“Autumn Brings…Preservation” (Part Two)
Exodus 17: 1-7 & John 16: 12 - 15
Northwood United ~ Sept 30, 2018
As the rains and cooler temperatures of autumn return, we are drawn inside and one of the activities we engage in is the preserving of vegetables and fruits. Sometimes our preserving creates those delicious jams and jellies that we love on our toast in the morning. Other times, our preserving creates staples that get us through the winter such as beans or tomatoes or pickles. Mason jars become a hot commodity at this time of year and whenever a precious preserve is given, the giver is always clear that ‘if you want any more in the future, you will return the jar!’ Indeed autumn is a time for preserving where we bring in the harvest and prepare to get through a long cold winter that lies before us.
Last week, we commenced our consideration into what autumn brings, as we will be considering some of the shades of this season as reveal the very nature of God’s presence in our lives and in the world. We began last week considering how autumn brings … change as we explored the liberation text found in Isaiah 43. Offering words of hope, the prophet spoke about the change…the coming liberation for the captives who lay in Babylonian exile. Those timeless words: “I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” were beautiful words of hope of their longed for return to the Promised Land. And as we reviewed the second passage found in James 1, we were reminded of the changes God continues to bring and how they allow for us to be reborn. To use James’ language, it becomes a “kind of first fruits of God’s creatures”. God’s nature is one of bringing change, liberation, reformation, restoration and hope. And in the rhythms of autumn, we see God’s creation undergoing massive change with rains falling, leaves nurturing the ground and temperatures cooling, we are reminded of this massive change that God brings ~ not just in the world ~ but also into our very being.
As we consider this morning’s reflection on how autumn brings… preservation ~ I think that it is an easy one to overlook. It is easy to miss because there very are few of us today with cold cellars in our basement. Very few of us can for the purpose of getting through the winter. Certainly, we might enjoy this activity and use some of it through the winter. But it seems that more canning is gifted than they actually kept and used in the home. Most of us today, it seems, rely on the produce aisle through the winter. Fruits and vegetables are shipped from places like California, Chile, and Texas. Fruits and veggies are raised through the winter in greenhouses and we have come to expect fresh produce to be as readily available on a January winter day as it is during a July farmer’s market. I recall this not being the case when I was settled in my first pastoral charge in Prince George’s Northern BC. I found myself reading a sign in the produce aisle ‘we apologize for the state of our produce during the winter months’. Under the sign, you would find spoiling produce that we find in the clearance section or in the compost pile. I later discovered that produce would often sit on trucks for days on end as it was transported from Vancouver into the Northern parts of BC. By the time it reached the shelf it was already beginning to spoil. Many of the people in the North I later learned would engage in preserving fruits and vegetables because it was a necessity. Autumn was a time for preservation.
As we move to the text from the Hebrew Bible, we come to a time where they relied upon God for provision. They had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through the Moses’ divine leadership; they had passed through the Red Sea when it seemed like their escape would be blocked; they safely walked away from slavery as the Egyptian army and their war chariots pursued. Their lives had been preserved. Well almost…in this morning’s text, they find themselves in a period ‘in between’ slavery and freedom. They were in a time of wilderness wandering. The comforts of home ~ even the comforts one would find with food and lodging in Egyptian slavery ~ were gone. They were entirely reliant upon the land for their survival and they became hungry, they became thirsty, they became afraid. Prior to this text in the 16th chapter, we read of how they to be preserved in their hunger: they found manna ~ food in the morning left on the leaves that they would eat to survive. And in the text Emma read, we are reminded how their thirsts were quenched by this discovery of water gushing up from the rock. Moses takes the very staff that he had used at the Red Sea when it parted and he struck the rock revealing water for the thirsty people to drink.
I would suggest that our question of God’s preservation in our lives is such a central question we have in our faith. How can we know if God is with us? How can we know if God is “in our midst”? It is in our times of hunger, and thirst, and affliction when we have the tendency to feel abandoned or betrayed or alone. Perhaps this was why, in times of old, that God’s faithful identified God’s presence with tangible places. In the days of the Judges, it was Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant resided and God’s presence was there. In the days of Solomon, it was Solomon’s great temple where God’s presence to resided in such majesty. People come to churches. They come simply to sit in the sanctuary…to light a candle…and feel God’s presence. People hike a mountain, walk a forest path, reflect at water’s edge and truly sense the divine. Yet when the metaphorical clouds come in and we cannot see the mountains ~ we question if God is in our midst; when the temple fell and people could not worship ~ they questioned if God was in their midst. Have you ever found yourself questioning if God is among you in your time of need? If God is ‘there for you’? If you are alone? I sometimes wonder if this is why stories like this have been told and retold for centuries. It is this same reminder, as our United Church of Canada Creed professed 50 years ago, that “we are not alone”.
We are in a very interesting time in our cultural history. The generation called “Millennials” are often referred to as the generation following the “Baby Boomers” ~ it is a generation that has been shaped by things like the terrorist acts of 9/11 and the Great Recession. As a younger generation, they are experiencing historically high levels of unemployment and there is often fear of the future. Indeed, there is much speculation about the possible long term economic and social damages to our younger generation. These are the questions that our Millennials are asking today: how are we going to make things work in our future? Where is God amidst our struggles? Is God among us or not? I, along with most of you, have been thinking and praying for our refugee family ~ the Hammouds. It seems to have been an endless line of hoops to jump through over the past several years to sponsor this Syrian refugee family. It almost seems unbelievable to we finally have a date to welcome them on October 21st. We can only imagine how difficult it must have been for them waiting and waiting and waiting…afraid for their future…wondering if they are ‘alone’…wondering if ‘God is among them or not’.
What is interesting as we view the text is that its conclusion is not one that is lifted up as example of the faith of the Hebrew people. The conclusion is the naming of the site of the miracle’s occurance: “Massah and Meribah”: the place of quarreling and testing of the Lord. What I love about this text is it serves as a reminder that there is place in the way we relate to God for us to quarrel and test. It is OK for us to be afraid, it is OK for us to feel uncertain, it is OK for us to be concerned that we are alone. Yet the movement…the transformational call for us is to move away a place of Massah and Meribah / of quarreling and testing to one of deep faith where we know that the Lord will provide what we need. This is the same kind of hope we see in Jesus’ teaching in the second reading. Jesus’ reference to the “Spirit of Truth” speaks about this ever-present sense of hope we find in this beautiful dimension of our faith. Jesus proclaims: “when the Spirit of truth comes. He will guide you into all truth”.
Faith in a God whose way is preservation is not an easy call in this day and age. It has never been an easy one. Perhaps that is why have texts like the ones before us today. To remind us that God IS with us in the wilderness times of our lives…quenching our thirsts and calling us to offer the ways of life and peace and hope to others in our journey. Thanks be to God who way is preservation for all. Amen.