If either of my associates would have been here today, I would’ve likely enlisted their aid for an illustration – I could use one of you, but I don’t want to put anyone on the spot. What I wanted to do was a trust-fall. Have you ever seen or done one of those? Where you stand in front of someone, or they in front of you, and then you fall backwards trusting, trusting, that they will catch you. Hence, the name, trust-fall. Which is why I’m a little sad that Pastor Casmer and Pastor Kolander aren’t here because one: I think it would’ve been fun to have one of them catch me. Two: I wonder if they would have caught me and three: I wonder if they had the ability to catch me, or if we would’ve ended up a tangled mess on the floor.
Moses, in our lesson today from Exodus, was in the midst of a trust-fall with God. and he was nervous. He wondered if he and the Israelites still had the favor of the Lord. Why did he wonder that? Just earlier the Israelites had built and worshiped a golden calf, repented, but then faced consequences from God. The first being that no longer would God himself go before them into the promised land, but now only one of his angels would lead the way. God even says in chapter 33 “If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.” Not exactly comforting words from God. What’s more, just before this God sent a plague through the camp to punish the Israelites for their sin. And now after all this, God tells Moses and the Israelites they are still going to enter the promised land. So, do you think Moses might be a little worried, maybe even a little frustrated? Do you think he is maybe wondering just a little bit if he still has some favor with God left in the tank to get him and the Israelites into the promised land?
Listen to Moses’ own words as he converses with God. “God, you have been telling me, ‘lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.” And God, you have said “I know you by name and you have found favor with me. If you are pleased with me teach me your ways…” Do you sense any worry? Any concern? Um, God, “Remember that this nation is your people.” Remember your promise?
There Moses is leaning back knowing that God wants his trust, knowing that he is right there, always there, but at the same time he knows the reality of his life and the Israelites. He is a sinful human being and all the people with him suffer from the same sinful condition. How long before they screw up again? Will that next mistake be the final nail in the coffin that leads to God leaving, leaving them to fall back into despair, and death, and hell? It’s an unsettling feeling, right? A feeling that is likely all too familiar to many of us.
Remember what we heard earlier from Paul in our second lesson? “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. God, through Paul, can’t be any clearer, ‘Look! We all know what God wants us to do, we have his commandments, we have his very Words, and yet, here I am falling, not into God’s arms, but into sin. And I can’t stop, can I? I sin. I break God’s commands every day. I do. We do.
How? Maybe we act like the Israelites and put trust in earthly gods, things we have created, things that we think can bring us safety and security. But what happens to those things? As we lean back thinking they will catch us, they disappear! We lose a job that we thought we’d retire from. We lose a home to fire or, like our friends in Burlington, to flood. We put our trust in friends, but they betray us or leave us. And what can often be our response to those things? We blame God. “I thought you said I was part of your family? I thought you said you’d always be there for me? God, you should’ve been there to stop this from happening! You should’ve been there to catch me! Where were you?” Or maybe, maybe, our reaction is different. (Pause)
Have you ever been wrong (Pause), and you knew it and everyone else knew it too? And you’re embarrassed, even ashamed, at how foolish you acted or because of what you said. And so, for a few days or even weeks, you kind of keep to yourself and avoid everyone until you feel like you are back in everyone’s good graces. Don’t we at times do that with God?
We can become so racked with the guilt of our sin that we are too ashamed to go before God to ask for forgiveness. We believe that we have no favor left with God and that we need to earn it back by being good and by avoiding those sins that we feel led to our current problems. And then once we feel comfortable, once we feel like we are back in God’s favor, then we will go back to him, and just hope that he will be there to catch us again.
But what is the problem with this mindset? Doesn’t it put it all back on us? If you try a little in-home plumbing but have no clue what you are doing, and you end up bursting a pipe and flooding the basement, are you not going to call a plumber, someone who you know can fix your mistake? If you are sick with a curable – or even an incurable disease – are you going to stay at home and try and tough it out, or are you going to go to the professionals who can help you? If you’re burdened with sin or wondering why you feel alone or ignored by God – out of favor with him – doesn’t the same apply?
Who alone can wash away our sins? Who alone did? Who alone can make us at one with God? Who alone did? Who alone can free us from guilt as we shake our heads in both shame and agreement at what Paul says later in Romans, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” It’s hard, isn’t it? To put your trust in someone else. It’s hard to lean back and fall without wondering if you’ll be caught. But that is faith. And my faith, and your faith, our trust, rests on the same promise that Moses trusted in as he conversed with the Creator of All. That is the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, who in our Gospel lesson for today said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
“Come” not earn, not win, not deserve, but come freely. Who? “All”. Sinners, you, me, everyone burdened and weighed down by this world and its daily struggles. Why? To receive “rest.” Come everyone to receive peace and forgiveness Jesus said. Fall back into my arms and trust that I will be there. Isn’t that what Moses did? Moses knew he had God’s favor – God chose him to lead the Israelites. He pointed that out “You’ve been telling me, lead these people.” He also knew that these people, the Israelites, were God’s chosen people “Remember that this nation is your people.” All Moses did was remind God and himself of the promises that were made and then heard God’s reassuring words, “My presence will go with you…I will give you rest…I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” “Moses, you have found favor with me.”
Now fast-forward a couple of thousand years to today and every day after. I want you to remember these words. Remember these words when you feel as though God has deserted you or that you should hide your face in shame from him, or just when you need a little encouragement. Here they are: “You have found favor with God.” God looks down on you and smiles. He doesn’t see a sin-filled rotten child who deserves his punishment, but rather he looks down and sees his child. A child pure, holy, cleansed by baptismal waters, an heir of his kingdom. God loves you. And he says, “Come, I will give you rest. Fall into my waiting arms and be at peace, your sins are forgiven.”
It is to this rock of ages that Moses, Paul, and all of God’s people have clung to for generations – men, women, and children who have built on the rock of Christ and now live eternally with him in heaven. Cling to that rock. Cling to Jesus for forgiveness. Cling to Jesus for strength, for guidance, cling to the one who showered his favor upon you and made you alive not just now, but for all eternity.
But you might be asking yourself, how, how did I find favor with God? What did I do? Nothing. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” God said to Moses. God did it all. Moses didn’t win God over with his persuasive speech and heart wrenching plea, no, God chose him, calling him by name, pouring his favor upon him. In the same way, he pours his favor out on you, on all of us. Favor which gives us confidence when we are wrestling with sin. Favor, which carries us broken and weary back to God’s fount of grace, back to his Word, to be refreshed and restored. Favor, which gives us strength each day knowing that God will catch us.
So today I challenge all of you. I challenge you to fall. Fall back into God’s arms. Fall back when things are going well, fall back when your life is a mess. Let God catch you. Let him carry you as he carried his servant Moses, Paul, and countless others to the promised land, no, not the land of Canaan, but heaven. Take this trust-fall challenge. Go with God’s favor; he will catch you! Amen.