No one can fight like Christians.” I heard this angry, frustrated lament from my mother when I was a teen. My parents‘ tiny rural church was closing (in the face of rural depopulation), and the members were disposing of the church furnish- ings. Neighbors were scrapping about who should receive what and what should happen to some of the items.
We have all known congregational disputes and conflicted situations. Often these situations do not involve grand theological issues. Frequently they revolve around smaller issues: music, the welcoming of newcomers, or idiosyncrasies of the pastor. Moses finds that he too has some cranky, short-tempered followers among the Israelites wandering in the Sinai desert.
In today’s passage Moses finds his power amid these travails. While the story describes locating water for the people in the wilderness, we also hear Moses moving from lament to courage, from a “pity party” to bold action.
When we face grumpy, ungrateful followers and crabby Christians, we can easily grow cynical and cranky ourselves. But this passage offers a more healing approach. Just as Moses unpacks his laments before God, we too probably need to identify in prayer our own hurt, disappointment, and wounds. It can be healing simply to sit down with our pastor, with a safe friend or colleague, and name our own sorrows and wounds as we face difficult times. This enables us to set anger aside and seek a more healing, compassionate response.
God assures Moses, “I will be standing there in front of you.” In the tough times, we too can trust in God’s presence. Then, as Moses does, we can move ahead boldly to offer our gifts anew, trusting the Holy One will go with us, finishing what we start.
O God, help us to face our challenges, name them, rest awhile in your presence, then return to serve you afresh. Amen.
The mercy of God is a theme that surfaces this week. In Exodus 17 Israel is not sure that God is faithful or reliable. By requesting water and voicing an urgent need, Israel appears to be testing God to discover God’s power and inclination. Psalm 78 praises Yahweh for grace in liberating the people from Egyptian bondage. Yahweh’s mercy sustained and supported them. Philippians 2 begins with a statement about the need for human kindness and compassion and then moves to the work of mercy that motivates human love—the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In the reading from Matthew, the mercy of God, which is extended to those who normally receive no mercy, illustrates not only the inclusive nature of God’s grace but also how different the kingdom of heaven is from the kingdoms of this world.
• Read Exodus 17:1-7. When has your “speaking out” been met with negative response? Have you ever felt you were standing too “close to the cross”?
• Read Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16. Today, listen for God rather than speak of God.
• Read Philippians 2:1-13. When have you emptied yourself and become a servant?
• Read Matthew 21:23-32. How well do your actions match your words in terms of obedience to the commands of Christ?
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