Rev. George Miller
March 19, 2017
Months ago when this scripture was selected, it was with the intent of acknowledging St. Patrick’s Day.
We were going to talk about the Irish, their interesting history, and their immigration to the New World.
You were supposed to be impressed with a theological, sociological discourse comparing the life-giving potato to the sustaining rock in today’s scripture.
We were to have St. Patti’s Day supreme, then the Spirit stepped in via Bible Study and scholarship and it has all changed.
First, a recap.
The Israelites have been enslaved for hundreds of years. God hears their cries and delivers them through Moses.
In Exodus 14 they cross the Red Sea. Three days later in chapter 15 they complain to Moses about being thirsty so God provides them with bitter water turned sweet.
About 2 months later in chapter 16, the people murmur to Moses about being hungry, so God provides them with bread from heaven for breakfast and quail for supper.
At least a week later, if not more, in chapter 17, the people are thirsty again.
This time they do not complain, they quarrel. “Give us water,” they demand.
God tells Moses to go ahead of the people, to Mt. Sinai, and when he strikes the mountain the people’s nourishment needs will be met…kind of like the potato.
But then the research revealed some things I had not thought about.
Like how we’re not actually told if what Moses did worked, we just kinda assume it did.
Or how this is the last time in the book of Exodus in which we hear of the people complaining or murmuring.
Then there are the comments from theologian Terence Fretheim, who states that Exodus 17 is a turning point in Israel’s relationship with God, because-
In this story the only evidence of God’s presence that the people will accept is concrete action that saves.
In other words, they only believe God is real if God is doing something specifically for them.
Fretheim further states “This collapses God’s promise into (the people’s) own well being and refuses (God) any life apart from Israel’s well-being.”
See- when the people are quarreling with Moses about wanting water, it is not a simple case of “gimme, gimme”.
In Hebrew, the word for quarrel has legal undertones. It implies that a court case is about to take place.
In other words, the people are giving God an ultimatum- quench our thirst or we are going to take you to People’s Court and sue you for failure to perform.
This is not a simple story about faith or doubt; it is a story about deciding if God deserves to be God, and demanding that from now on God performs on their behalf.
This means that after God gives them freedom, the thanks God gets is having to give up God’s freedom.
After giving them life, God no longer matters to them if God is not catering to their every need.
Think of it-
God spoke the world into being, crafted us out of blessed adamah, filled us with sacred breathe and holy waters, and now God’s role is reduced to meeting the complaints and demands of others.
God is made into a product; an item that only has worth if it does what the public expects.
And God does it: for the sake of the relationship, God gives the people exactly what they threatened to sue God over.
Think of how heart-breaking this is.
Think of what that means to God, our Eternal Parent, our Forever Friend, our Closest Confidant.
God is judged worthy only if God performs, and as Fretheim states “religion is reduced to its utilitarian effect.”
No more can God just walk in the cool afternoon breeze of the Garden, like with Adam and Eve.
No more can God simply enjoy the taste of BBQ, as God did with Abel.
No more can God enjoy a lunch of curds, cake and curried calf as God once did with Abraham under the shady oaks of Mamre.
Or enjoy a song and dance from Miriam and the women.
From this moment on God is expected to work, work, work, work, work and do all things on behalf of the people.
God can only be appreciated if there is something attached.
Like saying a field of clover is only worthy if you find a 4 leaf clover.
Or a rainbow only matters if at the end of it you find a pot of gold.
Which brings up the questions- do we love God for just being God?
Or do we love God because of all the things we say God does?
Would we still love God if all we could claim is that God is present on the path with us?
Would we still love God if all we could claim is that God is holy?
Would we still love God if all we could claim is that God is sweetness, God is love, and God is strength?
Does every communication we have with God, every conversation we have about God have to involve what God has done, could do, would do, and should do for us?
How often do we simply say to God “Thank you” or “How are you?” or “Hey”?
By our very nature, we think of our needs and our wants, but how often do we stop and wonder what God needs, what God wants?
We come to worship so we can be spiritually filled and experience God’s presence.
What if God comes to worship so God can also be spiritually filled and experience our presence?
If worship can recharge us, does it also recharge God?
We gather around the table to be fed by the Lord’s Supper, but have we ever wondered if God would like to be fed too?
Have you ever done something just so it pleases God?
Not talking about money in the offering plate, or jumping on the latest cause, or asking “Thy will be done.”
We’re talking about something like simply admiring creation, seeing what’s around you and saying “Mmm hmm mmm.”
Or planting something in the yard just so God can look upon it and smile.
Spotting something in the store that’s beautiful and buying it just because you think God will find it beautiful too.
Ever enjoy a meal, and invite God to sit alongside you, so God can enjoy it too?
Has there been enough times in which God wasn’t expected to do, or save, or act? God is not judged by outcomes but appreciated, simply for being God?
That’s the gift our weekly Mindful Meditation gives- a chance to just sit with God, no words, no requests, no tasks, no pleas, no murmurings.
Just quiet being and just our breath.
God must like it when, if even for just a moment, folk sit with God as Abraham once did under the oaks of Mamre, or sing for God just as Miriam did, or enjoy the cool afternoon as Eve and Adam did…
…Today’s reading tells us the people journeyed in stages to the Promised Land.
This Lenten Season we journey in stages too. Except we are journeying to a cross and an empty tomb.
We have learned that because of Christ we have been acquitted of our sins and found virtuous.
We have been reminded that not everyone’s mountains are the same, nor does everyone shares the same experience.
Today, let us welcome God into our journey not for what God can do, but simply for being God.
Let us each find our own ways to feed, to nourish, to care for God in ways that leave our Lord refreshed, that allow our Creator to be fully free.
Let us honor the different ways in which God’s presence is made known.
Amen and amen.