trust God’s power and presence to keep moving forward with them toward the promise.  Israel needed learn to look at life’s challenges with spiritual eyes of faith and not only with the physical eyes that can become frozen in fear.   

Indeed, this ability to ‘see’ and to ‘trust’ is the attitude of spirit that is being especially noted in this biblical story.  Had it not been for Caleb’s very unique, believing and very different spirit, the people would have never entered and conquered and taken the land.  

Now, again, don’t get sidetracked by the moral problem in this story.  I’m not negating nor lessening it, but I’m acknowledging we from this story we can still learn what it means to face the fears and challenges we also encounter in life.  

Yet, with value of having faith, we must not use their understanding of God, nor our own, to justify immoral attitudes because this can lead us wrong to do evil, not justly.   Last year, a leader of a cult finally met justice and went to prison because he used religion as a cover for sex trafficking.  In a similar way, it wasn’t true faith but Islamic extremism that Arab terrorists used to justify a ‘holy war’ against the United States, bringing down the Trade Towers in New York. 

In a similar way, morally and politically, Palestinians today question whether Israel has a legitimate right to the land.  Now, I’m not arguing anything political here, but I only want to point out how the arguments for or against Israel’s right to the land can be made on religious, biblical grounds, but this can end up as an argument either for or against.   On the one hand, God gave them the land, but on the other hand, however, God took the land away from them through the Romans back in 70 AD.  In other words, as one Jewish legal historican has said, there must be a ‘statute of limitations’ here.  Neither Israel nor Arabs have any sole right to the land based on the past, because they all must come together and live in the present.  Now, that’s the kind of reconciling biblical and Christian truth that could move everyone forward!  (Quote From ‘The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Historiographic Essay, by Melissa Thiel  at      


DO NOT FEAR THEM... (14:9)

         So, with this understanding we can look back and see this ‘different’ attitude or spirit in Caleb; what was it?   How did Caleb rise above and stand out from the other spies, who all observed the same ‘fortified cities’ and ‘giants?   They all became and only became afraid, while Caleb responded with a very different spirit of trust and faith?

         This is what should challenge us in this story, isn’t it?   We still face our own giants and ‘walled-up’ situations too.   And when we face these situations, it’s so easy, as the other spies and people did, to allow ‘fear’ to dominate and control us, rather than trusting God and relying upon our faith and belief in God’s promise and purpose. 

Folks, even if this Bible story wasn’t true, (but it is true), we’d still need it.  We need to hear about Caleb’s faith that enabled him to face his fear, because we still have many fortifications and giants standing between us and where we need to go, to live, to survive, to thrive or to get to where God and where life is leading us.

         When I think about facing our fears, even in the most ordinary way, I remember the smallest little thing that was a very big thing in my own growing up.  Do you recall learning to ride a bicycle?   I recall this particular challenge because I was younger than most of my young friends.  This made me so intimidated that I became afraid and didn’t master it until age 6, when my Dad gave me confidence as he pushed me down the hill.  

I tried the same strategy with my own daughter but it didn’t work.  She wasn’t afraid, however, she did get frustrated when I tried to push or help her.  Still at 3 years old, just before her 4th birthday, she begged me to remove her training wheels and she wanted me to leave her alone and let her go.  I did and watched her keep falling down one afternoon, until she mastered it all on her own.   I still reflect on what she was able to accomplish without any help, simply because she had no fear.

More than 80 times in the Hebrew Bible alone, God tells his people not be afraid.   God tells his people that, but we still have a lot to be afraid of, don’t we?   There are terrorists loose in the world.  There is crime on our own streets and protests that get out of hand.  There is food that ‘s not safe and drugs that aren’t proven.  There’s also rules that are unfair and politicians that aren’t looking after us, like they say they are.  There’s of course, the other driver, and there’s our own minds and bodies that can play tricks on us.  How can we not be afraid, when there’s so much that we can and should be afraid of?

