The Back to Egypt Committee

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)

The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 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?

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. 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.

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. 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?” 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.

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.

The Glorious Presence of the Lord by Michelle Robertson

Pay Attention

Being around young children can be exhausting for a number of reasons. Their energy, their craziness, the noise, your worry over their safety…it can wear you flat OUT. One of the main reasons that kids are exhausting is that they want you to watch everything they are doing every minute of your wakefulness. Who has not spent an afternoon “relaxing” at the pool with children only to realize you’ve read the same paragraph of your beach novel eighteen times because they kept yelling for you to look up and watch them?

This, my friends, is why God created nap/quiet time on the eighth day.

Moses’ call to action came about in the same manner. Here he was, minding his own business and his father-in-law’s sheep, and suddenly God demanded his full attention. “MOSES. MOSES. MOSES. LOOK OVER HERE. WATCH THIS, MOSES! WATCH ME DO THIS TRICK. ARE YOU WATCHING? MOSES? MOSES?”

Instead of the tenth cannonball into the pool, God sent Moses a much more subtle sign…a burning bush.

Exodus 3 (Common English Bible)

3 Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

I have to wonder what God had been doing prior to the burning bush to get Moses’ attention. Did he tap Moses’ shoulder? Clear his throat? Create a great wind in the desert? Yet somehow Moses was unaware of God’s presence right up until the bush burst into flames but didn’t burn up.

Where is God trying to get your attention? We know with great certainty that God was present with Moses before this moment. God had protected Moses from infanticide by hiding him in plain sight with Pharaoh’s daughter. God saved him again when Pharaoh tried to kill him and then helped him safely escape to the place where he found his wife and security. God was always with Moses. Yet somehow in this particular moment Moses was preoccupied to the point that it took a burning bush to get his attention.

When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Moses said, “I’m here.”

This begs the question of our own preoccupation as well. Is God trying to call you into action and you are simply not seeing the signs? Are you looking the other way due to your reluctance to respond to what he might ask you to do?

Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Are you hiding YOUR face because you’re afraid to see where God may be sending you?

Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them.10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

Moses did not want this job. He did everything he could to get out of it but in the end Moses was the one to bring the Hebrew people safely out of slavery in Egypt.

As you consider where God might be calling you to action, remember Moses. Don’t make God send you a burning bush. Lay aside your objections and say yes. You just might be the one that God is using to deliver somebody from oppression and injustice today.

Maybe it’s you he’s trying to save.

Pay attention!

Where God Leads You by Teresa Silverman

The Testing Place

Have you ever been severely tested by your child? Have you had one of those days/weeks/months (years??) where your beloved kid is so totally WORKING YOUR LAST NERVE that you wonder why you even had kids in the first place? We’ve all been there, and we’re certainly there now that the entire country has become homeschool families overnight with the school closures.

We are one day into this thing and parents are realizing the enormous challenge of what lies ahead. A celebrity posted yesterday on Facebook that she had been homeschooling her two elementary-age kids for an hour and 11 minutes, and she proposed that all teachers get a million dollar raise when schools open again.

Parents are understanding the struggle in a new way today. A child’s normal development includes defiance stages that they eventually outgrow. But we aren’t equipped to deal with it 24/7. We just have to pray that we survive. We’ll survive the pandemic…pray we survive our kids!

So imagine being in the presence of adults who acted like toddlers and teenagers for 40 years as you led them through the wilderness into a land God had prepared and promised for you. I don’t believe there is anything in scripture that mentions whether or not Moses was bald, but I would bet my life that he was. Surely he tore his hair out with all the pestering!

Exodus 17 (The Message)

 1-2 Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn’t a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: “Give us water to drink.” But Moses said, “Why pester me? Why are you testing God?”

But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?”

I can hear our teenagers saying, “Why do you DRAG me to church every Sunday? Church is so boring. I don’t get anything out of it.” Unfortunately, parents who give into this end up with young adults who’ve been taught that it’s OK to stop going to church if it isn’t up to their liking. Don’t make that mistake. We drag them to church because God deserves their presence, sullen or not. And making church attendance a non-negotiation reinforces the priority we put on worship as a family. Would you let your kid skip their school lessons because they’re “boring?” Probably not…

Moses cried out in prayer to God, “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!”

5-6 God said to Moses, “Go on out ahead of the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel. Take the staff you used to strike the Nile. And go. I’m going to be present before you there on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock. Water will gush out of it and the people will drink.”

6-7 Moses did what he said, with the elders of Israel right there watching. He named the place Massah (Testing-Place) and Meribah (Quarreling) because of the quarreling of the Israelites and because of their testing of God when they said, “Is God here with us, or not?”

Kids will test you like it’s their JOB, just as the Israelites tested Moses and God. Even after their miraculous delivery from slavery and hardship in Egypt, they still complained.

But Moses kept his head, knowing God would provide. When we test God to see if he is with us, the answer is always yes. Water flows from his grace and mercy, and we are allowed to drink freely of its effervescence. The people of God never go thirsty.

So the next time you are tested, remember Moses. Keep your hair on and pray. Stand your ground on the important things and look to God to refresh you in the wilderness of schooling and raising children. You are not alone! God indeed is with us. Thanks be to God.

God’s People Never Go Thirsty Photo by Greg Whittle