Empty

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

 Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

 

 

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard

To fetch her poor doggy a bone.

When she got there the cupboard was bare

And so, the poor doggy got none.

 

It is a real pain when you run out of something you need.

I remember one time on the way to a funeral running out of gas. I was way late for the funeral. Not good.

 

In Prince Edward Island most of the homes are heated with oil furnaces. Consequently, there are good size oil tanks in the homes and the oil man comes by in his big truck and fills up your tank every so often.

Now they judge it so that you never run out, but never means, almost never. Occasionally they misjudge or if the weather goes into a cold snap you might use up your fuel more quickly than expected and believe me it is a pain to run out of heating fuel when it is 20 below and you wake up with frost all over the inside of your windows and you see your breath.

 

It is a real pain to be out of something you need.

 

And all over the world there are people whose cupboards are empty.

They have no food.

They have no medicine.

Or they have no cupboards.

 

There are so many people who are just plain empty.

 

They have no home, no safe place, no future, no hope.

 

Maybe you know what it is like to have little or next to nothing.

 

Maybe in your past, you know what it is like to have nothing in a bank account, not knowing how you will pay the bills.

Maybe there are people today hurting financially… financially empty who are watching this church service.

 

Jesus told a story one time about bridesmaids who ran out of oil…

But Jesus wasn’t referring to food or money or the basic necessities.

Jesus was referring to a different kind of emptiness.

An emptiness in the soul or spirit.

 

One of our spiritual resources is love. And if you have ever been dumped, ever been rejected you know what it is like to run out of love.

Or maybe you know what it is like when you just don’t feel like caring today. You have run out of love.

 

One of our spiritual resources is forgiveness and maybe you have crossed the line just one to many times and friends or family or society, just do not want to forgive you anymore and you have run out of forgiveness, or maybe you have had it up to here with someone and you have run out of forgiving them.

 

One of our spiritual resources is hope. It is a painful thing, a sad thing when you feel that everyone has given up on you, that everyone thinks there is no hope for you.

And it is a most depressing thing, a terrible thing to think that you have no future, nowhere to turn and there is no hope.

 

One of our spiritual resources is faith. It is a sad and painful thing when nobody trusts you any more or it is an awful feeling if you believe there is nobody to be trusted, or that God can’t be trusted.

 

One of our spiritual resources is purpose and meaning. It is a sad and painful thing if people think that you are worthless and have no purpose any more, or someone says to you meanly “you are just a waste of skin.”

And it is even worse if you have that empty feeling because you have no goal, no purpose, no meaning to life.

 

There are other spiritual resources too, friendship, joy, honesty, laughter, patience etc.

 

But it can really be devastating to run out of these things.

You ever met someone who has run out of joy?

I have and it is not a pretty picture.

Or someone who has run out of patience? Hey wait a minute. I think that one is me.

 

It is a pain to run out of something you really need

 

One of my mother’s cousins married a German man. This man as a teenager had served in the German army during Word War 2 and as you can imagine had seen some terrible things.

He hated the smell and taste of turnips:  that was pretty much all he existed on at the end of the war. He said that he would walk twenty miles to steal turnips from a farmer’s field.

But of all my mother’s cousins he was probably one of my favourites if not the favourite. He was instrumental in helping to learn bridge. He taught me how to play tennis. He took an interest in me.

 

But one day he jumped from the balcony of his apartment building. He ran out of hope. He ran out of faith in the future.

It was a very sad thing. It was sad because in many ways there seemed to be no reason. He was not hurting financially, he was happily married, and he seemed to enjoy life. On the outside at least he didn’t seem to have any real problems. Even his wife could not really say what lay at the heart of it all.

 

It was sad, not only because of the loss of this cousin who was loved and appreciated, but because all those spiritual resources of which I just mentioned were not only available to him but in him. But one day he just ran out.

 

We all have those times of running on empty.

