July 8, 2018
Back in the early 1930s, as the story goes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for President of the United States. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Scores of Americans were out of work. Many wealthy families found themselves in the same soup lines as the street people. Millionaires became paupers overnight. Hunger, depression and suicide were common and there didn’t seem to be any relief in sight.
As is always the case in elections, the opposition, the people and the press wanted to know what solutions to such big problem each of the candidates had. When one reporter asked Roosevelt if he thought he had the answers to fix all that was wrong in the country, Roosevelt replied that he doubted that he did. But, he said, I hear the president has a little box on his desk and he can it pick up and place a call and talk to the people who do.
We all know some really smart people. We all know some really strong people. We all know people who inspire and motivate and seem to always have everything all put together. From where we see them, it looks like they have it all, and it makes us want to be like them.
The truth is, some folks do have a predisposition to comprehension, understanding and retention that makes their learning ability not nearly as labored as mine. But when they were born… and when I was born, we were mutually ignorant. They’re much smarter than I am now, but they didn’t start out that way.
They had teachers and family and others who poured into them and motivated them and held their feet to the fire when they felt like giving up.
Someone was there to hold them up when it mattered most.
I try to get to the gym as much as possible. In a good week, I get there at least three times. It’s interesting that I usually get to the gym more when work and life is most stressful. To me, it’s a good way to work out and sweat out the stress.
But even getting to the gym several days a week, committing to a diet and a regimen and a routine that is supposed to result in a fit body and increased strength, there is always someone there who is more fit and stronger than I am.
I know several of you here maintain a work out plan… back before Mason and I moved to another part of town, I used to see Jeremy Daugherty at the gym nearly every morning. He will tell you that the people there who have the perfect physique and can throw heavy weights around like toys didn’t get there by themselves. They had coaches and trainers and spotters who helped them get to where they are now.
Someone was there to hold them up when it mattered most.
In today’s scripture in the Old Testament book of Exodus, we jump in on the very first battle that Israel had to fight after their exodus from Egypt. Moses and his people had fled the oppression of Pharaoh in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and found a place to finally rest for a while in a place called Rephidim. That’s where a group of Nomadic raiders called the Amalekites attacked them unprovoked.
They shouldn’t have done that.
Moses assembled the leaders and appointed Joshua to lead the Israeli army into battle. While Joshua led the troops, Moses, along with Aaron and Hur, watched from a nearby hill. It was the craziest thing!
Apparently, the battle kept going back and forth and back and forth all day. The Israeli army would be winning for a while, then the Amalekite army would win.
Now, here’s the crazy part…
The 11th verse of our scripture says, Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel would start winning the battle. Whenever Moses lowered his hand, Amalek would start winning.
What in the world?? How crazy is that??
As skilled and well trained and prepared as Joshua and his troops were or weren’t, it was Moses’ simple gesture that was determining the outcome of this battle.
I can imagine Joshua and the fighting soldiers in the valley giving it everything they’ve got, glancing up at Moses on that hillside, trying to notice if his hands are raised… screaming at him to keep them up… at all cost… keep them up!
Where Moses’ hands were would determine whether or not those soldiers would see their families again.
Moses’ own will and ability to keep those hands raised was the sole determiner of who would survive to see another day.
This was a crucial time, and those were important hands, but they were attached to a mortal man.
Have you ever tried to hold your hands over your head or in front of you for an extended period of time? When you first throw them up there you sorta feel like you can just lock in and do it forever. But after a while, fatigue sets in and what didn’t feel so heavy at first starts feeling like big old bags of concrete or sand.
Even the strongest and most determined person can only do it for so long.
That was the situation with Moses. Even with the survival of his entire nation as stake, his arms were only able to maintain for so long.
(Some people say that about my sermons… they’re only able to handle so much.)
But remember, just as Joshua didn’t go into the battle alone, Moses didn’t go up to the hillside alone. Aaron, Moses’ brother, went with him. And his brother-in-law, Hur went along too.
Aaron and Hur were smart and skilled men. They served as leaders among the Israelite people, and their ability to discern and judge conflicts and situations among the people was valuable.
But today their purpose was much more simple… and crucial.
As the battle grew longer and went on, the fatigue started setting in on Moses.
I’ve imagined what the scene must’ve looked like and the personal toll it must’ve been taking on Moses as he struggled to keep those heavier-by-the-second hands raised for the battle. He fought the pain as he fought to keep them raised while they gradually lowered and his army gradually started to succumb.
