Together in the Wilderness
Lent 3A - March 12, 2023
Rev Sarah Colvin
In this liturgical season before Easter, we are (always) in a Lenten wilderness, marked by Jesus 40 days in the wilderness, corresponding to Moses’ 40 days on the mountain and the Israelites 40 years wondering in the wilderness. Our reading from Exodus takes us to the heart of what being in the wilderness does to us. After a time, particularly if unplanned, it makes us at least grumpy and more likely causes us to rail against God. We are human; this seems to be what we do when things go badly. At this point in the book of Exodus, the Israelites have trusted Moses and have left Egypt and slavery and they are now literally, legitimately thirsty. Not having water is not an option for life. Yet, God is not so pleased with their complaining, which we see at the end of Psalm 95,
They put me to the test, * though they had seen my works.
The place names Massah and Meribah are puns on the Hebrew verbs, meaning to quarrel and to test. And yet, God stays in relationship with Israel, despite them quarreling and testing. The story goes on. Israel is loved by God. They are never forgotten in the wilderness of Exodus, thirsty or not, they are not forgotten. Moses is instructed to take his staff, take elders so that they too can bear witness, and hit a rock and voila- there is water. You don’t get much more provision than that. So, although God is not pleased; God still provides. Even when not so pleased and with tough talk, there is tenderness.
Remember God is Triune. It is not that God of the Old Testament is mean, and Jesus is lovely. God, all of God, is compassionate and merciful. Remember Jesus also has a temper. But God’s love and compassion is never something we earn.
This Sunday’s Gospel of the Samaritan woman shows us this in abundance. Jesus has a long conversation with a woman at midday when all his disciples are off somewhere—a woman of no real value, not even meriting a name in the story, a Samaritan at that, men and women didn’t just chat in mid-day at that time. And yet, despite what others, even we, might think and then pass judgment on her as a woman married multiple times, Jesus is kind and tender with her. There is not an element of judgement. Given the setting, the words that Jesus says are welcoming in many ways to the Samaritans. And so, Jesus, in exactly the same way as the portrayal of God in the Old Testament, is both kind and tender as well as able to be tough and demanding.
We too may feel like we are in a wilderness. We are very recently back worshipping at All Saints Sharon Chapel; we are about 3 ½ months into it. In some very real ways, you (and now we, because I have joined you), we are in a wilderness, and we may be wondering how this is going to turn out. In whatever way that each of you tells the story of these last few years in church, there are some major stressors…. you have lost the rector you had for years, there is grief, you have come back in a building that in some ways kind of feels foreign, even as sweet and endearing as the name Church Robot is for the exposed HVAC. The sound system from the other church has kind of taken over the chancel. The buttresses and the HVAC have problems, there was poison ivy everywhere, wasps, and even the WIFI has issues.
Now we could take Paul’s approach as seen in Romans. He is facing true persecution and speaking to people facing persecution.
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
I’m not sure about you, but speaking for myself, even in some of my more Christian moments, even when God’s love is poured into my heart, I don’t always follow that linear path of Paul’s—from suffering to endurance to character to hope. Sometimes instead I end up in anger or in despair. We can fall off the track entirely, and if we fall off the track it feels like we fail, or Jesus fails us, back to grumbling. Yet, instead here are some things that I think are really important:
God /Jesus loves us individually and us as a church, despite all our brokenness… just like God loves the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, and the grumbling Israelites— sometimes loving tenderly and sometimes more tough love. Because we (individually and as a church) are not fixed right now or next week or next year, does NOT mean Jesus does not love us. Remember: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Just like the Samaritan woman, the fact that we are known to our very core and accepted, and Jesus still came for us means that we are loved. This gift of the crucified and risen Christ does not wait for us to get ourselves together. Truth of the matter, last I checked, we are all human and therefore, none of us is going to get ourselves together to earn God’s love. It isn’t earned! It is a gift freely given.
God’s love, I think, works best in community, this is why we pray “Our Father… give us…” We can’t do this alone. Optimism comes from people; hope comes from God. Hope comes from God. We can’t keep that linear track from ‘suffering -> endurance-> character-> hope’ all by ourselves, we need each other. With each other, we have a chance, truly, a chance of having hope. “Christ died for us.”
And who is the “us”, the “we”? I have used the us and we as this church, All Saints Sharon Chapel, but it is all of us… all of us… This Gospel story is one that truly portrays who Jesus is. A woman without value, who can be looked upon as a sinner, is the conversation partner of God without judgment. Is there anything more indicting for us than this? Do we dare to look at anyone else with judgment when God does not? Homeless people, trans kids, illegal aliens, Muslims, beggars, people with fleas, politicians (which ever party), Sikhs, prostitutes, drug users, alcoholics, psychotic patients, inmates, police officers—anyone you name. Any of these could substitute for our Samaritan woman above. We are these people. Christ died for us; there is no “them” … Christ died so that all, all people could come to know God.
I’m not saying that I know that how all things will work out with this church, All Saints Sharon Chapel. Here’s what I do know. What I know is that we, this church, because I have hitched my pony to your wagon, this church is called to be the body of Christ in the world, and we are constantly figuring out what that looks likes, and this is no matter the physical plant, no matter who comes alongside to worship with us. And no, we don’t have unlimited energy, but we do have hope, and that may be better, and for that, ----thanks be to God.