Sermon of the Week:
Waiter–This Isn’t What We Ordered
Week eight of a nine part sermon series:
I Feel Seen: Ancient Stories and Modern Wisdom
Keywords: Manna, Stockholm Syndrome, God Provides, Raymond Carver, Murmuring. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
As we have been walking through this section of the Exodus story
my mind has been wandering a bit
maybe not unlike these Hebrew sojourners
six or eight weeks out now
from the ultimate liberation from their captors, from Egypt,
from the events at the Red Sea.
Back then, in the story we heard last week, that liberation
caused them to sing and dance and lift praise to the heavens.
They were finally free!
But that was then.
Six or eight weeks. A couple months.
Enough time for the provisions they brought to thin out.
The water to become scarce.
For children to look up at us with hungry eyes that silently ask if, well, could we eat now please
and you don’t quite know how to answer…
We’re going to stick with the Hebrews for two more weeks in this sermon series,
and we’re going to get a clear look at what it is like to make it just over
the crest of that hill you’ve been climbing for oh so long
only to look over the other side and see…..a long, long way still to go.
A Hollywood ending it isn’t. At least not yet.
The promise, an ancient promise, was a land flowing with milk and honey.
Whatever THIS was….it wasn’t that.
The wilderness, a dry, desolate, inhospitable place
not much food,
nothing really for miles in any direction,
easy to lose your way
no google maps or waze app to give you the shortest path to the other side.
They’d be in that mess for forty years, or so the story goes…
FORTY years, though that number
often was shorthand for “a good long time” or “a generation or so.”
Enough time for kids to be born and grandparents to die.
Enough time for a people to really, really think about who it is, and who it wants to be.
That’s a long time.
It would be hard to be on the move for so long, don’t you think?
After a while, you’d start to doubt yourself.
EditDidn’t we pass by here before?
That tree. This rock. That hill top. Looks so familiar.
Are we there yet, God?
How much longer is it going to be?
When, during their forty years in the wilderness,
would it have been appropriate to ask that question, do you think?
If not after six or eight weeks…what about six months?
That’s about how long it has been since COVID started.
Maybe that’s your frame of reference this morning.
What about four years? That’s how long it has been since our last election.
For me, I’m forty-five years old.
So we’re talking about a lifetime for me.
How much longer is it going to be? How far to the promised land?
When is it ok to ask that question?
In our reading today, it’s been maybe two months.
But maybe that’s enough time
when you’re starving, or your kids are hurting,
or you’ve been disrupted so much…that you’re just done.
Scholars who have thought and written about this passage
often bring up the murmuring of the people, their quarrelling,
the Stockholm syndrome mentality of looking back at their Egyptian captors with fondness.
At least we would have died with full bellies, Moses!
In one example, Donald McKim begins:
“To read the accounts of the people of Israel in the wilderness,
one gets the impression that all they did was complain.”
and McKim even quotes another scholar
who called it “not a casual gripe, but unbelief
which has called into question God’s very election of a people…”[i]
But come on.
I read this story and I can commiserate.
Or, at least I think I can understand what their cry might have been like:
Being in captivity was better, Moses!
At least we wouldn’t have to watch our children waste away,
our loved ones suffer,
our hopes dashed before this barren Tatooine wilderness before us…
In a way, one of the main points of this text, I think
is that when things get tough, it is so easy to miss the broader perspective.
God’s got this. They’re just six weeks out.
They have no idea that this journey to the land flowing with milk and honey
is going to take a while.
And it isn’t going to be on their timetable, following their rules.
They aren’t in charge. God is.
I mean, even the protagonist Moses won’t make it all the way there.
Foreshadowing: He’ll die at Mount Nebo,
the mountain from which he finally sees the valley where the river Jordan flows
where he sees that Promised Land, thank you God!
and finally! He knows his people are going to make it…
even if his story, Moses’s story, ends there on the mountaintop.
The broader picture is of a people who are going through a really, really hard time.
And they just can’t always see that God is there,
wandering alongside them,
ready to give them some order and some structure
so that they can start building a society
and working towards some peace and some justice together.
In the meantime, things are rough.
And so they complain. To their leaders. To their God.
And they say
“What gives? We went through all of that, just to die out here?
How dare you do that to us.
We trusted you.
We trusted God. I mean, God seemed legit
with those locusts and frogs and pestilence and all that
and that was a powerful thing God did
making an interstate highway in the middle of the red sea for us
but THIS is how our story is going to end? This is it? Really, Moses?”
But even if there feels like some judgment against them, the people, as you read the story,
even if you see the author suggesting that God is testing them, prodding their faithfulness,
testing their strength of resolve…
my question is: who would have withstood all of that anxiety?
Community is fragile.
Our sense of security and our trust in one another and our leaders, equally so.
And it takes work and commitment and a shared purpose
to keep us united, to keep us working together to solve problems
and to maintain hope in tomorrow. [Read more…]