Go on. Go Ahead.

A Sermon on Exodus 17:1-7.
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by the Rev. Erin Counihan at the Association of Mid-Council Leaders (PCUSA) Gathering in St. Louis, MO on Oct. 14, 2017.

Go on. Go ahead.

It’s a funny thing to say to a man who has been leading the people for a while now.

Go on. Go ahead.

They hate you and want to stone you. They are thirsty and afraid. Sure, they’ve seen God at work among them already- in the cloud and the pilar of fire, they’ve seen the waters set aside to make a new way, they’ve seen their violent oppressors conquered and tossed into the sea, they’ve seen the manna sprinkled down from heaven above, they’ve seen and felt and tasted God’s constant provision, care, and love, through crisis after crisis, but the thing is, the people are STILL IN CRISIS anyway, and they are still scared and thirsty and want to kill that leader who is taking them on this terrible, scary, thirsty journey through crisis, toward God-only-knows where.

But Go on, Moses. Go ahead.

Now, generally when we read the Exodus story at the church I serve, I ask us to consider ourselves as the people, the crowds, the masses of Israelites walking and wandering, I ask us to place ourselves in the middle of the tired, scared, thirsty pack. But today, well, really because of what I saw here yesterday, I am going to ask us to consider this story from a different position. Because yesterday, just as we were starting worship, and the Rev. Co-Moderator Denise was trying to call us into worship, and her mic wasn’t working, and half the room set upright, and went, “um, mic! Excuse me, mic’s not working. Turn on the mic! Over here, please!” When folks from five different tables got up to address the concern, when half the room took action in a crisis, I realized I was in a room full of leaders. I was in a room full of people used to being in charge. I was in a room full of people used to being the one who could fix the problems. A room full of people who have the answers and the vision and show others the way. So while I am in THIS room, full of us kind of leaders, let’s go ahead an let ourselves be Moses in this story for just a moment.

(Don’t worry, I promise I won’t tell your people back home that you think you’re Moses.)

But let’s put ourselves in those sandals, just for a moment, because I do think we can relate a little here. Because like Moses, we are people called to lead God’s people on a journey. We are people called to lead God’s faithful walking through crisis after crisis. We are people called to cry out to God for ideas and answers and new ways to fuel and fill and resource the community to live and witness and serve and just get by in this new time. And we are people called to lead and serve folks who are scared. And tired. And thirsty. And they’re really not sure we know the way to wherever it is God is promising to take us. And the resources aren’t coming from the places where we used to find them. And The people we lead are hungry and thirsty and tired and frustrated and scared and to many of them and more than a few of us, I fear it is starting to look safer back in the past, back where we came from, back when we were comfortable. And we are hearing some grumbling and quarreling and we may be hearing folks ask, we may be hearing ourselves ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?! “

 

I hear that inside my own head all the time. I hear it in committee meetings, I hear it in stewardship meeting, I hear it in prayer gatherings, I hear it in neighborhood meetings. As we walk through crisis after crisis. As my news feed is filled with ugliness after ugliness. I, middle-of-the-packer, grumble and quarrel with myself, as Moses, asking me, Is God with us or not?

You see, because here in St. Louis, where I live and serve and try very hard to faithfully follow the way of our Lord, here, my community, my city, is full of thirsty people. And the people here are thirsty for justice.

This day today marks thirty days of protest in our city since the most recent verdict of injustice was handed to us. 30 days of protests in the streets where my colleagues, co-conspirators, neighbors and friends are right now as I speak with you, where they are standing out there crying out in thirst.

Today marks thirty days since one our our leaders issued an acquittal of another of our officers who killed another man of color in this city. Today marks 30 days since we started grumbling and quarreling in this city all over again. Today is 30 days, and it’s coming three years after we spent 400 days in the streets before that.

And so, on these days when we stand in these dry, dry streets, and when we fill dry, dry city hall committee rooms, when we walk through dry neighborhoods carrying paper petitions to register more thirsty voters, I catch middle-of-the-pack me asking Moses-me, “is God with us or not?” When we march and the mothers of our lost siblings come up in the center, and a another mother joins the line, I catch myself quarreling inside me, “is God with us or not?” When we chant, and call out their names- Anthony Lamar Smith, Kiwi Herring, Vonderrit Meyers, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Terrence Crutcher, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and we keep adding another name to that dry list of injustice and death, I wonder, “is God with us or not?” When our elcted officials cancel town hall meetings and send a militarized force out to greet the thirsty people in the streets, I wonder, “is God with us or not?” 

Because we are thirsty for justice and I don’t know, but I heard somewhere or read somewhere that justice is supposed to roll down like water, but I am standing there in the street surrounded by thirsty people everywhere…. and it is always then that I hear the chants pick back up. And they quiet the grumbling in my heart. When the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor the housed and the house-less, the clergy and the atheist, the trans and the straight, the black and the brown and the white and the all start saying it..

“SHOW ME WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

“THIS IS WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

 

“SHOW ME WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

“THIS IS WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

 

And I hear a little voice beneath that reminding me, Go on. Go ahead. I will be standing there. In front of you.

And I look around and see my people…

“SHOW ME WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

“THIS IS WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

“SHOW ME WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

“THIS IS WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE!”

 

And I hear it again. Go on. Go ahead. I will be tanding there. In front of you! STRIKE THAT DRY ROCK. And the water the people NEED will come out of it.

God says, Go on. Go ahead.

 

I don’t know what the issues are in your community, in your presbytery, in your congregation right now. But I know that we all come from communities filled with grumblings. From communities filled with quarreling. From communities filled with fears. From communities filled with thirsty people. And like Moses, we are leaders drawn from the water, we are leaders drawn out from the waters of our baptism, called to walk ahead, told to go on, to the place where God is standing. To use the tools we have already been given. To strike and smash some dry, old rocks. And let God’s provision, hope, justice, and love flow. Because God WILL quench the thirst of the people.

So, go on. Go ahead.

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