         We also know that some people can deal with their fears pretty well, or they have ways to be distracted, but we also know that having too many or too much fear can paralyze a people and a life too.  And when it comes to our greatest human fears, what do think you they are?  On the Psychology today website, it lists the 5 most basic human fears and each one of them deal with some kind of loss; loss of life, limb, freedom, relationship or sense of self.   In most every situation fear is not so much about getting hurt or having pain, but it’s the loss that comes to that is the greatest hurt, pain and fear of destruction, which threatens to steal the life we have and our promise of hope.



     Caleb is remembered as one of the great heroes of biblical faith because he overcame his own fear and he also challenged the people of Israel to overcome their fears too.   Even when the people turned against his challenge an attempted to stone him and Joshua, Caleb stood firm, unafraid of what the people could do to him. 

         Fortunately, for Caleb, and for the people too, Moses interceded his life was spared.  Caleb’s courageous, fearless faith became a gift of hope and encouragement for the people.  They looked back and remembered that even in times of fear and doubt, they could overcome the challenge of achieving victory through faith.

There are probably many reasons that Caleb had decided for faith over fear, but the primary reason, one Rabbi explains, is that ‘God commands that we not fear!’   Those 80 times God tells his people not to be afraid aren’t suggestions, they are all commands.  In Rabbi Harold Kushner's own words: "God commands us to not be afraid. Not because there is nothing to fear but precisely because the world can be such a frightening place.   God realizes that we can never fulfill our potential as human beings if we are paralyzed by fear."

Underscoring this message facing our fears with faith is what the entire New Testament confirms over and over; and it is expressed most clearly in the very Jewish Christian book of Hebrews, where the writer reminds his readers over and over that is ‘by faith’ that God’s people are able to achieve God’s better way and God’s better promise of hope.   I find it interesting that the writer of Hebrews does mention the spies and Moses, but he never mentioned either Caleb nor Joshua.   Hebrews quickly moves through the ‘cloud of witnesses’ to get to Jesus, who is the ‘pioneer and perfector’ of our faith.          

I think this implies something that is very important for us to understand too.  Caleb was no ‘giant’ of the faith like Abraham or Moses.  However, Caleb’s faith, even as one of the ‘little guys’ is remembered in the Bible’s great story because the story of redemption and conquest would not have moved forward without the living, firm faith of this little guy Caleb, who had a ‘different’ spirit and challenged the people saying,  Let us go up...we can overcome! (13:30).   



Now, let’s mention one more thing: Caleb gave a great challenge to the people of God because Caleb had a faith that enabled him to overcome his own fear, rather than to give into it.   But how did Caleb develop this kind of faith?   How did Caleb become the one man out of those 12 spies who was able to face his fears and overcome them with conquering faith?

I think this text gives us one especially important clue.  Do you see it?  It comes in one line, where Caleb explained his faith and hope for victory to the people.   He told them, “The exceedingly good” (14:7); in other words, its worth the challenge.   But what Caleb says next is what truly reveals heart of hearts: “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us to the land and give it to us...Only do not rebel against the LORD; do not FEAR...THE LORD IS WITH US...DO NOT FEAR THEM (14:8-10).

         What we must finally take from this story isn’t so much that Caleb was able to get rid of his fears; he didn’t; and we can’t either.  Besides, fear isn’t all bad, at least not all the time.  In fact, fear can be good for you too.  It work like a normal, healthy dose of castor oil.   We might not like how it feels, but it does the trick.  Fear can make us careful, alert, and aware of what is happening or about to happen.  It can make us better drivers, better stewards, better workers, and better people too.

         But we all know too, that just as there is an upside to fear, there can also be a downside, if we allow fear rule everything, shutting down our hope and closing out our faith.   How do we keep fear from doing this?  

