Water from the Rock
Speaker: Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
September 27, 2020
Sermon Sunday, September 27, 2020
Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
Water from the Rock
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] which means quarreled and tested which led to the question, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Before we go any further, I wonder if maybe Massah and Meribah are our sister cities because quarreling and testing seem to be all around us. Just look on social media or read the news. The other place mentioned in our story--the “wilderness of sin”--is actually a misnomer. Some scholars describe the metaphorical area as a poetic description of the night, contrasting the battle domain of the moon god with that of the sun god. Others think of it as a dry place where people felt lost and needed to lean into God to discover the Holy in a new way.
Places--the memory of them and the possible myths around them--can remind of us what we need.
A hiking trail at Oak Mountain State Park on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama leads to a beautiful waterfall. The hike is about three miles up and is spectacular when the leaves have turned into vibrant shades of maroon, orange, and gold. Waterfalls have always piqued my attention. I loved autumn trips there, that is, if a group of us went together. In downtown Birmingham, then a city of about 200,000 people, I was comfortable walking by myself. However, in the woods--even to find a waterfall--not so much. I like to see what is coming. I trust what is directly in front of me. In the woods, if something, a creature or a person, sneaks up beside me I am unnerved. (That maybe an understatement.)
Paying attention to our individual internal quirks and learning about ourselves empowers us to focus in on what we value. Through the years, I have learned that I am a practical yet mystical type who holds trust as one of my most sacred values.
What is trust? When I googled the word the first definition presented was “A fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries.” The trust about which I was inquiring is greater than a financial engagement. The idea of trust as an “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” rang truer.
Our church theme for the year is Leaning into God. The idea behind the theme is that we engage in the practice of trusting God in these dry days in which we are all struggling and roaming around trying to find our footing. As a church family scattered about, we are all invited to learn this connecting scripture from Proverbs: “In all our ways lean not only into our own understanding, but acknowledge God, who will guide our paths.”
Currently the sense of security in life as we have known it, or illusion thereof, is no more. We can’t trust the news or the “latest information” to be consistent. We don’t have any idea of what is lurking around the corner. We can’t see the virus directly in front of us, or even when it comes at us sideways. Our sense of trusting that it is safe to hug one another is gone. We no longer trust school, church, work, or entertainment as “givens.”
Those of you who are headed to college or going into your senior year have had to release your expectations and reshape plans. It is a privilege to witness how many of you are adapting to the roller coaster these days. You are doing so with grace and creativity.
An article by Nick Couldry and Bruce Schneier recently addressed acedia--spiritual or mental sloth; apathy--as a malady that plagued many medieval monks. They described it as “a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.”
When thinking about our lives today alongside the journey of the Israelite community all those years ago, we can see that we both encounter the loss of a care culture. The future seems uncertain--I mean, it always is--but right now globally it feels particularly tentative. With climate change and more needs than we can address, life is jammed up.
During this wilderness time, if you will, in which quiet reflection is on the rise, we have been able to engage the injustice of the world in a more focused manner. Without the full distractions of everyday schedules, we have had time to hear our elected leaders make statements of their dominance. I feel saddened as I listen to the majority of elected leaders. Beyond our petitions, actions, cards, and calls, dear ones, we need to pray with all our strength to cover the people we elect with integrity. It seems to be cloaked under political parties and the election cycle.
As the news of the lack of sentences for Breonna Taylor’s death echoes throughout our country, beloved Black and Brown siblings explain yet again why they don’t feel safe. Retribution grows out of dismay and helplessness and we are dying in soul and body because we are protecting systems.
This week I listened to a lecture with trauma specialist Dr. Kenneth Hardy. I invite you to prayerfully take time and listen to him explain about the trauma that is embedded in the Black and Brown spirit. One of the most powerful connections he made was showing a clip from Roots in which Kunta Kinte was beaten in the streets and threatened to the point of death if he did not change his name to Toby. Hardy discussed the social cultural trauma of people still being humiliated in the streets--just like the scene from Roots.
If we will listen without defensiveness to the experiences of one another it will be like Moses striking the rock and water will flow out quenching our thirst and inability to understand each other.
God is caring for us through community voices these days. I know we are tired, grieving all we miss, and, like our college freshmen who have delayed their acceptance to their dream schools and/or moving to other countries, we must face the reality of now. We must regroup, appreciate what is, and take life day by day--maybe even hour by hour. Then and now people are searching and needing to lean into the divine to understand that life is greater than this moment, these days, and this year.
The conclusion of the article by Couldry and Schneier said that solidarity within community however, has one precondition: that we openly discuss the problem of acedia, and how it prevents us from facing our deepest future uncertainties. Once we have done that, we can recognize it as a problem we choose to face together--across political and cultural lines--as families, communities, nations and a global humanity, which means accepting our shared vulnerability rather than suffering each on our own.
Interdependence with God and one another: may it be so as we wonder and wander through these days together. Amen.