Meditation: Quench our thirst with Your healing waters, O Lord. Amen.
It’s horrible being thirsty. You’re due for surgery first thing in the morning. Nothing to eat or drink since midnight. You wake up thirsty, but you say, “I’m going in for surgery at 9am; I can hold out for 4 hours.”
But then your surgery is put off to noon- there was a complication in an earlier surgery. But you still can’t have any water. Twelve hours without anything to drink. And then your surgery is put off until 2pm- you are so thirsty your tongue is sticking to the roof of your mouth.
Being thirsty is a horrible, horrible thing. A year ago April, Terrence Thomas was left in his Milwaukee County jail cell for 170 hours- 7 days and two hours- without any water. He died of dehydration, right there in the cell.
And we complain after 12 hours.
How he survived for 170 hours, I don’t know. The usual statistic is 100 hours- the human body can survive at average temperature without water for 100 hours. When it’s hot out, say, 90 degrees, or when we’re doing physical exertion, the survival rate gets cut down to about 50 hours.
And there were the Hebrew people, in the middle of the Sinai desert, carrying their tents, their belongings, their small children… In June, when the story takes place, the average temperature on the Sinai Peninsula is 91 degrees. A hot day can get to 104 degrees. Claude Piantadosi, in his 2003 book, The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments, estimates that in such extreme heat, without protection from the sun, during a forced march, we could survive about 7 hours.
And the Hebrew people cried out to Moses, “You’re going to kill us out here with no water!” And they were right. They were not going to be able to survive much longer if they didn’t get water- NOW! Our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico are flooded with water- but nothing they can drink. The desperate cry is going out from them, “Find some way to get us water NOW! PLEASE!” And Moses cries out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are ready to stone me!” Moses didn’t know what to do. He was desperate. His ability to think outside the box was gone.
And the Lord says, Go back to the place where you first met me, to Mt. Horeb, where I revealed myself in the burning bush. Go to that place where you first felt My power and My call on your life. Take the stick that you were carrying with you on that day; the stick that you later used to call down the plagues on the Egyptians; the stick you used to part the Red Sea so My people could escape from their bondage. Use that stick now to strike the rock at Mt. Horeb to release the waters of life. And take the elders of Israel with you, so they can be reminded once again of the mighty power of the God who has always saved them; who will always save them.
And Moses did that. He returned to the place where he first knew the power and call of God; He took the stick with which God turned the ordinary into the miraculous. And he brought the elders of his people so that they, too, would know the power of God.
When we’re desperate; when we feel like we might not make it, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of Now. We forget what we have learned in the past; we can’t think outside of the box because we are locked in the box of fear. But God says, “Go back to the place of your power, that place where you first encountered me, and I will meet you there.
When the great church reformer, Martin Luther was at his lowest, being threatened and chased by the Vatican police, he would say to himself, “Remember your baptism.” Remember that place where you first felt the power of God in your life. Where is that place for you? What did it feel like? For me, it was my baptism, when I felt a power deeper and more powerful than I had ever experienced enter into me. When have you felt a deep power, a deep movement within you? Can you name it for yourself?
In our times of desperation, in our times of profound need, it’s going back to that core experience that will give us the wisdom, the strength, the creativity to see us through.
But what if we have never experienced anything like that? What if we are thirsty, and don’t know where to turn for life-giving waters? Psalm 42:1 is powerful and poetic- “As a deer thirsts for the living waters, so my soul thirsts for You, O God.”
God gave the elders of Israel a gift. God gave them Moses. Moses- who had seen and experienced God. Moses, who was called by God. Moses, who was called to lead God’s people to life. God gives them Moses, who, granted, is not at all sure he’s up to the job. But he ends up being sufficient for the day, because he goes back to that place where he first experienced the power of God, and it freed him to see what might be done.
John 14, on the eve of His death, Jesus tells His disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless… I will send you an Advocate.” In times of desperation and deep need, when we cannot think outside the box because we are too bound in our fear, God calls us back to our experience of power; God calls us back to Godself; and God gives us each other.
And on the last night of His life, when the powers of darkness were closing in on Him, Jesus gathered His disciples together and said, “Remember that place where you met God. Remember the power of your calling. Remember Me.
In the name of the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: WorkingPreacher.org, Oct. 1, 2017, by Dr. Anathea Portier-Young; Milwaukee Journal, Apr. 24, 2017, by Jacob Carpenter.
Scripture for October 1, 2017 EXODUS 17:1-7
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?”
Friends listen to what the scripture would say to us today.