There was a gambler who bet everything and lost. Many would say the poor soul had suffered the consequences of his actions. The gambler began roaming and suddenly needed to use the restroom. The only ones available cost a dime. Immediately the gambler began begging for change and pleading with every passerby. Finally, a generous soul gave the needed dime and the gambler was overly grateful.
He went to the restroom and found a stall wide open. When he departed the restroom the gambler still had the dime and there was a massive slot machine blinking and ringing with temptation. One pull of the lever he won ten times what had been lost.
A large crowd and casino officials gathered as the winner collected the treasure. The gambler felt obligated to share some words, “I was broke. I had lost every nickel. Then a gracious soul came and changed everything. If I could only thank that stranger now.” A voice from the crowd shouted, “It was me! I’m the one! I gave you the dime.” The winner looked out at the crowd, “No, not you. I want to thank the person who left the stall open.”
People are strange characters. My grandmother used to say, “We have not gone far from the apes.” Yet, in all our bizarreness, awkwardness, rudeness, crassness, and the rest of the mess there is God who loves us. It’s quite amazing. No matter what we do, there is always a chance for us to do the right thing. We might even do the right thing, we might give an abundance of life and not even know it. Then again we might work hard and take risks to give life and never get credit.
This past week I was forced to think about scripture and why it’s important. I thought about scripture the way I imagine you thought about this opening story. Why? What’s the meaning of all this? The importance of scripture is its messiness, its imperfection, its awfulness, and crassness. The importance is that in the depth of all the terrible there is a Divine love at every corner ready to transform.
Moses is a prime example. Aaron and the Israelites are equally shining examples of what we call grace. Moses is a murderer, an orphan and an adopted racial, ethnic, and religious minority. He’s also a disgruntled worker. When God came to the burning bush Moses had 1200 excuses for how God had the wrong bush. Moses had the guts to tell a Divine being in a burning but not destroyed bush that he had a stutter. Clearly the Deity was mistaken. This all took place after Moses had killed someone. The entire Moses narrative is filled with a back and forth between the prophet and the Deity about the work to be done and all the reasons it will fail.
The passage today is one of Moses’ most glowing moments. The people have and will continue to challenge the leader. They have failed repeatedly to listen and only frustrated Moses’ efforts. Yet, here Moses stands to defend them. God is, rightfully so, ready to destroy the people and start all over. Moses advocates. The prophet reminds God that it is not the covenant that has been given now that matters. The covenant to remember is the one that began it all. The covenant of the ancestors, the one God gave without condition and with only faith humanity would live fully and celebrate a loving relationship with God.
We do this advocating for humanity. We seek relationship and hope for the divine fulfillment of each person. Its hard. There are party animals who make our lives difficult, challenge our perspective of what is good, and never seem to listen. There are moments when we feel alone seeking virtue in a world that does not care about anything. There are times when we feel as if people caused their own pain or people have unneccessarily perpetuated their own awful situation. They gambled their money away. Even if we do help, even if we answer the call from God, even if we give the last dime in our pocket, we often feel its without reward or acknowledgement. Like Moses, we feel as if the people do not care. We sit with our loved one in pain and their own sadness and fear become our burdens. Our efforts feel hopeless and worthless. Today’s scripture reminds us our presence, our celebration of the covenant of life has already endorsed every kindness we do. It reminds us our prayers, our pleas are enough to transform the world.
The simple example I offer is your presence here this morning. This celebration today guarantees another week, month, and even longer existence of our celebration of God. While others are wandering, idol worshipping, sleeping, yearning, aching, and crying out we are here to face God. Our presence tells God we remember the covenant. When Moses did this God brought forth transformation that would change humanity. God poured out an abundance of God’s love. Like leaving out a dime bathroom stall, our presence here today beckons God to fulfill the ancient promise. Our presence, even if you are asleep, our effort to be here is plea for all the ill who seek healing, for the wanderers who seek a home, for all the broken who need wholeness, for all the disturbed who need peace, and for humanity who needs love and life. Like Moses, we are all those things. We as humans have known and continue to know the struggle. In the worst of it all we recall the promise. The promise of barren woman to bring life, the promise of slaves to be free, and the promise to give life to those who have been broken. Our faith in God’s love for humanity reveals God’s fulfillment.