Summary: What Does God Want from Me? 1) Nothing! 2) Everything!
What’s the worst summer job you’ve ever had? Mine was working for a home cleaning company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Because I didn’t have a car of my own to drive to palatial homes overlooking Lake Michigan to scrub bathroom floors and dust antique furniture in relative peace, I had to work directly for the company owner. I cleaned his house, watered his plants, and drove him to appointments. That doesn’t sound so bad but this man constantly changed his mind about what he wanted done making the day stressful. For example he might say, “When you come in tomorrow I want you to water the roses.” And so first thing the next morning I would unfurl the hose and drag it to the farthest corner of the garden only to have the boss sneak up behind me and bark: “What are you doing? I want you to vacuum the living room!” Although there was no sense arguing I often found myself muttering: “What do you want from me?”
Is that a question you’ve ever asked your boss, your coaches, or your teachers? It’s a good question because if you don’t know what they want from you, you can’t make them happy. And if they’re not happy with you, you’ll never get that promotion or the chance to play in the big game or achieve the good grades you want. There is, of course, someone else to whom we should put that question: God. “What does God want from you and me?” If we don’t know the answer, we will end up forever miserable, for God has promised to punish all those who do not please him. Thankfully we don’t have to guess what God wants from us, the way you might have to guess what Christmas present will make your nephew happy. In our Old Testament lesson the prophet Moses tells us clearly what God wants from you and me. Nothing! Everything! Let’s make some sense of these seemingly opposing thoughts.
Our text from Deuteronomy is a speech that Moses gave to the Israelites after 40 years of wandering in the desert. Do you remember where that journey started? Egypt. The Israelites had lived there for 400 years but when the pharaoh started using them as slaves, God sent Moses to lead them out of that land and back to Canaan. That journey from Egypt to Canaan should have taken at most two years, including the eleven-month stop at Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments and to build the tent-like church called the tabernacle. So why did it take the Israelites 40 years to cover 400 km, the distance between St. Albert and Canmore? Do you remember what happened when Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land? They brought back a positive report: “Canaan looks like a great place to live. However,” ten of the spies continued, “we’ll never live there. The inhabitants are much too strong.” Because most of the people agreed with this assessment and disregarded God’s promise to be with them and to give them the power to conqueror the land, God finally said: “Have it your way.” And every adult who sided with those ten spies was doomed to wander the wilderness until each died. That took forty years.
When the kids who had seen their parents die within sight of the Promised Land became adults, it was their turn to cross the Jordan River and take what God had promised to give them. But they must have been hesitant. Would all go according to plan, or would they inadvertently make God angry as their parents had done? What did God want from them anyway? That’s the question Moses answered in our text. In one sense God wanted nothing from his people. Moses said: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today... the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing... He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes” (Deuteronomy 10:14, 15, 17, 18, 21).
God didn’t expect anything from the Israelites and he doesn’t expect anything from us because there is nothing we have that he doesn’t already own. The earth and all that is in it – palm trees, mountain lakes, thoroughbred horses that love to thunder down race courses, diamonds that sparkle on your fingers – it all belongs to God as do the skies and the stars above. So your offerings don’t make God richer. Your prayers don’t give him information that he doesn’t already have. Your hymns of praise don’t top the splendid music that pours forth constantly from angels. No, God doesn’t need anything from us; instead he gives us everything that we have and everything that we are. He does so for no other reason than because he feels like it. Due to our sinfulness there isn’t anything attractive about us to God. Just as none of us would think it chic to hang a shattered big-screen TV in our living room, God should not want to have us hanging around his place, we who are in the habit of shattering relationships with our unkind thoughts and words.