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This Week's Sermon (for recent sermons, please click here)

God’s Sustaining Presence

Carolyn L Roberts
Exodus 17.1-7 
28 September 2014

            I felt like Goldilocks when I read the lectionary for today’s worship. The texts include Jesus’ parable of two brothers who each are asked by their father to do a particular task. The first son says he won’t do it–then does. The other agrees to do the task–then doesn’t. It ends with the rhetorical question: which son does the will of the father? Or the letter from Paul to the congregation in Philippi. This includes the soaring hymn with the line, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” For various reasons, neither felt exactly right.

            And then today’s text of those peripatetic Hebrews, still in the wilderness, still on their journey. The twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees of chapter fifteen's oasis are long behind them. Between that oasis and the present, they were–in the jargon of today, food insecure...until they received God’s manna. But they are still in the wilderness, still on their journey from the ways of Pharaoh to the ways of God. They are frightened; so they do what many of us do when we are frightened and our future is unclear: we idealize the past and complain about the present. The text may not be just right, but it did make me laugh at the irony. Which one of us here–myself included!–hasn’t done exactly that? Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?! Hopefully, we do too.

            Because here we are, still on the journey from the ways of Pharoah, the ways of production and hoarding and consumption. Here we are, still on to the ways of God: the ways of grace and trust and compassion. Here we are, still on the journey from isolation to community. Still on the journey from oasis points in our past, where our needs were attended to, attention that carried a strong sense of God’s grace and God’s presence. Still on the journey to the future hope that draws us forward.1 Here we are, still on the journey.

            Clearly that theme of journey is one that spoke to me as I thought about this morning, in part because our journey continues even if we travel in different caravans. But there’s an additional piece. In the wilderness of anxiety and need, our old friend Walter Brueggemann suggests “that the water question...is turned into the God Question concerning the one who ‘leads us beside still waters.’ ...He [also] observes that the Bible understands God as sometimes present, and sometimes absent. [And that’s exactly] what the [Hebrews are] experiencing in the desert: [today’s reading is] the part of the story when it feels like God is absent.1 When we are in those wilderness places, we don’t need a theological treatise. We need water; we become natives of Missouri. “Don’t talk to me about water; show me.” Fill my water bottle and let me hydrate. Let me even take a long, hot shower, or a deep, soaking bath.

            Like vitality from depression, health from sickness, sobriety from inebriation, water from rock, food from hunger, life from death, well-being from anxiety, Brueggemann reminds us that God’s Big Yes isn’t [just] about something that happened long ago and far away. God’s Big Yes is about us too; about our own wilderness, our own needs and questions and prayers,1 ... our own particular journeys. In our post-September 11 wildernesses of every description, we are “driven back to...questions about the reality of God, the reliability of God, and our capacity to trust God in the thin places where there are no other resources for life.”1 Moses and the prophets who followed him learned to trust God in the thin places. He taught those on the Exodus journey about the reality and reliability of God.

            It’s abundantly obvious I am not Moses! But like Moses, I am one of many who leave a beloved community before the end of the journey. The reality is that whether UCCSV’s Promised Land includes Christian Education classrooms and a more functional kitchen, whether it includes solar power–which I am certain it does!–or whether it includes a working relationship with a theater group or some other connection with the community, I will not be with you when that takes place. And that is hard.

            After the beautiful reception yesterday at Arthur and Jasna Keys’, the wonderful Council dinner and discussion at Ruth and Roger Bulger’s, the tender conversations and touching notes over these past weeks, it is even harder. They remind me of the many reasons I fell in love with this congregation, with you, in the first place. But we cannot lay hold of what is ahead without in some way letting go of what is past.2 We cannot move to vitality without letting go of depression; to well-being without letting go of anxiety. So whether the waters dazzle us from the rock, comfort us in their still quiet, or welcome us into the Body of Christ in baptism, remember. Remember the promises of scripture, of God’s life-giving covenant with each of us, made known to us in Jesus the Christ.

            Above all, Christ’s still-speaking covenant of love gives us the ability to leave those we care about, because we can entrust each of them to God’s care. This is what good-bye means: God be with you. God be with you, because I can no longer be with you. God be with you, because though now we will have limited ways of expressing care for one another, we are still–all of us–in need of care. God be with you, because if God is with you and God is with me, we still will be together2 in God’s sustaining presence. God is good; all the time!

***

1Huey, Kate, http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/september-28-2014.html
2Copenhaver, Martin B., www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/good-bye.html

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The United Church of Christ of Seneca Valley
13421 Clopper Road, Germantown, MD 20874-2119
Located between Great Seneca Hwy. and Liberty Mill Rd.
 
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