         Well, the obvious answer from Caleb is that he didn’t get rid of all his fear, but he has ‘displaced’  his fear by putting something else in his life that was stronger than his fear---his faith in God’s promise and presence.   This is what Caleb meant when he said, “If the Lord is pleased with us...”  (14:8).   Caleb ‘fear’ of not pleasing God was greater than he fear of the Canaanites.  But this ‘fear’ of God wasn’t a fear of what God might do to him, but of a fear of not trusting God enough to move forward ‘with’ God, fully knowing, like Caleb challenges us, to trust in faith that God is, and will be ‘with us’ 14:9.


Most of you have heard of The Flying Wallendas, the world-famous acrobatic troupe, who were best-known for their "human pyramid." The pyramid was begun with two men on a tightrope holding a pole between them; atop that narrow pole were perched as many as ten other performers, members of the Wallenda family and friends.

And all this without a safety net!

Every circus buff has heard the story of the day the human pyramid fell. The Wallendas were performing in a small Midwestern town. Two members of their troupe were killed and two others injured for life.

For several days, the Wallendas did not perform. Then the announcement went out that they would step out on the high wire again and the climax of their act would be the human pyramid!

It all went off without a hitch and that night a newspaper reporter cornered Karl Wallenda, the leader of the group, as he walked to his trailer. "Mr. Wallenda," he asked, "what made you go back after the accident?"

Wallenda seemed surprised by the question. But then he looked the reporter in the eye and said, "To be on the wire is life; all else is waiting."

         For a Caleb, and for one who follows walks with God by faith on a daily bases,  faith comes more natural than fear.  It doesn’t mean that a believer doesn’t have fears, it only means we have developed a more natural, or should I say, ‘supernatural’ feel for faith.  

Why does having faith come to feel more natural?  Well, as Will Roger the Texas humorists used to say, “Sometimes you have to go out on a limb because that's where the fruit is.”  

The greatest proof of Christianity for others, said the writer T.S. Eliot, is not how far we can logically analyze our reasons for believing, but how far in practice we will stake our lives on our beliefs.

Caleb’s minority faith report still provides us a sure foundation for doing justice and loving mercy in this world, doesn’t it?   There are so many ideas, opinions, forces, and powers loose in the world right now.   We all feel it, and we can become paralyzed in our own fears because of all these negative powers too.  

What I think Caleb teaches us well, is that having faith, walking close with God is what keeps us from being frozen or overcome by it.   Keeping Faith is especially important for pursuing justice because only faith enables us to keep doing justice; even when others shy away from it or misuse it.   Keeping faith is what enables us to keep loving mercy, even when others abuse it or try to abuse us. 

To do what needs to be done, and what must be done in this world, requires that we obey God’s command to not be afraid, by having the kind of faith that walks and talks with him, each and every day.   And when we walk with him, we can know that he is with us’ because we are trusting in him, and we know him, our daily life and practice of faith.   Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sing to the Lord...

Based upon Exodus 15: 1-21.

Preached by Charles J. Tomlin,

on July 11th 2021

Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Roots of God’s Justice 14/20


Exodus 15:1–21 (NRSV): Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

2 The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3 The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.

4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

5 The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.

6 Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power—

your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.

7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

10 You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

12 You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them.

13 “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

14 The peoples heard, they trembled; pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away. 16 Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O Lord, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

17 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession, the place, O Lord, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

18 The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

19 When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Some people look at something extraordinary and will then write it off as just another ordinary event.    

Case and Point:   A certain comedian was an avid baseball fan, but every other sport to him was just a bore.  One afternoon, when a friend took him to see a football game, the comedian watched the action on the field with total disinterest.  Suddenly, in the second half of the game, the crowd came to its feet when a punt receiver ran the ball almost the entire length of the field.

"Did you see that?" the friend screamed. "He carried the ball ninety yards!"

