Pentecost 8 NL2 John B. Valentine
Exodus 15:22-27 & 17:1-7 July 12, 2020
The topic on the table is Exodus ... the second book of the Bible.
We’re just about halfway through our walk through the book as of today ... and just right about halfway through the book itself ... so let’s do a bit of a recap.
We started back at the beginning of Exodus with God’s children ... the heirs of Abraham and Sarah ... living in Egypt ... riding out a famine that had swept over the whole of the then-known world.
• But those visitors eventually became workers ...
• And those workers eventually became slaves ...
• And those slaves became victims of a brutal and vindictive regime.
To the end that God hears the cries of those people ...
And God chooses Moses ...
And God sends Moses ...
To lead those people of God OUT of captivity and INTO community.
Such that ... last week ... we had a chance to look at what is one of the two or three BIGGEST moments in the whole of the biblical narrative ... “the Parting of the Red Sea” thing.
• Moses leading the people OUT of captivity ...
• THROUGH the waters of the sea ...
• And out into FREEDOM on the other side.
For God had said to Pharaoh “Let my people go so that they may worship me” and that’s just exactly what God did!
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Now ... over the years ... there have been LOTS of different theological lenses by which that deliverance story has been understood.
For three thousand years of theological reflection provides LOTS of opportunity to think about that story in a whole lot of different ways!
But there’s one particular take on that story that I’ve always a bit intriguing ...
And it has to do with looking at it through the lens of childbirth.
You see ... there’s this old ... make that ‘ancient’ ... way of understanding this story that literally sees last week’s lesson as the story of birth of a nation.
• With all the stuff in the story leading-up to the Passover and the Passing Through the Red Sea being equated with the pregnancy ...
• And all the blood and the water ... and the anxiety and the screaming and the pain ... that accompanied last week’s story being equated with the actual birthing process ...
• Even to the point of the parted waters of the Sea being identified as the birth-canal of the people of God ...
• And Miriam’s Song of Celebration in Exodus 15 being likened to a celebration of the successful birth ... as in “Congratulations, God! It’s a nation!”
But whereas last week’s lesson had to do with the field of Obstetrics ... or maybe more-correctly the field of Perinatology ... this week’s lesson is a different story.
We’re OUT of the Labor and Delivery Room.
The nation has already been born.
But the baby starts to grow ... and soon enough ... we’re in need of a pediatrician ... and maybe a child psychologist!
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Seriously ... what was it that the kid ... or the kids ... said in that lesson which Jerry read for us a couple of minutes ago?
They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?"
"What shall we drink?"
And then ... a couple of chapters later ...
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."
"Give us water to drink."
Problem is ... I can’t really imagine that they said it in quite that tone!
No ... what kind of tone do kids tend to use when they don’t get what it is that they want ... what it is that they perceive themselves as needing?
They complain ... don’t they?
And the tone in which they do it is what? A WHINE!!!
It wasn’t a nice polite “What shall we drink?”
It was probably more akin to “WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DRIIIIINK ... MOSES??? WE’RE DYING OF THIRST!!”
And it wasn’t a calm, cool, collected "Give us water to drink."
It was “Moses .... MOSES!! ... We need water so bad! We’re DYING here! Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"
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Show of hands time ... folks!
• How many of you can remember ever dialing up that whine-y complain-y voice to try and get something that you wanted at some point in your life?
• And how many of you have ever been on the receiving end of one of those whine-y, complain-y laments from a child ... as a parent or a grandparent ... or maybe just as the adult in charge?
How did that work out in the long run?
• In dogs, they call it whining.
• In cats, they call it caterwauling.
• In kids, they call it a pain in the neck!
In fact ... a group of psychologists once did a study ...
And ... if you've ever thought that listening to your child whine was worse than having a buzz saw cut wood inside your house ... it turns out you were right!
For this study revealed that the power of whining to distract people while doing simple math problems was far greater than all sorts of other noises that people typically find annoying!
