Help for the Overwhelmed

Numbers 11:4-17

September 26th &27th, 2009



            In the mid 1980’s there was a Calgon television commercial ad campaign which depicted a stressed out homemaker.     The dog is tracking mud all over the carpet. The kids are making a similar mess. Dinner is burning and the phone rings! She looks to the sky and cries out "Calgon, take me away". She is magically transported to a hot bath super saturated by fresh smelling Calgon bath gel.   Those Calgon moments can take on many forms.   One may s have too many things to do, and not enough hours in the day or days in the week to complete ones task.    Financial and personal debt concerns can “overwhelm” ones thoughts and easily consume one’s life, concerns over the health or the earthly loss of loved ones can quickly overwhelm, and the list goes on and on.  In the midst of all this we wonder, if we have the inner strength, the help necessary to plow through?   The reality is we don’t, and never have, but we gather here today to hear from the one, and receive good gifts, his grace, and a cleansed heart from the one who is in the business of helping the overwhelmed.     

               Those wandering through the dessert were a restless bunch.  They were consumed with what was lacking their present situation, and they selectively remembered their past and even misconstrued it.  They were prone to follow those or hear those who don’t take the presence of a merciful, redeeming God seriously.      We read at the beginning of the Numbers text, “The rabble with them began to crave other food”.  The rabbles were those who traveled with God’s people, even some Egyptians, who were not part of God’s family.   They started complaining, and like yeast eventually this false view of reality infected more than just the rabble, it consumed God’s people.    They only saw what was wrong, and they craved more.      “Sure Lord you give us the air to breath, the health to go on, a house to live in, clothing and food to sustain, but we want more. It’s not enough.   Ah the good ole days, the days when we had food at no cost in that great place called Egypt.  It   like a prisoner looking back at his days of incarceration and saying “remember the time when we had all the food we wanted,, a roof over our heads.  They missed their old life.  The life they had prior to God’s divine rescue.   The reality however, is that this life was not as good as they imagined.         

            We to may say or think “Sure God now provides us with daily food, but it’s the same stuff.”    It is the same food, the same manna.  Sure it fills us and nourishes, but does it give us enough?   The person going through a mid-life crisis says to himself.  “Is this it?   I have been married twenty years, I watch the same TV, work the same job, and deal with the same people.  My life needs something more, maybe a different relationship, maybe a newer car.  Isn’t there more to life than this?    All I have is the same old manna.

            Oh and church.  We know that Jesus loves us, and that he gives us life in the sacraments, but isn’t there  more?    We want more.   We want something that really changes us.   Sure faith is a miracle, and forgiveness that comes through Jesus is sustaining, but its the same old spiritual food.  Year after year, God gives the same things.  We sin, he forgives.  We are in trouble, he delivers us.  This is all good, but ……..  And, when life this side of heaven sends us something overwhelming, we wonder, is Jesus who is the bread of life enough to sustain.  Does he really matter?   

             This grumbling angered the Lord, and it also overwhelmed Moses.   Moses takes it up with the Lord, and to his credit he honestly states his perception of  things.  “Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay all the burden of these people on me?   What have I done to deserve this kind of responsibility?   Moses had over 600,000 complainers, and they started giving him the business just three days after crossing the Red Sea.    Moses is overwhelmed.   Did I conceive these people?  Did I give them birth?  Why do have the burden of all these people?  How am I supposed to provide them their wants and their needs?  He was overwhelmed with responsibility, and none to happy   about it. 

            Yet, he takes his complaint to God!  He is not “condemned for it”, not like the grumbling of the rabble or the Israelites.    Why not condemned?  Well,   he took it to the source!  David in the Psalms often does this.  He writes in Psalm 13 “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever”?  How long will you hide your face from me”.  At the end of that same Psalm, he writes, but I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. Yet the very fact that he is going to God, means that he knows there is help.  “Lord to whom shall I go you have the words of eternal life.  Moses often questions God’s directives.  At the burning bush, he asks God the question what if they don’t believe in me?   He claims that he is not eloquent and in response God gives him Aaron who can speak.  Prior to going to Pharaoh, he says what if he doesn’t listen to me?   Moses is overwhelmed on more than one occasion. 

            The Lord provides for Moses in the following ways and the complainers in a number of ways.    First of all, he provides meat for the people. He would send quail down on the land, and they would fly low enough where they could bat them down.  Ye the meat would also be a punishment for indeed they would get more than they would ask for.  They would have their fill even of their meat.

            Secondly he responds to Moses by sending some help.  He sends his Spirit the Spirit which was on Moses and gives it to seventy other “elders” or leaders.  Moses position isn’t diminished, for like a flame on a candle it is not diminished by sending it to others.  Others would speak the words of the Lord.  The whole responsibility would not be on Moses, others would have the task of proclaiming the Word of God.   God does the same  for us today.   We have the bible, books, the Lord’s Supper, Sunday school, tapes, songs, hymns, baptisms, and numerous (countless people) who God has sent into our lives to help us in the Christian walk.  God’s help often takes the form of him sending certain individuals and groups to sustain us on our path.  

            God’s overwhelming response to our predicaments is not just in individuals, but it is ultimately found in Jesus Christ.   He is not just any manna, he is the bread of life.   This image of Jesus, as the bread of life, shows that he is intimately brings himself to us through his Word, and in this precious meal.    He says,   he who comes to me will not become hungry, and he who believes in me will not be thirsty.  In Isaiah 43:1-3 our loving Lord says “He who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.”   Notice here that our rescuing Lord is the one who created us, redeemed us and even calls us by name”.  These are realities, and being overwhelmed does not change that.  To prove that Isaiah states “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God.  The Holy One of Israel,  your Savior”.   The assumption here is that being overwhelmed is part of life, but even greater is his claim on our creation, our redemption, and our salvation.

            The antidote for being overwhelmed is found in the one who is the very bread of heaven.  That answer may sound predictable, and you have probably heard it many times before.  Yet just as manna in the desert sustained gods people then, so our manna or bread of heaven sustains us today.  It is he who has placed his Spirit upon us, and promises the overwhelmed and even more overwhelming help.   Amen.