Provision in Troubled Times
We are in the second message about resilience in troubled times.
Last week we learned that we need to understand our troubles are not permanent, not personal, and not pervasive.
That allows us to be optimistic about the future.
And as people of faith, we can be even more optimistic because God has made us a promise.
That by remaining faithful, God will be our God and we will be God’s people.
These things give us hope, allow us to persevere and make us resilient in troubled times.
But our lessons on resilience don’t end there.
We need more than a good attitude to be resilient.
We need some other things, too.
You know, provisions.
A few years ago, my family made a trip to Olympia National Park in Washington State.
It is a huge, beautiful place full of mountains and hiking trails, forest and wilderness.
And we were heading in.
We started in a Ranger Station gift shop – there are always gift shops – and we saw a little book called “How Not to Die in the Woods”.
We thought it was funny, but a quick scan told us that while the book was presented in a lighthearted manner, it was, pardon the expression, dead serious.
The overall purpose of the book was to teach people what they needed to survive in the woods.
What provisions were required.
I did not buy the book, but I wish I had because there is much to learn in it about resilience in the face of adversity.
Like our current troubled times.
I mean, don’t we feel sort of stuck in the woods right now?
And it’s getting dark, we are getting cold, we are hungry, we are thirsty, and we are getting a bit anxious.
How are we going to get out of the woods safely?
We need to find a way to be resilient.
So, if we had read that little book, we might take a look inside our back packs and pull out a few of the things it told us to pack.
A first aid kit.
A tool kit.
And here is one I added – a few friends.
These are the provisions that allow us to remain calm and resilient – and alive – in the woods or in any of our troubled times.
And guess what?
Those are the kinds of things God provides us, whether we realize it or not.
Which brings us to our scripture readings.
Exodus 17: 1-7
17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I 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 the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Matthew 7: 7-12
7 ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
I love Exodus.
It proves to me that humanity has changed little over the millennia.
In today’s text, we find the Hebrew people in the wilderness right after they escaped captivity in Egypt.
The Hebrew people cried out to God for freedom.
God took them out of slavery in Egypt.
God gave them a leader.
God promises them a new home though they have to travel through the wilderness to get to it.
And as God leads them to that new home, the Hebrew people continually ask God for what they need.
And God provides it.
They have no bread.
God gives them manna.
They have no meat.
God sends quails.
They have no water.
As we see in our text today, God provides water from a rock.
Throughout their journey through the wilderness, God provided the Hebrews everything they needed, when they asked.
And why wouldn’t God?
God chose them to be his people!
Yet we also see in our text that, the Hebrews continued to “test” God.
They did not fully trust God to provide for them.
And they did not appreciate that God was already providing for them all along the way.
Jesus continues this theme in his Sermon on the Mount a few millennia later.
He is preaching about how people of faith, like us, should trust to God to provide what we need just like God did with the Hebrews in the wilderness.
And not in just in trouble times, but all the time.
And there is an expectation that, like the Hebrews, we will ask God for the provisions we need, just as God provided for the Hebrews in the wilderness.
Why the expectation that we are going to ask?
Because like the Israelites, we don’t fully trust God to know when we need things.
What does Jesus tell us to do?
Do what the Israelites did.
And God will answer.
But what is interesting about Jesus’ words is that the Greek is better translated:
We are to continually look to God to provide for our needs.
Because we will always have needs.
So, what is it we really need?
Well, Janice Joplin wanted a Mercedes Benz; a color TV, and a night on the town.
She must have been into the prosperity gospel.
But think about it.
If we had been there on the side of that hill listening to Jesus, and Jesus had said ask, seek knock and it will be provided by God, what would we have asked for, sought after, or looked for behind the door?
Take a moment.
What comes to mind?
I read a story this week by Leah Schade in “Feasting on the Word”.
She was leading a Confirmation Class through this passage in Matthew.
The children were impressed that God was going to grant them whatever they asked for.
Schade asked them to say what they wanted.
Their response was not surprising.
Techno devices, brand named clothing, trips to exotic locations; that sort of thing.
Like a Christmas or birthday gift wish list.
But of course, the “prayers” were not answered.
When asked why, one of the students pointed out that Jesus said we are to ask for “good things”.
Maybe the wish list items were not good things.
Maybe good things are not what we want but what we need.
What we all need.
See, God is not a wish granter.
God is a need provider.
And what God provides are the good things we ask for.
What are those good things?
What we need to survive.
Jesus uses two examples of what we need that God will provide.
Bread and meat.
These are things we need to survive and the things the Hebrews were worried about in Exodus.
These are the good things we are to ask for.
Not the stuff, wealth and entertainment we want.
We might want a night on the town, but we don’t need a night on the town.
What we really need to survive is bread and protein.
And God provides it, has always provided it, and will continue to provide it.
Don’t believe me?
There is plenty of grain to make bread in the world for everyone in it.
There is plenty of fish for everyone in the world in the lakes, streams and oceans.
There always has been, currently is and, if we are faithful and responsible and good stewards of creation, there always will be food and water.
It might not be all what we want, but it is what we need.
And if we ask for it, God will provide it.
And why wouldn’t God?
God created us, freed us from our slavery to sin, and leads us into God’s Kingdom.
And God also provides for the journey.
But there is something we must recognize.
When the Hebrews “prayed” for bread, meat and water, they were praying for the Hebrew people, not just themselves.
Jesus is saying the same thing.
The people who call themselves disciples are to pray for all the people, not just themselves.
Schade’s kids then started listing what they thought might be good things.
This message must have been understood because when the kids rethought their list.
It included peace, healing, relief for disaster victims, less pollution, food for the hungry, relief from parents who abuse their kids by giving them rocks instead of bread and snakes instead of fish.
One of the students then asked a rally good question.
“How will we know if the prayers are answered?”
The pastor pointed out how the church was part of those answers.
The church had food boxes for the hungry.
An abused foster child adopted by a church family.
The ecology ministry’s work on protecting God’s creation.
The congregation’s soldiers coming home.
Things like that.
Kind of like what we do here.
Serving from the stoop.
Backpacks for Duquesne kids.
Shelter for the homeless.
A garden the church tended to supply food for the local food bank.
Members who provided a home for a foster child.
Members who have adopted children.
God has given most of more than what we need so can answer the prayers and fill the needs of others.
God does provide.
Often through us.
All we need to do is look around and see it to believe it.
So, again, think about what you want to ask God for now.
Sure, we have our pandemic, our politics and our protests right now.
Our wilderness troubles.
And we are asking, seeking, knocking.
What are we asking for?
What are we seeking?
What do we think is on the other side of that door?
What do we want?
The lesson of Exodus and Matthew are that we don’t always get what we want, but we can get what we need, if we ask, seek and knock.
And here is the thing, God has already provided us with what we need.
Let’s look in our backpack.
God gave us Jesus.
And Jesus gave us a way of life.
And the Holy Spirit gives encouragement to live the Jesus way.
These are the things we need.
They are our map, light, warmth, shelter, first ais, clothing, tools, food and water.
Things God gave us that to allow us to persevere and remain resilient in the woods and in our current trouble times.