Rev. George Miller
Sept 18, 2011
Years ago, I was having one of those weeks; actually more like one of those months. The local rabbi who knew about the funk I was in, shared with me a bit of Jewish Midrash.
It goes a little something like this: the Israelites were being led by through the Red Sea. It was an amazing experience. A wind sent by God pushed the waters back, creating a path for the people to walk upon.
There was an older married couple in the group. Rhoda looked around in awe.
“Look, Moesha!” she exclaimed. “Look at what God has done for us. Isn’t it the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen? Look at the water and the land, look at all the sea life and seashells all around us!”
“Yes,” said Moesha, half-heartedly. “But look at my sandals,” he complained, pointing down to his feet, “Look at how muddy they are!”
Oh, how I enjoy that story; oh, how I can relate to that story.
How many of you here have been a Moesha or know a Moesha?
We know the type, easily forgetting about the difficulties of the past to focus on a problem of the present.
A miracle can happen, a dream may come true, and instead of rejoicing they’re quick to point out what could have been improved.
I’ll give you two recent examples. After years of dealing with broken down cars, I finally have a nice, new car that has so many luxuries. For the first few months it was marvelous.
Then I begin looking around. But my car is not that color, or it’s not that make or the radio doesn’t do this or the seats don’t do that.
Shoot, I use to drive with no air conditioning and only one working speakers, but now I’m acting as if my car has muddy sandals?
Or my new home. All my life I’ve had a love affair with the water and wanted to have a porch. Now I have both.
Am I completely happy? No: because since it’s summer it’s too hot to sit on the porch. I look out at the water but don’t walk down to the shore because it seems too far. Or my house isn’t as big as the homes on Lake Jackson.
Shoot, there used to be a time when I lived in a studio apartment the size of my living room with no working shower, and I’m acting as if I live in muddy sandals?
But you know what? I doubt I’m the only one. It’s human nature, isn’t it? To always want more then you have, to look at what others got that you don’t have, to never feel 100% satisfied.
It can be destructive to have a muddy sandals perspective. Nothing is ever right so there’s no satisfaction.
…at that same time, under the right circumstances, a little bit of the muddy sandal mentality can be helpful.
Many of the most successful entertainers and business folk are the ones who are never satisfied, never complacent, who don’t just settle for being number one.
They use their muddy sandals as a source of inspiration to do something big, something new and unheard of.
Take Walt Disney, for example. He could have stayed satisfied creating cartoon shorts, but he used his muddy sandals to create the first feature-length cartoon, then live action movies, then documentaries, then TV, then amusement parks, always evolving.
His discomfort with muddy sandals led to new technologies and allowed his company to branch out onto Broadway, radio, cruise ships.
To go out on a limb, Jesus found a way to do this as well.
Jesus may have first come to share the Good News with the Jews, but it eventually extended to the Gentiles.
He may have begun by calling 12 men, but his ministry grew to include women and to touch the lives of thousands of people.
And through the cross and the miracle of the resurrection, he was able to create a ministry that transcended space and time.
But I digress; back to the Scripture at hand.
If you recall, last week we talked about the crossing of the Red Sea. How God took a group of enslaved people, and under the leadership of Moses, set them free.
And just as they were about to be captured or killed by the Egyptian army, God found a way to part the waters so the people could pass safely through, muddy sandals and all.
But as we hear in today’s reading, something happens once they get to the other side; a new reality settles in.
The people realize that being saved from one obstacle does not remove all the other obstacles, for instead of seeing the promised land, what they see is miles and miles of…wilderness.
Empty, vast, daunting wilderness. Where are the Targets? The Best Buys? The Whole Food Markets?
There’s none of that, not even a Quickie Mart.
The wilderness is not what they expected, so in the throes of disappointment, their fears take over and they begin to complain, murmuring against Moses, their Commander in Chief, and Aaron, his co-Commander.
What are they going to eat? How will they get carbohydrates to give them energy; how will they get protein to give them strength?
Although they are not complaining to God, God hears what they are saying; and in this particular case, God finds a way to swiftly respond to their needs.
God gives them bread from heaven, and succulent quails to feast upon.
But before that happens, Aaron is told to tell the people to draw near the Lord, who has heard their complaints.
Then, as verse 10 states “…as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”
I would like us to pause here for a moment…
The wilderness is a place of vast uncertainty and emptiness that can test one’s resolve.
Other words for wilderness can be dessert, a wasteland, a lonely place, not necessarily the kind of place where people want to be.
Nor the kind of place, like a mountain or a garden, in which one would expect to see the Glory of God.
But in the wilderness, where death seems to prevail, how could God possibly exist?
But God does, and not just God, but the Lord’ glory which bears the promise of food and of rest.
Note how this particular sighting of God’s glory came about. It was not from saying “Look at the water and the land, look at all the sea life and seashells all around us!”?
No, it came from the whole congregation of people murmuring “Look at how muddy our sandals are!”
…I think there is something we can learn from this scripture today, which is that it is OK to complain to God; it is OK to raise a murmuring voice, and it is OK to remind God of what we need, when we need it.
Which I realize goes against some of the popular mentality and theology of the American way.
My great-grandma was one of those people. You know the kind: you don’t complain. You accept what you got. It’s better to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. Except… I can’t ever recall her truly laughing.
There is the common notion you hear about how one should accept their circumstance; to “suck it up,” don’t complain. Think of all the others who have it worse. That God won’t give you more then you can bear.
But sometimes you can’t suck it up. Sometimes you got to complain.
Some situations are the worse thing a person can face
And far too many people are indeed weighted down with burdens that really are more then one can bear.
And when those things happen? When someone finds themselves on the other side of the Red Sea without any so-called food to eat, what can one do?
Today’s scripture would suggest to murmur. Cry out. Raise your voice. Point at your muddy sandals.
Why? Because it may just be the crying out that creates space for God to act and for God to be revealed on the horizon in a way that is so unmistakable, so reassuring, that one is empowered to move ahead.
Jesus cried out from the cross and he experienced the resurrection.
Jonah cried out and he was spit up from the belly of the whale.
The Israelites cried out and they found God in a cloud and bread from heaven.
What can we experience from the Lord if we too cry out to be heard?
Are you feeling like you are lost in the wilderness-cry out!
Is it spiritual nourishment you need- cry out.
If it’s new opportunities that you need- cry out.
If it’s healing or safety-cry out.
It it’s resurrection that you need- cry out.
Let God hear, and maybe, just maybe by complaining about our muddy sandals the Lord will give us what we need to continue moving forward.
For those of us today who feel like we are lost in the wilderness, it is Ok to murmur, it is Ok to acknowledge your muddy sandals.
But after you do, lift up your gaze to the horizon, and prepare to see the ways in which the Glory of the Lord will manifest before you.
Because God is just that good.
And maybe, just maybe, that can turn our murmuring about muddy sandals into smiles of contented joy.
For that we can we can say Hallelujah and amen.