 

I remember one time twenty years ago roughly I was filling up the sink to do dishes and something else distracted me and I went to do that, and when I came back, the sink was overflowing and water was running all over the floor…

And I slammed both hands down on the countertop and screamed:

“I hate my blanking life.” You can supply the swear word.

 

It came up out of nowhere, but my life was overflowing with conflict at the church, just like the sink was overflowing. And I guess I had just run out. I thought I was handling well, until that water overflowed.

And at that moment I realized I was running on empty.

 

And so, the people of Israel have escaped Egypt, they have been saved by walking through the Red Sea and the waves held back.

They are wandering in the wilderness on the way to the promised land, and they just start to run on empty.

They lost hope. They lost faith. They lost courage. They grumble. They complain. They argue. They point fingers. They blame.

 

When you run out, you can become pretty miserable, pretty nasty, pretty self-centred…

In fact, when we run out. It is like we have gone back to Egypt and entered slavery again,

we becomes slaves to sin…

Slaves to the negative humans emotions..

Slaves to fear, slaves to irrational thinking…

Slaves to quick fixes.

Slaves to throwing someone under the bus.

Slaves to what others think and feel.

Slaves to pleasing others or getting even with others…

 

 

We have hurt and pain and confusion and can’t think straight and so we usually do one of two things..fight or flight.

Sometimes we just retreat into our souls and hide and try to stuff the pain and put on a brave face and yet all that pain is there.

And we suffer alone without help.

 

Or sometimes we attack. We accuse, we call names, we point out other’s mistakes… we hurt others with snarkiness, or negativity, or we ignore people to hurt them, or we demean people.

 

We are in the wilderness and we have run out and we go right back to Egypt and live in bondage to all that is not good in us.

 

And it can happen to anyone. I wonder how many people have been profoundly affected by Covid 19. Lost jobs, opportunites, unable to connect with friends or family, and it has all been too much?

 

How many people are out there in the wilderness of Covid 19?

 

How many families have undergone loss of a family member because of Covid-19?

 

None of us are immune from wandering in the wilderness and running out.

 

For devotions in Session the other night, I used a passage of scripture that a friend used at a recent presbytery meeting.

It was Elijah running away, lying down, wishing to die. He had run out.

The queen wants his head on a platter and Elijah thinks he is the only faithful one left in the whole world.

He curls up in a ball, exhausted depressed and empty.

 

But you know, I wonder sometimes if being empty is not a bad thing.

Or at least not all bad.

 

Being empty is a very humbling thing.

Being empty is a very human thing and can help you feel what so many humans feel.

 

Being empty can mean you are open to doing something a new way.

 

Being empty means often that you have to trust in someone else to help you…you have to put your faith in someone…

Being empty is sometimes the rock bottom where you are ready to come clean and tell the truth and say you are sorry.

Being empty sometimes means that you are going to throw off all the masks and pretensions and roles and just be yourself, because you can’t go any lower.

 

Being empty is the place to be if you need to be filled with love or God..

 

Being empty is being in the same place as Jesus was on the cross when he was so thirsty…

 

And so, I want you to think of being empty not as all bad, but as an opportunity…

An opportunity to suffer with Jesus, and to identify with those who have nothing..

…and an opportunity to be filled not with self or ego, but with God.

 

You know when Elijah was in the wilderness an angel appeared to him and gave him food and drink.

 

Who are the angels who have appeared to you when you were empty?

Friends, family, strangers, nurses or doctors, church members.

Who was there for you when you were empty? I have had brothers who were angels to me. I have had friends who were angels to me. I have had church members who were angels to me. I have had minsters who were angels to me. My mother was the angel who emptied herself for me?

When I felt alone, they were there, and they fed me support and friendship and eased my thirst for love and acceptance.

 

You know, to those grumblers in the desert God gave water. Moses struck the rock and water came forth.

They didn’t deserve it, but God was there and that water is the water of God’s grace.

 

And that is what we need to fill us up. Grace.

 

The last few weeks as we have been going through Matthew’s gospel, we keep getting stories about God’s amazing outrageous grace.

