Sermon – September 21, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
“If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:3
Please be seated.
When you love someone, you sometimes do things completely out of character. At least that’s what my parents thought the first time I went camping with Fred, who was to become my husband. Fred loved tent camping, and cooking on stones in a wood fire. He especially needed occasional weeks of solo backpacking to maintain his sanity. While I had camped in Girl Scouts, I wasn’t exactly the outdoors type. A cabin was about as roughing it as I got.
But I was in love, so camping in a tent and cooking on a wood fire were appealing to me at the time. My parents thought the image of me camping in a tent was very funny.
Camping was also an inexpensive way to take a vacation, so once Fred and I were married, our family camped frequently. I had grown to like it a lot by then, especially once we added some amenities like a camp stove, lantern, sleeping bag and pad to sleep on.
One summer, through some interesting circumstances involving a drunk driver totaling one of our cars, we had enough money to take a family vacation in the Rockies of Colorado. Returning to this area had been something Fred was longing for. The kids and I had never been that far west, but were lured in by the stories Fred would tell of his time living in Aspen.
Vacation time off was at a premium, so we decided to fly to Denver, taking all of our camping gear on the plane. We rented a van and traveled all over for two weeks. My experience camping at that point was mostly in well maintained and busy campgrounds. Fred prepared me for the reality of more primitive camping, where the only water you’d have to drink would be what you brought with you. And the same for food. Where you’d bathe in the nearby stream or at least take some water from it to heat up to take a pan bath. Where there would be no formal bathrooms. I have to tell you I was a little nervous about this type of wilderness experience.
And the Israelites were not pleased about their wilderness experience. As we know, this was only the beginning and they’d be there 40 years! Some of you were part of the Lenten program this year about making changes. One of the things we talked about was the “J” curve. Any time you make a change, you enter a “J” curve where the anxiety you experience from the change is greater than the comfort you feel from making the change. You just want to go back to the way things were. However, if you work through the “J” curve, things improve and you end up in an entirely new, usually better place, than before you made the change.
That’s what we hear about today in Exodus: you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. A descent into the “J” curve.
And God hears their cry and provides manna and meat, so they will not be hungry. By the way, manna is still collected today in that region and often used in candy. And the symbol of manna, bread from heaven, is used throughout our liturgy, especially as we receive the bread at communion, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” Manna…food provided by God in the form of the son, Jesus Christ.
One of the most important outcomes of our wilderness experience, is how it strengthens our reliance upon God. All we are used to having is stripped away. The Israelites did not have food and later we see they needed water. Their entire way of living, even as oppressive and harsh as it was, even though their baby boys were being killed, seemed so much better than being out in the wilderness. They wanted to go back; that’s how bare the wilderness felt to them. That’s how out of control the wilderness felt to them. That’s how scary the wilderness felt to them.
Yet, in the wilderness, they really had no choice, but to trust in God. All of the things they could provide that comforted them in the past, were of no use now. They had to totally rely upon God and God’s mercy.
Oh, that is a tough thing, isn’t it? Letting go of our total control over our lives. Needing to depend upon God solely.
When my father died in January of 2011, I was going through some of his papers. I found a letter he had written to good friends. The friends were going through a very difficult time and my father, who loved to write, sat down to share his own experience.
He talked about a very difficult period in his and my mother’s lives. There was a recession and his law practice business was nearly nonexistent. My mother lost her parttime job. My father lost his re-election campaign for a local government post. There was infighting in their church and one of the pastors left and the suggestion for a new pastor was rejected.
My mother and father, pillars of faith in my view, nearly lost their faith. They nearly gave up on each other.
But things did get better. Business picked up and my mother found a new job. My parents were aware of how fragile life can be. They were in a new and different place. What had the wilderness taught them? My father concluded the letter with these words:
What great lessons have I learned? That despite all of my efforts, ability and good work, I don’t have final control over my economic security. That despite all of my good intentions, I can’t control the actions of others. That despite all of the love that Mary and I have for each other, there is no guarantee that we will be able to solve our problems. That despite all of my faith in God, I will lose heart, fall into despair and become angry every time life deals me a heavy blow.
Some would say that I should have learned all of these things years ago, and perhaps I should have. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t. Am I happy about the lessons? Not particularly – at least not yet. Maybe I will be someday, but for now I would just as soon not have taken the course.
But I wasn’t given the choice and, I suppose, that is the most important lesson. Where hardship and suffering are concerned, life doesn’t give us a choice. The size of our bank account, our IQ, how regularly we attend Church, how clean a slate we have – none of it matters a damn. We are all subject to adversity. When, finally, we are stripped of all of our ego and all of our possessions, we can for the first time begin to understand that the only thing we can rely on is God’s mercy. What a helluva hard lesson that is for a proud person to learn!
When, finally, we are stripped of all of our ego and all of our possessions, we can for the first time begin to understand that the only thing we can rely on is God’s mercy. What a helluva hard lesson that is for a proud person to learn!
Well, the camping trip to Colorado was amazing. We camped in places that most people never see. The stars each night were so beautiful. We never ran out of water or food or ice for the cooler and I learned how to bathe in a cold mountain stream – by heating up a little water in a pot. And even though it’s been nearly 30 years ago, I have fond and lasting memories.
You see, God doesn’t lead us into the wilderness for a life of despair, hunger and thirst. God leads us into the wilderness so we know “that the only thing we can rely on is God’s mercy.” Relying upon God’s mercy refreshes our souls, gives us life, gives us bread from heaven and leads us to the promised land.