Help Wanted?


            Ours is a culture that loves self-reliance.  We love to be able to do it ourselves.  We don’t have to look any further than the ads for places like the home improvements giant Home Depot.  Remember, as Home Depot tells us: “you can do it, we can help.”  Self-reliance is something of a national religion here in our country.  People who do things themselves are to be admired, they are those who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.”  They are the ones who have attained the American dream of living on their own with no need for anyone else around them.

Now, what troubles me the most is that we have taken self-reliance and transformed it into something that we say God wants for us.  How many of us have heard, “God helps those who help themselves?”  I know I have heard it time and again from many different people and it took me years to discover that saying is not anywhere in scripture.  In fact, scripture has just the opposite to say to us.  Scripture tells us that we are not to rely on ourselves, on our own power and on our strength, but rather we are to look to God and rely on God’s strength.  Let me read you a few quotes that are from scripture.  The Old Testament prophet Zechariah says:

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zech 4:6)  Or, how about this from Proverbs:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5-6)

In fact, scripture goes quite a long way in this direction to remind us that relying on ourselves will not get us where we want to be.  Listen to these words from Jeremiah 17:5-8:

5 Thus says the Lord:

Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals

and make mere flesh their strength,

whose hearts turn away from the Lord.

6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert,

and shall not see when relief comes.

They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,

in an uninhabited salt land.

7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,

sending out its roots by the stream.

It shall not fear when heat comes,

and its leaves shall stay green;

in the year of drought it is not anxious,

and it does not cease to bear fruit.


Throughout scripture God has gone to some extreme lengths to make sure the people realized they were not accomplishing anything by their own strength, because God does not want us getting to the point where we are self-reliant.  God wants us to be God-reliant.  Take the story of Gideon in the book of Judges for example.  Gideon has heard God’s call to fight off the invading Mideanite army; an army that is described as being “as thick as locusts.  Gideon raises an army, but it is too large, because God does not want any confusion over whether it was military might or the Spirit of God who wins the day (Judges 7:1-9). 

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley.

2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’ ” Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.

4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; and when I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” 6 The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. 7 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” 8 So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley. 9 That same night the Lord said to him, “Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand.


            Time and again throughout the scriptures, God does the miraculous in ways that are specifically designed to turn us towards relying, not on ourselves, but on God.  Even the very location of the Promised Land of Israel in a place without major rivers where the Israelites would have to look to God to provide rain in order for their crops to thrive, even that very location was chosen by God to encourage the people to rely on God and not their ability to irrigate (see Deut 11:8-12; Lev 26:3-5)!

            The Song of the Sea, our first reading this morning, celebrates one of those great events that reminded the people that they were not self-reliant but God-reliant: the crossing of the Red Sea.  This song celebrates God doing what no person can do and it is sung even today by Jews who celebrate the Passover and the Exodus out of Egypt.  It is a song that is deeply engrained in the people of God because it points to God’s great work in freeing the people from Egypt.  It is a beautiful song, and I want to teach you a bit of it this morning.  Now, this is Hebrew, so before we get started, we are all going to need to clear our throats…Let me sing it through for you and then I will teach you the first verse.


Ashira la'adonay ki ga'o ga'a Exodus 15:1 (2x)
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;


Mi chamocha ba'elim adonay, mi kamocha ne'edar bakodesh 15:11
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness?

Nachita vechasdecha am zu ga'alta 15:13
In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;


Ashira, ashira, ashira

I will sing, I will sing, I will sing


It is a beautiful song, isn’t it?  A song proclaiming God’s work, God’s presence, God’s hand, for it was truly a God-reliance, not a self-reliance that brought the people across the Red Sea. 

The journey out of Egypt is truly an epic tale, a tale that has been told and retold in many different forms over the years.  Hollywood has gotten a hold of it and told it in many different ways.  I expect that most of us have seen Charlton Heston’s version, right?  More recently, DreamWorks created an animated version called “The Prince of Egypt.”  How many of you have seen The Prince of Egypt?  The story is great, and they even include the song that we just learned in Hebrew!  I want to give you a chance to listen to the DreamWorks version of the song, because something happens to the song when they move from English and Hebrew.  I want to see if you can hear the change and hear whether we have held onto the God-reliance of scripture or see if God-reliance has been replaced with something else.


“When You Believe”


So, did you hear the Hebrew?  How did the English words compare?  The song talks about miracles, but did you hear who I was that did those miracles?  It was not God, it was us!  The song declares, “We were moving mountains long before we knew we could.”  It says, “Who knows what miracles / you can achieve / when you believe / somehow you will / you will when you believe.” 

We have taken a song all about what God has done, what God can do, and we have made it all about us.  This song epitomizes our struggle with the Holy Spirit in this country today—at the end of the day, we just don’t think we need the Spirit.  The title of this sermon is “Help Wanted” with a question mark for that exact reason, because we live in a world that says, God we don’t need your help, we can do it just fine on our own.  And we do.  We do it on our own.  Often in this country, we run our lives and our business and our families without God and then we come to church on Sunday and we continue on our own.  We think if we get a preacher who is a gifted speaker and have the right programs or the right people in the pews or the right amount in the collection plate, then we can do anything.  “We can do anything, if we believe…”

Strangely enough, that’s not how Jesus saw it.  Instead, he sat his followers down and he taught them all about the Bible and then told them, “you know what, don’t try to do a thing until you have received the Holy Spirit from God.” “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (lk 24:49)”

The crazy part is that they listened to him.  They had seen Jesus’ life and ministry and they knew that without the power of the Spirit they would get nowhere.  So, the book of Acts tells us that after Jesus ascended to heaven, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”  And then the Spirit fell, and the book of Acts tells the story of men and women filled with the Spirit of God and the Spirit is the one doing the work, that is how the church was born and that is why the church grew.  May the same be true here.

So, let me be the first to hang out my sign.  “Help Wanted.”  Help needed.  Come Holy Spirit!