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Have You Ever Been Tired?

Do you remember the movie, El Cid?  Charlton Heston, in the title role, led a Spanish army in a series of battles against the invading Moors.  Just before the climatic “mother of all battles”, he was mortally wounded.   He was so badly hurt that he would be unable to lead his troops into battle.  Knowing that his presence on the battlefield was crucial to the morale of his troops, however, a few of the people who knew how badly he was wounded fastened him in his saddle and propped him upright so that he could still lead his troops into combat.

Seeing their leader with them, the Spanish soldiers took heart and fought to victory.  It’s apparent that if El Cid had not been there or, if he had slumped in the saddle, his army would have lost heart and suffered certain defeat.  The difference between winning and losing was so subtle that the presence of one notable person on the battlefield was the decisive factor.  It’s the same way the outcome of the battle described in the text was determined—by the presence of one key individual.

An observer of that afternoon’s clash in the Valley of Rephidim would have seen two rag-tag regiments swinging swords and severing heads in a full-blown conflict.  One particular feature of the fight would have stood out.  It’s common to all battles, but never before had it occurred with such abruptness.  One minute, one side scored all the hits and beat the other into a pulp.  But the next instant, it was the other way around.  Hit and win.  Run and lose.  Back and forth.  It was all very puzzling.  What caused such abrupt reversals every few minutes?  What made the same stroke in one instance land at the neck and the next to miss badly and swing wildly through the air?

It was almost as if the combatants were controlled by a giant hand, like puppets on a string.  One moment, they were winning, the next they were losing, and there was nothing on the battlefield  that appeared to be making that much difference.

However, up the slope of a nearby hill, three men carefully watched the conflict.  One was quite a bit older than the other two.  In his hand, he held a stick—maybe it was a walking stick, but it also looked very much like a shepherd’s staff.  Whatever it was, the old man seemed bent on holding the stick over his head.

Occasionally, the two younger men pointed to a rock and urged the older man to sit down.  He would, but he always held that stick over his head.  When his arms swayed from fatigue, the other two stepped to his side and steadied his arms—enabling the old man to keep the stick held aloft.

No one would have ever made a connection between what they were doing and what was going on between the warring soldiers.  But, as odd as it may seem, there was a divine link between the men on the mountain and the warriors in the valley.  In God’s strategy, when the three men pooled their strength to keep the stick raised high, their side in the valley prevailed.  But if one of them grew tired and allowed their arms to momentarily droop, the enemy invariably turned the tide.

So, the winning strategy was simple.  With Moses sitting on a rock between them, Aaron and Hur planted themselves by his side, locked their arms in supportive love, and together the three of them hoisted the rod and struck the victory pose.  It was the divine formula for unity and strength.

When the soldiers on the battlefield glanced up from the thick of battle, they saw the three men locked in a victory clasp.  New enthusiasm, determination, and courage surged through their bodies like a fresh rush of adrenaline.  Their leaders were pulling for them.  There they stood at the top of the mountain, their three hearts beating as one.  The soldiers could barely make out that familiar rod, but there was no question about it.  That rod had figured prominently in every miraculous thing that had happened to them both in Egypt and in the wilderness.  And now, another miracle was taking place.  Moses and Aaron and Hur were firmly united behind them.  As long as those three men stood before God on their behalf, the victory was just a matter of time.

That’s the way it is with many of the spiritual battles of life.  The outcome is determined by whether we perceive that we are in it by ourselves or whether we are aware that others are pulling for us, encouraging us, and standing before God on our behalf.  That’s what this sermon is all about. It’s about us moving beyond simple hugs, handshakes, and fellowship dinners  to actually becoming the kind of faith community that doesn’t just talk about grace, but actually puts it into practice.  Its about us becoming a people who value being connected to one another in grace-filled, life-enhancing, Christ honoring relationships.

As we examine this central truth about the church there are three key reminders I want you to draw from God’s Word.  They take the form of a proposition, a principle, and a promise.

