Monday Muse: The Church at Meribah

The LORD said to Moses, “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that people may drink.” Moses did so, and he called the place Massah and Meribah, because the people tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:6-7)

Where are we going?

Where’s the food? Where’s the water?

Why isn’t God making this journey easy?

What’s up with this wilderness, God?!

(For more biblical whining, see “In the Spirit of Jonah.”)

The ancient Israelites’ questions might ring familiar to those of us in the church:

What’s our plan for programming?

Where’s our income? Where’s our growth?

Why doesn’t God bless us like the church down the street?

What’s up with this wilderness season, God?!

I have a special fondness for Numbers 20’s version of the water-from-a-rock story that includes Moses’ angry outburst, but here in the Exodus 17 version, Moses provides more thoughtful leadership in response to the people’s worries: following God’s direction, he and a few leaders step away from the people in order to listen to God for what’s next, in order to see a picture that isn’t clouded by anxiety. The people are concerned with the details of survival. Moses pauses to focus on the details of God’s work.

The modern American church is anxious, too, about its survival, and while our anxiety is understandable, it doesn’t draw us any closer to God or to God’s purpose for the church today. The challenge of living in this unfamiliar wilderness season of the church is we must occasionally step away from the details of survival in order to seek God’s perspective on the big picture and to discern next steps.

While we all individually need to mind this balance between anxiety and perspective, daily living and discernment, I believe that the church bears a particular responsibility to shed its anxious fretting and step back from its panicked ‘survival mode’ in order to catch a vision of God’s ability to produce a wellspring from a dry desert rock. The church bears a holy obligation to recognize and reconsider its participation in antics of moaning & whining & drama & financial anxiety & political tension, in order to celebrate God’s living water and then splash that living water out onto the world, showering it abundantly on all who are thirsty.

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