We Bring God's Grace into the World
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7
In the Exodus story of the wilderness, the Israelites are often painted as needy, whiny people who don’t trust God. They’re complainers who are never satisfied. God freed you from slavery! God crushed your enemies as they chased you through the Red Sea. What more do you want?
But the thing is, in today’s lesson, it’s not like the Israelites were asking for ice cream or lobster. The first verse of chapter 17 says, “there was no water for the people to drink.” They weren’t railing for a luxury item. They weren’t even complaining about being uncomfortable, and I am positive that living in a desert wilderness was pretty uncomfortable. No, the problem was there was no water for the people to drink.
The body needs three things to survive: food to replenish energy, shelter from the elements, and, yes, water. In fact, it is water that we need the most. Our bodies can literally go weeks without food. Our need for shelter depends on the weather conditions. But no matter what, three or four days without water is lethal. Five if you’re lucky.
Yeah, sometimes the Israelites do some stupid things. Sometimes they renege on their faith, they go back to their idols, they despair when they should hope.
But I just don’t think this is one of those times. “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?’” If I were them, I imagine I’d be asking the same question.
And you know what? God provides. God doesn’t scold the Israelites. God doesn’t wait until they’re on the edge of death, lording the power of life over them, using their fear of dying to extract their faithfulness. Not once does God ask them to prove that they deserve to survive.
No, God simply asks Moses to strike a rock so that the people can drink. So that the people can survive.
We have this weird obsession in our country with what we think people deserve. Deacon Laurel preached a fabulous sermon on this last week. God’s grace offends our sense of fairness because God’s grace extends to all who show up and ask for it, no matter how long or hard they’ve worked—or haven’t worked—for it.
Many people claim that America is a Christian country—which is a complicated claim that I won’t get into here. A lot of those people would also claim that “God helps those who help themselves”—a phrase that does not appear in any sort of way in the Bible.
In fact, our scriptures are full of stories that teach us just the opposite. God provides water to thirsty Israelites because they asked. Jesus heals the blind man, the leper, the centurion’s servant, the bleeding woman, simply because someone asked him to. He didn’t have them fill out a form detailing their past sins. He didn’t ask them to work for a certain number of hours. He didn’t demand that they take a drug test. Only after Jesus heals does he ever ask them to do anything: go and let your healing be a testimony to others, go and sin no more.
Where humans rail for fairness, for people deserving what they get or don’t get, God simply gives what is needed, no questions asked. What God does ask is that we let that grace change us, that we extend that same grace God has shown us to others and to ourselves.
I think this starts with recognizing that having needs is valid. Like I said, the Israelites are so often described as complainers who don’t trust God. But the majority of the time the things they’re asking for are valid. Food, water, and shelter are obviously valid needs. Today, I would also add healthcare to that list. But even still we have people without shelter in our country. We have people who go hungry in our country. We have tens of thousands of people in our country who can’t afford the prescription drugs they need to survive. How do we as Christians, as a people of grace, reconcile this?
But our needs go beyond survival. We all know this. Especially now. Our need for connection and relationship is valid. Our need for purpose is valid. Our need for safety is valid. Our need for justice and dignity is valid.
Workers demanding a living wage is valid. Black folks demanding a life free from fear and harm, and then demanding justice when they are harmed, is valid.
God wants our needs to be met, and God is ready to meet those needs. But God needs humans acting in faith to do that. Giving water to the Israelites required Moses to act in faith, to believe that striking a rock with a rod would quench their thirst. It seems outrageous, right? To hit a rock with a stick to get water?
So I ask you, what seemingly outrageous thing is required of you in order for God’s grace to be known in this world, in order for people to have their needs met?
Maybe advocating for food, shelter, water, and healthcare for every single person, no matter who they are, or what they look like, or their ability to work.
Maybe giving of your financial resources even if you’re not sure how someone might use that gift.
Maybe standing up for Black folks’ safety and dignity even when the protests on their behalf make you feel uncomfortable.
Faith in God is about trust. Trusting that nothing is ever wasted when you act through the power of God’s grace. May God give us all the courage and strength to move from that place of trust always. Amen.