Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sermon from March 27, 2011; Exodus 17:1-7

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 17:1-7
“The Lord Among Us”
March 27, 2011

Coffee or tea? You can tell a lot about someone by which beverage they prefer.

What’s the difference between the two? Some will say the taste; I suggest it’s about time.

Coffee is very accessible, easy to make. Take out the coffee maker, put in a filter, add a few scoops of grounds, cold water, flip a switch, and soon you have a pot of hot, dark brew.

You can do whatever you want as it brews. Take a shower, clean the house, read the paper. Doesn’t matter if you come back to it 5 minutes or an hour later, there it will be, waiting for you.

You can even prepare coffee the night before by setting a timer so you can wake up to the smell and sound of it perking away.

Coffee is quick, it’s now, it’s very American.

Tea however, is done in stages. You can’t rush it.

You fill the kettle with cold water. You put it on the stove. Then you wait. Unlike coffee, you can’t walk away because there’s no telling when the water will be ready: 3 minutes, maybe 10.

You select whatever flavor tea you want, pour the hot water over it, let it steep. Another 3-5 minutes.

Even after you take the tea bag out you still can’t drink it just yet, because it’s too hot. So you wait, or gently blow on it, or take delicate sips.

Eventually the tea is just the right temperature and it is wonderful...but if you want another cup, you have to do it all over again!

There’s a reason why tea is called a civilized drink- it requires patience and time, encouraging thoughtful reflection if you’re alone or thoughtful conversation if you are with someone else.

To sum things up: coffee- quick; tea-stages.

Last week we talked about the call of Abraham and Sarah and how it took 25 years before they gave birth to their promised son. Genesis 12:9 tells us that they traveled in “stages.”

Today we are told that the Israelites traveled through the wilderness in stages. In other words, their journey took time and a lot of distance.

So, the people begin to get a bit cranky, they become impatient. They start complaining about their thirst, worrying that if they don’t reach water soon their children and livestock will die.

They want their journey to be like coffee, but God has decided it will be like tea.

One theologian said that they had only been in the wilderness for 2 ½ months. He stated it as if 2 ½ months is not a long time. But that’s 75 days.

75 days is a long time to be wandering around, especially if you’re not sure if your leader knows what he is doing.

I thought this particular theologian was a little snide. I’d like to see him go 3 days let alone 75 days without food, water and permanent shelter!

So of course the people quarrel with Moses, of course they wonder if the Lord is amongst them.

Wouldn’t you? I know I would...

...In some ways Emmanuel United Church of Christ is in the wilderness. Here we are in Sebring, FL, middle of the state, far below the rest of the country. Most of us are hundreds of miles away from family and life-long friends.

Sure, we got lakes, yes we got fruit trees, and yes we have a mall. But we also have this road called Hwy 27. Or 64. And 66.

Which means anywhere you want to go, guess what? It won’t be quick like coffee, but more like making tea: start here, stop there, repeat.

As a church we’ve had our share of stages, haven’t we?

For example, 5 years ago was the groundbreaking for our sanctuary. Five years ago! You know where I was five years ago? Freezing my patootie off in a place called Michigan!

And that groundbreaking didn’t happen quickly like coffee. No, it was more like a cup of tea.

First there were all the stages that led up to it. In 2000 there was the vision that people had of building a new sanctuary. (I wasn’t even in seminary then.)

Then the planning that went into it. The research. The blue prints that began in 2004. The fund-raising in 2005 with a consultant and a Capital Campaign Committee.

On March 26, 2006 there was the ground-breaking, which we have pictures of in our Narthex.

Then came even more stages of waiting. The building, construction, last minute problem solving.

Finally, the sanctuary was completed. In December ‘06 the first service was held here, then on Jan 14, ‘07 a Dedication Service, then an open house.

Stages upon stages, like a fine cup of tea.

And they continue to come; moving a table there, putting things here, taking down that, putting up this, rearranging those.

Stages upon stages of which we will never truly be done.

And why? Why have we done all these stages?

To let people know, in our hyper-caffeinated, uber-active, you-don’t-even-have-to-get-out-of-the-car-world that the Lord is indeed among us.

I invite you to repeat after me:
The Lord
is among us.

The Lord
is among us.

That is why we built this sanctuary, that is why 11 years ago there was a vision; that is why five years ago there was a groundbreaking.

Because, let’s be honest: sometimes it sure don’t feel like the Lord is among us, does it?

Grandmothers die before we get a proper chance to say goodbye.

People leave us with no explanation

We’re given a diagnosis that’s scarey as heck.

Our children get sick; our husbands die.

And we are left in the wilderness; to wander, and to wonder:

“Is God asleep?”
“Does God care?”
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
“Has God led us this far as a joke, a folly, a farce?”

And sometimes the answer comes quick, like fresh brewed coffee, awaking our senses and assuring us that a new day has come.

Sometimes the answer comes in stages, slowly, requiring our time and attention, like a steeping cup of tea.

Five years ago we broke new ground in order to build this sanctuary. We struck the earth with this shovel, we moved rocks and dirt, we moved sand and soil.

Why? So we could do mission. So we could share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We also did so to say “Yes: Yes the Lord is among us.”

“Yes the Lord is right by our side.”

“Yes the Lord knows just how you feel.”

“Yes the Lord knows you’re thirsty”


“Yes, the Lord hears your cries.”

From stage to stage we may cry out, we may test the Lord.

But God will never leave or forsake us.

God did not do it in the wilderness, nor will God do it now.

God may not always act like a Mr. Coffee machine, but God will indeed act and find a way to quench our thirst and to answer our cries.

Just like a civilized cup of hot tea, God just may take some time, but the outcome can still be wonderful.

Thanks be to Jesus who demonstrated to us how to wait upon the Lord, to the Spirit that acts as our guide and to our God, who is indeed, always among us.

Amen and amen.

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