"So," the comedian shrugged.  He said, ‘I’m not impressed, it isn’t heavy.’   (Adjusted from Barbara Brokoff)

Now that’s will take the wind out of your sails!   But today, I want to try to put some ‘wind’ back into your sails, as we come to the final section of messages from this series on Micah 6:8, ‘What the Lord Requires?”

In the first part of our journey, we looked into lives of Old Testament people who were ‘doers’ of justice.    Justice flows out of God’s desire for us is to be free to be who we are created to be but in a broken world, doing justice and living righteously isn’t automatic, so we must pursue it.  

Secondly, we also spoken about ‘loving mercy’ as God loves mercy.  In order to pursue justice in this world, we also understand that God is for us, not against us.   Our God, the true God of the biblical tradition, is love and this is why God calls us to live righteously and seek justice; God loves us.   But God also, calls us to love mercy not only in our own behalf, but in behalf of others too.  Our loving, merciful God is a missionary God and he calls us to be a missionary people whose mission is to do justice through acts of gracious and merciful love.  

Today, we come to the final part, which is foundational to both doing justice and loving mercy.  Micah describes this is as ‘walking humbly with your God’.    In the next six messages we will use stories of Old Testament Bible characters to help us understand what it means to ‘walk with God humbly, so that we will do more than what we want, but that we will walk with God in ways that we do what God wants: do justice that loves mercy.  

Before we get to our text for today, if you take a closer look at the context of Micah’s words, you’ll see that Micah’s understanding of justice and everything about mercy, begins with ‘the LORD’ (6:1) who is God.   Remember,  when Micah speaks these words about doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, the context is a courtroom where the prophet Micah has envisioned the LORD taking his people to court before the mountains (6: 1-2).  In Micah’s own words,  the Lord has a case against his own people because the faithful have disappeared (7:2) and the people pervert justice (7:3) as they have become very skilled in devising and doing evil (7:1)  in how they live (2:1ff).  They ‘hate the good’ (3:2) and don’t love and trust each other, even in their own families (7: 5-6).  They’ve even learned to love the evil they are doing to each other (3:2).    

The Lord’s case against his own people was full proof.   They were on trial for both the evil they have done, as well as, the good they have failed to do.   The evil that permeated Israel, like the evil that quickly overtake any nation, is moral, but it’s also a spiritual.  In other words, the reason Israel has succumbed to perverting justice and loving evil is, as Micah says, they have learned to ‘walk haughtily’ (2:3) and have failed to ‘walk uprightly’ (2:7) leaving right ‘paths (4: 2) and walking with ‘a god’ (4:5) but not walking humbly with their God, who is the Lord (4:5, 6:8).   

So, the Lord has a case against his own people, and allows judgement to come upon them because they learned to love injustice and failed to show love and mercy to each other.    

But how does this requirement relate to us, today, in our own lives?  Does God still require us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Our God?   We’ve answered ‘yes, of course’ by studying what the Torah, the most basic law of God says about doing justice and loving mercy.  Of course, we must still ‘do justice’ in our world.  Of course, we must still love mercy.  How terrible would it be to have to live in a world without both fairness (justice) or forgiveness (mercy)?  Any person who can reason and think it through, knows that Micah speaks with wisdom here.  

But what about ‘walking humbly with OUR God’?  What can, does, and should this mean in a science-based, high tech world like ours, where it’s not only ‘their’ God who is now questioned, but it’s also OUR own God, the God of the Jews and Christians, and now the Muslims too, who is being held in question and great doubt.   Thus, the question constantly before us isn’t just ‘who’ is God and how should we ‘walk’ before him, but is there a God at all?   Just like it was in Micah’s day, the question of God asks ‘will we walk through life ‘haughtily’ (2:3) living as the song says ‘My way’?  Or, will we walk in life, as Micah says is required of us,  with humility singing the alternative: ‘I did it God’s way!”  Our finally messages will attempt to answer: Does the humility required in walking with God make any real difference in my life or for the world? 

