Pentecost – Proper 21
Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2: 1-13; Matthew 21: 23-32
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Last weekend I met with two other friends of mine from seminary: one of them, Brad, isa priest in Texas, and Carey, a priest in Arkansas. We spent three years together in seminary, and over the course of those years we got to know each other fairly well – I ended up as a groomsman in both of their weddings.
Many years have passed since we had all been together, so the experience of a weekend together was a sort of homecoming. We met for a self-led retreat in Brenham, and over the course of two days, we each took time to do something awkward for many men (myself included): we candidly shared what was going on in our lives. It made sense for us to do this as we all have much in common: we are all rectors in Episcopal churches, we are all married, we all have young children, our wives are all much smarter than we are, you get the idea.
We spent the majority of time baring our fragile and broken selves to one another. That’s not entirely true - we grilled steaks, we drank wine, we woke up the next morning with a subtle ache in our head reminding us of just how much wine we drank the night before. In our serious conversations, we discussed our shortcomings, and our failures. And it was for me an oasis in the desert – a refuge, one of those rare places in the world where refreshment flows from the mutual wounds of broken people.
I am fond of such moments, rare as they are, for in their holiness, they reorient me toward what is most important – God. These moments tend to be unexpected, and they occur in unusual places.
The people of Israel, travelling in the wilderness of the Sinai desert, far from Brenham, seemed to have such an experience of the holy. Released from their slavery in Egypt, where they at least were assured enough to eat and drink, the Hebrew people now found themselves with little to eat, and worse, nothing to drink. And so they complained to Moses, their leader: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” And Moses threw his arms up and said “I don’t know – it seemed like a great idea at the time!” That’s not what he really said. Rather, Moses put the question to God: “What do I do?”
And God’s answer was simple: “Moses, take the staff you used to strike the Nile and go to the rock at Horeb, strike the rock, and water will come out.” We all know what happened. Moses took his staff, he struck the rock, and water, enough for all the Hebrew people to drink, flowed out from it. It was a holy moment – an experience of God in an unusual way and in a strange place.
It was a moment where the water of life poured out from a broken place. The story of the Hebrew’s journey through the Sinai to the Promised Land is the story of every church in history. Like the Hebrew people, every church, including St. Andrew’s, is on a journey through the wilderness. Though it might seem a little scary, the wilderness is where God calls us – it is where we meet God, on our way to the land of promise. Where are we on the journey? What is God calling us to do?
A wise pastor once said that every church has two basic committees: a “Back to Egypt” committee that always wants to go back to the way things were. This kind of committee is governed by fear and anxiety – they are afraid of what continuing on the journey might bring, and so they cling to the past. The second committee in every church this pastor suggests is an “into the Promised Land” committee – they are excited to step out in hope and faith to see what exciting places God is leading them. Which committee do you serve? As a church, I believe St. Andrew’s has embarked on a journey of faith and hope toward the future.
We are in the wilderness, but we are here by our choosing, because we know God is present, and it’s going to be okay. Because when God is present, rocks break open and yield the water of salvation to all who thirst. When God is present, there is bread enough for all to receive. We choose hope over fear, we are bearers of faith instead of anxiety.
The last night of our retreat, we shared a bottle of wine called “Funhouse,” perhaps selected to remind us either of the parishes we served or the homes we lived in. Regardless, it was our selected wine at an impromptu Eucharist following dinner, where we gave thanks for the ordinary miracles we perceived in our lives: families, you all, and that rock, which when tapped, water in abundance always flows. AMEN.