Do You Trust Me?
Pentecost 18 – Narrative Lectionary 4
October 8, 2017
Redeemer, Good Thunder, MN
Exodus 16.1-18; John 6.51
Two weeks ago my family and I saw the Broadway touring musical of the Disney favorite, Aladdin, at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. Aladdin is a bit of a scamp, a streetwise rogue who encounters the Princess Jasmine, a young woman who refuses to marry just anyone to please her father. In the misadventure that follows, they are chased by palace guards and reach a tricky place. Aladdin is about to leap from a rooftop, but Jasmine hesitates. Aladdin reaches down and says, “Do you trust me?” She does. Later, pretending to be a prince through the help of the Genie yet unrecognized to Jasmine, he asks the same question as he coaxes her on a magic carpet ride. “Do you trust me?”
Trust is a central theme in today’s reading from Exodus, which finds the Jews in the wilderness. Since the call of Moses and the revelation of God’s name, “I Will Be Who I Am,” Moses has had to use 10 plagues to convince Pharaoh to release the Jews, including the killing of firstborn males. Because of the loss of his own son, Pharaoh relents but then changes his mind and pursues the Israelites. Moses parts the Red Sea to escape and closes it back up as Pharaoh and his army attempt to cross, killing them all. Now, safely on the other side, the Jews realize they’ve gone from slavery to an uncertain and unfriendly wilderness. They panic.
When they panic, they do something that is all too human: they look back with rose-colored glasses at what they have left behind them. Even though not much time has elapsed, the slavery they have left from looks better than the prospect of starving in the wilderness. Now, in all fairness, why should they trust a God they hadn’t heard from in over 400 years? Even so, God through Moses reaches down to them with quail and manna, saying, “Do you trust me?” And by providing for his people day by day, God builds that trust with the Israelites day by day as well.
There are many wildernesses that come through transitions and changes in our lives that we endure and can talk about: divorce, cancer, violence, and natural disasters, to name a few. The wilderness that’s been on my mind for several years, though, is the wilderness of the church. People are leaving our churches in droves, through death and disinterest. Many Millennials and Gen-Xers consider the church irrelevant and even boring. Baby Boomers who grew up in the church, if they are still in the church, are too busy trying to launch their children, taking care of grandchildren, caring for their elderly parents, or all three. Those that are left in the church look back to a bygone era that seems better than it was, wondering why we can’t go back there. Sometimes, like the Israelites, we blame our leaders.
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it’s important to remember that God doesn’t abandon God’s people and that in every age God reaches out saying, “Do you trust me?” I don’t know what’s ahead for God’s church, how God is going to make it new, but I know that God is and will be doing so. I do know that as we travel this unsure road we need to focus on God’s abundance, what we have, and not scarcity, what we don’t have. Like the man in Mark 9, who asks Jesus to heal his son, we need to say, “Lord we trust you; help our mistrust.”
1,200 years after the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness, God will put on human flesh and enter our wilderness, saying “Do you trust me?” God will do this for all time in Jesus Christ. And, knowing that we need constant reminder that God is with us in our wilderness and will lead us out, the Bread of Life gives his very self to us over and over again, strengthening us for our journeys. It’s good to take a look back now and then, to remind ourselves where we have come from, to see God’s hand in our lives, but we do so that we can trust God as we are led to new life. Amen.