This very symbolic picture of ‘singing’ life, ‘my way’, like Frank Sinatra used to sing, or singing your life in the alternative ‘God’s way’ connects us with today’s text from Exodus.   Here in Exodus 15, we find both the extensive Song of Moses along with the very brief, Song of Miriam.   The ‘songs’ appear in the Exodus story,  as music of celebration just after the Israelites passed through the dry seabed and escaped from Pharaoh’s armies (Ex. 14:1ff).  

After being released from years of oppression in Egyptian slavery, Moses and his sister Miriam broke out in song and celebration ‘to the LORD’.    This is where ‘walking humbly with God begins!   We begin to walk with the LORD when we learn how to SING TO THE LORD!  (15: 1, 21).    And singing to the LORD begins, as I suggested at the beginning of this message, when we SEE or experience something that is extraordinary that is ‘for us’ and not ‘against us’.



The humble walk with God, at least in the Exodus, begins really with Miriam, not with Moses; and do you know why?    Notice that it is Miriam who is named the Lord’s Prophet (15: 20), long before Moses was (Deut. 18: 14; 34: 10).  

Another interesting tidbit, if you should call it that, is you’ll notice that the chorus in Moses song is basically the same as the small little chorus that Miriam sang.   That short little chorus found in both their songs goes: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumph gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” (15: 1; 15: 21).  (Yes, I realize it sounds violent and cruel.  One Jewish commentary says, today we should have preferred another ending, but this was a real, dramatic expression of relief from great suffering and pain at the hands of their masters).  

Now, back to what it most important to note?  Moses’ chorus and Miriam’s are almost the same.  So, who wrote it?  Well, it appeares first and looks like it came Moses and was seconded by his sister.  But, look again,  in the Hebrew in English too,  Miriam’s words give the command in the imperative: SING!   Moses’ words are more like obeying the command in present action: I WILL SING!.   Do you see it?   It comes first by Moses in the text because Moses is the leader, but Moses looks like’s answering what his big sister wrote!    

Jewish writers also remind us   It was Miriam who watched to see where the basket went when his mother put him in a basket to float down the Nile, in hopes of saving his life from Pharaoh’s killing spree.   When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the basket, it was Miriam who then bravely approached her (risking her life too) to suggest she could find a Hebrew woman to be his wetnurse.  Of course, that wetnurse who nursed and raised the child for Pharaoh’s daughter was Moses’ mother herself (2: 1-10). 

Why am I revisiting this story?   Because I want you not only to understand that Miriam was Moses’ big sister, I also want you to see how daringly courageous Miriam was too.   This is important, because just like Miriam took charge in helping to save her little brother, Miriam steps up again after God’s mighty deliverance of the people.   This is why, Jewish scholars, who have studied this Song of Moses intensively, say that Miriam’s song isn’t just an ‘Amen’ to Moses’ song, but this is an ancient way of signing her name at end of the song.  Moses song is Miriam’s ‘signature’ moment. 

Perhaps this is why, also in this text Miriam is named a prophet, long before Moses.  Miriam is one of 7 women named prophets in the Old Testament and appears as a prophet second only to Abraham.  So, it was Miriam, as well as Moses, who were working together, teaching the people; Moses teaching the men and Miriam teaching the women, Jewish sages say.  They worked together leading the people in their journey with the LORD.  And if the ancient Jewish interpreters are right; it was Miriam, who first SAW what God was doing through her little brother Moses, and she was the first to fully ACKNOWLEDGE not only what she saw happening, but she also ACKNOWLEDGED who IS THIS GOD who causes such a wonderful thing to happen.

Isn’t this what makes a prophet, a prophet?   The word prophet itself, comes from the Hebrew word Na’bi’ (with ah, fem), ‘to speak’ or to ‘become a ‘spokesman’.   Later on in the Old Testament a prophet was also understood as one who spoke for God because they could SEE (Heb. Ro’Eh, 1 Sam 22:5) or envision what God wanted them to see.   So, the original idea of prophet goes back to Aaron being a spokesman, like a prophet for Moses (Ex. 7:1), but now, Miriam is a ‘spokesperson’, but not for Moses, but for God. 

