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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, September 20, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Exodus 17:1–7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (NRSV)

This very short scene in a very long wilderness trek brings Moses to his wit’s end. But let’s be fair: if we thought the promised land was right there, just a hop, step, and jump from the exodus from Egypt and suddenly it gets long, its gets hot, and the kids, the cattle, and the adults on the way are thirst—really, really thirsty—well, it is a tough moment. Not only do the people take Moses on for his poor planning, but they call into question his leadership and his game plan. There is a rebellion afoot. They are a rebellious and testy lot. And they let Moses have it—“What, you brought us out here to let us die?” Their complaining is one thing. Their lack of trust in Moses and his God is another. Moses is at his wit’s end.

He turns to God, completely frustrated. They are about to stone him! There is the irony of stones and rocks; of staffs and striking; of water from the unexpected place. And rather than a happy ending, the place is marked with the cranky ones, the quarreling Israelites, who tested God.

I remember so many times when my children were young and we were all traveling to some remote island or some site that was only of interest to my husband and me, really. When the snacks were depleted, the juice boxes drained, the naps interrupted, and the tantrums erupted—at those moments we set our sights only on how difficult the kids were and how stupid we were to think they might enjoy these culturally enhancing moments. We wondered if the joy of travel we enjoyed would backfire and turn our kids into couch potatoes, staring at the tube.

We totally get Moses! We totally understand his reliance on God. We know the thirst, the fear of dying of it. There are times when thirst leads to fear leads to throwing out the journey, even one to the promised land. But then the drenching, gushing, bountiful gift of a God that knows about tantrums reaches out to us, lifts us from the ground, and with our thirst quenched restores us to being who we are intended to be. Yes, God sees it all and loves us because of it, not just despite it!

Loving God, you see us, you know us, with all that is human—our thirst, our impatience, our short-sightedness—and you will never leave us, no never, ever. Thank you. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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