Water from the Rock
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “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. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Exodus 17:1-7 (NRSV)
Have you ever had one of those days when you throw your hands in the air and shout, “Why God, why?!” Something unexpected happens, and your life gets turned upside down, and you wonder if God is even there. A friend gets sick, you lose loved ones, you don’t get the job that you thought we were going to get, you wake up and realize one day that you are so far from the hopes and dreams that you had that you don’t know which way to turn. My friends, these circumstances can fill us with sadness and grief, anger and frustration, and that is okay because we are all human.
When things happen like that, sometimes we get the overwhelming need to cry. Sometimes we need to take a little time to just sit and be still. And sometimes we get angry and want to scream and yell out loud. Whenever I meet with people who are struggling and grieving, whether it be the loss of a loved one, or a loss of a job, or the loss of a marriage, or the loss of a freedom, or an ability, or any kind of transition or change that tends to rock their core, I always encourage them to do two things. First, I encourage them to get in touch with their emotions. If they are sad, I tell them that it is okay to cry, because everyone – no matter who you are – needs to let it out sometimes. And if they are angry and frustrated, I encourage them to talk it out with someone – a spouse, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a counselor, a teacher, a minister.
I even tell them to yell and scream at God if they need to. After all, we even heard Jesus from the cross saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” which comes from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O, my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”
Many people find comfort in the psalms of lament because through hearing the voices of others struggle and pain, they can better put words to their own struggles and frustrations. And the truth is, we can lament and we can truly let God know how we feel because God can handle it and God knows our innermost being. As we sometimes say during our prayer time, God knows our worries and our concerns even before we can form them on our lips. After all, even in difficult times when we may think that God has abandoned us, God is actually holding us and crying along with us. And by sharing our hurts and pains and frustrations with God, we can slowly become more aware of God’s presence with us.
The problem is when life is hard and we think we can hold onto our sadness and anger and frustration, we sometimes don’t find a way to let it go. Sure, we can do that for a little while, but eventually, we find that we can’t hold onto it forever. It slowly begins to leak and drip, usually spilling out onto undeserving people – people that catch our wrath simply because they are close in proximity to us. We strike out at others causing even more hurt and blame and dysfunction when we don’t really mean to. We simply haven’t dealt with our own emotions in the right way, so we lose control.
If you think back to our scripture reading from the book of Exodus today, we hear a very similar story. Moses has led his people out of Egypt. They are no longer slaves, now they are free! Moses has given his all to lead them to a safe place where they can begin again and establish a new home. Wouldn’t you think that that would be a dream come true? To be freed from that which weighed so heavy on the Israelites? They were given hope and possibility again, and yet as they travel to the promised land, the crowd begins to get tired. They have been traveling for a long time, and the road is hard. They begin to grumble, and their grumbles turn in to complaints, and then their complaints intermingle and add fuel to the fire. Before you know it, Moses has a group of angry and frustrated Israelites on his hands. They begin yelling and screaming that they have no water and they demand that Moses find them some for them.
Out of frustration, Moses passes it up the ladder and yells at God saying “LORD, what am I to do with these people?” There are two things that are happening here. First, because the Israelites are tired and frustrated, they only focus only on what they don’t have. They have forgotten the joys and the gifts that were given to them, and that even though the road may be difficult at the moment, the promise of what is to come is wonderful! And then, Moses, because of his relationship with God when he calls out to God in the midst of frustration, finds comfort and guidance.
As I told you a few minutes ago, whenever I meet with people who are struggling and grieving, I first encourage them to get in touch with their emotions. Then I ask them to tell me something good that has happened to them because the act of looking for one thing that brings you joy each day helps you to open your eyes and your mind to the good things all around you. Sometimes it can be as easy as, “I got up this morning,” or “I met a friend for lunch,” or “The sun was shining,” or “I got a call from my son,” or “Today I heard my favorite song.” The truth is, when we decide to live lives of faith, we see that even in the midst of a rainstorm, we sometimes find a beautiful rainbow.
Friends, Jesus never promises us that life will be easy. Jesus never promises us that we won’t face conflict and challenge in our lives. But Jesus teaches us that through it all, we are called to look for the good in people and to love our neighbor. We all face times in life when we hurt, and that is when we need to look for the love and support of others.
This past Wednesday, I officiated a funeral service for a young man who had just turned thirty years old. He died of a drug overdose after a long struggle with addiction. His mother wasn’t sad, she was angry! She told me that she hadn’t started to grieve because she was so mad! So, what do you say to someone in that situation? The young man was a big fan of John F Kennedy, so during the funeral service, I shared a quote from JFK that reads, “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us thru that darkness to a safe and sane future.” I told everyone that it’s okay to be angry and mad and upset about losing their friend and loved one, but that in the end, it’s up to us to decide if we are going to live our lives cursing the darkness or choosing to be the light helping ourselves and others to navigate through the darkness. The young man’s mother had asked me to encourage all of his friends to go out and do random acts of kindness. So, I asked them, as they as thought of their friend in the coming days and weeks and months, to remember his kindness and to pay it forward, doing something nice for someone else. I told them that even though we may be surrounded by sorrow and grief tonight, tomorrow is another day, and what we chose to do is up to us. We can certainly curse the darkness, or we can carry a candle out into it, bringing a little more light and a little more love into the world around us.
Friends, on this Memorial Day weekend, as we remember those who have given their lives for our country, we remember not only the sacrifice they made but also the sacrifice their families have made. No one ever wants to lose a family member for any reason, but I personally am always given hope and inspired in my faith when I think about the reason why we started to celebrate Memorial Day in The United States. Because though Memorial Day was begun to remember our fallen soldiers, it was also begun because of a person’s strong faith in God and love of neighbor.
In April 1863, in Columbus, Mississippi, after decorating the graves of her two sons who died representing their beloved south-land, an elderly woman walked to two mounds of dirt at the corner of the cemetery to place memorial flowers there also. “What are you doing?” friends shouted, “Those are the graves of two Union soldiers.” Softly, that compassionate mother said, “I know. I also know that somewhere in the North, a mother or a young wife mourns for them as we do for ours.”
Folks, that loving deed set in motion our celebration which has become known as Memorial Day. It all started because a mother decided not to simply complain and curse the darkness, but to light a candle, helping herself and others to better know and experience the unconditional love of God.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead and experience the joys and struggles of being human, celebrate that which brings you joy. Find a healthy way to deal with your frustration and your grief. Hold firm to your faith, and reach out to others in love. Because even though life is sometimes hard when we reach out to others in the spirit of love, that love, and grace always returns to us.
May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.