Journeying in Stages

Exodus 17:1-7

[Watch sermon here.]

Is God with us?
The question burned the Israelites’ parched souls
as they lay down their packs.

They had hiked in stages through the wilderness.

As they trekked in the hot sun,
with their belongings on their back,
I imagine them wondering,
Where will the wilderness take us today?
To another awful camping location?
To another food-free stop?

Their adventure sounds terrible.
Today, as they get into camp,
they cannot locate a water source;
their parched bodies scream with dehydration.
Truly, they are in wilderness.

Wilderness can be a metaphor
for the unknowns we trek through in life.

Life can be scary and uncertain.

How do we travel through the unknown?

Like the Israelites, we, too, face bodily limitations,
whether they be related to health or water or age.
Like the Israelites, we, too, face losses,
whether losses of finances, of homes, or of relationships.

In the face of the shifting sands of uncertainty,
the Israelites wish to go back. It is no wonder why.
At least in Egypt,
they would have known what to expect
even if their circumstances stunk.
At least in Egypt,
they would have some sense of predictability.

I have a lot of compassion for the Israelites.
Their trip is hard. They left everything.
They gave up everything.
At this time of change,
it is no wonder they want to know, need to know,

The wilderness reveals. It will reveal. Truth.
Truth will rise up like an ancient artifact in the sand
coming to the surface after being long buried.

Here in the desert, there is no hiding from the truth of ourselves.
Here in the desert, there will be quarrels and dehydration.
Here in the desert, there will also be companionship and oases.

Here, in the wild,
the beautiful and the terrible will co-exist.

Just like in life.

The people journey in stages.
This is what the text tells us.
This inspires me.
The people have a huge change in front of them,
and they did not figure it all out in one day.
They moved bit by bit, covering one leg of the journey at a time.
It takes them time to move toward their destination: Mount Sinai.

Each day, they walk, camp, pack up their camp,
put camp back on their backs and the backs of the animals they have,
until they arrive at last at Rephidim.

Rephidim is the last stop before Mount Sinai.

Exhausted, they pant for water.
Sleepy, they search for springs.
They find none. After a long day of physical exertion.

There. Is. No. Water.

Sweet God had suggested this as a camping location
and there is no water. This is bananas!
Being deprived of a basic necessity
escalates the situation into an emergency.

This situation has to be addressed.

The people quarrel with Moses,
and say, “Give us water to drink.”

The people advocate for what they need.
I love this.

Our passage says the people quarreled.
This word quarrel in Hebrew can also be translated as contended with.
It is as a legal term for presenting arguments in a court of law.
The people are lodging a complaint.
They’re taking God to court!

I love that they communicate directly to Moses,
advocating for themselves and their human rights.
They bring a case before God
just like the people of Flint, Michigan,
brought a case when their water was filled with lead.

YES! The people of Flint, the people of Israel,
people everywhere deserve this: clean and drinkable water.

The people trek to freedom land. In stages.
They have left behind the focus from Pharaoh
on productivity, theft of land, and labor.
They have left behind, at least for a moment,
the worship of superficial beauty and wealth.
And now they seek a world where they are treated with dignity.
A world where they get what they need for basic survival.

This is freedom. This is freedom’s land.
It is a place where everyone has enough.

This is their exodus.
They exit the old and toxic and travel toward the new and healthy.

The way is scary. It is uncertain.
It is also powerful and awesome: this path to freedom’s land.

The people bring a case when the world comes up short,
and Moses amplifies their voices.

Moses brings their complaints to God.
God hears and honors their human rights.

Hike to Horeb, God tells Moses.
I will be there. Standing on a rock.

Horeb. That is where Moses encountered God in the burning bush.
There, Moses’ heart had burned hot as he encountered the Holy.
This invitation is a re-membering, a re-turning, a home-coming.

This place of quarreling is becoming a place of revealing.
Sweet water is bubbling up.

God instructs Moses, “Go on ahead of the people,
and take some of the elders … with you.”

Keep going, God says.
Journey with companions.
Travel to the place of revealing.
I am there. I am here.

Liberation began when God saw Moses’ hurting heart on Horeb.
Many moons ago.
With God’s help, Moses then saw the hurting hearts of his people.
This encounter transformed everything.

It was like the first trinkles of water
bursting through a rocky barrier that has long held back a stream.

God empowered Moses to advocate, to say, “Let my people go.”

God began an exodus that would not stop
until every heart and mind was freed,
free from the external sources and internal sources
that criticized and pressured each person!

God would go to any length to free us from oppressive forces,
and lead us all, as individuals, and a community, to freedom’s land.

Let my people go,
God says to the violent forces and the greedy forces.
Let my people go,
God says to the obsessive forces within us that think
if we at last do something right we will at last be worthy of love.

Let my people go, God insists.

We already belong to the Loving One.
We have taken on already the family name of Grace.
We have been claimed already by the waters
even when the dehydrating forces of the world
scorch our soul, maim our bodies, and we too want to know:

We say this to our Beloved
who says, I am here. Next to a rocky spring,
which is waiting to burst forth.

I want for you life.
I want for you potable water
as much as you want it for yourself.

I imagine sweet God saying,
This journey began with me seeing your suffering heart,
And I see it still. I tend to it still.
I am so sorry you are experiencing this.
When the unpleasant weather sets in,
I will stay with you forever,
bringing you stage by stage to freedom’s land
until you see at last you have been loved and liberated all the while.

God is with us.
God instructs Moses,
Strike the rock and water will come out of it.
Strike the rock so that people may drink.

Moses did so.

Did anyone look past the flowing water that day to glimpse the Holy One?

God wants to strike the rock of your heart.
To bring you softness. To love you well.
To surround you with a stream of care.
To show you the spring of water that has always soaked the ground with grace.

Here is communion with God,
communion with the earth,
and communion with each other.

Here is the hydration for your journey.

Drink deeply.

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