But 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?” —Exodus 17:3
“Is God among us or not?” What a poignant question—and don’t we find ourselves asking it—a lot? Whether we are crying out in the midst of a dark and lonely valley in our personal lives, trying to make a challenging decision between two seemingly positive paths, or find ourselves part of a congregation seeking to discover their future—we want to hear from God for guidance—or at least a sense that God is with us in the midst of the struggles and wilderness times. We thirst for answers and reassurance. At least internally, we acknowledge a sense of desperation for direction. And as we all know, God is not always as direct and clear as we would like. Nor does God always provide us with the counsel we seek when we seek it! You know that old saying, “Not in my time, but God’s time?”
The “Are you there, God?” question runs throughout this Season of Lent. The Gospel Lesson for this Sunday is the story of the Samaritan woman who comes to get water at Jacob’s well and finds Jesus, the bearer of ‘Living Water’. In this week’s lesson from the Hebrew Bible, when trouble comes on their journey out of Egypt to the land that God had promised, the thirsty descendants of Abraham and Sarah quarrel with Moses and question God’s presence.
You see, their journey had lead them through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula – inhospitable and threatening territory. Initially, they were excited about escaping their enslavement in Egypt. But the discomforts of the wilderness caused them to question the leadership of Moses and the journey into the unknown. When there was no water to drink at their camping place, they turn on Moses and ask why he brought them from the security of life in Egypt only to die from lack of water. They want to know if God is with them on this journey: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7).
Moses, in despair and fearful for his life, asks God what he should do. God tells Moses to strike the rock on which God stands and water will come from the rock. A gushing God cares for the thirsty people and gives abundantly. And Moses’ relationship with God becomes a blessing to the people. There is a simple pattern to this story that is found in other biblical stories – the people name their need, the leader prays to God, God gives instruction, the leader obeys. It is a pattern that is expressed throughout the Psalms as well—the composer cries out to God in lament, God hears the plea, God acts, there is transformation, and the composer responds in praise and thanksgiving.
In Hebrew, there is a word that cannot easily be translated into English that suggests this pattern. It is a theological term that describes the nature of God’s covenantal relationship with us—God’s Chesed (or Hesed). When translated, Hesed looks like“loving-kindness,” but even that does not seem to be enough. Maybe it should be translated “action-oriented-loving-kindness-faithfulness.” The closest single word we have in our Christian tradition is “Grace.”
In the story of the Hebrew people, it is that sure love which will not (and did not) let Israel go. Not all Israel’s complaining and fighting and persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. No matter what God remained faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash God’s hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Hebrew word Hesed.
When I find myself in the wilderness (which happens a lot), when I thirst for a Word from God (which I need more often than I realize), when I need the direction of the Holy Spirit (to find my way) I have the idea of God’s Hesed as a touchstone of my personal faith. This is what it means to me: God cares, God is present and available AND God acts. This is a powerful tool of our faith—it is a given that God loves us and is with us, and God can be counted upon to never give up on us no matter what—no matter what!
Like the Israelites, we may feel that we wander in the wilderness, thirsting for the water that gives life. Yet we do believe that God provides for our needs and helps us to help each other. I pray that in this Season of Lent, you might know for what your soul thirsts and that you give it over to God in prayer. I pray that you find the things and people right now that are life-giving for you. And I pray that together, with God’s guidance and direction, we might respond to the needs of other thirsty voices in our congregation and community. Our hope is the living water of God’s love (aka: action-oriented-loving-kindness-faithfulness), poured into our hearts.
With blessing and prayer, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapadefirstname.lastname@example.org