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They tell a story about a hurricane blowing through Galveston, LaMarque, and Texas City heading straight toward Houston. A man's farm, his home and all he'd worked for, all he'd ever owned was directly in the storm's path. He didn't want to leave, and he believed the Lord would take care of him.
Pete said, "Not cared for? We sent a bus, a boat, and a helicopter. What more do you want?"
Actually that is the mood of the nation of Israel as we find them in the Wilderness of Sin or Sinai this morning. Today's First Reading tells of a time soon after leaving Egypt when the going gets tough but the tough fail to get going.
It's about 1,300 years before Jesus. Pharaoh Ramses has been forced to let the people go from their slavery in Egypt. He changed his mind and came after them with an army of chariots. The Israelites were trapped against the Red Sea, there was nowhere they could hide and nowhere to run. God gave Moses the power to part the waters of the Red Sea and the Israelites crossed dry shod. Pharaoh of course wasn't going to let a little thing like the Red Sea stop him, so he sent his chariots after them, and that's when the waters came back together, drowning the army. The Israelites celebrate, then plunge into the Wilderness of Shur. They find water at Marah, but it is bitter. God shows Moses how to sweeten the water. Then at Elim they find twelve springs of water and palm trees. Between Elim and Sinai lies the Wilderness of Sin. The people complain there is no food, and God sends manna and quail. Now we find Israel holed up at Rephidim. They've seen the Egyptians enslave them, and they've seen the Egyptian army drown. It should be easy for them to say, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." But no.
There is no water and the people are thirsty.
In the Cecil B. DeMille movie, The Ten Commandments, Edward G. Robinson gets to say a wonderful line. He's Dathan, one of the Israelites who is not happy about leaving Egypt. He thinks they will die in the wilderness. Dathan says to Moses, "Are there no graves in Egypt that you bring us to the wilderness to die?" Just what the people are murmuring about in today's reading.
Moses fears for his life, but God does provide.
God tells Moses to strike a stone with his staff, and water comes out and the people are saved. Again.
In the same story told in Numbers, the instructions to Moses are different. He is to command the stone, and instead he strikes it. For his disobedience, Moses is denied the privilege of leading the nation into the promised land.
Three months later Moses goes back up the mountain to get the Ten Commandments and comes back down to find the Israelites worshiping a golden calf and sinking further into sin than Pharaoh's chariots sank in the Red Sea.
The people repent and pledge faithfulness to God and his Law, but they stray again. Again they repent, and again they stray.
The covenant is broken again and again because people without God have nowhere to go. It takes practice and commitment to make God your goal, but it can be done.
The covenant is renewed again and again because God is a God of grace and love and knows we need a strong sure foundation on which to build our lives. He wants us to have the strength, hope, and courage to know it can be done.
The promise of God's covenant involves some harsh punishments. Even as Moses comes down the mountain, Israelites die for their sin. The nation wanders forty years in the wilderness before coming to the promised land, so that the sinful generation passes away without seeing it. The one closest to God, even Moses, is only allowed to glimpse the promised land from Mount Pisgah before he wanders off into the wilderness to die in an unknown place.
God loves us the way we are, but too much to let us stay this way. The Israelites complain, we are weak, and some have a questionable past, but God, in Christ, still offers us all living water.
All through the book of Exodus that is more or less the attitude of the children of Israel. They complained about everything, especially the lack of food and water, and wanted to go back to Egypt. They may have been slaves, they said, but at least there they didn't starve.
You know what a weed is? Actually, any plant that grows where you don't want it to grow is a weed. You can complain about wildflowers, bluebonnets, or columbines, pretty as they are, choking out other ground cover, grass, and such. You can have a tree casting too much shade on your garden plot for plants that need full sun. If a plant causes a problem for you, it's a weed.
But look at it another way.
Did you ever think that everything we eat comes from the ground? Of course, the food we eat today has been processed a few times before it gets to our table. Even the selection of which plants we eat processes the food. Then vegetable specialists and researchers further refine the strains. We even complain about native pecan trees and go looking for other varieties to graft on, to change, to make better, bigger, more flavorful, or whatever.
Outdoor survivalists know that many things we complain about today as weeds can be eaten if you have to live off the land. Even pigweed is edible, and cattails offer the survivalists a variety of uses including grinding for flour, cooking the roots, and making baskets from the reeds.
But the Israelites were wandering in the desert. They didn't have pigweed or cattails. No buses or helicopters came by. So they complained. Moses said, "You're not complaining about me. I'm just along for the ride like you. You're complaining about God."
In our deserts you can get water from the saguaro cactus and if you're careful you can eat prickly pear. In the Sinai there is a tamarisk shrub that exudes a honey--like juice in heavy drops in May and June. The drops dry out into a flat white flake. Manna, maybe. The Lord provides it.
And certain migratory quail fall exhausted in large numbers when crossing the desert. It's meat to eat. The Lord provides it.
And water can be found just below limestone. The Lord provides it.
Does it look bad for you right now? Do you have a medical problem? Someone at work making it hard for you? The economy got you down? Ask yourself, what resources do you have? There's always something nearby you can use to get yourself out of a bad situation. The Lord provides it.
You may not recognize it.
Israel received a special sign of God's covenant love. He gave them water, food, and moral commandments in the wilderness.
Today Jesus feeds us still with his word. He gives the water of life. In the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist, we are again one of the people of Israel who experience the gracious love and blessing of God.
And what happens when you feel the presence of God?
You know then that his glory is the cross of Jesus Christ. For on that cross he showed that he is not a God far off, separate from the living and the dying, the successes and the failures of people. He showed that he joins us, he understands, and sends his love and grace for us when the going gets rough.
He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
It is for us to stop complaining and recognize the water that falls our way and utilize the blessings the Lord provides.
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