Follow up from the interview with Cheyenne ~ Her reccomendations for books, videos, podcasts:
“The Diviner in You”
Exodus 17: 1-7 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ September 27, 2020
I would like to begin with an invitation for audience participation to all those who spend time around children and grandchildren… “I am Sam…I am Sam…Sam I am…That Sam-I-am…That Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-am. Do you like…green eggs and ham.” When my children were young, in fact even in utero, I read to my children. And those stories shaped them to the Young Adults that I am proud of today. Stories of dwarves protecting maidens, stories of knights in shining armour, of empowered princesses who did not need a prince to rescue them. I read stories of love, of empowerment, of care and compassion. Now, these stories were not ‘real’ in the sense that they historically occurred. Yet, they were real in the sense that they formed meaning in the lives and morals of my children, and in the generations of children who read them. Stories have REAL power!
Cheyenne, who I invited to share earlier in the service, and I have a mutual love for Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese. This author insightfully speaks of the power of story in our lives in this way. “All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…”
The story we have before us is a miracle story. And, sadly, our 21st Century culture has moved away from receiving miracle stories and is in danger of losing the truth contained within. We no longer hope for miracles; we no longer expect miracles; we no longer believe in miracles. As a result, we become deafened from receiving the truth contained in ancient miracle stories. Modern day scholars, who view this text from a literary-historical perspective, speak about the possibility of Moses striking the rock where it happened to be thin and, thus, vulnerable. Moses’ staff simply broke the rock thus exposing an underground stream and the waters flowed thereby quenching the thirsty Israelites. So, there is no ‘miracle’…really. Miracle…solved. Perhaps…that is what happened. But, if we look back at the original intention of this story. And also hold in mind last week’s miracle story where manna was found in the wilderness, I think we begin to gain insight into what this story is really about. I would like for us to examine how this story is about miracles that come; miracles that flow; miracles that God provides; miracles that are revealed in each of us…through each of us amidst our hungers and our thirsts. So, if we would, just for a few moments this morning….take off our post-modern 21st Century lenses and approach this morning’s text in the way in which it was intended, I think you will discover surprising refreshment….your will be quenched with the waters of hope…and you will experience one more layer of understanding of how our Creator is around and within. And…don’t worry, we will come back to modern day. We will put our modern day thinking caps back on, and see how this mythical story has wisdom and meaning and purpose for us, even millennia later.
In this miracle story, Moses’ leadership is challenged amidst the difficult journey the Israelites walked. And that is really when things start to unravel, isn’t it? When things get difficult…when resources get slim…finances are tight…and tempers are limited. What do we do in these situations except challenge those in charge. Moses had led them out of Egyptian slavery, yet what they are starting to miss was the certainty of food and shelter that came with this exchange. Their fears are natural…physical thirst, fear of death, confusion about the future. And then comes the existential question: “Is the Lord among us or not?” The Hebrew word here for “among us” is an interesting one. It is not just ‘is the Lord…here / is the Lord…on our side / is the Lord…with us?’ This question carries a deeper understanding of the embodiment of God. Is the Lord among us…meaning… ‘Is the Lord inside us…is the Lord present in our inner organs…is the Lord in our parched throats ~ quenching us…is the Lord in our racing hearts ~ comforting us…Is the Lord truly with us in our time of wilderness struggles? The chain of complaining is, as we can imagine, passed on from the complaining Israelites to Moses, now passed on from Moses who complains to God. Moses cries out to the Lord “what shall I do with these people?” And at that moment, God reveals God’s way of working through all of Creation. God reveals that God will work through Moses’ staff and provide. It is critical in the story for us to recognize that God does not just act and provide water. God provides water through Moses. To the fearful question, “Is the Lord among us?” we see revealed that God is indeed among them and (in fact) acting through them….in this case, acting through Moses. God will act through Moses’ mighty staff ~ just like in the past when the staff guided them through the Red Sea, now God will act through Moses’ staff and bring refreshing water…water when there seemed to be none.
What do we do when the ‘waters of old’ dry up and we find ourselves thirsty and in need of new water that will quench us today? What do we do when the waters that somehow seemed ‘right’ and ‘just’ in the past no longer are ‘right’ and ‘just’ today? What do we do when we find ourselves thirsty and searching? The ‘Orange Shirt Day’ movement, I think, is a part of this conversation as we search for waters that will satisfy ALL people in the future. As the United Church of Canada, we live in the shadow of the Residential School. We cannot erase what occurred in the past. Many church denominations were tasked by the Federal Government to operate residential facilities against the wishes of the First Nation families. What might have seemed to have been right in the past, as it came via a government mandate, we find ourselves today in deep lament as we seek forgiveness and reconciliation for the past. The waters of our past actions do not quench; these waters are dry and sour and no one wishes to drink from them ever again. We find ourselves seeking with the Israelites for good water to drink? How do we find healing waters? How do we find waters of forgiveness? How do we find waters where all God’s children may drink and be satisfied?
So, how do we find pure refreshing water today? Where do we look when the wells of old have dried up and no longer quench? Moses’ interaction with God is informative. To Moses’ complaints and attempts to ‘pass the buck’ to God: ‘Hey God can you just take care of it and cause it to rain?’ To these attempts, God reminds Moses that God is in him. God is in Moses; God is in the staff; God will be with him and act through him as Moses provides pure refreshing water to the people. We are reminded of the earliest name that Luke gives to Jesus…Emmanuel…(which means) God with us. That is what we sing of during Advent when we prepare for God’s arrival in Jesus’ birth. “O Come, O Come…Emmanuel!” God’s coming in Jesus…God fully present in Jesus…God with us and God….somehow…in us. Notice the evolution in the story here. Last week, God had responded to the hunger of the Israelites by revealing them the nutrition to be found in mysterious manna. God now takes it a next step further. God will not just reveal the water; God will be in Moses’ actions. Moses must act as God’s provision and love will continue to flow.
I wonder if this story is a call to action for all of us who are thirsty and unsatisfied with the waters of the past. I wonder if this story is a challenge for us not to ‘pass the buck’ and expect others to fix things, but to take an active role in summoning pure refreshing waters to flow in the future. To be like a divining rod that seeks out water, to be a ‘water seeker’ a ‘diviner’ in our own right. More than ever before, this seems to be a thirsty time for finding waters that will quench our world’s deep thirst for peace, our thirst for respect of ‘other’, our thirst for a community where love is shown to all neighbours. I think there this is the similar thread we are hearing in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement as well. It is a call for us break through the rock and rubble of old, to break through the prejudice and the stereotypes of the past and reveal the pure, clean, refreshing waters which God has provided for all…for all of us.
But let’s be honest…breaking through rock is difficult. Sometimes it requires sledgehammering, other times it requires strategic chipping away with a hammer and chisel, and still in other times it might require the strong thrust of the staff into old ingrained ways. Maybe…Moses found an area where the rock was thin and easier to shatter. Maybe that is the best place to start. But the message in this passage is that we must start if God’s Kingdom ~ the Kingdom where all are gather together in peace ~ is ever to unfold. Mother Teresa had a wonderful way of calling us all to action. She put it this way: “What I do, you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But, we can all do small things with great love, and together we can do something wonderful”. Today, we must act if we are ever to drink of the pure, refreshing water that lies below the rock!
May we open our lives to God’s power and grace…allowing God’s power and presence to be found within us…as we act in ways that draw us towards the refreshing water that quenches, that delights, that is the water of life.