Here’s the proposition, are you ready?  The way to the Promised Land is filled with many dangerous and deadly battles(v.8).   The statement about  the attack of the Amalekites was not the first such announcement as the Israelites traveled towards the Promised Land.  There were numerous such skirmishes and conflicts along the way.

That’s the way it is with life sometimes.  No matter how we try to avoid them life is often filled with all sorts of skirmishes, conflicts, and struggles.  It’s even that way in our spiritual journeys.   When we try to live for God—when we are determined to do the right things and be the right kind of people—when we are committed to be the body of Christ and not just an institution called church—we discover that the path can be extremely difficult.  And then what often happens is that we grow tired, feel depleted, become worn out, and experience exhaustion.  We wonder if it’s worth going on.

It’s in those times of exhaustion—it is in these moments of complete and utter  frustration—that we discover that we are most vulnerable to the attack Amalekites?  Look with me at Exodus 17:1-7.  What was happening?  The people were fighting with one another and their leader. They were all emotionally spent.  They were unhappy and angry and frightened.  They were stressed out.  Their relationships were strained to the breaking point.  On the heals of this conflict the enemy attacked—and Israel wasn’t the least bit prepared to do battle.  They didn’t even have an army.

That brings us to the principle:  we must be able to count on one another if we expect to reach our destination.(v.9)

We all need to know that we’re not alone during the difficult periods of life.  It seems to me that that’s the point of the story in Exodus. We need to know that we are not alone.  We need to know that we have some close friends in the community of faith.  We need to be connected to other Christians in grace-filled relationships that can inspire us, motivate us, strengthen us, and encourage us to live like God’s people.

Where Aaron and Hur came along side Moses—supporting him as he held the rod of God in the air—they served as the means that God used to offer His presence and strength.  By there actions it was revealed that God was present and the victory would be won.  When we are there for one another—as a community of grace and faith—we become an expression of God’s loving presence.  God in his grace has chosen to people like you and me to “flesh out” God’s presence in this world.  That’s what it means to say that we are the “body of Christ.”  By our life and ministry we are suppose to “reveal a great God” to the world.

What happens when we are not there for one another?  What happens when we become more concerned with institutional survival than with being Christ’s presence to one another and to the world?  When Moses and his companions locked arms together as a symbol of unity and faith to hold the rod of God in the air for Israel to see, the people of God prevailed.  When—in their own weariness and weakness the rod begin to fall out of view, the people of God suffered defeat.

That brings us to the promise:  even if you and I fail to lift our hands on behalf of the servants of God, Jesus will remain faithful. When I read from Exodus, I see  Moses and Aaron and Hur with their arms outstretched on the hillside overlooking a great battle, lifting their arms toward heaven, and thereby encouraging the people of God.  But when I read the New Testament I see Jesus.  I see my Savior and Lord on a hillside outside Jerusalem.  I see his arms outstretched.  I see him nailed to a cross as a sign and symbol of God’s grace. By this image I have been redeemed.  By this image I am continually encouraged.

Johann Sebastain Bach found in that image the strength to serve. Bach had to produce and produce endlessly as a Christian musician.  It was like being a preacher in a world-renowned pulpit.  He was unable to let down a single Sunday without setting the tongues to wagging.  Do you know what Bach did?  On almost all of his manuscripts he placed two sets of initials.  At the end, he wrote the letters, “S.D.G” and at the beginning, “J.J.”  “S.D.G.”—Soli deo gloria—to God alone be the glory.  And “J.J.”—Jesu juvet – Jesus help me.

Bach understood.  Would to God that we did.  You know that we could do much worse than inscribing those same initials at the beginning and ending of each day. Feeding on Jesus is the only way to find the strength to serve.  Living in grace is the only way for a Christian to live. Service is exhausting without  the nourishment of God’s Spirit.  Joy and victory comes only as we learn to live each and everyday in the assurance of God’s grace.

We will continually let one another down—but Jesus will never fail.  he will never leave us.  He will never forsake us.  He loves us.  Do you need strength for living?  Come to Jesus.

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