Summary: The Israelites were so fearful of change as they approached the Promised Land, they felt it would be better to return to slavery. In the midst of change, we must learn to let go of our fear and lean upon God to find the new life that comes through change.
I spent this past week in Nashville. I was at the United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries Office along with about thirty others to be trained as a Discipleship Coach. We are piloting a new program called Building HOPE. HOPE is an acronym for Hospitality, Offer Christ, Purpose, and Engagement. The goal of the Building HOPE project is to double the number of vital United Methodist Churches, where a vital church is one that has a culture of discipleship, a church that is continually “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” As a Discipleship Coach, I will be paired with a church that I will work with over the coming months to help them move in the direction of building a “discipling” culture and becoming a more vital congregation. It is my hope that this training and experience will also help me in my work here at Wesley with each of you and the community around us.
I share that with you to say this…we spent an entire morning this week talking about change and all the barriers there are to change. And yet, change is a given; in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our churches, change is inevitable. I’m sure you’ve heard many times, “Nothing is certain in this life but death and taxes.” Well, it has also been said, “The only constant in life is change.” I think we can all agree that change cannot be avoided. In fact, we should not try to avoid it because change really is inevitable! And yet, change is SO hard. We struggle through it, we don’t like it, we resist it, we fear it. So, during the month of September, we are going to consider the idea of change; we are going to acknowledge our hang-ups about change, we are going to look for Biblical guidance on dealing with change, and we are going to consider the ways that God is calling us to change both individually and corporately.
So we begin this morning by looking at a time when Israel was wandering in the wilderness, moving away from Egypt where they were enslaved, and moving toward the Promised Land known as Canaan. At the point at which we pick up the story here in Numbers, the Israelites are right, smack-dab in the middle of some pretty significant change. They have spent generations under the thumb of Pharaoh, enslaved in Egypt; these people know nothing but slavery. But now, they find themselves in the wilderness, led out of Egypt by Moses and the power of God, and they are quickly approaching their destination, the land promised to them, to their ancestors, the perfect place, the Promised Land.
So that they know what lies ahead, the Israelites have sent Scouts to take a look at the land. Where we pick up this morning, the Scouts have returned to the Israelites with their report. And this is where the story gets really interesting. Indeed, this is a land “flowing with milk and honey,” but there is more. This is also a land inhabited by “the other.” And the Israelites are intimidated by them, perceiving them as their enemy, as stronger than they. So they begin to spread rumors that the land is occupied by giants, and then people really begin to get scared. They weep, and moan, and cry out to God. And then they start working on a solution. But the solution is not how they will overcome these supposed giants. The Israelites plan is to return to Egypt. THEY WOULD RATHER BE ENSLAVED IN EGYPT THAN ENTER THE PROMISED LAND!!!! Can you BELIEVE it?
I mean, if that’s not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard! But here’s what’s really sad about that whole situation. It happens in our lives and in the church over and over and over again. We are faced with a significant change—we can’t be certain of the process of the change, or the outcome, and so we back away from it. Despite the bounty of the “Promised Land,” we, like the Israelites, don’t want to venture there because we are afraid. So sometimes, we actually choose to live in pain, to be unhappy, rather than face the change that could make things better. And we do this ultimately because of fear. There are certainly lots of challenges to change, but I think ultimately what most of them boil down to is fear. We are afraid to “give up” what is familiar. Or we are afraid because we can’t predict the future, we can’t see beyond our present reality. We might fear that changing means admitting that there is something wrong with us or with the way things are. Or perhaps we are fearful of surrendering control. There are all sorts of reasons we may fear change.