17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2020
Well, well, well! The whole community of Israelites are griping AGAIN! First it was about hunger. They wanted bread and meat which God provided. Now they are whining about thirst. However, this protest seems to be more forceful. WHY, they wondered, did Moses bring them out of slavery to just die in the desert? Again they question Moses’ leadership ability. If they are hot and dying of thirst the people were probably thinking slavery wasn’t so bad. They have forgotten just how bad it was in Egypt. Egypt may have provided security even though it was terrible.
God responded to the needs of the Israelites just as promised. He heard their groaning in Egypt and provided a way to freedom which is why they were in the desert and very unhappy. Their response to a compassionate God who heard their cries and provided for all their needs was to heap blame on Moses.
This time when Moses goes to God for help there is a note of frustration as well as fear. The incomparable leader was aware he might have a more than cranky community on his hands. There was a potential for emotions to rise to the level of dangerous. A congregation that large could ultimately stone Moses to death.
God’s gift of supplying water not only met the needs of the mob but also saved Moses’ life. In so doing, God did not seem to get impatient or angry with the people. Maybe that is because the request for water was a reasonable one in the middle of such bareness.
Like many of the road blocks placed along our life’s journey, the wilderness experiences of the Israelites and us are times for learning, of preparation, of seasoning for what is ahead. The Israelites are headed to Mt. Sinai where they will be handed a new way of living once they are presented with the Torah. Their moral education is about to take place. Perhaps that is God’s way of testing the people and us to live our lives in trust.
We can sympathize with the Israelites. The Sinai desert is not a friendly environment. Even now travelers to that wilderness experience a sense of isolation. With oppressive heat and the onset of thirst one’s mood would deteriorate quickly. Dehydration is not fun. Water is necessary for life.
Even though we sympathize with the people of Israel. We cannot help joining Moses in being exasperated with them. Don’t they remember when God fed them quail and manna. Don’t they comprehend God’s plan was to get them to the Promised Land and not let them perish before reaching it?
Moses is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he has his mob of angry citizens who question his ability to lead them to their destination
And on the other the hostile environment. With God’s help Moses persists as the leader God has called him to be.
The text points out problems encountered by those who have been called to lead, even now.With less than 40 days to the national election the presidential candidates are in escalated campaign mode. The debates are about to begin. The voters are left to determine which candidate its strong enough to unite us? Who will be able to mediate? How much simpler and less stressful it is to be a follower!
While the text speaks to the present condition of the children of Israel it also points to the future . A time when God’s mercy will be poured out in even greater measure. In a more substantial way than simply providing bread and water, God will give this fumbling, grumbling, group the principles by which they are to live—Torah. Delivered from death into life abundant. Life with God. Yes, God was among them.
The same holds true for us. God is present. Good is among us. But we can be as blind as the Israelites. We too have been gripped with fears and doubts at certain points in our lives. Haven’t we asked, “Is God with us or not”
Wilderness can mean very different things to different people. For some, wilderness might mean a beautiful unspoiled place where we feel a stronger closer sense of God’s presence. For others it can be a frightening, forlorn, and intimidating place where we experience anguish and abandonment. Certainly monks, desert priests, and Jesus saw the wilderness as a place to commune more closely with the Divine. I would guess most often we consider wilderness a desert. An ominous place. A place we would rather not be.
What gets us through the wilderness times? For me my unequivocal answer is God. I trust God’s promise to be in the midst of us. I suspect that is true for most of you. We know God is with us.
Knowing Gos is present does not hold true for everyone though. There are times when God is distant or totally absent—at least it feels that way to the individual. A person in deep mourning, depression, or pressing need understandably asks: “Where is God?” We hunger and thirst for a sign that God is with us. Simply telling someone that God is always with them does not cut it. The Israelites were basically saying to Moses:”Don’t talk about water. Show us the water!”
“Show us the water!
Someone in a wilderness of deep need today would cry out the same thing. “Show me God that you are with me. Show me. I need proof.” This is not a lack of faith in God. Crying out to God is an act of faith. A faith that is grounded in what one trusts to be true about God is actually true. “Is the Lord among us or not?”asked the Israelites. Yes! God delivered them out of the wilderness and ultimately to the Promised Land.
In your wilderness times, times of doubt, despair, fear, and loneliness, know that there is good news. The answer to “God are you there/“ is, a my grandkids used to say, a ginormous YES!