Seeing is Believing

September 24, 2017

Series: September 2017

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.“ 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him — what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD. THANKS BE TO GOD.

Seeing is Believing

I underestimated just how beautiful it was, and thus what I had missed. I had seen partial eclipses before, but as one enthusiast has said, experiencing a total eclipse is like attending the most magnificent show you’ve ever seen, while a partial eclipse is akin to buying a ticket for the show but remaining at the ticket window for the rest of the day.

We know some who made the trip into the path of totality, put up with the hours of driving all for…2 minutes. Everyone I have heard from said it was worth it. They spoke of it as a spiritual experience, though many are not religious people. Virtually all of them made mention of tears. Tears. Think of that. Two minutes of the sun being obscured in the middle of the day, and people are reduced to tears. Seeing clearly is believing.

For some that is a literal truth. My spouse Sherri told me of an interview she heard with a scientist who upon the moment of experiencing totality for the first time instantly became a believer, and not simply amorphously spiritual, but an avowed Christian. What is that about? This was not evidence of God, just pure awe, wonder, and beauty, which is perhaps a different form of evidence, one that we should heed more often.

I love an eclipse as an image for experiencing God. Unfortunately, the next total eclipse in this country isn’t until 2024. And, isn’t that how it is? I know we speak in here of Matthew Fox and the presence of the divine in all things, and yet many of us don’t have such vivid experiences of God that often. Some do, but whether because we’ve been taught to dull those senses or simply haven’t been that lucky, many of us go a long time between sightings if we have them at all.

Don’t feel bad if that is you. This is not about ability. We can cultivate our senses, but we cannot conjure up God at our every whim. I’m not sure that’s the point of all this anyway. I believe the point is to become more loving and compassionate people, more joyful people, serving others, being more and more like Christ in the world. That, incidentally, will do more to lead you to an experience of the divine than anything else I can recommend. Still, I understand the desire to feel something, to be moved, to be reassured.

The eclipse, your next shot at totality, won’t happen again until 2024, and so we need something to sustain us in between such sightings, and that’s why I give to the church, and that’s why I respectfully but unapologetically ask you to give to the church. For the most part, we don’t live in totality, we have to make our way through this life often in the fog or in the blinding light of full sun. I have come to realize that I don’t much like the image of the sun for God because it’s just too darn present, especially in California. It’s too regular, and that’s not how it works. No, most of the time in this life is spent in between the fleeting grandeur of the eclipse, between the moments of good news, between noteworthy accomplishments, between moments of total balance and happiness, between times when all is well with your family or loved ones, between the times when you feel all is right with you and with the world.

The church is not simply a temple to point to the sun, something that is readily apparent. The church is a waypoint to keep us fed, where we might find rest, encounter direction, meet fellow travelers, and be inspired to keep walking on our journey from one eclipse to the next. So often, life, even for those of us who by many measures would be counted fortunate, is just about putting one foot in front of the other. That’s why we need this. Would you want to go through life without it? Would you want our communities to be left to their own devices and directions and disavowal of the sacred? Our congregation is part of a much bigger church. Our denomination, like many others, is doing the real work of Jesus—building hospitals and clinics, opening schools, installing clean water systems, and advocating for peoples’ rights all over the world.  

The church, at its best, is the place we go, the group with whom we gather, to be shaken from the world we are told is real – one marked by fear, anxiety, enmity, judgment, shame, violence, futility, nothingness. It is an invitation into hope, possibility, grace, peacefulness, justice, substance, and meaning. In a world that tempts us, and oh does it tempt us, to offer curse to our enemies, the church dares us to offer blessing, blessing which is stronger, not weaker than curse. We don’t have a church, we do church. We do church every time we engage in any act that reminds one other of the wonder of it all in between the eclipses. In doing so, we know what is worth fighting for. We do church together. As our stewardship team has become fond of saying, and I have become fond of hearing, at Westminster pray together, sing together, baptize together, break bread and share the cup together, mourn and memorialize together, laugh together, and celebrate together…and we give together. We pledge together. Each in our own measure within our own ability, but all, all, so that the church might have its daily needs met.  

Today’s story from Exodus is about having daily needs met. God’s people are being led from Egypt, which means “the narrow place,” to a more expansive life and vision. This is the promised land. Understandably, as the people leave the familiarity of captivity behind, but are not yet in their newfound freedom, they become frightened, unsure, and begin to have second thoughts. They lament not dying in Egypt. Well, you can die in the narrow place, or you can step out in faith toward a more expansive vision. God does not punish their cries, even as they turn on their leader and they turn on God God’s self. Rather, God hears their cries of concern over not having enough to eat. God, in turn, promises to rain down food from heaven, and encourages each to take enough every day, and all have enough. What’s more, once a week, God gives them double, because God’s people deserve a day of rest each week on such a tiresome journey. This is what we refer to as manna from heaven.

What if as we learn to recognize the manna given to us we are able to become that manna, and give that manna, for others, particularly for those who have been left behind, the hungry, the abandoned, the weak? What if our giving reflected the faith that we have that we, in turn, will be given what we need?

We are not asking anyone to do what they cannot. We are asking everyone to do what they can. It will make a difference for someone you may not be able to imagine.

They had no idea how beautiful it all ways, and thus what they had been missing. It was only when they were given a pair of special glasses that these people were able to see color for the first time. One after another, they put on their glasses and gazed around in absolute wonder, awe, and beauty at the world around them they had only hear others talk about their whole lives long. From an older body builder clapping like a child at the sight of flowers, to a young father seeing his little girls’ hair color for the first time, to a young boy—who I thought would be the least likely to cry because he looked about 11—simply turning to his father, reaching out and up, shoulders pulsating with his tears. Seeing is believing. Being a part of this church is how we claim to the vision to see this world in full color and do whatever we can to allow others to as well. That’s worth pledging to, because 2024 is a long way off. Amen.