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Pentecost 16 Sermon 2014
Jim Campbell

Has anyone seen the reader board over at the Methodist Church the past few weeks?  Recently they have said: at the top—Season of Creation, and the latest one says: Season of Creation  River Sunday.  Do you wonder what it means? 

 Well, I checked it out online, and the Season of Creation refers to a 4 weeks’ celebration in September of all creation of God.  The weeks this year are: Forest, Land, Wilderness, and Rivers.  And then, this all culminates the fifth week with the Blessing of Animals on St. Francis Day in early October.  This celebration is only about 20 years old from its beginnings, and churches of all types celebrate it.  From one website I read: “It is an opportunity for congregations who so choose to take time in the church year to focus their celebration on God the creator, Christ as the redeemer of creation, and the Spirit as sustainer of creation—to worship God along with all creation, and to express gratitude, love, and a commitment to care for all living things on earth.  Unless we can see what worship can be like in a season devoted fully to Creator and creation, we will probably not adequately incorporate care for creation into worship throughout the rest of the year.”

Maybe this is something we can look at for future Septembers at St. Mark’s.  We’ve already covered the Blessing of Pets part on the first Sunday in October.  And, Corby has good jokes about dogs and God, as shown by her sermon last week.
Well, here we are with those complaining Jews again!  Led out into the wilderness by God and Moses to escape their awful life under the tyrant Egyptians, they first gripe about how they are all going to be killed as they try to escape, yet are saved when God opens up the sea to let them pass and then closes it back up to drown the Egyptian army.  Then they complain about not having anything to eat, and are given by God a daily supply of quail and manna to eat (of course, they must save extra from the more abundant 6th day each week to use on the Sabbath). 
Now what—they are complaining about not having any water, which by being in a desert, one would expect there would not be much to drink.  So, Moses does as God commands, strikes a rock, and water comes out for the people. 
The Jews were on a quest to reach the Promised Land of Israel and they somehow became convinced the Lord would just take care of everything along the way.  The further they went, the more things they complained about.  They did not have at this time any kind of very organized faith or regular prayers, with just the firstborn men leading whatever faith actions they might take. That would come later after the Ten Commandments and the Golden Calf story.
I admit, these simple things such as living and having food and water are pretty important, but it seems to me that these problems might be better than daily hard labor and torture and little to eat or own for generations (or nearly 400 years, whichever is more meaningful to you).  Meanwhile, their time in the wilderness had only been for a few months.
Again, their leader Moses is the focus of their anger and complaints.  He was made the point person in their communications with God, and so he is the one to take the heat each time and try to get things fixed.  And, every time he does!  So, the supposed moral to this story is: you don’t like something, complain to someone, and expect someone else to get it fixed.
I hope this is not the moral!  This does not work well in secular everyday life, and it is not Biblical either.  The Jews were supposed to be grateful to God for delivering them out of Egypt, but all it seems they did was complain.  Today, we are also supposed to be grateful to God for our daily lives as they are and what we can offer through God to help others.  But it is very easy to complain when things aren’t right.
So!  What to do about all of this complaining?  How about we not go to the opposite extreme by believing the phrase, "God helps those who help themselves".  This is probably the most often quoted phrase that is not found in the Bible.  The phrase originated in ancient Greece and may originally have been proverbial.  It is illustrated by two of Aesop's Fables and a similar sentiment is found in ancient Greek drama.  This saying is usually attributed to Ben Franklin, quoted in Poor Richard's Almanac in 1757.  Actually, it originated in these later years from Algernon Sydney in 1698 in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government.  Whatever the original source of this saying, the Bible teaches the opposite--God helps the helpless!  And it is all about the Grace of God, not what we do!
I found more about this saying in Wikipedia: “The beliefs of Americans regarding this phrase and the Bible has been studied by Christian demographer and pollster George Barna of The Barna Group.  To the statement "The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves"; 53% of Americans agree strongly, 22% agree somewhat, 7% disagree somewhat, 14% disagree strongly, and 5% stated they don't know.  Of "born-again" Christians, 68% agreed, and 81% of non "born-again" Christians agreed with the statement.  In a February 2000 poll, 53% strongly agreed and 22% agreed somewhat that the Bible teaches the phrase.  Of the 14 questions asked, this was the least Biblical response, according to Barna.  Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses.  Seventy-five percent of American teenagers said they believed that it was the central message of the Bible.
The phrase has been featured in United States popular culture.  In a "Jaywalking" sketch on The Tonight Show, comedian host Jay Leno asked random people on the street to name one of the Ten Commandments.  The most popular response given was "God helps those who help themselves.”  Political commentator Bill O'Reilly employed the phrase, in responding to the Rev. Jim McDermott who argued, "This is Christmas time.  We talk about Good Samaritans, the poor, the little baby Jesus in the cradle and all this stuff.  And then we say to the unemployed we won't give you a check to feed your family.  That's simply wrong.”  O'Reilly argued for a more selective approach to unemployment benefits, and the importance of individual responsibility, concluding "while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive.  The Lord helps those who help themselves.  Does he not?"  Political comedian Stephen Colbert parodied him in response, concluding in character, "if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we've got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition; and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
Back to the original premise, today many Christians ask God for help, but then expect God to do everything.  They justify this by saying that God will provide according to His will and in His timing. 
Actually, whatever the situation, God does listen to prayer, whether you are Jew or Christian or you select the faith, and God does help.  But maybe it is best to take a balanced approach, knowing God is with you.  Have trust in God, and also do your own part—try to help yourself and help others too—it all makes for a better community. 
The other thing this story points out is that relying on one leader for everything is not good; in this case Moses being the only point person to God.  When a church community relies only on their minister to do or be everything, that is not a faithful community.  Where is the recognition of the gifts all have been given, where is the utilization of these gifts for the support and betterment of the community?  When the whole community is honored with their gifts and all are participating, it is a beautiful thing to see, especially if God is then the centerpiece of faith around its existence.