When you were a child what were your dreams for your life? What did you want to be when you grew up? What did you imagine your life would look like?
Did you dream of being a doctor, a lawyer or a firefighter? Or a grand supreme winner on Star Search (as I did at age 6)? Did you hope you’d one day get married? Did you wish you’d one day have children that were as beautiful as Barbie and Ken and living happily ever after in Barbie’s pink house? Did you draw pictures of the home you’d believed you’d raise your own children in one day with a red door and shutters that open and closed with ease?
But the reality is that as much as each of us had dreams and hopes for what the days of our life would hold, in actuality all of our lives in some way or the other has not worked out as we planned.
It’s true as it is said, that no child grows up and says to their parent or caregiver, “I want to be an addict when I grow up.” “I want to
get a divorced after a long custody battle with the woman I thought I’d love forever when I grow up.” Or, “I want the house I bought with my life savings to go into foreclosure when I grow up.”
The reality is: sometimes we don’t even make it to the Star Search stage outside the makeshift one in our own living room. Sometimes, we find ourselves in mid-life living out of our car and not the house with that red door. Sometimes, our children grow up not to look or act like Ken and Barbie and drive us completely nuts.
Some of these situations, of course, stems from moments when we’ve lacked willingness to make good choices, but a lot of it comes from life just being life, in this broken world of ours that seems to become more broken all of the time. And, as a result, there are moments– and you may have had one of them week– when you want to throw your hands up in the air and say, “This is not the life I planned for myself.” Or, “This is not the life I really want to be living. Ahhh!”
For as much as we’ve had good intentions and good desires for our lives– to own a home that can be a blessing to our family and others, to be in long-term partnership with someone in whom we can love unconditionally and who loves us back, to be a parent who sees our children having children, life doesn’t give us what we always want. It is often even our purest and deepest desires that just don’t seem to pan out. No matter how hard we worry, pray and hope for the best and as much as we watch others being blessed, it seems that our hands come up empty time and time again.
If this is the situation that you find yourself in this morning– wishing for things in your life that you don’t have, then you are in great company as we examine our Old Testament reading for this morning among the Israelites. For they too, had a good desire, a need in their lives that they longed to be fulfilled yet simply was not. They were thirsty. I mean, really, really thirsty without a drop of water left.
I don’t know the last time you were thirsty. I can’t remember when this was for me. It’s rare in our water bottle and water fountain on every corner culture that we “die of thirst” literally or metaphorically in this neck of the woods very often if at all. Water is something we have enough of, almost always, unless of course a tropical storm threatens to come through and our neighbors hoard the bottles of water off the shelves at Safeway and Giant leaving nothing for the rest of us . . .
But, in the wilderness where the whole congregation of Israelites found themselves on this journey from Egypt to the undefined and yet undiscovered Promise Land was, the resource of water was everything.
To find water was to find life and either you had it or you didn’t: their search for water would be uniquely tied to who they were as a people. For example, just three days after crossing the Red Sea– the big and dramatic– experience of faith, the group was short on the provisions of water and the Lord had provided and God directed them to some springs. But again, they were without saying to Moses in verse 2, “Give us water to drink.”
And, such was a good, normal, everyday, essential need, right?
H2O, we know, is critical to our very existence: the definition of a need. Most medical professionals will say that a human being, in reasonable to good health can only live between 3-5 days without water before suffering from extreme dehydration and shock leading to death.
So, while, we read Exodus 17 with thoughts in our head like “here they go again complaining,” simply the Israelites sought to express a deep need when they told Moses, their spiritual and administrative leader, “We must have water now!” This “following God” and “making a new life” for themselves plan was not working out.
In the meantime, however, what were they to do? How were they to wait? How were they to respond to an unmet need that they were powerless to fix? Did it mean that their need was not really a need? Did it mean that God had abandoned them and truly wanted them to die as they feared? It sure felt that way . . .
It’s easy to kick the dog when you are down right? And, so, went the days of the lives of the Israelites and their relationship to Moses. As they perceived God not giving them the life they wanted, they took out their pain on the easiest next best thing: Moses. Voicing their frustration to the point that we hear Moses fearing for his life in verse 4– believing that in their extreme thirst the crowd might stone him if they didn’t get a drink and fast.
Moses’ natural response to the crisis as a leader was fearful of the crowd’s response, but tempered. We hear in the words of this text, Moses wanting the crowds to simmer down, stop bothering him and simply trust that God could provide– as this was God’s job to meet their needs.
I can imagine, if I were a member of the crowd, I would have found Moses’ calm as a cucumber leadership style really annoying.
Trust that God would provide? “Oh, Moses,” I would have said, “It’s so much harder than that. When, tell me, when God is going to get God’s act together and find us some water.”
For, secretly they hoped that in Moses’ bag of superpower, bring on the 10 plagues kind of tricks, he could lead them by another spring and they’d worry about water no more. But, such was just not going to happen.
