Numbers 13: 25-33
If we are to move forward, from the previous glories in our history into God’s future promises for his people, we must acknowledge the obstacles along the way. We must understand that the waters will be rough and the boat will rock. The church has historically been seen as a ship on troubled waters. That history is also our future.
The obstacles we see on the horizon in the 21st century seem to be difficulties like we’ve never seen before.
A teenage girl came down the steps on her way out with her friends. Her father saw her and couldn’t believe his eyes. “Look at you,” he said.
And she replied, “What, Dad?”
Her father observed, “Your jeans are too tight, your shirt is too revealing, and your hair looks like a mop.”
And the young lady said, “Dad…what’s a mop?”
What’s a mop? A mop was not something with which this young girl was familiar. Not something she recognized. Not something she could even imagine in connection with her life.
Anyone who understands the challenges facing the church in the 21st century might have a similar reaction. Not something with which I am familiar. Not something I’ve ever seen before. Not something I can even imagine.
Actually, the troubles we have to face are not really new. But they are more ominous than ever. They are obstacles of gigantic proportion. That’s the challenge for the message today.
Facing the giants.
But before I preach, let us pray.
Facing the Giants
Facing the giants. I know the feeling. I’ve faced a giant or two in my lifetime.
One of my earliest experiences facing the giants was the giants from North Buncombe High School. Their football players were as tall as trees, and as wide as the barn door.
And their uniforms were black…jet black, and sleek, and sinister…black.
Our school colors were blue and white…
nice colors; gentle colors;
the colors you would wear to a spring dance.
In one game against the North Buncombe giants I was playing my usual positions…end, guard, and tackle. I sat on the end of the bench, guarded the water bucket, and tackled anyone who came near it.
It was the coveted position when we played North Buncombe.
In the second half, the coach decided that I should go in the game. When I got on the field I made two discoveries almost instantaneously.
- The giants were bigger than they had looked from the bench.
- I understood the coach’s strategy for sending me in. Let the giants kill the 2nd stringers and save the good players for another day.
So, I’m no stranger to facing giants.
And neither were the ancient Israelites. They had, after all, survived some 200 years of slavery in Egypt. Then Moses came along and suggested that everyone pack his bags because the people of God are going home. Which would have been good news except, to do that they would have to face the largest and meanest army in the known world.
But, still, they followed Moses’ lead and with help from God, they escaped. But no sooner than they had escaped their bondage Pharaoh’s gigantic army was breathing down their necks. Again, with God’s help they were delivered from the problem. And then came the wilderness – 40 years of wandering…half the time they were lost, the other half they were starving.
These were hard times; times of loss, and grief, and confusion; times of divided loyalties when the people split into factions; times of rebelling against God and fighting among themselves.
Eventually they made it to the Promised Land. But this sets up another time of trial. The land which had been promised to them by God is occupied.
So, Moses sends out a scouting party. The Bible calls the scouts, “leading men of Israel.” The job of the scouting party is reconnaissance. They are to check out the land to see what the people of God are up against.
Our scripture reading begins when these scouts return from spying out the land.
Two reports came back to Moses that day. The majority report, the observations from most of the leading men of Israel is what we read in Numbers, chapter 13.
This majority report recommended a hasty retreat.
Go back to the wilderness.
Go east or west and try to find a more accommodating place.
Go back to Egypt.
Go back to enemies that are known and problems with which we are familiar.
Unfortunately, this counsel from the leading men of Israel is still common from the leading men and women in the church today.
It is advise based in fear, uncertainty, and caution.
It is leading from a position of safety and security.
It is preserving what you have in place rather than taking a risk for what may be possible.
There was also a minority report.
…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.”
Perhaps you know the rest of the story.
The congregation of Israel went with the majority report. They retreated back into the wilderness. It would be a new generation that Joshua and Caleb would lead in the conquest of the Promised Land.
Naming the Giants of the 21st Century
In a very real sense, our situation is not unlike that of the Israelites facing the giants in the Promised Land. Today, at Riverside Presbyterian and in every church in the country, we are facing problems so gigantic that we feel like grasshoppers before them.
Our scouts have gone out into the 21st century and have come back with reports that there are giants in the land.
But the giants in the land, the obstacles we will have to overcome are not new. We’ve seen them before and they are easy to identify. All we have to do is consult one of the great theologians of the 20th century, the cartoon character, Pogo. Remember him? He is perhaps best remembered for a single line in which he identified the giants for all times and all places. He said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
You see, the only giants big enough to overpower us are:
- the giants of bad attitude and dim perspective;
- the giants of past hurts and disappointments;
- the giants of scape-goating and name calling;
- the giants of depressed spirits and broken hearts;
- the giants of unrealized hope and diminishing enthusiasm;
- the giants of faltering faith and misplaced trust;
- the giant of debilitating anxiety about the future; and
- the giant of finding someone else to blame.
These are the bad guys!
These are the enemy.
These are the giants that defeated the Israelites 3000 years ago and today, they threaten more churches and attack more disciples than any other enemy.
Bring On the Giants
These giants have the power to distract us from our purpose, undermine our efforts, and
weaken our resolve. They have the power but they will not prevail.
As devastating as they can be, they are no match for the God of the Israelites; they are no match for the Christ who saves us; they are no match for the Holy Spirit of God who empowers us.
God said through the Prophet Isaiah: “I will help you. I will hold you up.”
Jesus said to his disciples: “You will do even greater things than I have done.”
The Apostle Paul said to the churches: “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”
And I say to the Presbyterians at Riverside: “Bring on the Giants.”
This kind of reassurance runs throughout the Bible. Throughout their history God’s people seemed often to be up against insurmountable odds.
But always the people of God saw the problems; considered the obstacles; assessed the giants; in the light of God’s promise.
And if you remember that I’ve said this before;
if you perceive that I am repeating myself;
if this word is not new to you;
then, congratulations…you are blessed with a good memory.
And don’t be surprised if you hear it again. Because this is a message I will continue to preach until you trade me in for a newer model.
Now is the Time
I say: “God is able, and if we can get our heads right and our hearts right, God will turn the obstacles we are afraid of into opportunities to help change the world.”
And when we struggle, I say: “God is good, and he will heal our hurts, mend our flaws, renew our spirits, and send us back into the fray.”
When we grow weary I say: now is the time. Not when you get a new pastor and he has settled in. Now is the time. Not when the coronavirus is behind us and we are back to normal. Now is the time.
Now is the time above all times to step up and step out in bold confidence, to stand on the promises and lean on the everlasting arms, to work harder and give more.
Now is the time above all times to honor the call of God on your lives.
Now is the time above all times to be the disciple Jesus has called you to be.
Now is the time above all times to reach back a little farther.
Now is the time above all times to dig a little deeper.
Am I repeating myself…again?
It’s Rally Time at Riverside.
You know about Rally Hats in baseball don’t you? At some point in the game one of the players senses that now is the time to double down on their efforts. He turns his hat around backwards. All the other players turn their hats around as well.
It is a group signal.
It is a sign of the team’s determination.
It is visual cry from each player on the team,
“Let’s win this thing.”
Next week for worship – wear your rally hat.
You’ll be in front of your television or computer so I won’t be able to see you,
but I trust you to do it.
Get your favorite baseball cap, your golf hat, your sun visor, whatever, and turn it around backwards for the sermon.
It’s Rally Time at Riverside. Now is the time. Now is the time above all times.
And I say, “Bring on the Giants.”