God Provides, and So Can We! (17th Pentecost, Proper 21A)
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?”
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
"God Provides, and So Can We!"
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
17th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 21A)
The people of Israel hunger and thirst in the wilderness
They had grown up in slavery in the land of Egypt. God used Moses to deliver the people out of Pharaoh’s hand and brought them through the Red Sea. They escaped Egypt and began to journey through the desert to Sinai, the mountain of the LORD God.
They had no bread and God gave them manna; they had no water, and they weren’t really sure if God would provide.
They waited and complained. They were hot and tired and thirsty. They had kids and animals whining and crying about being thirsty too. So they turn to Moses to complain: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3)
Water is necessary for life in this world. Our bodies need it to survive. And it’s not like you could drive to Sam’s Club to pick up a few cases of water bottles. This was a brewing humanitarian crisis in the Sinai desert!
But God did not forget Israel. God did not bring this people out of Egypt in power and great glory just to let them die in the wilderness. God had a plan and God followed through with the Israelites to bring that plan into being.
God instructed Moses to hit a rock with his staff, and God miraculously produced water from that rock.
The people may have quarreled and complained. This may have become the place called Meribah and Massah. But the answer to their question was now clear: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7) Yes. The Lord is here among us. The Lord provides for our needs to accomplish God’s purposes.
Nonetheless, most of us are not living into a clear-cut Plan of God.
We have faith in God through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are part of a vibrant church community. But we live pretty ordinary lives. God has not spoken to most of us directly to tell us exactly what to do next. We don’t see the red carpet rolling out in front of us to show us every step along the way.
DIscovering our purpose is a little bit harder than it was for Moses and the Israelites, but we deal with many of the same challenges. We may discern God’s call into something, but then there is a roadblock.
Moses says, “Let my people go,” but Pharaoh says, “No!” We find a way out of a broken situation but the Red Sea is standing between us and freedom. We begin our challenging journey toward God’s goal, but then we run out of food or water. This can be true for us metaphorically or literally.
Sometimes we have a spiritual or personal crisis that blocks us from living as we think God intends. But sometimes the needs are more physical and urgent. Sometimes the our problems are right in our faces and there’s no way to ignore them.
Many people around the world don’t have clean water right now. This is true for all kinds of reasons, from drought to pollution to natural disaster. But the people who have been on my mind and heart the most this week are the over 3 million people living in Puerto Rico.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated this island and destroyed its fragile infrastructure. The recovery efforts are challenging because of Puerto Rico’s location and some antiquated U.S. laws governing imports to the island.
But even as the government relief efforts stall, we know that we have hope in something far greater than the United States of America. We hope for a greater kingdom, in which Jesus is King -- where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed, the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the poor and lowly are lifted up.
Modern communication infrastructure has brought more knowledge to our fingertips than ever before. We can be informed about earthquakes and hurricanes, genocides and political revolutions, wars and rumors of war in this country and around the world. Our national politics in the USA might be enough to make our heads spin. News media can feel like drinking out of a firehouse. It’s just too much. The easy thing to do is to succumb to the overwhelming feelings and simply ignore it all.
But just as we did it to one of the least of these members of [God’s] family, we did it to Jesus himself (Matt 25:40). As Christians, we don’t have the option to sit on our hands and do nothing. God loves the world too much for the Church to ignore the suffering of God’s Children abroad. Jesus gives us an action plan.
1) Pray for healing and restoration. God is greater than all of our efforts. Our devotional time in prayer and worship is not time wasted, but the very life-blood of the community. Let us keep praying for fresh water to come forth from the rocks, for God to provide for the people of this and every land, especially in Puerto Rico.
2) And give generously. We must unite as one Body of Christ, and not ignore the pain that the foot feels because we are the arm. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who … did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself” and humbled himself to be like one of us. And so we who are safe and healthy, who have more than enough around our tables, can give to those without. These are our sisters and brothers, even if they live far away or speak another language from us.
Let us “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” with our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico. We are part of one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and perhaps more importantly, part of one human family.
So remember that God provides for those in need, but God does not leave us out of the plan of provision. When hurricanes strike our city, we pray and hope that the rest of the world and the Church will look on us with mercy and share from what they have. When we were spared Irma’s wrath, in our gratitude, it became our duty to look out for the needs of others. Hurricane Maria may not have hit Savannah, but it hit another member of Christ’s Body. We must do all that we can to care for those wounds, both with prayer and with action. Amen.