Now, how does one get to be a ‘Na’bi’? ---a speaker for God?   That’s what we need to think about first of all, as we think about walking with God.   As the Hebrew Old Testament story continues, it will say in a more official terms that you can’t really be a true ‘speaker’ for God, like Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Micah, or Jeremiah and other were, until you also become a kind of ‘seer’ ( 1 Sam. 9: 2) of God.  This means being a ‘seer’ of what God sees and what God is doing.  ‘Seeing’, which should probably be translated by us as having a certain kind of mature, spiritual ‘understanding’, becomes the office, job, or qualification of being a true prophet of the Lord.   Later, Moses himself dreamed of a day, like the New Testament day, and our day too, when ALL God’s people have the possibility and potential to be prophets, or to speak prophetically (Num. 11:29) because they ‘see’ clearly what God is doing in their lives and in the world (Num 11:23).   

The importance of this little bible lesson is to remind us, that walking with the LORD, first and foremost, is to be able to ‘see’ and to ‘understand’ what God wants to do his good of justice and mercy through us in the world.   If your recall, the major way that Jesus explained God’s will was through parables, or stories.   Jesus also explained why he spoke in stories or parables (Matt. 13:10ff).  He spoke so his listeners could ‘see’ or ’hear’ what was happening in those stories and would be better able to understand what God wanted them to do in the world.  But Jesus also explained that he spoke in parable so that those who didn’t want to see or hear, wouldn’t understand (Matt. 13:13).   Do you see the connection?   Walking with God, whether it was in the time of Moses and Miriam, or it was in the time of Jesus, was about seeing and understanding what God was doing or wanted to do through us and in us, IN OUR WORLD.



So Miriam is prophet who ‘saw’ what God had done, and most likely she is the one who wrote the song that enabled Moses and the people to answer: “I will Sing!”.   Together they taught the Israelites how put God’s music back into their world.  This is what a prophets and prophetesses do; and this is what a prophetic people are to do too.  It’s what the people of God do, the church must do in our own real ‘music’ starved world.   Our walk with God begins by seeing God’s presence at work in our own lives and singing God’s music back into the hurting world, that can become hungry for justice and mercy. 

When I think of this Song of Celebration, I think of the wonder of music in all our worship.   Isn’t it amazing that while we come together to hear the word preached, the word preached falls lifeless unless we join with our hearts in singing the true, saving, and redeeming music of soul, heart, and mind.   As worship is our response to God’s goodness and grace, while the sermon in worship explains why we sing, and how we can have music in our souls and spirits, it is through song, music, and as in Miriam’s case, through dance too, that the people do the ‘work’ of worshiping and responding to God in song, answering, like Moses does, because we too are responding to God’s justice and mercy by walking with God with humble hearts.

When I think of how we directly connect our hearts with God with music and song, I can’t help but think of the role music especially plays when we celebrate the two highest days of the church year, at Christmas and at Easter.   Who can ever dare imagine Christmas without Christmas Carols and Music.   When we start singing those old songs and hymns, the kind of songs that most people don’t sing any other time of year, we start connecting our hearts not only with the timeless message in the songs, but also with the warm experiences of Christmas in our past; as children, with family and friends, gathered together in a spirit of expectation, hope, and love.   Isn’t this what music does.  It connects our hearts to what life means and what we all hope for?

         What Miriam and Moses are singing in this great moment, is the celebration of walking with this God who saves, delivers, and gives us hope of life now and forever.   I realize that many people today have other ‘music’ in their lives; but it’s this kind of ‘soul’ music that really matters.  It’s the music that connects us with the source of hope, peace, and of course, love.  

