There is nothing better than a good road trip. There is just something about getting behind the wheel of a car and going on a long journey to some new place.
Like many of you, I have a lot of great memories of road trips throughout my life. Many of these memories include trips with my grandparents growing up. We would take their old Mark III van almost everywhere, from the shore of Lake Okeechobee in Florida, to El Paso, Texas, to Niagara Falls, to Toronto, to Washington, D.C., and other destinations. Those were great trips spent with my grandparents and my little brother enjoying the road, seeing new things, and spending time with family.
While those were special times, they were also times, my family would tell you, with some frustrating moments. Times when my brother and I would complain about the other. Times when we would lose the van in giant parking lots, even when there were few other cars around. Times when we would wonder if we would ever get to our desired destination.
We can all relate to these journeys, and not just because we have our own experiences with special road trips with our families filled with high moments and those unsavory times of any journey. What we can relate to is the fact that all of us here this morning are on a journey together. This morning we are on a journey of faith. A journey that is about growing closer to the Lord and becoming more aware of the Lord’s presence in our lives. A journey filled with hope, promise, joy, and love. A journey that, like many of our family trips, is not always easy. It is a journey filled with many bumps, obstacles, challenges, and frustrating moments.
We are on a journey much like how the Israelites were on a journey so many years ago. They were on a journey moving from a promise of God’s provisions and redemption to seeing its fulfillment in the Promised Land. As well, we are on a journey that takes us from initial faith to seeing the Lord’s presence fully realized in our lives and in the lives of others. Israel was on a journey that took them from receiving the promise of experiencing a new life with the Lord to seeing that life fully realized in the land of “milk and honey.”
It wasn’t always the easiest journey. In fact, it was a journey that was filled with a lot of grumbling and distrust from the Israelites. They wondered if God was truly with them and if God had brought them out of Egypt to begin a new relationship with the Lord. Our passage from Exodus 17:1-7 is indicative of this. We catch up with the Israelites on this journey as they are encamped near Rephidim. As they arrive, they notice that there is no water and they begin to complain. They want water to drink and they want it now. At first glance, we might see this as a story of Israel demanding provisions for stability. Yet, when we take a deeper look at the passage, we see something else going on, something that connects us to what being on this journey of faith is all about. What we see is that being on this journey is all about having a faith built on trust and not testing God.
This begins to come into focus as we take a look at Israel’s reaction to the lack of water. This wasn’t the first time that Israel would stop and find their to be no food or water. All they could do was respond in the best way they knew how. They complained. They complained bitterly and angrily to Moses wanting to know where there would be water. Once again, much as they did at the Red Sea and when there was no food to eat, Israel lashes out at Moses, believing that his intentions were not to save them but to kill them. They did not trust that Moses, and really God, wanted to be there with them. They expected that if God saved them, then God would provide everything on the journey.
We can relate to Israel’s frustrations and complaints. Now, we know what it is like not to get something that we were expecting in our personal lives – a promotion that didn’t come our way, a new job that never materialized, or a crop that never really grew. We also know what it is like to have deeper spiritual frustrations that match those of Israel’s. A frustration that comes about when we believed God would do something, but then nothing happens. When we believed God would provide, but we continue to struggle. When we expected to hear the Lord’s voice, yet there is silence. These are painful moments and, to be honest, often lead some to question the very presence of God in their lives.
For Israel, and maybe even for ourselves, the issue isn’t about whether there was water at this location. It was about Israel not wanting to trust God unless they could see God at work. They had a faith that was based more on testing God than trusting God. What do I mean by a test? Testing God is when we expect God to show himself in order for us to believe in the Lord’s presence. It is about expecting God to do what we desire, so that we will be assured of his provisions and protection. At this place along the wilderness journey, Israel expected God, the One who provided for their redemption from Egypt, to provide before they would trust in God’s presence with them.
Once again, we can relate to Israel’s experience here in the wilderness. All of us, in some way, have tried to have a faith that is built more upon testing God than trusting in God. We’ll say things like, “I won’t go to the doctor, because I know God will heal me,” or “I don’t need to go to church, because God will care for my spiritual and community needs,” or “I do not need to wear my seat belt, because God is my co-pilot.” Of course, these are far fetched ideas, but they really get to the heart of how we relate to God. We expect God to do our bidding, and to come to our defense and safety. Only when God does what we want will we have faith in God.
By this, we and Israel in this story have a faith that is built more on seeing with our eyes than our heart. We refuse to commit ourselves to God unless it is built upon a relationship where God acts primarily in the physical, instead of in the deepest parts of our soul. A relationship that seeks to force God to work for us.
This is not the type of relationship that God desires for us. Instead, God desires a relationship that is grounded upon the foundation of trust where we remember God’s provisions of the past as we live in the present and expect tomorrow to come. God desires us to believe with our heart and soul that the Lord is with us and is at work in our lives. To trust that God loves us and walks with us.
It is because of this desire for us to have relationships built upon trust that God moves into action to provide water for Israel. God calls Moses and the elders to the rock and works in Moses’ actions with the staff in order to show Israel, and us, something important. The striking of the rock to provide water was as much about reminding Israel about God’s past activity as it was about providing for present needs. God sends a message to Israel through this moment to remind them that just as God has provided for them in the past, so will God provide for them in the journey to come. God wants Israel to remember these moments of provision and to lean on those memories when it seems that God’s presence and provisions are not available. To really trust that God loves them and will never leave them.
The essence of trusting God is about calling to mind the ways God has acted in the days before and to allow that to influence our lives on this journey of faith. Remembering has a dual purpose to it. We remember God’s actions of the past to remind us of the ways God has worked in our lives. We remember the moments when we felt God’s presence when we were alone, or when God provided care for us, or moments when God healed some pain or hurt. As we remember those moments, it calls to mind how God never abandons us. God is always right there with us. The second purpose in remembering God’s actions is about allowing those memories to impact our present as we await the future promises of God. We live with a trust that says that as God has provided in the past, so will God provide today. To remember means to live with the confidence of faith in our heart that God will be there and will lead us through.
Faith is about believing in God’s presence and not having a faith that is dependent upon God doing what we want and when we want it to happen. What would it look like if we lived like that? What would happen in those rocky moments on this journey of faith, if instead of thinking that God will never be there, we leaned on the moments of the past of God’s love to give us hope and confidence of God’s presence in the moment? What if we took a deep breath in times of trouble and instead of saying, “God where are you?,” we say, “God, as you have been with me in the past, I know you are here today. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come as you wish and as you desire and provide as you see fit. Your will be done and not my will.”
We are all on journey between those first moments of faith and seeing God’s full glory. In the interim, we will have days of great hope and days where we are like the Israelites and believe God is not there. Imagine how much more connected we would feel with God if we lived by a trust built upon remembrance. Imagine how much different our lives would be if we allow God’s actions of the past to define who we are today, who we are in the difficult times, and how we will live in every moment.