Couple of weeks ago it was about God’s amazing forgiveness. Peter asking how often we should forgive, and yet he had been forgiven everything.

Last week it was the unfairness of grace. Everybody received the same wages, which was the parable’s way of saying that everybody gets grace and even the one we don’t think are worthy get grace.

 

And this week Jesus is in tough with the Chief Priests and elders, who are questioning his authority to teach and to talk to the people. And they are at the temple.

By whose authority can you talk about God?

 

And Jesus says: “I’ll answer that if you can answer me this question: “Did John the Baptist’s authority come from God or from humans?”

 

Well, they didn’t want to answer Jesus. If they said that it came from God, then Jesus would say, ‘Why didn’t you listen to him’. If they said it came from humans then the crowd would be angry at them. So, they leaders would not give Jesus an answer.

 

And Jesus tells them a story about two sons. The father asks a son to do some work. The son says “no” but then he is sorry he spoke to his father that way and goes off and does the work. The Father asks the second son to work.

The son says yes, but doesn’t go and do the work.

Jesus asks. Who did the will of the Father?

 

And there are three things I want you to understand.

The first is that the setting is the temple. The temple is a very ordered place. It is huge. The women are not allowed in to worship. The foreigners are not allowed in to worship. You have to have the right sacrifices and pay the right money; and wash and be clean in the right way.

 

The second thing to note that the group who are opposing Jesus in this story are the the chief priests and the elders. It is not the scribes and pharisees. That is a different group with a different agenda. The chief priests are the one who run the temple. They are the one who decide who is good enough, who is clean enough, who is worthy of God’s forgiveness.

 

The third thing to understand that this little parable is also about grace.

Who actually practices grace? The chief priests and the leaders talk about grace and forgiveness. They mouth the words to God, but their actions in running the temple show that they think most are not worthy of grace.

And instead of the temple being the place of grace and safety for all people…

instead of the temple being a place where all the peoples of the world can gather to worship, instead of the temple being the place where the weak, the vulnerable, the women, the widow, the children, the sick…

can find God, find healing, find refuge and find support…

The temple is the barrier to most people. It is used to keep people away from God. Just the clean enough, pure enough, good enough, moral enough, wealthy enough to pay for sacrifices, and Jewish enough, get in to worship.

And Jesus says is implying that these chief priests and elders are the sons who say the right words to the father, but do not practice grace.

What Jesus wants is not clean enough, pure enough, moral  enough, wealthy enough people or who know the right doctrine or words, but people who actually practice grace, who love their neighbour, who help the poor, who are not afraid to say sorry, or to help a so-called unclean sick person or an unclean foreigner, or a women or child who has no status. And what Jesus is saying is that everyone in this world has the opportunity to love another if they realize that they are loved and have value.

 

That is why when Jesus died, the veil of the temple was rent in two, symbolically saying that the old temple of hierarchy and privilege is gone and Jesus is the new temple of grace that can be in your heart.

 

But maybe in order for Jesus to be the new temple of grace in your heart…

You might actually have to empty yourself first to make room.        In fact, one of the interesting things about Jesus was that he emptied himself.

Jesus chose to be empty.

 

In contrast to the chief priests and leaders who were so full of themselves…

Jesus emptied himself, humbled himself and became a servant of others.

And Jesus himself went to the cross and completely emptied himself for you, for me.

 

He poured out his love, he poured out his grace, he poured out his forgiveness, he poured out his compassion, he poured out his acceptance, he poured out his strength, he poured out his healing….

Into you.

 

It isn’t the end of the world when you are empty. It is an opportunity to rethink your priorities and get rid of ego and self, and fill up with Jesus’ love, fill up with Jesus’ grace, fill up with forgiveness…

So that you too can pour yourself out for others.

So, you can be that child who doesn’t just say “yes Lord” but who will actually go out into the vineyard of this world and actually do the work of the Father in spreading grace and love.                                                               Amen