A reflection by the Rev. Dr. Brenda Pelc-Faszcza.
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7 (The Message)Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn’t a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: “Give us water to drink.” But Moses said, “Why pester me? Why are you testing God?”
But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?”
Moses cried out in prayer to God, “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!”
God said to Moses, “Go on out ahead of the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel. Take the staff you used to strike the Nile. And go. I’m going to be present before you there on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock. Water will gush out of it and the people will drink.”
Moses did what he said, with the elders of Israel right there watching. He named the place Massah (Testing-Place) and Meribah (Quarreling) because of the quarreling of the Israelites and because of their testing of God when they said, “Is God here with us, or not?”
Reflection:The people have left one place and set out for another. On the way, they are restless, anxious, thirsty, upset about what they don’t have since leaving the old place. Being on the way to they-don’t-know-what-yet is hard. The past looks good, in retrospect. They feel vulnerable and complain to their leader. The leader feels vulnerable and complains to God.
Possibly this sounds like church. Yours or mine, once in a while or often. Since I am a pastor who serves in transitional ministry, I feel like I’ve been here often, experiencing with congregations the realities of being no-longer-this and not-yet-that. For all of our efforts to make the idea of “transition” something non-threatening in the life of the church, our actual human experiences of being on the way to a new situation always carry anxiety, because they ask us to trust journeys we can’t entirely foresee – in other words, to trust something other than ourselves. Journeys come in stages, as the Exodus story bears witness at its outset, so there is a lot to trust. This step, the next step, the one after that, all the ones we can’t see from here. We’re usually not that patient. And not that trusting.
And when we’re not, we need somebody who is. Somebody who will be listening for God, and who, from that listening, will keep faith. Who will go toward where God tells us the water is. Who will withstand criticism and complaint, who will be able to hold all the lament, for the sake of the journey and the water and the whole community. If we are in community together, we can do this for each other in lots of ways. If we are in leadership in faith communities, it’s essential in all we do.
In the stress of experiencing unsettledness and testing, the Israelite people want to know the same thing we want to know: “Is God here with us, or not?” Every week in my church, at the outset of our service as we transition from announcements to worship, I find myself uttering the words, “Let us be at worship… for surely God is in this place.” It’s an assurance I need for myself as much as I want to offer it to everybody else. Yes, yes, don’t forget: God is here with us, no matter what we feel we’re lacking or missing. Really. And because that’s so, there will be water, there will be what we need.
Prayer:God of every journey, when the complaints speak up in us over what we do not have on the journey, may we listen long enough and trust deeply enough to know that what we need is ahead. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Brenda Pelc-Faszcza is the Designated Pastor of the First Congregational Church in Canton Center.
interim pastor of First Congregational Church in Canton Center
March 15, 2017