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Abundance in the Chaos

Psalm 78
Exodus 17:1-7

This week’s Exodus reading reminds us of times in our own lives when we’ve asked “How on earth did I get myself into this mess?” and “What am I going to do now?” Maybe we feel like Moses as the one who’s trying to lead these ungrateful people (I’m NOT talking about you!). But it sure feels like some of my work in congregations through Presbytery who would rather die than change, and won’t budge from Egypt. Or maybe we feel like the people, struggling with resistance in times where we are forced into more change than we feel we can bear, change that was foisted upon us by life, rather than anything we’ve done. “How on earth did I get myself into this mess?” I can imagine many who are watching the markets these days feeling in that kind of wilderness, wondering if there is any water to be had. Some us might even look around at the elections both here and in the US and ask some of the same kinds of questions, As we live between frustration and hope we wonder what it means to trust in God’s sustaining presence during difficult times.

I don’t know about you, but I find it so much easier to trust in retrospect… which of course makes no sense at all, because that is not trust, You know looking back, it is easy to trust where God was there. But each time I come to a new mess; a new struggle, the memory of God’s presence in the past does not prevent me from wondering whether God will be here this time. I can rationalize that God will be there, because there have been so many ways God has been there before, but experientially, it can feel like jumping off a cliff without a parachute when you’re caught in the wilderness with a thirst that seems impossilble to fill.

That’s part of what I like about his archetypal exodus story, with its deep honesty about highs and lows of the journey. It doesn’t put nice lace covers to try to mask that the journey to freedom is long, That leaving slavery is hard work and that you have to struggle to not go back. It doesn’t hide the fact that even after you have left the geography of slavery, you continue to carry slave mentality in your mind and soul until you allow God to transform it. It doesn’t hide that the journey is through wilderness where city folk have to learn to depend on God and on their connection with the earth. They need to read and listen to the earth and their new environment in new ways, It doesn’t try to hide the doubt of the journey, or the anger at God, or the confusion, or the fear, or the chaos that is part of that journey. And it doesn’t hide the fact that leading people out of slavery to transformed living and promise is often not a whole lot of fun… And yet this is one of the key paradigm stories of scripture, along with exile and return, and cross and resurrection. Stories of transformation. Stories of God’s transforming presence in places you’d never look for it. Stories of a God who gives freedom and life and hope even to a people who have forgotten how to believe in that any more.

Today we meet that story at a pivotal point, and the people are in one foul mood. Moses has confronted Pharaoh and Pharaoh has finally agreed to let the people go. They leave in the dead of night with whatever few possessions they can carry. At the sea of reeds, they are blocked. What to do? There is no way back but how could they go forward. Pharaoh has had an afterthought and is behind them with chariots and an army and the sea is in front of them. What to do? God tells Moses, use your power; tell the people to move on, all you have to do is raise your staff over the water. And he uses his power, And God uses God’s power and the sea opens to allow safe passage. A way to freedom is opened. A lesson in partnering with the Holy. It can surprise you!!!

But slavery in Egypt was not the only slavery the people have to escape. They are free of the outside oppressor, but now they face their inner oppression, their addiction to idols, their lack of organization, their lack of common vision and purpose, and very quickly their lack of food and water. They do not know how to live in this new land. When you leave what enslaves you, it takes time to learn to see in new ways. They need to learn to trust the land, and learn the land. Just before the passage we read this morning, the people have learned how to recognize and eat a strange new food….manna , They discover it on the earth each morning. This strange food will sustain them for 40 years. But even more importantly they need to learn to trust that it will be there for them each day. And they need to learn to take just what they need, not to hoard, for when they try to take more than enough, it rots and become useless and smells really rank. (Maybe some of the Wall street bankers should have had the manna lesson from wilderness school! It’s smelling pretty rank these days!)

And now they are thirsty in a desert place. They complain bitterly about how good the bad old days were. And then they do what so many of us do when our lives don’t turn out the way we want them…we look for someone to blame. Moses is the lightning rod of choice. So they turn on Moses, and then Moses just to one up them turns on God. Well perhaps it may be fairer to say he turns to God but it’s a pretty angry exasperated turning to. “What am I to do with these people? They’ll be stoning me next !” Hear the subtext….”You’re the one who got me into this. You’re the one who gave me these people. It’s YOUR fault:” Again God says “use the power you have Moses. I’ll meet you at Horeb you and some of the elders. Go strike that rock over there and water will come out for the people to drink.

A miracle? Perhaps. A powerful metaphor for God who is living water when we are going around in circles and lose our way? ….Absolutely yes!
Bedouin travelers in the desert have always known that rain gathers in underground reservoirs which can remain hidden for generations by sands that harden over it. They know how to test the rocks by knocking them with a stick and listening intently to find which might contain hidden reservoirs of life-giving water.

Now if this were these days, and Moses were a modern leader, he might have been tempted to figure out how to profit from this water. Sell this water to a water conglomerate. Pepsi, Coke, Bechtel maybe, and they’d have set up a vending machine at the rock and demand payment from every family. He could have. They were a desperate people with no options. And he discovered how to get the water from the rock. It was his wasn’t it? But he treated the gift of water as a gift from God for the people.

As modern people we have so much to learn from this story on so many levels. But there’s another lesson in this story for me, Particularly on this stewardship Sunday when we are inviting you to come to the Market place of possibilities after service and offer your gifts to the building up of Christ’s ministry through this congregation. You know when you look out and all you see is wilderness, that’s what’s there. Poverty thinking begets poverty being. But when you look out and see possibility, and use the gift you have, and trust in God to lead, there is manna, enough and more than enough to sustain….there is living water in places you thought were barren.

This year when several teachers left our Kidzone programme…some to move away, others because of personal commitments, we could have seen desert, wilderness, poor us, ain;t it awful, surely we can find someone to blame! But instead, we decided that it took a village to raise a child and so we invited people in whom we saw gifts and now have more than 20 people who are offering their gifts, some as substitutes, some longer term in order to build this vital and essential programme. Abundant thinking leads to abundant being.

Now we have a problem with property. We have lost our chair of property who could not carry this task alone, and we have a roof problem, I got rained on last Christmas Eve while I was leading worship. As you look at this dog’s breakfast of a chancel you can also see that space is very poorly used and it is inadequate for our growing choir or for the Voices of Hope community choir, and our organ is on it’s last legs, in fact it might be in resussitation at the moment. NOW we could see only wilderness. We could say. OH my the sky is falling! or at least the roof. Woe is us! ?Aint it awful Surely we can find someone to blame? (I’m not volunteering!). But instead we are looking out at our people an inviting people to help us to a Physical Plant Care brainstorming session to rethink a whole new paradigm for how we care for this building, and manage major projects so we don’t burn out good people. We are inviting those interested to a meeting Sept 30 at 7:30 to discuss the various gifts and talents people have, and how best to use them so that no one is over-burdened. Please come if you are interested.

Imagine if no one was willing to strike the rock with the staff, or to figure out which rock to strike?
God had provided abundance and living water in the midst of chaos of the journey in the past. Let’s trust that God will do that through us and this community in our time.

Exodus17:1-7

We meet the people on their journey out of slavery in their early days in the wilderness. They have been promised a land of milk and honey, and though they have had the experience of escaping the Pharoah in Egypt and crossing the sea of reeds, they find themselves in wilderness rather than in the kind of place they felt they had been promised by God. We meet them at a pretty desparate place on the journey.

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