(A sermon for Proper 21: Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13)
In this week of one economic worry after another, of banks and investment houses failing, of legislators posturing to get the best camera angle in discussions of a bailout, of gas shortages in the Southeast, I looked around Friday morning for something to do to curb my consumerism and get ready for what some people think lies ahead.
And I expect you will laugh when I tell you I washed a pair of Crocs. Here they are, these purple, rubber shoes, handy for going out to roll the trash can down the driveway or taking a quick drive to deliver a child to school or popping out into the backyard, where they met the dog-related catastrophe that ended up relegating them to the driveway, where they sat by the garage door all last winter, filled with leaves, then covered by snow.
I went out in the light rain Friday morning and reclaimed them. A sink full of soapy water, a bottle brush and a little baking soda combined to make them good as new, or good as last summer, anyway. I have been wearing them all weekend, reminding myself that it’s a good idea to see how things we have discarded might be used, to remember the reuse part of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” remembering how they are waterproof on the bottom but most assuredly not rain proof on the top!
My effort was so hilariously small that my husband, who rarely laughs aloud, actually chuckled as I cavorted into his office, Crocs in hand, showing off how clean I had gotten them.
I don’t know what I thought I was preparing for, some vague apocalypse.
And then came Hurricane Kyle.
Late yesterday afternoon, my friends in Texas and Mississippi started e-mailing and calling to ask if I was ready for the hurricane, and I suddenly realized why the Weather Bug on my computer taskbar had turned red.
My friends got me a bit hysterical, and I gained a new understanding of how they feel, in a smaller sense, the way humor goes overboard as you try to cope with something you cannot really imagine but feel pretty sure is coming your way.
Long ago, so long ago that we cannot count the years, Moses parted the Red Sea and brought his brother and his sister and the whole people of the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness, where they proceeded to wander. Last week we heard how they worried about starving, and today we hear about their fear of dying of thirst.
And as I stood on my back steps in the rain, talking on a little pink cell phone to my friend who has lived through too many hurricanes, I got a little hysterical thinking about how funny it is to read this text on a day when water is leaking into my basement and running across the floor and leaving by the drain.
I started laughing and so did my friend, and I laughed more and more as she asked whether we would like to evacuate to her house, and please bring the dogs, because they have a fenced-in backyard with only a few “openings.” She asked if I would be filling the bathtub with water? I said I might bake a Grace Cake. It’s the thing all our friends do when any of us are facing a hurricane, and now it was my turn. She said she would bake one, too.
We laughed, but still I am worried about the water, coming from the sky, breaking against the shore Down East, flowing into my house. I felt that odd hilarity when I considered that after a hurricane there is too much water, but not enough you can actually drink.
Out in the desert, wandering, a huge company of the faithful worried about water, too, and who could blame them. They needed water to survive. They worried about dying of thirst, and not just for themselves. They worried about their children.
How could they not?
Moses gets pretty mad at them; that’s his role in this story over and over, to remind them that no person is God and that God is with them, and they need to get over whatever is bothering them. It’s the kind of talk that gets pastors fired, and Moses may wish he could be by the time we get to next week’s story!
These difficult times in which we find ourselves are going to be stormy not just for banks and for families and for small businesses. They are going to be stormy for churches, too. It doesn’t matter what size the church is or how much money lies in some endowment fund or how well off the members are or are not. Many communities of faith will be facing difficult choices about how to spend their money.
If that doesn’t make you a little hysterical, I don’t know what will.
Every one of us has something about church we treasure, maybe more than one thing, and the idea of letting any of it go hurts us. It may even make us afraid.
And it’s a short step, a quick slide, to that place where we stop thinking about the one we follow and start lashing out at the ones closest to us.
Paul knew that human tendency when he wrote to the new community of faith we read about in Philippians. He knew that stress and strain could lead to poor choices. As one of my favorite TV characters said not long ago, "Sometimes good command decisions get compromised by bad emotional responses." It’s too true.
When we squabble over things as the Israelites did, we forget the depth of what we are committed to in Jesus. Can we lay aside turf and terminology and find what really matters? And do we care enough about Jesus to do it?
Forget about spread sheets and financials and bailouts for a moment. The real bottom line for church people is figuring out how committed we are to the faith we claim. We call ourselves Christian, but in many cases that simply means we adopt the values of nice middle-class American people. Too often we stop there and don’t go deeper.
Salvation is a word that means to be saved, but saved from what? Paul urges his readers in that early church, trying to learn a new way to live in community together, to lay aside differences and figure out together what really matters. The messages of this season of the lectionary ask a lot of us. They ask us to forgive each other. They ask us to come together. They ask us to believe that God’s grace is not limited, that we are blessed but not more special than others. They ask us to get ourselves, our inner houses and our outer churches in order. That is the way to being saved from ignorance and shallow thinking, from smug self-satisfaction and from low self-esteem, too.
Now, your salvation or mine is not necessarily tied to a church, to a particular building or group of people. It isn’t. But there is a parallel between the two. There is a parallel. And at this time in the life of this church, we feel the pinch of current reality.
Is there enough to go around, when we take a quick look at our checkbook? Maybe there is. And maybe there is not. That’s all the more reason to talk about it. That’s all the more reason to get clear about priorities.
And it’s all the more reason to stop fighting each other.
Old arguments are just that: old. They are out of date by their very nature. And so I ask you, if you are harboring resentment against another member of this church, let’s talk about it and figure out how to let it go and move forward. If someone has done something to you so bad that you cannot, then it’s even more important to get it out in the open.
If you’re here waiting someone out, hoping to win, hoping to get the last bit of water, well, that, my friends, is heartbreaking. Because the waiting game, the hope to “win” eventually, is an expression of being stuck in one place and not working out our salvation at all.
I’m not sure where this church will be in another year. Oh, I don’t mean geographically. I think that question, if it was still on your minds and hearts, has largely been settled by the economy, at least for now. I wonder where you will be as a people, as the ones we see when we open the doors. All the people in the church need to be
part of the process, each one of you, with your differences and your similarities, with your agreements and your disagreements. Something has called you here together, these people in this place at this time.
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. (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV)
Paul urges them to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. The time had been short, so short, twenty years or so since the man walked on this Earth. We live so much farther away, in time and in space. We can forget, so easily, why we gather here, what our purpose is. We are here to remember that God came to be with us, as one of us, in Jesus. We are here to experience that wonder, that marvel, that awesome truth that is too much to fully understand. We are here to be God’s people in the name of Jesus, and that matters more than anything else we do, whether we want to hear it or not.
A transition in pastors can feel like a time of wandering in the desert. Moses was as new to the Israelites as I was to you a few months ago. They didn’t know if they could really trust him. He said he was talking to God, but how did they know? Sure he parted the sea – I wish I had *that* in my bag of tricks! – but where was he leading them?
He led them to water, by the grace of God. And I believe we can reach the water, too. Amen.