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Summary: What Does God Want from Me? 1) Nothing! 2) Everything!

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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.

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