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Sermon: Leaving Massah and Meribah

Leaving Massah and Meribah

Text: Exodus 17:1-7

(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 10-1-2017)

On this World Communion Sunday, I am leaving Massah and Meribah. I am leaving and I have no desire ever to return. I will not be missed there, because the conditions are already overcrowded in Massah and Meribah. It requires no passport or lots of money to travel there. Mysteriously, no matter where we live now, the trip to Massah and Meribah is always a short one, because Massah and Meribah are as close as our next thought and as near as the next words out of our mouths.

We find ourselves in downtown Massah and Meribah whenever we think that God is not living up to her end of the bargain. It is easy to get spiritually parched there because our souls get dry from griping and our necks get sore from looking back on days that were so much better than today. In Massah and Meribah, no matter what we have, it is never enough. In Massah and Meribah, God is always running late and is always a step behind providing what we need.

Sadly enough, a close suburb of Massah and Meribah is too often the church: Pastors fall short of what we expect. Musicians do not play or sing what we want them to play and sing. Sunday School teachers do not teach us what we need to know. The Session does not lead us the way it should. Fellow members and visitors do not contribute the way they should and could.

The most common subject of the griping and complaining in Massah and Meribah is about God. In the Exodus story, after years living as slaves in Egypt, God delivers the people through a parted River Nile, feeds them daily with manna, and appoints a leader, Moses, to guide them to a promised land. It does not take long, though, before not only the water supply, but the faith supply of the community dries up.

So, the once enslaved and now delivered into freedom people of Israel complain to Moses about God. They accuse God of sleeping on the job and by way of inference, they accuse God’s servant, Moses, of sleeping too. They are ready to pack their bags and head back to Egypt. They want to return to the good ole days – you remember, don’t you, the days of slavery, making bricks without adequate materials all to the benefit of the Egyptian empire and eating slop that the Egyptians call food. “Where is the ‘Return’ button, Moses? We want to go home, to home sweet home, Egypt! And, we want to go right now!”

God ignores the collective amnesia and massive ingratitude of these forgetful children. Instead, God tells Moses to pick up the same stick used to split the Nile and deliver them into freedom. God tells him to bang on a rock, so people will have water to drink. Again mysteriously, even in the midst of relentless griping, God provides for the needs of an ungrateful and nagging people, and suddenly from the rock flows clean, cold, mountain stream water.

You might think Moses would then name this special place: “Miracle at Wonder Rock”; he does not. He names the place: "Massah” and “Meribah,” from the Hebrew for quarreling and complaining. Massah and Meribah is where we find ourselves when the well of faith and the wellspring of gratitude run dry.

In Massah and Meribah pastors forget the gifts of leaders who have come before them. Whenever I am in Massah and Meribah, I do not think twice about the tremendous gifts of the pastors who served Cove before me – of Josh and Jane, Gay Lee and Marcy. In Massah and Meribah, it is all about me and about today and about how God is missing in action and how all God’s people are is just a bunch of gripers and complainers.

In Massah and Meribah, church people do not think twice about the women and men who sat in these pews before them. They forget that God’s grace always exceeds their faith by a country mile and God attends to our needs even when we are calling God short. They forget that God gave thirsty people water to drink in the wilderness and God’s Son gave living water to drink to a Samaritan woman. They forget that God’s middle name is abundance and that the song of the Psalmist is forever true, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

I have lived in Massah and Meribah for way too long, long before arriving in Covesville. When I am honest with myself, sometimes it feels good to live there, in the land of self-pity where I can have the righteous feeling of being besieged and aggrieved and neglected by God. I do not know why feeling bad can sometimes feel hypnotically good, but it is like a seductive drug. You know you ought to get off it, but you keep using nonetheless.

I say that I am leaving Massah and Meribah, but it is not all that easy. I am ready to leave, to leave and never return, but I cannot do so alone. I need your help. I need you to point the way to Easter whenever you see me or hear me heading straight back to Massah and Meribah. I need you to pray for me when I am too angry with God to pray. I need you to remember for me when I seem to forget that God’s faithfulness is not in limited supply. I need you to forgive me whenever I return to a place that I have no desire ever to return and I promise I will do the same for you.

The best exit by far from Massah and Meribah is by way of the table set before us this morning. It is a table where people of God will feast today in North Korea and Iran, in Puerto Rico and Houston, in Russia and the Ukraine, in sanctuaries teeming over with children and in sanctuaries with only a handful of graying adults. It is a table for straight and transgender people, for soldiers and for peace activists, for those who take a knee and those who would never consider doing so. Who would want to stay in Massah and Meribah, griping and complaining, bemoaning and quarrelling, when you could get a gracious fill of God’s love at this table?

Who wants to be in Massah and Meribah when it is suppertime and the feast awaits us? Who wants to stay in Massah and Meribah when we can take up permanent residence at the table of abundance? As for me, it is long past time to pack up and get out of Massah and Meribah once and for all and never look back. It is high time to find a new home at the table where no one is turned away and the food never is in short supply and God is always the welcoming host.

So, friends, I am leaving Massah and Meribah. I sure would appreciate some company.


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