Workers are few

Jesus was traveling in a circuit among the villages so he could teach in their synagogues, share the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and heal everyone who was sick in any way. He felt compassion when he saw the crowds because they were exhausted and lost, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his closest followers, “The harvest is heavy, but the laborers are light. Therefore, pray to our abundant God to provide more workers.”

MT 9:35-38, LK 10:2

Then Jesus went away by himself to a mountaintop to spend all night in prayer to God. When the first rays of dawn arrived, he called those he had chosen to him and they came. He also appointed 12 apostles. They were to be with him, to go out to preach, and to heal diseases and drive out demons.

Their names were Simon, (who Jesus renamed Peter); his brother Andrew; James and John – the sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus; Simon the Cananaean – also known as the Zealot; Thaddeus – also called Jude; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

MT 10:1-4, MK 3:13-19, LK 6:12-16

Jesus wanted the disciples to only go to fellow Israelites. He instructed them not to go to other nations, especially any associated with Samaria.

MT 10:5-6

He told them “Announce that the kingdom of heaven is near.” Sending them out in pairs, he instructed them to “Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, and cast out demons. Bring nothing for your journey; not a walking stick, a travel bag, food, money, or even extra clothing. Stay in the first house that welcomes you during the entire time you are in that town, eating and drinking what is offered to you, because a worker deserves his pay.”

When entering a house they were to “Say ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, then your blessing will stay with those who live in that house. Otherwise, your blessing will return to you. If the town does not welcome you and your words, then you are to shake the dust off your feet as you leave. When judgment day comes it will be easier on Sodom and Gomorrah that it will be for any town that did not show hospitality to you.”

The disciples went and did as he said, spreading the good news, preaching, and healing everywhere they went.

MT 10:7-15, MK 6:6b-13, LK 9:1-6, LK 10:1, 4-12

Jesus said “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Because of that, be as clever as snakes and as peaceful as doves.”

MT 10:16, LK 10:3

The Burning Bush

Let’s look at the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Exodus 3:1-10

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7 And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
(American Standard Version)

Notice that Moses was simply walking along. This amazing sight just happened, unexpectedly. Notice that God only started speaking to Moses when he turned aside to look at it. From that encounter, Moses is called to lead Israel out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

How many burning bushes are in your life? How many places where God is are you ignoring? We have to stop and slow down and take time to notice where God is breaking through into this world. We have to make space and time for God, otherwise we’ll miss our call. Is God in the sound of the siren of the firetruck racing by? Is God in the cry of the small child wanting to be held? Is God the still small voice in the storm? God is in all of that and much more. There are many amazing things small and large that happen all around us all the time. It is only when we turn aside and give attention to them that God will then speak to us.

God doesn’t always appear to us as an angel. Sometimes God comes in dreams. Sometimes God appears as three strangers such as happened with Abraham in Genesis 18.

We have to slow down and treat everyone as if they might be an angel in disguise. In Greece, they always make sure to have sweets available because they don’t know if the person who shows up at their door is God. I’m not saying that everyone is holy. But I am saying that everyone has the possibility of having God within them. And I’m saying that our world would be a nicer place if we treated every single person with that level of love and attention.

God is always willing to reach to us and talk to us. We just have to stop and take the time to notice. Imagine what would’ve happened if Moses had not taken the time to stop and slow down. The Israelites would still be stuck in slavery. God called Moses from the burning bush to set people free. It was only when he turned aside that God spoke. He could have kept on walking. How many times do we keep on walking?

How many other releases from slavery are we missing out on because we don’t believe that we are being called by God? Notice that God didn’t free the Israelites on his own. He required Moses. He required Moses’ full participation. God uses all of us like that.

Is God calling you? Do you think you’re not special enough? Moses wasn’t special. He was an average person at an average time and in an average place before God called him. He became special because he said Yes to God. It was only after he said Yes and he started working with God that he became special.

You’re being called right now from the burning bush. Stop. Turn aside. Pay attention. God is calling you to free people from the slavery of guilt and shame and from playing small. God is calling you from within the slavery of fear and doubt and addictions. God is calling you.

Say Yes.

Just like Moses, you can do it, with God’s help.

Together, you can lead people out of pain and into life.

The serpent story.

In this story, the Israelites are in the desert. They are complaining, again. Let’s look at this story in full to start off with.

