April 19, 2020 – “God’s Questions: What Is That In Your Hand?” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Sermon Video

First Scripture = Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you;I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”  But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,to pluck up and to pull down,to destroy and to overthrow,to build and to plant.”

Introduction

We are continuing the series we started last week looking at God’s questions in the Bible. And remember that God never asks a question for his own benefit. When God asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” it wasn’t because he couldn’t locate them! God and Jesus ask questions for our benefit and to get at something in our souls.

Last week we heard how Mary Magdalene was shattered into a million pieces, but she showed up at the tomb with nothing but love – no plan at all. And while she was facing too much toward her grief at first, eventually she saw the savior standing right behind her, and he had more than enough hot glue to put her soul back together into something new and beautiful.

This week we are following Moses. As many of you know, I have a four-year-old boy. As many of you know – as anyone who has spoken with him knows – he is very comfortable stating his position on things. And so this kind of exchange so many times. My son asks us if he can be done with dinner. My wife or I respond with, “You need to eat at least three bites of your vegetable.” He pauses and then gives us very matter-of-factly, “But I don’t want to.” I bet a lot of parents out there can relate!

This text is Moses’ four-year-old moment. God calls him to be the leader, the deliverer of Israel. And Moses says, “But I don’t want to.” God gets around Moses’ issue and again calls him to be the leader, the deliverer of Israel. And Moses says, “But I don’t want to.” FOUR TIMES Moses tries to wiggle out of God’s mission for him! We’re going to listen in on two of his excuses and we’ll listen for God’s answers AND God’s question.

Main Scripture = Exodus 4:1-17

Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’”  The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.”  And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it.  Then the Lord  said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he  reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand—  “so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow.  Then  God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”—so he put his hand back  into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest  of his body—  “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign.  If  they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take  some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water  that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

10 But Moses said to the Lord,  “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even  now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and  slow of tongue.”  11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”  13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”  14 Then the anger of the Lord  was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to  meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad.  15 You  shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with  your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do.  16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.  17 Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

On Hand

Well you know that I am a geek, and I keep tabs on the news in the software and hardware world more religiously than I do my religious news. Josef Prusa owns one of the most famous 3D printer companies in the world, located in the Czech Republic, and at the beginning of this pandemic he asked the Czech government how he could help. It was a back-and-forth conversation that bounced between “what do you need?” and “what do I have on hand?” Prusa and his company turned to their expertise – 3D printing! And within days they had designed a 3D-printed face shield that was approved by the health institute, would be useful to the health care workers, and could be manufactured at the company’s headquarters. “What do you need? And what do I have on hand?” Two powerful questions.

Limor Fried runs a similarly geeky company called Adafruit in New York City. Her company also asked those two questions – “What do you need? And what do I have on hand?” They’re now manufacturing a range of protective gear and components that they had never dreamed of two months ago. But Adafruit ran into a problem – they had the machines, they had the expertise, but they didn’t have all of the raw materials they needed. For instance, to make face shields you need a certain kind of plastic. But supply chains are totally disrupted, so they couldn’t get any.

They started talking in the tech community about what they were doing and what supplies they lacked, and calls started coming in from unexpected places. For example, Novolex called Adafruit and said, “The plastic that is used in face shields is also used in our restaurant takeout packaging. No one’s using them right now, so we have 2000 pounds of plastic you can have for face shields.” They were able to see the need, and they were able to see that they had a solution on hand.

After Moses gave God his first two excuses, he raised the stakes. “The people won’t believe me, God! They’ll think I’m just a cooky old man! Oohh, there goes Old Mad Moses, yapping about how he saw someone called “I Am” out in the desert.” But then…but then…the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

You see, God had already told Moses what he needed. God needed Moses to be his emissary to Israel. Moses already knew the need. But he didn’t want to do it. So God asks him the second question, “What do you have on hand?” Or more specifically, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” Moses replies. You know what Moses was thinking, right? “Pharaoh has an army. I’ve got a stick. Whoopdy-doo, God!”

But then God told him to throw the staff on the ground. And track this next part very closely because it’s easy to miss and it’s extraordinarily important. Are you with me? Did Moses turn the staff into a snake? No. He threw the staff on the ground, as God told him, and God turned the staff into a snake. There were no magical words. There was no hocus pocus. Moses didn’t do anything other than throw his staff onto the ground as God commanded. This is important. Stay with me.

When Moses grabbed the snake by the tail, did he turn it back into a staff? No. God turned the snake back into a staff. All Moses did was grab the snake by the tail as God commanded. There was no puff of smoke. There were no mirrors or camera tricks or superpowers involved. Moses did what God told him to do, and God made things happen.

When Moses put his hand into his cloak and it turned leprous, did Moses do that? No, God did. Did Moses heal that hand himself? No, God did. Still with me?

Moses thought he had one asset. A stick. Whoopdy-doo!

But God highlighted how Moses actually had three assets. Number one, he did in fact have a stick. Number two, while he was trying to get out of God’s big task he was willing to do what God told him to do in the moment. He had obedience to God. And his number three asset – really the number one asset – was God himself.

