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Mid-Week Lenten Service
8 March 2023
The thing when you have known someone for a long time is that you know them really well. You might not have them figured out in the way that having someone figured out means that they won’t ever surprise you or that their behaviour has become entirely predictable. But you know them well, and to know someone well is to know that you can trust someone, or as is also possible, maybe not.
Being able to trust someone is a wonderful thing and it does not just happen with spouses, but also with friends, colleagues, and neighbours. You may know that your neighbour will shovel your driveway. Or that your colleague will work alongside you and not against you. You may know that your friend will be truthful with you when you are unreasonable or a jerk. And you know the same about your spouse. You are not competing, you are on the same team, and they seek to support you, not undermine you. Of course, no relationship is without struggles, and sometimes we will be mad at each other or disappointed with each other, but the stability that healthy relationships like these imply make our lives possible. They mean that we are not alone, even when we are alone, or if we are single. There are people we can rely on and trust, and they can rely on us.
A new relationship is different. A new neighbour, a new colleague, a new friend. We watch and observe each other, seek to find the boundaries and whether there are common commitments that draw us together. And we may be so busy feeling out the new relationship that we are unaware of expectations, reasonable or not, that we may project onto these new relationships. And if we are talking about a new neighbour or colleague (or pastor) we must know that they will not be like the person whose place they take.
It takes time to build relationships and it is good for us to give each other time and space.
I don’t know how long God’s people had been in the wilderness. It is in Exodus 12 that the Egyptians are finally letting them go. What follows is the crossing of the Red Sea. After that they get to Saskatchewan where the water is bad. In Marah God provided for the bad water to become good and be purified. Then there was a little covenant making, and God said to the people ‘keep my commandments and ordinances, and listen to my voice, and you will be well.’ (Ex 15:26ff)
The reader can barely catch their breath before the people cry out to the Lord that they have no food and wishing they had died by the hand of the Lord when they sat by the fleshpots of Egypt (Ex.16:3), which makes you wonder what good the fleshpot would be if you were dead anyway. But God provides and sends manna and quails. Then they come to Rephidim, which is where we are today.
So, to answer my question: They have not been in the wilderness for long, their sojourn has just begun. And even though they experienced a miraculous rescue from the hands of their oppressors, and even though God has provided for their needs before, they worry and fret.
Some patterns are ingrained in us very deeply, and even though we know better, we have a hard time shifting our lives in a way that expects a new and different reality.
I could give you personal examples but I won’t make it too personal. But even after having lived in our home for almost six years, I will on occasion still go to the wrong cupboard to retrieve a drinking glass, because that’s where they had been in our old house. But think of your fears and how hard it is to abandon your fears. I was in my early twenties and for the first time met a woman who had had alcoholism in her family. She was only a few years older than me and it was hard for her to see people drink alcohol. Or think of someone who lived through the depression and how frugal and resourceful they are.
Our reading tells us that God provided water for the people. There is no word of God growing impatient with the people, only that the Lord provided. But at the end of our reading it says, that Moses named the place where this happened “Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us or not?”
It seems to me that one of the things we hope to learn during Lent is that the Lord is in fact among us. Our goal here is not the learning of a proposition, of a bold biblical declaration that God is among us, but rather the shifting of our attention from the peripherals of life to the essentials, to know inertly that God is with us, even when we are hungry, and even when we are thirsty, so that rather than fear for our own well-being we would rest in God and thus be freed to care for our neighbour and to care for the world. That God has always been faithful makes this possible. We know that the Lord is among us.
In fact, the Lord is among us, whether we know it or not.
Thanks be to God.