• It didn’t matter whether the one being studied was a parent or not.
• It didn’t matter whether the one being studied understood what was being said or not.
• It didn’t matter whether the one being studied was paying attention or not.
• It didn’t even matter what language the whining occurred in!
Somehow ... there’s a universal whine-y tone that pierces right through to the very core of our beings our souls ... and NONE of us find it appealing!
I’m sure I did my fair share of whining as a kid ... but ... as an adult ... as a parent ... whining is the one thing that really has taxed my patience over the years!
And ... one year ... the level of whining got so bad at our home when our kids were growing up that we finally had to make a game of it all.
What we did was tell our kids that if we caught them whining ... they had to put up the “whiner sign” ... a three-fingered “W” on their forehead ....
And that they could only continue their whining as long as they held up their “whiner sign”.
Turns out ... it was actually one of our better parenting moments ...
Because just the very act of having to put up the “Whiner Sign” made the whiner realize the ugliness of the sounds coming out of their mouth ...
That ... and you looked kind of stupid ... standing there in the kitchen ... explaining just WHY it was so unfair that they had to get off the phone and get on with their homework.
Long story short ... you can imagine how God felt when this nation he’d birthed just weeks earlier starts to whining that God’s not preparing enough ... providing enough ... protecting enough.
No wonder we heard that “Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people?’”
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But ... speaking of child psychology studies ... there’s another study of parents and children that these lessons we read today remind me of.
It was a study that was at the heart of a book that came out a couple three years ago by a gal named Ellen Weber Libby.
I mean ... have you ever heard anyone say: "We don't have a favorite child. We love all our children equally"???
Any of you ever said: "We don't have a favorite child. We love all our children equally"???
It turns out that that claim is probably fiction.
For Ellen Weber Libby lays out a pretty convincing case that suspicion that you had as a child that your parents had a favorite betwixt you and your siblings was probably right!
You see ... it appears:
• That ... in families ... favoritism is as widespread as it is taboo!
• That if you WERE the ‘favorite child’ in your family ... you may well have been oblivious to it.
• That if you WEREN’T ... you know exactly who was!
And among leading characteristics by which “favorite children” are identified is this:
“Which child in your family was/is your parent most patient with?”
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Now we don’t have time today for me to show you even a sampling of all the ways that God’s people test God’s patience.
You’ll just have to trust me that the two examples which Jerry read for us from Exodus 15 and Exodus 17 are representative of a FAR bigger problem.
But ... at the end of the day ... the Bible reveals God to be the ultimately patient parent ....
• The One who doesn’t blow a gasket in the face of their insistent whining!
• The One who doesn’t throw their hands up and say “To heck with you all!”
• The One who DOES keep on giving ... keep on providing ... keep on protecting ... keep on preparing the way.
And it all seems like this radical declaration that these people ... this nation ... this community God is creating ... is not / are not just “God’s children” ... but God’s FAVORITE children ... the ones God will NEVER give up on in spite of all that they might do.
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You see ... someone once asked me in the context of an Adult Ed. Class ... “Pastor John ... do you think that God has favorite children?”
And we got all twisted up in a theological discussion about how it seems like God seems to have a preference for those who are NOT numbered among the first-born ... the Jacobs and the Davids of this world ... the last, the lost, the little and the least.
And we noted that ... sometimes it sure looks like God has favorite children ... those for whom everything seems to go swimmingly ... who rarely have to struggle or suffer.
And we remembered that the Israelites were and are God's chosen people ... yet there’s been a whole lot of persecution and a whole lot of horror that they’ve had to endure over the ages ... and thus maybe the good and bad we experience in life aren’t really measures of God's love for us.
It was a fascinating and enlightening conversation all around ...
But at the end of the day ... I think there’s a better answer to the question “Pastor John ... do you think that God has favorite children?”
And that answer is: “Yeah! YOU are!”
Think on these things!