Today's Lectionary Text
Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned against them.
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
This time of year, when the humidity is high in the early morning and summer is moving toward its end, my morning walks often trigger memories. The dank odor of decaying foliage in the neighborhood takes me back to my childhood when summer vacation meant trips to visit my mother’s family in Appalachia. The two of my mother’s siblings with whom we spent most of our time both lived on mountain farms where early morning was always cool and filled with that same dank, damp woodsy smell of decayed foliage. For years now, when I encounter that early morning smell, memories of what seemed an almost Utopian existence come rolling over me. Playing in the creek beside my aunt’s farmhouse or climbing the hillside to my uncle’s tobacco barn with my cousins; breakfasts of biscuits and gravy or dinners of fried chicken, coleslaw and potato slaw around a table where so many people were crowded that there was literally no elbow room; chasing lightning bugs in the lingering dusk of evening. In my mind the memories are all good – with no room for the reality of the heat and humidity that IS summer in the south, or of whatever was going on in the world beyond during those long-ago summers.
When I read of the experiences of the Hebrews after their departure from Egypt, one of the stories that always comes to mind is the one in the above verses. Not content with the manna God had provided, they longed for the “perfect” foods they had known in Egypt. They longed for the familiarity of life there, forgetting the reality of their status as slaves in that land.
We are not unlike those long-ago Hebrews. We tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. We often recall the years of our youth as being perfect – that time when we had the world ahead of us and nothing could stop us. But, if we are honest with ourselves, there was much that was not so perfect back then, as well. In my own youth, there were racial inequalities, poverty, and an unpopular war that all created unrest in the background of that “perfect” world.
And here we are, all these years later, with the same issues getting in the way of a “perfect” life. Except that this time the “unpopular war” is with a deadly virus. We are tired of staying home. We are tired of distancing ourselves from loved ones. We are tired of the violence and the distrust being exhibited by so many people in recent months. Many of us are tired of Zoom meetings and having to make choices about online or in-person worship and school.
We want to go back to the familiar and the comfortable – just like the ancient Hebrews.
But we can no more go back to what used to be than the Hebrews could go back to Egypt. We cannot afford to go back to what was because “what was” does not take us in the direction of God’s realm. We cannot draw closer to God’s vision for God’s people if we do not do the hard work of building a world where two-thirds of the population (world-wide) do not live on less than ten dollars a day (current poverty level – those in extreme poverty live on less than $1.90 per day). We cannot draw closer to God’s realm if we do not do the hard work of seeking real equality for ALL persons.
Jesus taught his disciples to love God and love one another. Sometimes that means living with what we have rather than constantly looking back to an imperfect past because it is a place of comfort. There was no return to Egypt for the Hebrews and no going back to before COVID-19 for us. We can only go forward under God’s direction.
--Rev. Robbie Fall, retired Elder
Prayer for Reflection
Creating, Redeeming, and Sustaining God, help us to look forward rather than backward so that we can focus on your realm. Give us the strength and the willingness to build on the foundation you have set before us. Amen.
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