Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Last Straw"

My Message at the 
Ecumenical Lenten Service
Scottsville United Methodist Church
March 27, 2012
6:00 PM

Scripture: Exodus 5:1-6:1

Message:  “The Last Straw!”

"Did you hear the story of the man at the circus, near the camel pen? He was seen picking up a strand of hay and walking over to one of the dromedaries. He carefully placed the blade of dried grass on the brown fur of its hump. Nothing happened. The man shrugged and said, "Ah, wrong straw!" and walked off disappointed.

Obviously, he was looking for the straw that broke the camel's back. And he missed the point of the old proverb. A straw is a little thing. It really can't hurt anything. But added together, the little straws make a great heavy burden. And as you put more straws on a camel's back, theoretically they will become gradually heavier until there will be one last straw that adds the extra fraction of an ounce that exceeds the tensile strength of the vertebrae of that beast of burden. The last straw is not the last straw by itself."

 The people of Israel were in one of those “straw that broke camel’s back” situations...having gone through over 400 years of slavery and mistreatment by the Egyptians.  They felt like they couldn’t handle one more thing, or they’d break.
If you’re like me, then you’ve felt that way, too.  You haven’t gone through 400 years of slavery, but you have been through things that you feel like nobody else would understand.  Maybe you’ve felt broken by some things you’ve experienced lately…but God knows your pain.
Exodus 3:7  The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.

Remember—God hears your prayers.  Prayer isn’t just grasping at straws.

"When people face trials, they often turn to prayer only as a last resort. I knew a man who was fighting a valiant battle with cancer. As people observed the gradual effect on his body and lifestyle, one person said, "Well, they've tried everything else. I guess it's time to begin praying."

"Another man was going through an extremely difficult time at work. It was a crisis of major proportions that had ominous implications for him and for the future of his company. He just couldn't resolve it. Finally he said, "I've tried everything I know to get through this situation and nothing has worked. It's time to start praying."

"In both of these instances, prayer was seen as a last-ditch effort to resolve the problem. Only after all other options were eliminated did the person decide to pray. It was a desperate "grasping at straws."

"Instead of prayer being a last resort, it should be one of the first things we do. The Lord answers prayer, and He wants us to come to Him continually with all of our needs (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The Bible tells us to "be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer . . . let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6)."

So the people prayed, and Moses showed up on the scene, promising to deliver them from the hands of their oppressors.  Pharaoh didn’t believe Moses’ credentials, and the people didn’t appreciate the kind of help he was trying to give.  In fact, Moses’ “help” was just making matters worse.  Pharaoh instructed the Hebrews that because of their “deliverer’s” intervention, now he would no longer supply the straw for the slaves to make bricks.  They had to go out and collect straw for themselves.  The people had prayed, and now things had gone from bad to worse.

I know some people who’ve gone through one difficult situation after another.  They pray, and pray, and yet there seems to be no solution in sight.  Sometimes there will be a momentary relief, but then something will happen that takes them right out of the frying pan and into the fire.  They wonder whether prayer is doing them any good at all. 

In these last days of Lent, as we approach the Jewish time of Passover, we remember that God has a purpose that might not come to full fruition overnight.  The Jewish people prayed to God for salvation, and He sent a deliverer.  But God didn’t bring the Hebrews out of Egypt immediately.  The series of disappointments that the Jewish people went through, and the judgments that the Egyptians endured, were not designed to simply punish Pharaoh over and over.  Instead, God used these events to teach the people to be faithful through disillusionment, to endure distress, and to trust Him—even though life had given them the short straw.

How did God respond to Pharaoh’s abuse of the Israelites?  What did God do to ease the Hebrew burden?  Did He miraculously multiply their straw like loaves and fish?  Did He favorably dispose the Egyptians so that the citizens generously gave their straw to the Hebrews to they wouldn’t have to scrounge their own straw?  No—God did none of these things.  God allowed the Israelites to suffer, to struggle, to scavenge for themselves.  He let them go through the punishment that life doles out—but He gave them words of encouragement.

Exodus 6:1 – Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” 

The time of miracles would come later…they hadn’t seen any yet.  Supernatural deliverance was around the corner, but the Hebrews just weren’t feeling it yet.  Moses promised the people salvation, but his promises had not yet come true.  But keep reading through the next chapters of Exodus and you’ll see how God saved the Hebrew people from the plagues brought on the Egyptians.  You’ll hear how He led them out of Egypt, pursued by Pharaoh’s armies.  You’ll watch the Red Sea open to let the Israelites walk through on dry ground, only to swallow up pursuing troops.  God’s time of deliverance would come…but that time was not yet.  For now, His people had to collect their own straw and feel the sting of their overseer’s lash.

God tells Moses in Exodus 6:5-8, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.  Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’”

 God tells you the same thing.  When you feel like you’ve reached your last straw, when it seems that all your prayers have done is make things worse—this is when you need to trust God the most.  Yes, you feel enslaved to the traumas and temptations of life.  But God redeems His people.  The time of miracles might be on the horizon, but you haven’t seen anything yet.  This is your time of struggling, of waiting, of trusting that God will work His purpose out.  This is your time to pray.  And you won’t be grasping at straws.  You’ll be grasping at God.

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