A friend of mine shared with me this week a similar frustration with the world and with God. After being out of work for the past nine months due to a company downsizing in these difficult economic times, she is currently at the end of her rope. After sending out over 500 resumes, doing everything she can to do what experts say to do when you are looking for work: networking, staying on a schedule everyday and trying not to get down on herself even as the funds in the bank account slowly begin to run down, she feels the best parts of her life are dying more every day.
After interview after interview, rejection letter after rejection letter, and sleepless nights and pleas to any religiously minded person she knows for prayer, my friend shared she was beginning to think that God had forgotten her. No one in her life seemed to care that she was out of work and without a job coming her way soon, she might lose everything she’s worked so hard for including her modest home. Life was not certainly turning out as she wanted.
But in the spirit of these same frustrations, the Israelites were asked, beginning with Moses, to be active in their faith of God and to begin to see beyond their circumstances in a way they’d never seen before.
These were Moses’ instructions from God: “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. . . . Strike the rock” God said, “and water will come out of it.”
I can imagine that laughter erupted from the crowd and anxiety of what might be next (if this didn’t work) consumed Moses’ thoughts. This God they were serving was just getting crazier and crazier all the time . . .
Professor Amy Erickson puts it like this, “It strikes me (pun intended!) that God choose to bring water– and the life it symbolizes and will impart– out of something that appears to be lifeless. . . . Out of Egypt and out of the wilderness, God will find ways to make life flow in the unexpected ways.”
Even with all the pre-rock striking anxiety, when it does work, the provision of water is NOTHING like they expected.
The water came not from a spring (as it did before) nor from going back to Egypt (as they had suggested). The provision was resurrection before their eyes! That out of something that seemed life-less and certainly not life-giving, out flowed streaming of living water: a big ole rock!
Which begs us as a congregation, as seekers of this same God to wonder: where is our water? Where is our rock to turn to? Where is our spring? Where can all the hurting hearts among these pews this morning find hope once again? Where is the spring where we can know life can be and will be better than this?
Using our text for a guide this morning, our answers come in thinking for a minute about the quandary of the “My life didn’t or isn’t turning out the way I wanted” situation altogether. Let me ask you the same question of you in a different way.
Does scripture tell us that in life, we should expect to receive the dream we dreamed for ourselves when we were a child? Does scripture tell us in life that we should expect, as we follow God, that our lives will look exactly like everyone else around us?
I hate to burst your bubble this morning, but the answer to both of these questions is no.
Never does God promise us that in this life we’d get everything we want or that we can be confident that our lives will fall in the patterns just like our those around us.
But, if our unmet desires, are desires of lasting value, that are in line with the people who God has created us in all of our uniqueness to be– then, we’d better watch out. God is going to be showing up in our lives in unexpected places, just as God did for Israel.
Showing up in places in our lives that we thought were long dead– dead friendships, dead partnerships, dead vocational aspirations, or dead paths we’d traveled down our lives before– and pouring from them water once again.
Not only so that we can receive what we’ve longed for, but so that the community around us can be reconciled and blessed by God too. Notice in this provision of water, not only is water given, but reconciliation. Moses, once distraught that the congregation would stone him, recognizes the Lord was among them and they all experienced God’s provision together.
And, indeed our lives still might not turn out as would have liked them too (such may never change), but if we are open to God’s direction, God’s rocks of blessing, then I dare say our lives might turn out better than we’d ever dreamed from our days of playing with Barbies and Gi-Joes.
If you’ve noticed this morning the title of the sermon, “The Intention of Vision” you might be thinking, that all of this is nice but has nothing to do with casting or setting a vision. Yet, such could be farther from the truth, even if I haven’t made such a point explicit for you this morning.
For when we are intentional about seeing our life as God see it– not as worthless, not as used up and wasted and most certain not dead– then, we begin to have vision for what is up head.
Vision, if you and I want to see the world from God’s perspective . . . for ourselves, for our families, and for our church, begins with laying down the ideas we have about “What we wanted to be when we grew up” so that we as children of God, can help us see “what our Heavenly Parent wants us to be when we grow up.” Which is what the month of stewardship every October is indeed all about– re-centering our lives on God’s vision for us, instead of just our own.
This morning, when you came into worship this morning, you were given a stone. It’s yours to keep or throw away (as long as you aren’t going to throw them at your pastor anyone else). But, if you feel so led, I’d invite you to have this stone be for you this week and in the weeks ahead a tangible symbol of your intention to align your life with God’s vision for you and for us collectively as a church. I invite you to simply hold it in your hand as we sing our hymn of commitment in a few minutes.
May it be a reminder of the one who can bring forth water from the largest or oldest or most regrettable stones that surround your life– remembering every time you touch its smooth texture that indeed the Lord is with us. And, will never leave us to face our perils of the journey alone.