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Sermon for Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year A
Exodus 16:2-15
"God Is With Us - Even When We Doubt"


READING: Exodus 16:2-15
SERMON: "God Is With Us - Even When We Doubt"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or25sm 506000 

As the teachers and students begin Sunday School today
they will be looking at the same lessons that we have
heard read this morning.  It is the prayer and hope of
the church that in this way families will be able to
share among themselves some of the same ideas about
God.

I want to focus this morning upon the same passage that
the children are looking at - the story of how Moses
and the people of Israel, in a time of need, rediscover
the fact that God is with them and that God cares for
them.

It is a strange passage -
with its references to bread falling from heaven each
day to meet the needs of the people it is hard to know
what to make of it.  
Even as a people of faith, we are often uncomfortable
talking about miracles.

Many commentators as a result focus on the complaining
and the grumbling of the people against God that is
described in the passage - and draw a lesson from that
grumbling and complaining - a lesson that essentially
states that we should not be like the people of Israel 
         - that, as a Christian people there should be no
         place in our lives for fear and the expression of
         dissatisfaction.

While I have some sympathy for this view I do not
believe that this is what the passage is meant to teach
us.

And I do not believe that we should be made to feel bad
about those times when we are afraid - those times when
we do grumble and complain.

Rather I believe that the passage shows us that God
cares for his people, and responds to their needs - 
that he is with them to look after them,
          and that while excessive and unceasing
          complaining does show a lack of faith, and
          ultimately may call upon us the judgement of God,
          that the occasional question, the occasional
          doubt, the occasional fear, is going to arise in
          our lives, 
and God, who is with us and who will remain with us, is
not going to deal with us harshly because of these
feelings and their expression -rather he is going to
respond to us in love and mercy.

Listen to verse 11 of today's reading again - it reads:

         "And the Lord spoke to Moses and said: 'I have
         heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to
         them, at twilight you shall eat meat, and in the
         morning you shall have your fill of bread; then
         you shall know that I am the Lord your God."

Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God... 
Think of it.

What is the judgement of God here upon the people's
grumbling and complaining,
upon their fear and their need
if it is not mercy and tenderness?
If it is not love and care?

In some way's the people's crying out for food reminds
me of the story in the Gospel According To Luke of the
judge who feared neither God nor man, and who was
appealed to incessantly by a widow for justice against
her opponents.  Finally the judge grants her desire
saying "Thou I fear neither God nor man, I will grant
her justice so that she will not wear me out by her
continual coming.

         Jesus says - "Listen to what the unjust judge
         says - and will not God grant justice to his
         chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will
         he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he
         will quickly grant justice to them."

We have needs and we have fears
and the first step in having those fears quelled and
those needs met is to express those needs and fears to
someone.

The second step in quelling our fears and meeting our
needs is to receive assurance -
the assurance that someone has listened with sympathy,
the assurance that God will answer - with kindness.

That is what happens in the desert of Zin 
-Look at the story in your bibles -
         the people complain - they express their fear and
         anxiety, and they are heard sympathetically by God -
         if not by Moses;
and God, through Moses - assures them that he will
provide for them..

And God does provide 
         - he provides there in the wilderness of Zin with
         quail and manna
         - just as he provides earlier at the place called
         Marah with sweet water
         - and later at the place called Meribah with the
         water that flows from a rock..

And God provides for us as well - He provides just as
miraculously for us as he did for Israel during the
Exodus.

Looking back - what have you lacked?
You may not have had meat each day 
- nor the tastiest of bread
but have not your needs have been met?

When in despair - hope has come.
When in sorrow - new life has arrived.
When in pain - release has occurred.

Certainly there is tension in our lives between crying
out for help and incessant griping,
         between human need and divine generosity
         between human complaining and divine grace;

Certainly there is a line 
         -- between the honest doubts that arise from fear
         and the raging dissatisfaction that arises from a
         hardened and greedy heart,
         -- between God's sustaining mercy and his fiery
         wrath.

But the tension almost always is resolved by an
         expression of divine love;
and the line between honest doubt and the hardness of
         the human heart is rather clear.

It is manna that falls from heaven upon the people of
Israel - not brimstone
It is quail that alit in their camp - not the plagues
of Egypt
It is water that flows from the rocks that Moses leads
them to - not poison.

I think that if today's passage, and the others like it
in books of Exodus and Numbers, teach us anything - it
teaches that it is not wrong to feel fear and to cry
out and to complain - it is only wrong to dwell in
these feelings. - to continually doubt and fear and
complain despite what we have seen God do.

Which is really a third point for us today -
         a point to be added to the first point which is
- we will have fears - and we need to express them
         and the second point which says  
- God will hear sympathetically and respond to our
fears with grace and love.

God has done much for us -
         and there comes a time where we need to recognize
         just what it is that God has done;
          a point where we need to recognize in the midst
          of any fears that we have that God has been with
          us to help us in the past and that God can be
          trusted to be with us now and into every moment
          of the future.

That is , in some ways the point, made by the poem
"Footprints", a poem that was written at Echo Lake
Youth Camp near Kingston on Thanksgiving Day in 1964 by
Margaret Fishback

         One night I dreamed a dream.
         I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
         Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
         For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints 
         in the sand,
         one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
         When the last scene of my life shot before me 
         I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
         There was only one set of footprints.
         I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest
         time of my life.
         This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord
         about my dilemma.

         "Lord, you told me when I decided to follow You,
         You would walk and talk with me all the way.  
         But I'm aware that during the most troublesome
         times of my life there is only one set of
         footprints.
         I just don't understand why, when I needed You most,
         You leave me."

         He whispered, "My precious child, 
         I love you and will never leave you
         never, ever, during your trials and testings.
         When you saw only one set of footprints 
         it was then that I carried you."

There is tension in our lives between crying out for
help and incessant griping,
between human need and divine generosity
between human complaining and divine grace
but that tension does not make it wrong for us to cry
out to God
nor does it make it wrong for us to question him.

God wants us to bring to him our needs and our doubts,
God is with us to hear our questions and meet our needs
- and while, as it says I Corinthians, chapter 13, we
may not have all our questions answered till we meet
God face to face - God will provide us with that which
we do need here and now.  

He has done so in the past,
He is doing so now,
And he will always do so
For he has promised to be our God
and to watch over us.

We are not alone - We live in God's world
And he is merciful and kind,
and generous to all who call upon him.

Praise be to God.  Amen.

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1996 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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