God made the miraculous happen. Not Moses. Moses didn’t have superpowers. Moses didn’t have the Force. Moses didn’t get a dose of accidental radiation and develop strange abilities. Moses had three things going for him: a stick, obedience to God, and God himself. But armed with those three assets, with those three things in hand, with a stick, with obedience to God, and with God himself, the people of Israel walked free.

Out of the three – out of the stick, obedience to God, and God himself – out of those three, can you guess which two were the most important? Yeah, that stick was only a part of the story because God wanted it. If someone else stole the staff and threw it to the ground, it wouldn’t have become a serpent. It was just a stick. But combined with obedience to God and God himself, the miraculous happened.

So why don’t we ask God’s question of ourselves? “What is that in your hand?” If God asked you to list your assets, to share what you have on hand, what’s on your list? Josef Prusa had a bunch of 3D printers and a talented design team. Limor Fried had manufacturing equipment, a flexible and skilled staff, and oodles of good will in the geek community. Moses had a stick. What do you have on hand?

We’re not asking what you don’t have. We’re not asking what you can’t do. We’re asking what you do have. We’re asking what you can do. How would you respond to God’s question, “What is that in your hand?”

When we were in Pennsylvania we started our son Charlie on the ketogenic diet to try to treat his seizures. And this isn’t the fad fitness diet I’m talking about, I’m talking about medically-monitored inducement of a permanent state of ketosis without shutting down the body completely. It’s intense.

We had to keep every bite he ate in the proper ratio of 80% fat and 20% combined carbs and protein while still getting enough nutrients. Every ingredient of everything he ate had to be weighed on a food scale to the tenth of a gram. For some people, this can actually cure epilepsy. Our next door neighbor had a family member in the original trial group who was one of the miracle cases. It wasn’t Charlie’s miracle, but I learned something about planning through this process.

For the medical ketogenic diet, it’s almost impossible to start with a recipe you like and take out what Charlie can’t have. You can’t start with a normal recipe and take out 90% of the carbs and protein. It doesn’t work. Instead, you have to create new recipes by starting with what he can have. Whenever we tried to take away what wouldn’t work, we wound up with nothing. But we could build something by starting with the ingredients that would work.

My mom does this in her kitchen all the time. We have a lot of food allergies in our family – including my mom. But my mom doesn’t let people ask what they can’t have. She will only talk about what they can have. “This whole shelf has food that you can have with your gluten allergy!” “This whole counter has food that you can have with your milk allergy!”

In other words, What do you have? What can you do? As God said to Moses, “What is that in your hand?”

For Holy Week, we asked people to put a sign up at home or bring a sign to the church to give a little message of hope to our community. We shared the pictures of those signs in the welcome last week. Did you notice how many different formats were represented? We had poster board. Wood. Some had metal stakes or frames. Flowers were on the Columbarium. Last week I shared the video interview of how an Easter sign in Texas was made from a wine rack! All of those signs were created out of what people did have on hand.

Our family made a sign on foam board we happened to have leftover from something else. And my boys love to draw, but they aren’t really making beautiful, controlled pieces of art yet. So we went with what we had on hand. I made a basic message with a Sharpie and then let them color it. So our sign featured a lot of Charlie doodles all over it. And our sign featured a lot of colored blobs that represented Easter eggs. And yes, if you looked closely, our sign featured some Star Wars ships – but I told Caleb they couldn’t be shooting at each other! And I didn’t have any stakes for the sign, but I had some twine. So we tied it to one of the trees on the church lawn.

It’s not objectively beautiful. It’s gotta be one of the very few Star Wars-themed Easter signs in the world! But like Moses’ stick, our sign and all the signs on the church lawn was what we had on hand. And like Moses, our signs came with obedience to God, and our signs came with God himself. And that can make anything miraculous.

We were talking with one of the staff from the preschool a few blocks from the church, and she had just driven by the church on her way to pick something up from the school. She noticed the signs. She was uplifted. She smiled. She was given a measure of hope. All because people in our church used what they had on hand, and were obedient to God, and God did the rest.

What do you have on hand? What can you do right now? Does it meet a need?

I asked some of our ministry partners what problems they’re seeing right now in our community, and Heather at GraceFull Cafe shared those who are homeless in our community are having a hard time making phone calls or getting news. No one wants to let them borrow their cell phones right now! Makes total sense, but I never would have thought of it.

So last week I ordered two burner phones as prototypes. If we get everything figured out, we’re going to provide some phones for the homeless in our city and GraceFull Cafe can hand them out. These phones aren’t fancy. We can only afford to provide a couple of months of service for each phone. But during this crazy time, that’s an unexpected need. And when I heard that, I thought, “We can do that.”

What do you have on hand? What can you do right now? Does it meet a need? If you take what you have on hand and add obedience to God along with God himself…that can be miraculous. You might have even more objections and excuses than Moses did. You might not have as many 3D printers as Josef Prusa. You might not have as many connections as Limor Fried. But let me ask you what God asked Moses – “What is that in your hand?” Amen.