Lent 4: Return to Thirst

by susan on March 31, 2014

desert

We spent the 3rd Sunday in Lent gathering for service & sabbath.  Some of us rested and spent time in fellowship, while others participated in a house project or writing cards of encouragement.  It was another, equally important way to connect with God and each other.  Yesterday, we were back at the event center and continued our Lenten journey through worship.  Here is the message that was shared with those gathered:

Return to Thirst
Exodus 7:1-17

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test theLord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (NRSV translation)

We started our Lenten journey back at the beginning of the Bible, back to the beginning of God’s story that tells us where we come from. We saw how the first man and woman upset paradise with mistrust of their Creator. They became ashamed, had to cover themselves and leave their first home.

We then encountered Abraham and Sarah who were sent on a journey toward a promised land. God’s promises and their willingness formed a covenant that would guide them on this journey.

That journey took years.

Today, we find ourselves with an entire community of wanderers making their way through the desert together.

So much has happened since the beginning. There are stories of faithfulness & unfaithfulness, moments of laughter & tears, conflict & reconciliation, freedom & oppression. Through it all, with God’s guidance, the Israelites continued to move toward a promised land expecting they would be the ones to see and experience it for themselves.

It was a rough journey. For a season, it took them to Egypt where they lived as slaves of the Egyptian empire. They were strangers in a foreign land. It was there, in Egypt that an Israelite baby boy was preserved from death by an Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised as an Egyptian, but was ever mindful of his real roots. One day, in a fit of anger, he murdered an Egyptian for beating an Israelite and had to flee for his life.

Forty years later, God called him to return to his people and demand that Pharaoh allow them to leave Egypt. Pharaoh’s initial reaction to Moses’ demand was to increase the peoples’ labor, making their lives even more miserable. After a series of “contests” in which God demonstrated power over the Egyptian gods, Pharaoh relented and allowed them to leave Egypt.

A weary and beaten down people left a difficult yet familiar life and journeyed into the less familiar Sinai desert led by a man they hardly knew. [desert slide] They hoped to arrive safely in the land that had been promised to their ancestors, a land they had never seen. Men, women, children, livestock. Each step took them further away from the known and deeper into the desert.
They were surviving one day, one minute at a time.

They did witness some amazing wonders along the way – the parting of water to make a way forward,God’s presence through a cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire by night and the manna that miraculously appeared to fill their hungry stomachs.

God was with them and, yet, here in the 17th chapter of Exodus, we are told that something terrible has happened.

They have run out of water. They have nothing to drink.
I can only imagine how it feels to be without water as you journey through a hot, arid desert: your mouth watering; dry parched lips unable to get relief; searching, hoping, longing to feel the coolness on your tongue.

At this point, they must have wondered:
How long, Yahweh? When, God? Why? We are so thirsty.

The complaining begins. Complaining though, is short-lived.
It quickly turns to blaming and then to downright contempt.  Moses, did you only bring us out here to die??   It would have been better for us to stay as slaves than to live like this.

These travelers are thirsty for more than water.
They want answers.
Is God is really here?
Does God really care about us?
Does it even make a difference?

They are thirsty, they are mad and in essence, they are crying out for justice.

Moses grows increasingly uncomfortable with their complaints. No doubt. In case you don’t know, complaints can make a leader very uneasy. “What if they rise up against me? What if they finally realize that I was so not joking when I said I have no idea what I am doing?”

In desperation, Moses does what a wise leader should. He cries out to God for help. Hey, God, remember how you got me into this mess with that whole burning bush episode? Can you help a brother out here?

As if waiting to be called upon, God responds but not apart from Moses and the community of travelers. If you want water, here is what you must do. He instructs Moses:

“Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” (v.5-6)

It’s interesting that while Moses grows tired of their complaining, the Lord does not. God may not have been thrilled by their increasing anger, but he allows and even responds to their complaint. God wants to quench their thirst.

The people do as they are told, and after their experience there, Moses names this place because it needed to be marked. It needed to be remembered. It needed to be re-visited. He named it Massah and Meribah, a place of testing and quarreling.

Moses may not have liked it, but crying out to God in thirst was an important step in their journey.

As we journey through life and as we follow God to difficult places, let’s be honest. None of us like being thirsty. We prefer being full and satisfied. Besides being uncomfortable, being thirsty reminds us that we are lacking something. Being thirsty reminds us that we are not there yet. Yet, experiencing thirst can also remind us that we cannot do this alone – that we need help. We need God’s help. We need each other’s help.

In the life and teachings of Jesus, thirst would continue to play an important role. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announced, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst – who are not yet satisfied – who are still longing for righteousness, who will not rest until things are made right. In other words. as long as we are trying to live as citizens of God’s kingdom, we will continue to thirst.

When we examine our own lives and the world around us,

What would it look like for us to return to thirst?
What might happen if we acknowledged our thirst and the thirst around us and dared to turn to God for help?

While Moses heard the peoples’ complaining as a personal attack and became anxious, God does not seem surprised. Author and speaker Brian McLaren claims that “Those who rage at God believe there is a God who is willing to be raged at. …Ragers’ fury [and apparent unbelief] signals a deeper faith that still survives – that a God worth believing and loving should not have let things go this way.” (Naked Spirituality, p.158)

Moses may not have liked it, but complaining and crying out in their thirst was an important step in their journey. It moved them to do something together.

What would it look like for us to return to thirst?
What might happen if we acknowledged our thirst and the thirst around us and dared to turn to God for help?

Maybe, like this group of Israelites, we would get to see God work through us in an amazing way. We would see as the prophet Amos envisioned,” justice roll down like a mighty river and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).  Like Moses, like the elders, like the whole Israelite community, we too would see the power of God at work to restore and save us.

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