First Lesson: Psalm 105:37-45
Children: Numbers 20:1-
You may recall that several weeks ago now Dr. Jack Stewart was with us to talk about thriving congregations and what it looks like when a congregation is thriving. And he said, and I’ve been quoting him often “The main thing is to make sure the main thing is the main thing.” The main thing for us is God, and who God is and who we are with God, and the main thing is Jesus and who Jesus was and who we are with Jesus. Right after Christmas we camped out in the book of Luke for several weeks and we had a very clear picture of Jesus and who he was and what he did. Now we are camping out in the books of Genesis and Exodus and we are getting a picture of who our God is through those stories. And who we are with God.
If you have sailed easily through your life from year to year, or if you have never worried or been afraid, you can go get a cup of coffee now because you don’t need to hear what comes next.
If you have never questioned God, or wondered where God was when bad things happened to you, or if you have never been angry with God, you can take a nap now because you don’t need to hear what comes next.
The last time we saw God’s people they had just crossed over what we all the Red Sea. They had crossed through the sea on dry ground with a wall of water on one side and wall of water on the other side. Safely through to the other side. King Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army had threatened to capture them and take them all back into slavery in Egypt. But the last they had seen of that king and his entire army was their dead bodies on the sea shore. They sang and danced and thanked their God for their miraculous escape. They were just beginning to know their God and it was another demonstration of the love and power of their God on their behalf.
In our story for today they have traveled about another hundred and fifty miles. All 2 million of them, men, women and children, making their way through the shifting sands of the dessert. With God leading them in a bright shiny cloud in the day time and a fiery cloud in the nighttime. For about six weeks they traveled like that. They camped for a while at an oasis named Elim. It must have been a great relief for them to be in a green shady spot where there was plenty of water for all of them and plenty to eat. And then they moved on to our story for today – to a place deep in the desert where nothing grew and there was no food or water.
And they complained. They were angry with Moses and his brother Aaron. It was the same old story all over again. Once again they shouted at Moses and Aaron: “We sat around pots of meat in Egypt all the time and we ate all the food we wanted. But here you have brought us out to this desert to die - every last one of us.” But Moses knew, and Aaron knew, and God knew, that they were really angry at God.
Now I do have to say this: they were slaves in Egypt, after all. I can’t believe that they ate all that well in Egypt. They may have sat around pots of meat but it was meat they were preparing for their slave masters. And I can’t believe that their lives were really all that good in Egypt. But they were afraid for what they would feed their children and what they would eat themselves and unsure of their future. They were in a brand new very strange place and they hadn’t had lot of experience, you might recall, in being in brand new very strange places. For all those years they had been slaves in Egypt. They were far from the homes they had known in Egypt and they were very far from the land that God was giving them that they had never even heard of. So I suppose it’s no wonder they were afraid and angry.
But God responded to them: “I hear your complaining and I hear your anger. And I will rescue you, again. In the evening birds are going to appear for you to eat. Quails are going to come out of nowhere in this desert and they’re going to fly very low and cover the ground all over your camp. And in the morning you’ll wake up and see little bits of sweet white fluffy stuff on the ground. You’ll gather it up and bake it and boil it and eat it every day for the next forty years. That’s what I’ll do for you when you’re hungry and angry and scared and lost in the desert. So that you will know who I am,” Said God. And that’s what God did.
But God doesn’t come to us with food in the desert and water from a rock exactly like that. So how do we know God?
Some of you have told me that you experience God best when you’re out on the river pretending to be fishing - with the beauties of nature all around you. Or some of you feel close to God when you’re reading a Psalm which seems to be written especially for you. Even though it was written 3000 years ago thousands of miles from here. Some of us experience the love and presence of God through the caring of a friend at a very difficult time. When a friend has been the hands and feet and voice of God to us. Sometimes music speaks to us powerfully. We may have songs which bring us great comfort and lift us to spiritual heights. Sometimes we feel close to God in this sanctuary where some of you have memories of weddings and baptisms and funerals and professions of faith. Where there have been moments when you have been touched by the presence of God in this building you have built for God.
And this: Maybe it also true that we feel God’s presence best when we are angry with God. That may be when God comes to us the most clearly and when we feel the presence of God most dearly. When we are wailing at God. And pounding on God, and we say to God, “I am sick and tired of this and I demand that you pay some attention over here and do something about this.” When we holler at God and fight with God and grab on to God in the middle of the night. Or maybe we have used up all our words and we have only our feelings left. Or maybe we are too weary and too confused to do much hollering at God, and we just sit in front of God and cry. It’s then that little bits of bread appear on the ground in front of us. And we eat that sweet white fluffy stuff and it satisfies us. And God feels especially near to us. I know what I am talking about here.
Or when we are frightened for ourselves and for those we love. And we cry out to God and we say, “Why have you put me in this place? Why is this happening to one I love? Where are you? Why don’t you do something?” That’s when water comes gushing out of rocks for us.
Or when we call out to God in anguish and we tell God that we are sick and tired of having so much stress in our lives and living with so much uncertainty and unhappiness. That’s when we see birds on the ground – quail - all around us and we cook them and eat them. We are still in the desert. We are still far from home. We still have many questions and we still don’t know the future. But little bits of bread will feed us every day. And a gulp of water will revive us. And our souls are comforted in the presence of God with us.