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Reflecting on Massah/Mirabeh: a Monologue

by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald (permission is given to use this text in a worship service for September 26, 1999)

Text: Exodus 17:1-7

It hadn’t been that long since the coming of the manna. God had provided yet again--provided just enough, no more and no less. I’m a person that wants security, wants assurance, likes to put a little away for a rainy day--so this method of "just enough" for the day always bothered me--still does. I don’t suppose I’ll ever change. Maybe that’s why the next problem we ran into, the problem of no water still got to me. I had been uncomfortable from the beginning with manna from heaven as a source of food, but what choice did I have.

Here we were again--in danger of perishing (or so it seemed)--this time from lack of water. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for manna the last time, but it wasn’t manna we needed now and “enough already” with tricky situations.

All day we had been walking, looking for a place to settle for a while--a good place to camp. It was late, we were tired, we were thirsty, our watter supplies were very low. Some people had no water left. And Moses and company decided that here at Rephidim we would make camp.

We pitched our tents, set up our belongings. The women were getting ready to cook when we realized that there was no water in this place--no river, no stream, no pond, no signs of a possible well, no signs of rain about to come--no water for cooking or cleaning or drinking. We started going about from family to family to see if anyone had a little extra to get us through the day. As the search for someone with a store of water increased, we became more frantic. What was a concern rose to the level of panic. Manna from Heaven was forgotten. In the face of this new crisis, that seem like too long ago. Besides we no longer needed food: we needed water. Tired and thirsty people are pretty cranky people--and soon we would be tired, thirsty and hungry.

There were some who thought “God provided before, God will provide again” and some who were too upset to think. Who can sit quietly when the need is so great? I, personally, was in no mood for praying for the impossible again--though some thought it would help, and did just that. That’s when the fighting broke out. Half of us were complaining, not too quietly--and the other half were praying and saying “be quiet, have patience, have faith.” Like children we fought.

“Don’t worry, God is among us. God will provide.”

“If God is among us, then why do we thirst? If God were here, we would have water!”

And so we quarrled until someone put our question into words: “Is the Lord among us or not?” We took our question to Moses.

Moses seemed tired himself. He was clearly exasperated, frustrated to be asked once again if he had brought us out of Egypt only to die in this wilderness. He listened to our question and our complaints and our quarreling. Then he stood up. He said he need to think and would be back soon. He went off as he usually did--to pray, I suppose.

It wasn’t long, maybe half an hour, maybe an hour, before he reappeared with his staff. He began to walk away from camp motioning to the elders to come with him. He seemed to be looking for something up ahead. We followed--no less agitated--but quieter now that something was happening.

Moses stopped in front of a large rock. The elders gathered in a little closer. Moses looked intently at the rock, then seemed to focus on one spot. Slowly he lifted his staff--then with a swift sure blow he struck the rock--and we saw water. He gave his blessing on the place which he called Massah which means Test and Meribah which means Quarrel.

I think about that day often--especially when things are not going well, and I wonder if perhaps God has abandoned me. I remember our question to Moses: “Is the Lord among us or not?” and I ask it of myself: “Is God here with me or not?”

Sometimes I wish I had more faith--like those who sit patiently and wait for God to be revealed. But then I remember that day and I think that perhaps if I and others had not complained Moses would not have heard--and Moses would not have turned to God and we would not have had a solution to a problem, water to quench our thirst.

I am not always sure what prayer really is or how it works--how much our answers come from human actions and how much from God’s intervention. But what I learned from that day, what a remember about it, is that there seems to be a kind of relationship between God and humans--all the humans, the praying ones and the complaining ones. I saw, I felt, faith and action working together. I found I could not easily separate human and divine action and it seemed to me then as it does now that complaining is not such a bad thing when it is mixed with faith and hope and trust. And it is especially not such a bad thing when that faith and hope and trust results in action.

Sometimes now I will ask: “Are you here with me God or not?”, even though now I am certain of the answer. It is my way of remembering God’s presence in the midst of my needs--of remembering Massah and Mirabah--of remembering words, faith, trust and action all coming together to provide water to a thirsty and complaining people. It is my way of, even in my need, giving thanks to God and for God’s people who hear with compassion all my complaining human ways.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Admaston Pastoral Charge - United Church of Canada
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