Greetings and Peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ our LORD. It is an honor to be with you today.
Pastor Debra has shared with me the joys of working here with you. I have known her for nearly a decade now. We first met when I was an Americorps ViSTA and she was a pastor in the Twin Cities. When I started to think about seminary, she helped to recruit me to come to Luther. And she was there when I started in 2008. She has been with me through the ups and downs of the discernment process, and supported me when I made the choice to no longer pursue ordained ministry.
I grew up just down the road to the west in North Mankato. My father grew up just outside of Madison Lake and his sister still lives in Elysian, and I have other relation in Janesville and even here in Waseca. I am a life long United Methodist in the tradition of my mother’s family. This entire introduction is to say hello, and express my appreciation for being here today.
In looking at the texts for today I am reminded of the entirety of the journey in the wilderness. This story in Exodus happens shortly after the people Israel have escaped Egypt. A quick note on usage here, I utilize the name Israel to include all the children of God who have been freed from hardship and are moving into the Kingdom of God, the people in this story, and us here now who believe in God. Just prior to today’s passage the people were hungry. They were in a new place; they had been taken out of their comfort zone. They were without their homes to sleep in. They didn’t have the food they were used to. Hungry, lost and confused, they needed to rely upon the God. In relying upon God they are led by God. You know this image, a pillar of flame and cloud, visible day and night. God leads them, but where to? We know that they are being led to the Promised Land, but apparently not quick enough for the people. And then we ask today, “quick enough for us?” No!
Like the people coming out of Egypt we understand the Promised Land, except we call it as Jesus did, the Kingdom of God. And we too have been waiting for a long time to get there. And dang if it aint taking us too long to get there.
Israel though, they were in the wilderness for 40 years before they were able to enter the Promised Land. It is important to remember that this is not the wilderness that we are familiar with here in southern Minnesota. This is not a verdant land of trees, grasses, game, rivers and lakes. No this wilderness is dry soil, scrub bushes, no large animals to be seen, and no water.
God had led the people here. God knows why, but the people do not. Nor do we. And this is something that troubles us isn’t it? We profess that God has called us out of bondage, out of Egypt, and God is leading us to the Promised Land, and we want the journey to be over quickly right? God has freed u from our sins and now we want to live life in the kingdom of God before we sin again. This journey though is not quick. We know that the assurance of God is good. Especially present in the Hymn, “Blessed Assurance” And Israel knew this too, for Israel saw God’s activity while they were still in Egypt.
Indeed, the works God preformed in Egypt to work toward Israel’s liberation was something to inspire faith. And it did, and it does. So I ask today, what has God done in your lives to inspire faith? Where has God called you out of places destructive to you such as relationships, depression, addiction and so much more that I cannot begin to name? Your bondage to the above is similar to the people who were slaves in Egypt.
And where is God calling this community out? How is God active here at Faith UMC? In Waseca? In Minnesota? And when we have discerned God’s activity in our lives, we embrace it, recall it over and over again as assurance, proof that God loves us. We rely upon this memory, it informs our understanding of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit in such a way that no amount of “Well Trained” preaching can. This visceral experience of God is powerful, and well known, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, included experience of God in how he discerned the messages of scripture.
Again our experiences of God’s saving work in our lives clarifies for us and allows us to enter into the story of God. Indeed we know what it is to be here where the Israelites are in today’s reading. After all, were we not in that place with them? Living between clear activity of God in our lives and the Promised Land? That memory of God’s activity slowly fading from our minds, fear begins to set in. When this starts to happen we question God.
God, you were there before, where are you now?
Or we ask our leaders to explain this predicament to us. “Where is God now, Tell us!” We need Water!
And we begin to believe that where we were in pain and bondage, we were in a better place than we are now. And we wonder if this journey we are on isn’t just too much, perhaps where we were before God showed up isn’t really that bad. In short, we give up faith in God and want to return to where we were in bondage.
Things are not going right and we begin to test God. “God if you really cared, you wouldn’t be doing this to me.” Your work in my life, it is not what I want.
Yet that is what we have. We are here now, between our understanding of God’s redeeming work in our lives freeing us from bondage, and the full realization of God’s work in the world, that is, the Kingdom of Heaven. So we ask our leaders what is going on, why are we here? We are thirsty; you gave us food, now we need water!
And we demand of God proof of existence. An act to remind us of who God is. We, the lowly, make a demand upon the LORD. If we are going to trust in this God we need water to live. And God gives us that life giving water when we ask for it. It is not Moses or our leaders who does this for us, but God.
So here then is the particularity of this story. The people Israel have gathered in the wilderness, led there by God. The leadership goes off further into the wilderness per God’s request. This is a place of rocks, scrubland at the best. There is no flowing water, no chance of finding flowing water, the substance that gives life.
Now we do not know where exactly the people were in Sinai, this place has never been found. Though we can visit Sinai and see the terrain and see how unlikely it is to find water, especially living water. If you have ever been to the South West USA and see the desert there you too know what this wilderness looks like. If you don’t bring water with you, you will not last very long. The lack of water is well known. And here is the amazing thing, in this lack of water, lack of the life-giving substance, God stands there with us. We have no hope, and there is God. Is your life so hard that you are not sure you can go on? There is God.
And what does God do? Wisk Israel away to safety? No, God tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff. Surely God does not need Moses to do this? Certainly not! God can do what God will when God will. But God wants/desires our participation in this act of bringing life. That is why we were asked to name the animals in the second creation story. And why Jesus asks the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink.
God and Moses, working together, bring forth life giving water from where there had been none. God leads Israel into the wilderness, into the space between liberation and life in the Kingdom of God and in this scary place, this discomforting place God is standing there, waiting for us to call out to God, waiting for us to remember the promise of God. Embrace then being in this space, God is there with you, never forget. Where you see nothing, God is there ready to bring life.