Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost 2017
On a Thursday evening in late August, the Lord God spoke to me. I won’t go into details here, but I will say that I’ve never had an experience like this before. It was a verbal communication, in a male voice. At first I thought it was my husband. But upon further investigation, I discovered that he was at the other end of the house when it happened.
It was a word spoken after an especially trying week for me. It was one of those weeks when everything I believed in, everything I have counted on, seemed to be coming apart at the seams. In the midst of my despair, the Lord spoke one word in my ear: “Trust.”
Sometimes it feels like no matter how much faith we have, no matter how many promises we have heard, and no matter how many signs God has provided, still, most of us from time to time wonder if God has abandoned us. In other words, we have difficulty trusting.
We aren’t the first ones in history to feel this way. For example, in today’s Scripture lesson from Exodus, the Israelites seem to be having a little trouble trusting too. We all know the story. After spending many years as slaves in Egypt, the Lord sent Moses to help them break free from their captivity. Moses challenged Pharaoh and got him to let God’s people go. So Moses led them out of slavery and across the Red Sea. He then led them across the desert, about two hundred and fifty miles, until they reached the point in the story for today: a place called Rephidim, about twenty-five miles from Mt. Sinai.
At this point they’d been on the road for a long time, probably several months. They were tired. They were frustrated. They were starting to have doubts, not just about their present situation, but about their future. They were no longer trusting that through Moses, God really was going to lead them to a new place, a better place.
In addition to being tired and frustrated, they were also hungry and thirsty. And they had begun to question whether their leader, Moses, was even leading them in the right direction. They questioned whether it had been wise to follow Moses. They wondered if, perhaps, somewhere along the way, something had gone wrong with their leader. Maybe Moses didn’t know the way. Maybe he’d led them in the wrong direction. After all, God had not promised them a dry, desert land with no food and no water. God had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. The wilderness of Rephidim was not flowing with anything.
And so, in their tired, frustrated, hungry, thirsty, despairing state of mind, the people rebelled. They decided that they had put their trust in a faulty leader who had led them the wrong way. And not only that–they also decided that they’d made a big mistake to trust in the Lord God.
So they did what people tend to do when they get angry and frightened, tired and hungry, and thirsty and upset. They looked for someone to blame, a scapegoat for their grievances: Moses.
"Why did you lead us out here? We'll die out here! We're thirsty. We’re tired. It's dry. It's hot. My feet hurt. I need a bath. I've got a blister on my toe. My sandals are too tight. Egypt was better. At least Egypt had water. At least Egypt had beds. At least Egypt had security. You’ve led us astray, Moses. You’re a loser! We’re never going to get to this so-called land of promise, and it is your fault!"
So Moses, whom God had called to lead the people to freedom, finds himself once again under attack by the very people he has risked his life to help.
Why are we humans this way? Why do we, instead of trusting the Lord, decide that it’s a better use of our time and energy to find someone to blame? Why does it make us feel better to name a scapegoat for our troubles than it does to look deep inside and take responsibility for our own hearts, our own lives, our own capacity, or incapacity, to forgive?
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, tells us that instead of complaining about one another, we ought to: "Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Colossians 3:13).
The invitation in our liturgy for The Great Thanksgiving echoes this call to reconciliation:
“Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
who earnestly repent of their sin,
and seek to live in peace with one another.”
On this World Communion Sunday, living as we are in a time when lining up sides, naming our scapegoats, and pointing fingers of blame at everyone but ourselves seems to be our predominant coping mechanism, perhaps we would do well to listen to the wisdom of Paul, and of our liturgy, over the screaming voices of the endlessly disappointed, tired and angry masses who feel that their leaders, and maybe even God, have not provided for them what they feel entitled to have.
As we hear the invitation and make our own confessions of sin, let us not be like the Israelites. Let us not look for someone to blame for our lot in life. Instead, let us hear the voice of God speaking loud and clear, above the clamor of the shouting voices: “Trust!”
And as we seek to live into our trust in God, even as we try to follow leaders about whom we may have grave concerns, let us continue to stake our claim on the good news of Jesus Christ, which is offered to all of us without condition and without merit:
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. This proves God’s love for us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven! Glory to God! Amen.