Although more and more people have disconnected themselves from this life source of ‘song’ that helps put music into our souls and lives,  I wonder, more and more, if we, like Israel in Micah’s day, have waited too late to realize what we have lost?   Just before the last election,  I heard talk like I’ve never heard before, questioning ‘whether or not this president will step down peaceably, if he loses (which he said he would), or the other talk that saying that ‘if this president didn’t get re-elected, there may be violence in the streets.   At least the New Media were reporting that certain cities were already preparing, just in case.   

Now, we might write this off as “Fake news”, especially if the violence doesn’t materialize, but what I’m hearing reported on or suggested hasn’t happened in my life before.   In a world where people care less about the ‘music of the soul’ are we, as a people in this nation, as Micah says, becoming more ‘skilled at devising evil’ in the world and learning to ‘love the evil more than the good?’   Would we rather sing a song of violence, division and hate, than a song of justice, mercy, and humility in God?



         Interestingly, the reason that Moses and Miriam are leading the celebration over Pharaoh, was that the ‘victory’ belonged to God and to the Lord, not to the strength of human weapons or ways.   This is the true way and the best way to victory, or at least it was for Moses, Miriam and the people?   What was God’s way, and walking humbly with God the best way?  The answer comes clearly in both Moses’ life and in Miram’s life too.   If you read the full story, Moses was a human being who could either get ahead of God or become hotheaded, being more destructive than constructive.  Also, Miriam too, as you can read about later, came to criticize Moses’ marriage a foreign Cushite woman, and for this God punished her with a serious skin disorder, the text tells us. 

Just like us, both Moses and Miram, although humble and good servants of God, they can be  SINGING to the LORD one minute, and then SINNING against the Lord in the next.  We aren’t God, so we need God.  That’s what ‘walking humbly’ with the LORD means, that without God’s presence and promise in our lives, instead of making music as food for the soul, we can end up making life one, big mess.

This is why the song we sing through life, needs to be the message God gives us to speak and say, through both his justice and his love of mercy.   This is why the ‘redeemed of the Lord’ need not only to SING so, but we also need to SAY So.   In our song, in the music of our lives, we need to point to the God whom we all need; who is beyond all of us, but wants to live is life among us, by living his justice and mercy through us.   We begin to humbly walk with God when come to this point when we realize who God is because we also know who we are.  And we aren’t God.

         Do you realize YOUR need of God, who can guide, redeem, and save you, not only from the evil powers in the world, but also the evil powers than can sometimes get into me and you?   Recently, we all experienced the downfall of Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, along with Bill O’Reilly, and others who had created a toxic working environment for new women and men too.   A recent historical, but controversial re-enactment of that story, depicted how two women especially, Gretchen Carlton and Megan Kelly, were pivotal in exposing all the negative and dangerous powers that were at work behind the scenes.   In one moment near the end of this Movie,  Roger Ailes is shown appealing to Fox News owner Rupert Murdock, to appear with him, helping him to maintain some kind of dignity as he is appoint to be fired for good.  In making his appeal, Ailes reminds Murdock, “I build your Network!  I made 1/3 of all the money!  Won’t you at least stand with me?   To this appeal, the powerful Murdock gives a simple, but firm answer!  “No!”

         That’s what the lure of the world’s power, money, and success can do to a person who, as Micah says, ends up walking haughtily, rather than learning how to ‘walk humbly with the LORD’.   Folks, in the end, it’s not CNN verses FOX,  Democrat verse Republican,  nor is it even SINNER verses SAINT.   Can you hear this’  “NO!   In the end it’s us deciding either to walk humbly with God or to try to walk haughtily on our own, and we should see and say where that finally ends up.   This is why we need to wait on and to SING a different tune in life.   This is why we need to SING the Lord’s song, as the Bible says over and over.   As both Miriam and Moses sing, only through him,  through the LORD and in his victory, not our own success, can we learn to sing the song that ends in final, glorious triumph.  Amen.