You Never Told Us
(Proper 22A – Ex 17.1-7)
The people complained against Moses and said, "Give us water to drink. . . . Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" (Ex 17.2,3)
What can I say?
What an incredible last two weeks it has been for all of us and for everyone in this part of the country. We all have stories to tell for years to come, and we still have a long way to go before we finish the final chapters of this book. Well, since I am the preacher, I get to tell some of my story now.
My family and I did evacuate – well sort of. Our car broke down in Conroe, so we only made it to Houston on Thursday before the hurricane. But by mid-day Friday and thanks to a nice lady at Avis that was one of the few people at work on Friday in Houston, we were on our way again to Sherry’s parents’ house in Marble Falls. And that is where we watched this really amazing movie about a hurricane named Ike.
Except for one thing. It was actually real life – and it was our real lives.
But it seemed so surreal on Friday night watching waves break over the Seawall. Seeing the Strand fill with water when the hurricane was still 100 miles out in the Gulf. Watching the Balinese Room falling into the water. . . . . Watching Geraldo falling into the water
I remember that one of the national networks had an interview with a woman that decided too late to evacuate. The streets were flooded. She had to leave her car and wade out. She was scared and confused and soaking wet. She explained her ordeal to the reporter, where upon the reporter asked her why she didn’t leave sooner. “Because” she said, “they never told us that it would be like this.”
Sherry and I laughed at the time, because it seemed like a funny thing to say as the worst of the hurricane was still bearing down on her. Little did we know, those words would become the phrase that we repeated to each other time and again, as we sought to retain our own sanity and perspective.
They never told us it would be like this.
And as I look out in our church yard at all of those trucks and trailers, or in here at this shell of our once beautiful parish hall, her words come back again and again, They never told us it would be like this.
Or, as I sort through the soggy files that I could have put on top of my credenza. Or at corroded bottom of our cross that I could have taken with me. Or at my neighbor’s ruined car that could have been safely parked with mine in a parking garage. They never told us it would be like this.
In our story from Exodus, Moses was hearing some very similar words from the Israelites, wasn’t he?
The same people that spent years trying to escape from slavery in Egypt. The people that had begged Moses to lead them to the promised Land. The same people that had stood on the bank of the Red Sea and celebrated and worshipped the God that had saved them from the Egyptian army. Those same people are now complaining that life in the wilderness is a lot harder than they expected.
But Moses, they cry, you never told us it would be like this.
You never told us that we would wander day after day in the hot sun.
You never told us that we would not know where we would get our next meal, or when we might find the next place to get water. Moses, if you had told us it was going to be like this, then we would have chosen to do something different.
Poor Moses – getting the blame for everything. Or actually, getting blamed, along with God for everything. So he does the only thing that he knows to do when in an impossible situation – he prays. And he prays a pretty selfish prayer doesn’t he? But a prayer that sounds a lot like many of ours: Dear God – help me. I am in a bad situation. Everybody is against me – Please Lord, help me.
And, fortunately for Moses, God answers. Now, like Moses, I do not recommend that you put God to the test – that is generally not a very wise thing to do; but in this case God allows himself to be challenged because he wants to make a couple of very important points to the Israelites (and to us).
And the first point has to do with focus. God says, why are you blaming Moses (or blaming God) for your condition? Things happen – even to my chosen people. Don’t look backwards and try to change history or to blame somebody else for your situation – look forward and look for me to be with you.
Hear me now – especially you that live with somebody else. It is going to be very easy to ask the other person in your house, “Sherry, why didn’t you get that box of family photos off the floor in the closet before we left?” Don’t even go there, guys. Because I can tell you exactly what she is going to say: She is going to say, “Because you never told me that it was going to be like this.” Look forward, not backward. Pray together and help each other make decisions about the future – and let go of what is already gone.
The second lesson is that not only is God ready to lead us out of the wilderness, he will answer our prayers. And big miracles can and will happen. It is miracle that with so much devastation to property that we had on this island, that loss of life and limb was very small. It is a miracle that all of our church buildings are still standing, and already ready to be refurbished. It is a miracle that people from all over this country want to come and help, as soon as we can tell them what we need and when they can come. God says, count on those miracles and more. God says, especially count on me to be with you when times are tough.
The third lesson that I see in this story is to trust your leadership. I cannot guarantee that your leaders and I won’t make mistakes; but I can guarantee that we will always look to God first, as Moses did, in making our decisions. We all have more than enough to do. So we each need to do our part for the success of the whole. And believe me, it is a lot easier to do your job if you are paying attention to what you are doing, and not looking over your shoulder at what somebody else is up to.
And the final lesson is unspoken in this text, but obvious in the overall story of the Exodus. And that is that survival in the wilderness depends on community. Each of us brings unique gifts to the gathered body, and it is in the putting together of all of our gifts that we survive and thrive. Remember, nobody told us that it was going to be like this. That is what makes it a wilderness – every day something unexpected jumps in front of us. Therefore, it takes all of us working together to make it through. The Israelites had to stick together for survival, and so do we.
I guess that you all realize that the last time that we were all together – it was right here in this parish hall, three weeks ago, as we celebrated our Day of Grace! And our Day of Grace was all about giving thanks to God for his presence throughout the history of this church.
And remember that we talked about how important it is to celebrate and give thanks for all those that have gone before. We said that the work of the church is always to be ready to welcome the next person that comes through our doors. Somebody did that for us, and we pass it on to others. The work of the church is not what we do for ourselves in the here and now, but what we do for those who are yet to set foot in this place. And that has not changed.
Last week, when everything from Quin Hall was stacked on the curb, I said to somebody, “Nothing will keep you more humble than seeing your legacy hauled out to the street.” Everything - our beautiful parlour, our new chairs for the library, all the improvements to the Nursery and our Youth House. All the things that we built together in my five years here – turned into a soggy stinking, poisonous mess of rubble and stacked on the street to be hauled away. Five years of ministry – all of it gone.
But see, that is not right. Nothing of real importance was on that curb. Everything of importance that we have built together in the last five years is right here in this room. The most important thing that we have built together is our love of God and our love for each other. And that is what will sustain us and allow us to be a positive force in rebuilding this island. That is what will bring us through the devastation to our homes and to our church. Our shared love of God and each other is what will get us through our wilderness experience, too.
In the last five years, we haven’t just built things; we have built relationships. We have reached out to people in need. We have volunteered to do all sorts of outreach to others. We have gone on mission trips to help in New Orleans and Mississippi. And that is foundation on which we will rebuild. That is the foundation that is rock solid – that is the foundation that will withstand anything and everything that the world has to offer. Even a hurricane.
We are still Grace Church Galveston.
We are still one church under God.