Last Sunday Ray was guiding us through the rather difficult account of Israel’s escape from Egypt via the Red Sea. You might remember that, when they seemed to be cornered with no way to go, some of the Hebrews turned on Moses, saying – ‘What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? We said ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 14:11-12 The Message).
Perhaps you thought their complaints were justified. Perhaps you thought they were pretty slow and unappreciative, given the other miraculous signs that were said to have happened. Whatever the case, when we join them in chapter 16, now six weeks into their journey out of Egypt, the complaints are growing again…
Exodus 16:1-5 & 11-18
A poor, put-upon leader and their needy, complaining congregation. I, for one, simply can’t imagine it! But what do you think? A forgetful and faithless people? A testing and tetchy God? A divine parent and their children getting to know each other?
Well, for our first set of questions I’m inviting us to discuss the following… Firstly, the passage tells us that God heard the cries and complaints of the Israelites. What has God heard from you this week? In your prayer life – whatever that might look like – do you complain or confess; offer praise or thanks; ask for help or don’t say anything at all? What would God have heard from you this week?
Secondly, Israel’s time with God in the wilderness has been likened to a bride and groom enjoying a honeymoon with one another; and as a shepherd caring, guiding, and sometimes scolding their wayward sheep; and also as a parent and child learning each other’s needs and feeding habits with some trial and error! How do these images shed light on the passage to you and, if you have time, what do you think about these as images for God and the Church today?
- What has God heard from you this week through your prayers?
- Bride & groom, shepherd and sheep, parent and young child…how do you respond to these images of God and Israel/the Church?
And, when you’re done with those questions, here are our second set:
- What do we learn about God and about ourselves from this passage?
- Where do you hear good news in this passage?
- How might we live out the message from this passage in our prayers, words, and actions this week?
So, I wonder what we’re going to take from this week’s passage into our week. Perhaps, like me, you were struck by the parallel between the actions of the Hebrews and those of some folk in the headlines this week. The ungrateful grumbling of privileged people or the desperate pleading of people in pain? Things are rarely so clear-cut, are they? I wonder how might we listen to others with empathy and non-judgment? How might we listen to the cries or complaints of those around us with a desire to open our hands to help, not to point fingers and assign blame?
Or perhaps we might put ourselves in Israel’s position. Just as they forgot the horrors of slavery when new challenges arose and even looked back longingly to their captivity, how do we allow rose-tinted glasses to distort our vision today? How might we, as individuals and as church communities, face the challenges of the wilderness with honesty and hope and without resorting to the ‘it was better in the good old days’ outlook?
For some of us, of course, it won’t be the actions of Israel but those of God that we will want to dwell on. Just as, in the passage, God’s gracious provision comes with explicit guidance for the ways and means by which Israel might receive the manna and quail, does God’s provision of food, shelter, healthcare and more for us come with an expectation to ensure that all are provided for? When some of God’s children are wasting food and stockpiling vaccinations, whilst others are starving and dying, what can we do to address the obscene inequalities in our world, today?
Or perhaps, for some of us struggling right now, it will be enough to hang on to the belief that even in the wilderness, when the nights are long and the days are scorching, God hears our cries, responds to our needs, and guides our way.
In a moment, Margaret’s going to remind us of that encouragement as she reads to us a beautiful poem by Methodist minister and artist, Jan Richardson, before leading us in prayer. First, though, let’s have a moment of stillness. We might want to think about what action we’ll take into the week from the passage. We might want to thank God for all our blessings. We might want to simply be still and held by God…
Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the One
who has travelled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from the scorching
or the fall
of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name:
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. 2015 © Wanton Gospeller Press
Prayers for ourselves and others
Holy and Gracious God,
you call us by name, Beloved One, and beckon us to follow you. May we do so through your grace.
In your Name we pray, Hear our prayer.
Like a shepherd tending the flock you tend to our needs. Be present with those who struggle, suffer, are in
pain or sorrow. Guide those who are lost, or filled with worry and fear. Protect those who are in harm’s way.
Heal those who are ill, mend those who are broken, as only your love can.
God of peace, watch over those who lead us in our various governments and churches, fill our leaders with
wisdom, patience, insight, and mercy. Help them to lead with kindness and strength.
God of love, fill our hearts with the knowledge of You that we can turn from the distractions of life and be
more like You. May we be agents of your compassion offering kindness to those we meet this day.
God of all blessings, we thank you for all the gifts of life. For your Son, our saviour, our great Good Shepherd,
the one who stands at the gate of all life’s challenges and joys, calling out to us in love. Naming us, Beloved.
For all this and more, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our brother and saviour, who taught us the pattern of prayer,
saying ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…Amen.
Written by Terri C Pilarski revgalblogpals.org
In a moment, we will sing a hymn which reminds us that, like those people in the wilderness, we must pack up our tents are journey onward with God…
and whether we’re off on an expedition to the hairdresser’s or whether we’re going no further than the lounge this week, may we know we are beloved,
may we know we are blessed, and may that knowledge spill out in wild acts of love and laughter with those we meet. In Christ’s name. Amen.
We’re a travelling, wandering race – we’re the people of God.
Mothering Sunday Prayer
Mothering God, we owe our very lives to you. You have watched over us from our birth, tenderly nurturing us, showering us with love.
You have given us strength in times of need, comfort in times of distress, hope in times of despair. Whatever we have faced,
you have been with us. For that great truth we praise and thank you.
Today, we remember the mothers around us and those who have gone before us.
For their love, sacrifice, struggle and joy, we thank you.
We remember the mothers of Scripture who are part of our story as we are a part of your story.
For their courage, faith, love and fierceness, we thank you.
Lord, we remember those who have not given birth to us, but are mothers of a kind to us.
For their gift of themselves that they have given, we thank you.
Through the good times and bad, your motherly love has been a constant presence,
even when we have not known of it. For the gift of life, for sacrificing all for our sake,
for calling us your beloved children, we praise and thank you. Amen.