‘Clutch’ is a sports term that is often tossed around amongst those who love to talk about some of our favorite athletes. To be clutch means to perform well under pressure. When the game is on the line, when there is almost no time on the clock, when victory or defeat rides on the outcome of the next play, who do you want to have the ball?
There have been several clutch athletes throughout history in all sorts of sports who have come through victorious in the most important times.
We remember Tiger Woods storming down the back 9 of the Masters golf tournament in 1997.
We remember ‘Mr. October’ Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees who hit three consecutive homeruns to help win the 1977 World Series.
We remember Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers who threw the game winning touchdown pass, later called ‘the catch’, to Dwight Clark in the end zone.
We remember Serena Williams winning 23 Grand Slam Titles in tennis.
And for those of us who are true sports historians, perhaps the most clutch performance of all time was the runner Jesse Owens, who traveled to Nazi Germany in 1936 and brought home four gold medals for the United States, each of the four events he competed in, much to the chagrin of Adolf Hitler.
Clutch even has moved beyond the sports world. To be clutch in the everyday world can simply mean to regularly succeed under pressure. To be clutch means to be reliable in all circumstances; someone who you can go to when things get really hairy.
We celebrate these people, in sports and in life, because of their ability to perform beyond what many of us would consider normal expectations. They tend to appear as super human at times.
But here’s the problem. These people, at the end of the day, are in fact still human. They are not perfect. They will not always be there to rise above the pressure, the conflict, or the circumstance. We all have our limits.
Tiger Woods may never beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Major wins.
Reggie Jackson had a batting average of .262. That means that he got a hit only 26% of the time.
Joe Montana is ranked only #16 in career touchdown passes.
We watched Serena Williams, on the verge of making Grand Slam history, falter in the US Open in 2015… and in 2016.
Jesse Owens time for the 100 meter was 10.3 seconds. The world record today is 9.58 seconds. Over 36 runners have beaten the record since his historic victories.
And we all know that all sorts of people will let us down from time to time. Whether it’s something small like a family member forgetting to grab something from the store for us, or something big that we can never forget or forgive that person for; we have all been let down before, and I’m willing to bet that we all have let someone else down before as well.
Life can be really tough in this regard sometimes. Life is tough enough with all of this craziness in the news that seems to be going on that feels so far beyond any of our control or capacities. The earthquakes in Mexico, the multiple hurricanes, what seems like the entire western half of the US on fire, threats of nuclear attack, war games, political roulette over people’s health care…the list goes on and on! We are understandably stressed by these situations, not to mention plenty of our own personal problems in our lives. Our defenses are up, and we are not quite sure who we can trust; who we can look to as a leader who can pull us through this mess. Who is going to be clutch in this moment?
So in some way this story about the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, always on the defense of being let down by Moses, is something we all can relate to. I want for us to reflect upon our own faith stories as we continue with this fascinating story of the Israelite people and their exodus from Egypt into the wilderness.
We pick up with the Israelites, now having been liberated from Egypt with the Passover, then having their lives saved by the parting of the Red Sea, now find themselves…complaining once again. Tell me when you’ve heard this before.
2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
God, the ever patient one, decides to turn this complaining into a teaching moment, as any good loving parent would. We will note that the sixth day will have twice as much; this alludes to the preparation for the Sabbath day on day seven for the Jewish tradition.
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6
Moses and Aaron tell the Israelites what will happen, and they are clear in pointing out that this is God’s doing; not theirs. On top of this, they are also pointing out that if the Israelites want to pick a fight, they ought to be doing it with God. This is not the Moses and Aaron show; this is a God thing happening right now.
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8
… Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
We read in verse 10 that the glory of the Lord appeared, and in verse 11 God speaks once again, with yet another miracle to offer:
11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
The Israelites, once again were astonished at what had happened. Once again, there were no rational answers for the mysterious…and miraculous work of God. Moses, God’s faithful messenger, knew what to say about this.
15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
Who can we go to in the world today when times get tough? Who can we trust when people let us down? What in the world can we put our faith into?
The Good News this morning: God Provides…time and time again.
Despite the Israelites repeated attempts to do things on their own; God was there.
When we were captives in Egypt, God was there.
When we were pinned up against the sea on one end, and an encroaching army on the other, God created a way.
And as we wander the wilderness, reaching the physical, emotional, and spiritual limits of our lives, God provides.
We are here today because God has been that clutch performer time and time again in our lives. We may not all be millionaires like we perhaps dreamed of as children when we imagined our lives today, but God has provided. We have enough. We have, as the Lord’s prayer requests, our daily bread. We celebrate today that we have made it thus far, and God is not done with us yet. There are still pages of our story to be written. There are still lives to touch, relationships to nurture, and hearts to transform. God has provided, and will continue to provide.
And God is not done with Valley Community. God has provided for us all of these past 75 years, and our future is brighter yet. Just as the Israelites did not know for certain what the future would look like, we also may not know. But God had a vision of the Promised Land for the Israelites. And God has a vision of the Promised Land for us here at Valley Community. God provided back in the wilderness, and God will provide here in Portland in most amazing ways!
We worship a God who does not forget or abandon us!
We worship a God who turns uncertainty and doubt into fortitude and trust.
We worship a God who provides time and time again as we journey together in faith!
Today we walk along on our journey of faith with the Good News of God’s provision. May we share this Good News with all whom we encounter as we journey into the days ahead!