Sermon Proper 21 9-27-2020
September 27, 2020, 12:00 PM

                    Sermon 17th Pentecost Proper 21



There was a fervent religious phenomenon in the early 1800's that lasted up until the Civil War.  It was called the camp meeting.  Usually one to three thousand people would congregate out in a clearing in the woods.  People slept in wagons or tents or just on the ground for several days to a week.  Singing hymns, sharing food, and nearly around the clock religious services brought strangers and friends together, raised their spirits and changed their hearts to follow the Gospel.  Slaves in this time period were also permitted to gather at Camp Meetings.  It frightened their masters who were afraid their slaves might escape or get the wrong ideas about freedom but religious pressure from the churches slave owners attended coerced them to grant their slaves time off for what must have been a little bit of semi-heaven in their dreary lives of servitude.  This is one of the African American spirituals that recalls those times of relief and freedom:  “There Will Be a Great Camp Meeting in the Promised Land.”  The words change, but go something like this

O, walk together, children,

Don't you get weary,

Walk together, children,

Don't you get weary,

There's a great camp meeting in the

Promised Land.

Going to mourn and never tire,

Mourn and never tire,

There's a great camp meeting in the

Promised Land.


Now let us hear some of that spiritual from The Harmonizing Four, A black Gospel quartet founded in 1927.  If you know this one, please don't sing along because of the virus.


Our reading today from Exodus is about that time after Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt.  Those years when they wandered in the wilderness.  There may have been camp meetings for the Hebrews that lifted their spirits and formed them into a people and a community.  But there were hardships too.  Last week we read about the Hebrews complaining about hunger and this week we read about them complaining about thirst.  The people quarreled with Moses and Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst.”

Moses has had it with the people and he complains to God.  But notice how God responds to his children.  God doesn't take offense no matter how loud they complain.  God immediately instructs Moses to go ahead of the people and strike the rock at Horeb.  Water comes from the rock so the people might drink.You know America has always fancied itself the promised land and themselves the chosen people.  But what of the slave who occasionally got to go to camp meetings.  They are God's truly chosen people and so like the Hebrews they have had to suffer—to endure—to overcome.  They have suffered but have they entered the promised land?  Do their lives matter? 

I believe there are two important lessons for us to learn from the reading from Exodus.

One. God leads the people into the wilderness where there is not water for a reason.  It is good for the Hebrews to experience thirst and to learn from thirst. And what they learn from thirst is to turn back to God, to pray to God for every form of sustenance.  And we too have dry spells in which we experience that we are thirsty and needy needy but we don't always turn to God.  There are times when we are “drunk with the wine of the world,”  We forget God.  Our need eventually brings us back to God who holds us and provides for us.  God loves us most when we share with others our suffering.

And Two.  We must not forget that the Hebrews complain.  They are angry with God.  They shout at God with bitterness.  Don't we also get angry with God.  “Why did You let his happen to me?”  “Why did you let the one I love die?” “Why did you let my child get into so much trouble.”  There are many situations where we are angry with God.  We get tired and we get weary on our way.  Sometimes we think that this anger is a sin.  We feel anger is a sin because we have been taught praise and honor are the only way to talk to God.  I know this is hard to hear and maybe surprising, but anger is a way to talk to God, too.  When we are angry with God, we speak the truth to God.  We open our hearts when we yell and scream.  We get real when we are angry with God.  God respects that.  God hears our complaints.  God takes our anger upon him and hears our words as a prayer even if they might be couched in four letter expletives.  God hears the cries of our pain and our hearts and he draws near to us, as the loving parent God is.  There will be camp meetings in the promised land.  But the price of admission to that promised land is the long weary walk through the wilderness where we feel hunger and thirst and pain,  We must not forget God is leading us through the wilderness for a reason.  We know thirst now that we may drink from the Spiritual rock who is Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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