September 16, 2008

Looking Ahead to September 21, 2008 -- 19th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 16:2-15
  • Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 (VU p.828 Parts 1 & 4)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 17:1-7
The Hymns this week are:
  • 371 Open My Eyes That I May See
  • 299 Teach Me, God to Wonder
  • 649 Walk With Me
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go With Us
The Sermon title is The "Back to Egypt" Committee

Early Thoughts: When the early excitement of the journey fades into drudgery what happens? When the promise of change gets lost in the process of change do we lose heart? Does the comfort of the familiar (even if unhappy) trump the possibility of the yet-to-come?

They were terribly hungry and thirsty you see. Out in the middle of the desert with no food or water and no end in sight to their journey. You can see why they might start to lose hope. YOu can see why they might start to wonder about whether it was really worth it. Were there no graves in Egypt? they cry out. Why bring us here to die in the desert?

Of course they do comtinue across the desert. It may take a couple of miracles (bread from heaven, water from a rock) to get them past this hurdle but they keep going. They meet other hurdles and they keep going. It takes 40 years, long enough that no adult who left Egypt crosses into the Promised Land. None of those who first catch the vision and the hope actually see it come true. But as long as they resist the temptation to go back to Egypt, back where life was unhappy but possible, back to the relative comfort of the familiar the hope goes on. And in the long term the hope holds out.

In many ways the story of the flight (when it lasts 40 years does it remain a flight?) across the desert mirrors the way humans process change, both as individuals and as communities. I the weekly e-letter Rumors Jim Taylor writes:
Canada and the U.S. are both in the middle of election campaigns. Typically, the campaigns have degenerated into attacks, on the party or the person. “They” – that is, the other guy(s) – are leading you in the wrong direction.
Opinion polls suggest that people want to go back to what they remember as a better time, when they felt confident, a time with less stress, less uncertainty.
La plus ca change, la plus c’est le meme chose – the more things change, the more things stay the same! Two refrains recur through Exodus:
– first, the people complain;
– then Moses pulls off another miracle to prove that the Lord cares for them.
On the shores of the Red Sea, at the rocks of Massa and Meribah, here in the wilderness, the people whine, “We would have been better off staying in slavery in Egypt.”
The Bible is more than history. The Bible is a story about us. Some parts ring true at one time, some parts at another time. At this particular time, I think we are the Israelites, constantly crabbing about our leaders.
Moses wasn’t always popular. But he always had a vision. Do our leaders have a vision? If so, what is it? And do we share it? Or would we rather return to slavery?

And I believe he speaks the truth.

When people first catch the dream, the vision of change, there is a sense of great excitement but when things don't just happen as fast as the dream that excitement can fade. In that time of transition uncertainty becomes the rule. We know we aren't where we were, we haven't yet got to where we were promised, and we aren't really sure we will get there. People generally don't like uncertainty, it leaves them uncomfortable and anxious. ANd as it appear that the dream was wrong or faulty we want to get back to a time when we had cerrtainty. There is a comfort in the known, even if in our heart of hearts the we knew that the old way wasn't really right for us. When theworld gets turned upside down we really want to go back to the way things were (and sometimes nostalgia blurs how things were so that they become the "good old days" even though in those days too we longed for an earlier time).

There is something within all of us that yearns at times to go "back to Egypt". When our personal lives are being changed (new job, new town, retirement...)there is a part that wishes we could stay where we are. When our community needs to redevelop/reinvent itself we ask why can't it be like when our kids were young. ANd churches are possibly more prone to back to Egypt committeess than many other groups. With our placing an importance on tradition, with faith touching so close to people's hearts, with the church being something many people feel they have more cntrol over than other instututions (also why the church is often one of the last things to close in a dying town--everything else the decision is made elsewhere). THe desire to go back to a "better tiem" or a "happier time" looms large whenever the church (local congregation or national denomination) starts to make changes.

But what is the vision? What lies beyond the dis-comfort and the uncertainty of the wilderness of change? If we can avoid the temptation to drop out of the process where might we get to? Are we willing to stick it out?

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