Exodus 17:1-7 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church – March 23, 2014
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
(whining) “Do we HAVE to go?” “I don’t WANT to go!” “Are we THERE yet?”
Sounds familiar, huh? J
Many of us have been on car rides where these (or similar) phrases have been heard. In our own day, we may have even been one to say them ourselves.
Imagine being part of a whole town or village that was going someplace together. But you weren’t too sure where it WAS … you carried everything you owned with you (no cross-country professional movers here) … you had to WALK the whole time AND … you were doing it for 40 YEARS!
Forty years. Forty LONG years.
Forty years of walking … resting … setting up tents.
Forty years of taking them down … walking on some more.
Forty years … your children may have been born on the trip … your parents may have died on the trip … maybe your spouse died … maybe even YOU died … but the group just kept moving.
That was Moses’ people after they left Egypt. Walking around in a DESERT. Getting thirsty … hot … sweaty … no bucolic green pastures or summer lakes … no vacations to break up the year … THIS was your life.
Such was the life of the Israelite people for 40 years.
Hot … tired … thirsty … they had no water to drink and they do what most of us do in times like that … they started to complain … and complain … and complain.
“We don’t have enough water. … We USED to have water … back in Egypt. Sure we were slaves and had hard labor, but at least we had water.” And the arguments probably sounded something like what we would do now … “What did you bring us OUT here for? And where are we GOING?”
ALL of us … when things change and are a burden at first … we ALL look back to the time when they were different. Our mind remembers them as BETTER … sometimes they might have been. Other times, probably not. But they were at least KNOWN and familiar.
Here, walking around in the desert … it’s all so STRANGE … so FOREIGN … so TEMPORARY … Nothing is familiar and look … we don’t even have water to drink.
I can’t help thinking that their reactions were pretty universal.
So what does Moses do?
Well, he talks it over with God. And God gives him a solution. Take your walking stick with you and strike a rock over there … and when you do, water will come pouring out of the rock.
This wasn’t a fast food drink dispensary … this is a ROCK! He’s supposed to hit a ROCK with a STICK and out will come water? Right … like THAT will work.
But Moses has developed a relationship with God by this time and he KNOWS that God will take care of them. So he goes off and does it. He takes the elders with him (maybe as witnesses, I’m not sure) and he does what God told him to do, no matter how improbable it might seem. And by all accounts, it works. The people have water.
This wasn’t the ONLY time the people reacted this way … it wasn’t the only time they complained … not the only time they whined. And EACH TIME, we are told, God met their needs.
And so I ASK you, Church … how much like the Israelites are WE?
We are on a journey to a new life … a new way of being church … a new way of being the representatives of JESUS in today’s world. Some would argue that we have been asking some of the same questions and trying to figure how to do that for 40 years … going back to the 1970’s.
And here we are, wandering around … feeling spiritually parched sometimes, wondering where the HECK we are being led … THIRSTY and hungry … TIRED of being uprooted from the “church” we have known and just wanting to stay in one place for a while.
Do you think they looked at the rock before it was struck and could envision water pouring forth from it? I don’t.
Rocks are rocks. Right?
Evidently not … because THIS rock spewed forth water for the drinking, bathing and healing of the people.
We, too, look around and wonder where we will find the sustaining gifts from God. Where will we find a place to worship? Where will we find meaningful mission? Where will we find PEOPLE to do the things we think God is calling us to do?
We, too, don’t always see the potential for life-giving water that GOD knows is present.
But there are a couple of things that we can be SURE of:
- God HEARD the cries of the people and prepared the elders to deliver and WITNESS to the people the life-giving water.
- And God did not LET. THEM. DIE!
Leap ahead with me for a minute to the time when the Israelites had COMPLETED their journey and were settled in to the Promised Land. Or go ahead in time to the years when David had united the kingdom of northern and southern Israel and built the city of Jerusalem … to the time after that when the great Temple was built and became the CENTER of Jewish faith and practice.
How do you think THOSE people felt about the forty years in the desert THEN?
Hindsight changes things, doesn’t it?
It’s almost like time is a LENS … we look backward and it DISTORTS what has occurred. If we look FORWARDS, we can’t see it clearly because it’s all out of focus. We don’t KNOW the details yet.
The only thing that we can be SURE of is that God is with us right NOW … in the PRESENT … and that we will have all that we need to survive. How can we be so sure of that? Because God has ALWAYS been here and has ALWAYS cared for us.
God was with us in 1849 when we formed a Bible study Sunday school across the street.
God was with us 30 years after that when we started having Sunday services down the street.
God was with us 40 years after THAT when we moved to our present location where we are now.
And God is with us now when we are preparing for something new and wonderful to be done with us for the 21st century.
I wonder sometimes if the Promised Land looked like the Israelites THOUGHT it would look like. Or if maybe it looked a lot like where they’d been.
I wonder if some of them had sort of a vision or a dream about what it would be like to live there together as a new nation … while others just couldn’t quite catch the vision.
I wonder if maybe there was some dissention among them about which vision was right and which definition of “the chosen people” they would adopt.
Oh wait … we KNOW there was dissention. Right?
So what WE are going through is really quite on the RIGHT path, isn’t it?
The Session and I are NOT yet 100% sure of where we are going or what it is going to look like because we’re not THERE yet. When will we know? When we are on the other side of it.
I can tell you that our plans for the future have changed so many times since we started this part of our journey with the commissioning of the Joy Group five years ago that it’s hard to keep TRACK of all of the changes. We are confident of one thing and then conditions change and we move to a new idea.
Then something else comes up and we think, “Oh, maybe THAT’s where God wants us to go” and we embrace it for a while … we live with it … we try it on Whole-heartedly. We see how it feels … if it looks good on us, and we move toward it and then something ELSE (like New Beginnings) changes the path and redirects us.
So we regroup and keep going and along comes a charrette that feeds us new ideas and new possibilities … and just like the Israelites clamoring for water, we are THIRSTY to have this part of the journey over so we can SETTLE somewhere and drink DEEPLY of the refreshing, comforting waters of new life.
And even NOW, when we think we might have a fuzzy, blurry glimpse of the future through our time lens … I can tell you that things will still change. They are not yet what they will be. We are not YET to the Promised Land. And even when we get there, some of you may say, “This is IT? This is what it’s all been for? Oh no. Oh NO! I didn’t sign on to walk for forty years for THIS.” But it will be what GOD wants and what GOD has led us to.
How do I KNOW that, because the Elders have WITNESSED God delivering it to them … all the paths and turns … all of the cold nights and hot, hot days … all of the births and death, the marriages and the separations … we are GOD’s people and God WILL NOT forsake us.
But like the Israelites, we have to be prepared to TRUST … to SEE … and to DRINK from the water that comes from the most unlikeliest of places … from the rock itself. And in OUR case, it is the Rock of Salvation because JESUS is the Living Water.
May we continue to grow on our way, trusting in our loving, guiding, Father / Mother God. And the people of God say …. Amen.