Moses knew these soldiers. He knew their families. He knew their parents and spouses and children. He knew and felt the terror of each one that fell under the enemy’s sword as his hands gradually lowered from gravity’s pull.
I imagine that he clenched his teeth and grunted and screamed in an effort to keep those hands raised, for the sake of all his people.
Then he felt them… one slid under is right arm… then the other slid under his left.
What Moses could not do alone, he was able to do with the help of others.
Someone was there to hold him up when it mattered most.
Some Sundays I don’t feel like coming to church. I’ll bet that some Sundays you don’t feel like coming either. We feel discouraged and burdened by circumstances, we’re troubled by situations, and sometimes it seems like it would be a lot easier to promise ourselves we’ll watch the service on YouTube.
But here we are. We got up, we got ready, we put it in drive and here we are.
The people sitting around you have no idea how much it took for you to make it here. I’m glad to see you and they’re glad to see you, but the truth is, we don’t know what you fought to get here.
But you came in knowing that you were walking into a room full of people who are going to slide in under your tired, weary arms and hold you up and carry you and cheer you on and be the strength you can’t be for yourself until that battle you’re facing is somewhere behind you.
We do that for each other. That’s who we are.
Every Sunday morning we show you the people who have stepped up this week to serve as liturgist and sound technicians and video recorders, and communion preparers and servers and ushers. We want you to know who took the time to prepare hospitality and provided NOSH and who mowed the grass.
If I may, it’s these people, along with our incredible church council and trustees and elders and now our Caring for the Kids board who hold up Marsha’s hands and my hands every single day.
It’s the ones who plan Vacation Bible School and church picnics and those who build and staff Pride booths and walk in parades and coordinate Habitat builds and fix leaky roofs and keep our plant beds neat and post our services online and maintain our presence on the World Wide Web and clean the toilets and take the trash to the curb…
It’s those who jump out of bed in the middle of the night, visit hospitals and pray till they’re exhausted…
These are the people who are holding your hands up as a church.
They are holding mine and Marsha’s hands up as your pastors.
And right now, our dear friend Marsha’s hands are tired.
So we are holding them up for her. Just like Aaron and Hur were there for Moses, we are here for Marsha… until this battle is over.
[Church elders, will you stand please?
We mentioned earlier, and we’ve all be following as Pastor Marsha and Bren and Mama Jean and the rest of the family nursed and cared for Marsha’s niece Jen. With the still fairly recent death of their very close friend Peggy, Jen’s rapid decline and passing has been hard on them.
Some of us have watched it all from a closer point of view an seen up close the toll these last several months have taken on them, but especially Marsha.
She tries so hard to be all things to all people, and often to the point of denying her own needs.
I was at the hospital this past Friday and she hadn’t eaten all day. I called her a hypocrite and told her she can’t use that “putting your own oxygen mask on first” line any more.
So, this week the church elders met and decided that we are laying Marsha off till the end of this month. She is still our pastor, or course, but we want her to be strong and healthy and able to perform at her best.
We are sliding in under her arms, holding up those hands that are as strong as ever, but are heavy from the battle.
The elders and all of us are serving as Marsha’s Aaron and Hur.
Thank you, Elders.]
After the battle in Exodus 12, Moses, Aaron and Hur came off the hillside. There arms were exhausted, and if they were like mine after several hours of hard work, they felt it for at least a few more days.
Joshua and his surviving troops came home. But the came home with the sights, sounds and smells of battle that left them feeling exhilarated and a little disturbed at the same time.
There would be other battles… and the Amalekites would be back.
But this was a moment not to be forgotten.
At the end of this very short chapter in the book of Exodus, we learn that Moses built a memorial where all of this took place. It was put there to remind the Israelites and all who would come by this place that God is faithful through the hands and strength and courage and determination and help of those who surround us.
This place, Bluegrass United Church of Christ, could be chocked full of memorials like that. Because I’ve seen it and we’ve seen it… when one of us steps in to hold up the hands of another one of us.
Because that’s who we are… and that’s what we do.
EXODUS 12: 8-13 CEB
Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I’ll stand on top of the hill with the shepherd’s rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him. He fought with Amalek while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel would start winning the battle. Whenever Moses lowered his hand, Amalek would start winning. But Moses’ hands grew tired. So they took a stone and put it under Moses so he could sit down on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on each side of him so that his hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his army with the sword.