Every institution has one. It is typically self-appointed and is often the first group of folks to greet the new boss on the first day. Stakeholders of a sort, they want to be sure that (1) nothing changes, (2) traditions are honored, (3) the new leader respects the culture of the institution, (4) it is understood that THEY represent the culture of the institution, and (5) nothing changes.
When the institution is the church, this group is fondly referred to as the “back to Egypt committee.” Let’s read Exodus 16 and see where that nickname comes from.
Exodus 16 (Common English Bible)
2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
In Moses’ new appointment to the Church of the Wilderness Whiners, he had to contend with the self-appointed leaders who expressed a wish to go back to Egypt where they had been enslaved and abused for years. “BUT we were fed MEAT there! We could eat our fill of bread in Egypt! Why, oh why did you bring us to this desolate land to start a new life of freedom? We wanna go back to Egypt and die!“
Friends, the people were HANGRY.
The next part of the story is a reminder of how gracious, loving, and caring God is. It’s a good thing I’m not God, because I wouldn’t have had this much patience. Would you?
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.”
Our good and gracious Father responds with not only food to meet their immediate hunger, but a proper lesson in depending on God for all of their needs. See what he did with the sixth day? He provided a double portion for the next day, which was the sabbath.
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” 8 Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.”
Notice that Moses does a little blame-shifting here. He says that even though he is the leader who brought them this far, it’s not really his fault. Of course, we clergy-folk never do that! Except for when we blame the internet/sound/tech feed, or the District Superintendent, or the rules of our denomination. Or that time we pointed accusingly at the bishop for making us preach on controversial issues, or outed the loud church member who actually was actively trying to undermine our authority. Or when…..OK, we clergy people sometimes shift blame as well. Leadership means shouldering the responsibilities of everyone’s decisions and quietly trying to remain gracious and patient through the consequences.
Listen, negotiating life in the desert is hard on all of us. Remember this when you are in a situation that is changing all around you. LIFE IN THE DESERT IS HARD ON EVERYONE. The pandemic has certainly proved that.
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
This is possibly the best part of the passage. “They turned to look TOWARD the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared.” This is just one of many times in scripture when we are promised that when we look for God with our whole heart, we will find him. Even in the desert places.
Change is inevitable. Change is all around us. We can never go back, but God is out in front, leading us into our future. We will all be painfully aware of this as we attempt to re-gather for worship at some point.
11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
So quit your complaining! Take it up with God. He hears our grumbling and whining and he provides. God is truly good to us, much more than we deserve. No matter what desert you are in right now, the glorious presence of the Lord is already there, right with you. Just turn and look for him.