Numbers 21:4-9
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Now, let’s break it up into sections to look at it more closely. Here’s verses 4-5.
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

This is a fairly common complaint. No food, not water. They often complain that things were better for them when they were slaves in Egypt. This is fairly common for people on general. We will leave a bad situation and then return to it. It is “The devil you know” idea. How often do abused women return to their abusers? How often do drug addicts relapse after recovery? Way too often. This is human nature.

Notice that they complain that there is “no food” and then in the same sentence they complain that they “loathe this worthless food”. So what is it? Is there none of it, or is it “worthless”? You can’t complain about the taste of food if there isn’t any there to eat. This is very important to notice. It proves that there was food – just not what they wanted.

Things don’t get better after they complain – they get worse. Here’s verse 6.

6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

This hardly seems fair. In other examples, the Lord gets Moses to either strike or speak to a rock and water gushes forth, or the Lord sends manna or quail. Here, the Lord doesn’t send food or water. The situation gets a lot worse with snakes.

I’m sure they had food and water, but not enough to keep them happy. I don’t recall anywhere in the Exodus from Egypt that the people starved to death or dropped dead from lack of water. Generally what killed them was what happened after they complained. That is a good thing for us to ponder on. We should appreciate what we have.

The Israelites finally understand that they shouldn’t have complained. What they had wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t awful either. Here’s verse 7.

7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

I find it interesting that they just asked for the snakes to leave – they didn’t ask again for food or water. Perhaps they realized that what they had was enough.

The story concludes in verses 8-9.
8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Notice that the Lord didn’t remove the snakes. Instead, the Lord sent a way to get healed from them instead. The Lord has the power to make the snakes disappear, but didn’t. Why? And why make it so that people had to do something special to get healed?

I’m reminded of some of the stories with Jesus. The lepers had to go to the priest to get the ritual blessing before they were totally healed. The cripple had to wash in the pool at Siloam. The palsied man had to straighten out his arm. People sometimes had to do things to get the healing they wanted. It wasn’t done to them. They had to participate. Often they are told that their faith has healed them. It wasn’t something passive. They were active agents in their own healing.

The snake on a staff symbol is used today by doctors. It is known as the caduceus, but from what I’ve read on Wikipedia, it really should be the Rod of Asclepius. This is interesting, because many doctors as well as scientists are not religious at all. They believe that healing comes from them, not from the Lord.

It is also interesting that it was a snake that was the source of the sickness, but also the source of the healing. I’m reminded of the snake in the Garden of Eden. It was seen as the beginning of all sin, as it led the people astray from the commands of the Lord.

All Bible verses are RSV.

Irish day

I don’t understand how St. Patrick’s Day has gotten equated with getting drunk. But then again, to be fair, every holiday in America is equated with that.

Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick ’s Day are both ethnic holidays where people who aren’t even of that ethnicity get roaringly drunk. People who don’t even know anything about the culture before they start to drink get so bombed that they don’t even know anything about their own culture by the time they are done. But it isn’t just these holidays. New Year’s, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day – you name it, if there is a holiday, Americans are drinking to it.

Perhaps we collectively have a holiday problem. Perhaps we are just so wound up from our jobs and our families and our lives that we have to escape, at least mentally, every time there is a holiday. Perhaps we need to create lives that don’t need to be escaped from. This doesn’t mean we need to get a better paying job or a bigger house or more friends. This means we need to start appreciating what we have now.

I’m reminded of the story in Exodus, of the Israelites escaping from Egypt. They were slaves in Egypt, but now they are free. They are grumbling to Moses about how they don’t have any food in the desert. They say they were better off in Egypt, that at least they had meat. Right now they have almost nothing, just this crazy manna that shows up every morning. It isn’t what they want. It is filling, and it provides energy, but it is boring. They complain, and Moses complains to God. God thinks they are ungrateful and sends enough quail that they are up to their knees in the birds. They gorge on the quail and get very sick. They never ask for meat again. It doesn’t mean that they don’t ask for anything else – but on that, they’ve learned their lesson.

To me, St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating the persistence of the heart of Celtic life amidst adversity. The Irish suffered greatly at home and in America a century ago. They were the “immigrant problem” of the time. To be Irish is to endure despite hardship, and to keep your Self intact amidst a culture that wants you to assimilate.

This is something that transcends culture and ethnicity. For all of us who are staying true to your inner Being and not yielding to a culture that tells you to buy more, be mindless, to not care – you are Irish, regardless of your ethnicity.

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a drinking holiday. It is a holiday about persistence and endurance. It is an Exodus story. It is about finding a safe place to be. Let us remember everything we have gone through to get where we are. Let us not make “here” another “there” that has to be escaped from.