A man arrived in heaven and was ready to be assigned to his permanent home. At the check-in desk he told the clerk that he didn’t understand why he was here in the first place. So, the clerk called for St. Peter. “How can I help you,” St. Peter said. The man told St. Peter that he was a very religious man and was caught in a flood. The rains were coming down harder and he repeatedly called to God for help but help never came. He saw on the weather channel that the flood waters would continue to rise and local residents should take precautions. He said, “God help me.” He decided to weather the storm and when the waters began to rise he went to the second floor of his house. Two men in boat came by and they asked if he needed help. But, the man said, “the Lord will help me,” and they went their way. The waters continued to rise and he climbed on the roof. A few minutes later a helicopter came by and they asked if he wanted a lift. He again said, “the Lord will help me.” So, the helicopter left. “I don’t understand,” he said to St. Peter angrily. “Why didn’t God help me?” St. Peter replied, “Who do you think sent you the message, the boat and the helicopter?” And the countenance of the man fell.
In our story today, we have a cry for help. The Israelites were in captivity and they called upon the Lord for help. “The Egyptians treated them harshly and afflicted them, and lay upon them hard bondage. Then they cried to the Lord for help and the Lord heard their voice.” The Lord responded by bringing them out of bondage “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” God provided the Israelites with leadership through Moses. He wasn’t a helicopter pilot but he was a leader, divinely appointed, to lead them to the Promised Land.
When we are in peril, we tend to say, “Why is this happening?” Or, we say, “Where is God when we need God?” And I am sure that after the storm damage in Florida and California this past week you are asking whether or not God even cares.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Dear Dick, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the exegesis and the sermon for today. I even used part of your sermon. What I wanted to pass on was the reaction from the congregation. Many people said that thinking of actions instead of feelings made things much clearer for them. I told them about agape and hina… Anyway, I always enjoy your exegesis. Usually won’t read your sermons until I am well on my way with my own. This time I did and it was a real help.”
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The plight of the Israelites was as bad as it gets, far worse than rising flood waters. They had no freedom, no power, and no resources. They had no hope. There only hope was in God. These were people of faith who recognized that their only escape would be at the mercy of God.
How willing are we to cry out to God when we need help? Most of the time our pride gets in the way and we believe we can solve our problems ourselves. Our stubbornness and our inability to reach out to others prevent us from even asking for help from an outside source. Neither Russia nor the United States could negotiate with Iraq. The two most powerful governments in the world could not come up with a solution. It took a UN representative from a much smaller country to make an agreement.
I remember the time I was considering a career in the ministry. I was in the business world and knew little about the process of ordination. I struggled for several months and wasn’t getting anywhere. I finally made an appointment with a church official whose immediate response was, “Why didn’t you come to me months ago?” He helped me secure a student pastorate and I was on my way. I had not asked the right person for help. I was using my own knowledge and resources which was limited and naïve.
God cares. God sees our dilemma just as God saw the plight of the Israelites. The Lord “heard” their voice and “saw” their affliction. And God sees our affliction and hears our voices as well. God is totally aware of our problems and our hardships. God wants us to cry for help, and God wants to help us. We don’t always recognize the help that comes nor do we want to accept the direction it leads us.
First, we must be willing to cry out to God for help. We must admit that we can’t do this living stuff all alone. There is a power greater than ourselves. Just asking for help in a crisis isn’t enough. We have to come to grips with our dependence on God in all areas of life. Asking for help requires an act of humility, acknowledging that God is much greater.
Second, we must grasp the hand that God extends. It may not be who or what we think. It may be a total stranger. It may be someone who we believe is not qualified or someone we think not important. That hand that leads us may take us on a long journey, just as it did the Israelites, and on a path that is unfamiliar and requires much patience and also faith.
It wasn’t a weak, wimpy hand that God extended to the Israelites. It was “a mighty hand.” And it was “outstretched.” It reached out to them, meaning it was visible and inviting. And it was strong. When the Israelites took that outstretched hand, it led them to the “land of milk and honey.” They finally found the freedom they had asked for.
When I was four years old I was swimming in a pool with my father and brothers. I was a few feet away from my father and I got in water over my head. All I remember is that I began to sink. I could feel the water closing in around me and the blurred images of the son and clouds through the surface of the water. A few seconds passed and then I felt a huge hand grabbing me and pulling me out of the water. It was the strong hand of my father. I coughed a few times and regained my composure. I continued swimming but only in arms reach of my father. Like the mighty hand of God that rescued the Israelites the mighty hand of my father rescued me.
My father’s hand was familiar and since I was so young I had no choice but to let it pull me up. Sometimes there is an outstretched hand but we are afraid to accept it. Just as pride prevents us from grasping those hands that reach out to us, fear keeps us from accepting hands we don’t recognize. Moses was not terribly popular among his people. They weren’t always willing to follow him. And when Moses experienced that fear he asked for help and God gave Moses other leaders to help him.
Like the man on the roof, why are we so afraid to recognize that there are outstretched hands that are waiting to help us? Think of the many unfamiliar hands that the folks in Florida and California will have to grab hold of to see them through their crisis. In California there was a tiny baby that was swept away from its family. The family could not locate it and they cried out for help. Fortunately an unidentified rescue worker found the baby covered with mud and not seriously hurt. The child was safely returned to its parents. In that situation God provided a total stranger to retrieve the child from harm.
God wants us to cry out for help. God hears our voice. God wants us to swallow our pride and be willing to ask for help. God is always there, extending hands of hope. They may be unfamiliar but God wants us to overcome our fear and hold on.
Like the Israelites, the land of “milk and honey” awaits us. A time of freedom and shalom. A time of shear joy and bliss. God wants to pluck us from the muddy waters of life and deliver us to greener pastures. God wants us to escape the forces that destroy our lives, like the wind and rain that is pounding coastal domains and restore us to a life of security and confidence. God’s hands are all around us, waiting to be grasped, ready to guide us to the promised land.