Wilderness Experiences

Scriptures: RCL – Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22

Let us pray:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet un-trodden, through perils unknown.  Spirit of God, speak to our hearts and summon out what you would have us be. With these words and all our meditations, guide us into the Way Everlasting, Amen.

To greater understand this week’s text from Exodus, it might be good for us to go back to last week’s text from Genesis, which means “beginning,” and unpack it a bit more. In last week’s text God renamed Abram and Sarai, blessing them to be a blessing for all the families of the earth, making them ancestors of kings and nations. Several significant things take place in this story.

Commentator Craig Kocher reminds us that “everyone in the story receives a new name.” Here’s the interesting thing: that includes the name recorded for God! In Hebrew, this story records for the first time God’s name as El Shaddai, which may be translated “God Almighty” or “God of the Mountains.” First Nations peoples might immediately recognize this passage as a renaming ceremony with all that entails. What we miss about this story in our culture is that the names themselves reflect the character and destiny of the person or persons being named.

So all of these new names together in this one story are significant. One reason is this: Abram and Sarai had to take on new names because they were called to be founders of a new people-a people to be dedicated to this monotheistic God Almighty who has been revealed to them. This means the history and the tribe that Abram and Sarai came from are no longer theirs. With new names, they are given new identities and a new destiny. Abraham’s new name reflects a change from “exalted father/ancestor” to “father/ancestor of a multitude.” In addition to new human names, a new name is revealed for God; this means God has chosen to inextricably link God’s destiny together with Abraham and Sarah’s.

Kocher goes on even further to say,

[This] covenant is linked to creation. The God who created all there is, seen and unseen, has chosen Abraham and his ancestors as the first fruits of creation. The covenant is a royal promise, connecting Abraham to David, Israel’s greatest king, and through the house of David to Jesus. The covenant is an eternal promise that God makes; YHWH and Abraham will no longer be alone … No matter what happens, this covenant will not be broken. This covenant is our destiny.[1]

From Abraham’s time, that destiny continues on through the Joseph stories in our Bible, the change of dynasties in Egypt roughly 4000 years ago and subsequent slavery of the Hebrew people, their Exodus under the guidance of Moses roughly 500 years after that, where in today’s story, Moses is up on Mount Sinai, where God of the Mountains is present.

Unfortunately, the Israelites are not ready yet to end their journey to the promised land. They are actually just about to begin their wilderness experience because when Moses takes so long coming back down the mountain with the 10 Commandments and the Law, some of you may recall the people gave up waiting and had Aaron, Moses’ brother, make an idol so they would have something they could visibly see and pray to.

But this is not what God hoped for, nor Moses when he finally did come back down the mountain. So, some more wilderness experiences must take place, during which God will prepare them for their new identity – their new destiny – as God’s people. Why? Not because God couldn’t have changed them in an instant the moment they left Egypt, but because they could not be what God would have them be. Moses sees how they so easily turned from God to an idol, and in his anger, casts down the tablets and they break into pieces. Moses eventually makes new ones.

In my struggle with understanding the story of the Exodus, I began to wonder, why throw out almost an entire generation in the desert for 40 years? What was God looking for? Then I got to wondering perhaps it was because God hoped for a people who freely wanted to be God’s chosen with no baggage left over from being enslaved for generations in Egypt. What if 40 years of wandering in wilderness experiences was God’s way of purging those who could not change and building up those who could; and how does that relate to us?

Maybe God always waits until the time of God’s own choosing to move forward with God’s own plan. If God wanted a free people, a holy nation dedicated to living and building a people who followed God’s way, the generation that came out of Egypt could not become that because they were conditioned to be the slaves of another people; freedom and choice were not a part of their make-up. I like to think God’s plan was – and is – a bit broader than to have blind and mindless followers. I would like to think and hope it was – and is – God’s wish to have a free people choosing to be God’s own, choosing to live out their lives in the Way Everlasting and not compelled to be God’s brainless pawns in the world. God gives us a divine framework with the 10 commandments, yes. And the Torah is filled with ways to interpret community living in light of those basic premises for civilized existence.

For us, today, that means this: we have multiple choices in our lives about what we will do and where we will go, who we will be, our partners in life, and how we self-identify with one tribe or another. The truth of the matter is, God’s heart still longs for us – all of us – to be free people, choosing to be God’s own, free to choose using the gifts that we have been given for good; for all God’s people, indeed for God’s entire creation.

Bringing this home to Trout Lake, I would like you to reflect on a some questions for just a minute or two: if you were to define where along the wilderness experience the life of this community of faith stands, where would that be? Similarly, if you were to define where you were personally along the wilderness journey, where would that be? Are you wandering in the wilderness? Are you looking for a Moses to lead you? Have you encountered God on the mountaintop? Have you sent out scouts into the Promised Land? Have you reached the Jordan river? Are you ready to cross into the unknown of the Promised Land? Have you become the people you feel God has called you to be?

I invite you to reflect on that in silence, after which I will offer prayer for all of us.

Let us pray:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet un-trodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord[2].

Amen?   May it be so.

[1] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[2] Holden Prayer from the Lutheran Worshipbook

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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