United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Memory & Hope”
by Rev. Mike Capron
September 24, 2017
Exodus 15:22-16:8, 17:1-7


  1. The Bible is not a fairy tale.
  2. How do I know that?
  3. <discuss> / <there is no happily ever-after>
  4. Good times: Abraham, Moses->Judges, David/Solomon.
  5. Bad Times: Slavery in Egypt, Exile Babylon and too many civil wars in between.
  6. You can tell from the Bible that our decisions have some impact on our situation. Choices have consequences.
  7. You can also tell from the Bible that no one has total control over their situation. Things happen that are far beyond our control. We need resources beyond what we can individually muster.
  8. Naturally, I’m going to point out that we need God. Not a huge surprise in a sermon.
  9. But I would like to focus on two things that I think have a big impact, that give us perspective. Those are memory and hope.
  10. <pause>
  11. So I have this dog named Riley. He isn’t very good at the past and future thing.
  12. He is hungry when he is hungry. He is thirsty when he is thirsty.
  13. I would like for him to take a long drink of water before we go for a walk on a hot summer’s day. But when I take him over to his water bowl, he just looks at me like I am crazy.
  14. In our stories from Exodus today, the people are a little like my dog.
  15. When they are hungry, they are hungry NOW.
  16. When they are thirsty, they are thirsty NOW.
  17. Oh, they may vaguely remember chapter 2, verse 23 where: “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.”
  18. But that was then, this is now. Chapter 17, verses 2 & 3 are typical: “Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
  19. That’s what they said. And you know what? As I sit in comfort, sipping tea, writing a sermon… it is easy for me to judge them: “Come on; God just saved you from the Egyptian army. Remember the big picture.”
  20. But the truth is that if I were there, actually feeling thirsty in the desert, it is pretty likely that I would be complaining just as loud as the rest.
  21. There is something about these most basic needs that reduces us to some common, elemental level.
  22. That is why, when we have enough, we ought to remember those in need.
  23. When we have food and water, we should remember those who do not.
  24. Victims of hurricanes, Rohinga refugees, Syrian refugees, kids on city streets with nothing to do, kids on lonely country lanes with nothing to do.
  25. Even as I preach this sermon on memory and hope, I must point out that memory and hope are grounded on compassion; and joined with a longing for justice and mercy.
  26. This community of ex-slaves from centuries ago ought to remind us that we are joined together, bound up in one another.
  27. They were in it together in the most obvious and profound way imaginable.
  28. We need to remember that, because, there is a lie abroad, that it is up to us. Not ‘us’ as in a community, but ‘us’ as a collection of autonomous individuals.
  29. The thinking goes like this: once we somehow get out of the slavery we used to be in, then we will be completely free, serving no master, needing no one.
  30. That’s the bit at the end of Chapter 15. After God gave them water, it says: “There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” <p>
  31. Having been freed from the yoke of a cruel and greedy human master, the people are being invited into a new life, serving the God who has freed them.
  32. But the ‘them’ we are talking about is not a mere collection of individuals. It is the people of God.
  33. There are a lot of terrible things about being in the wilderness. The people had a lot of things to complain about.
  34. But one good thing was this: they were in it together and they knew it. They knew they couldn’t survive on their own. They needed God and they needed each other.
  35. And the covenant God offers them is offered to them as a group, a people, a nation, a community. <p>
  36. Why would they want that?
  37. Memory and Hope.
  38. They remember the stories about Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, Jacob & his family, including especially Joseph.
  39. They remember the mighty acts of God worked through Moses to free them from Egypt.
  40. When they are thirsty in chapter 17, they ought to remember how they were thirsty in chapter 15 and God provided.
  41. They have good reason to hope that God will provide for them—both directly and through their fellow human beings.
  42. But some of them don’t get it.
  43. They insist on trying to gain more for themselves.
  44. Some of them wouldn’t listen to instructions. They would try to gather extra manna, but when they got home they still had exactly one omer.
  45. Some of them tried to save some overnight. It got gross and inedible—except on the day before the Sabbath.
  46. Some of them tried to gather manna on the Sabbath. But there wasn’t any to find.
  47. God was trying to get them to act as a faithful group, a community.
  48. He was trying to train them to rely on him, to trust the Lord their God.
  49. I think God is trying to get us to do the same thing.
  50. It would probably be easier to develop this kind of trust if God took us on a camping trip to the desert without any supplies, but I’m guessing we will just have to muddle through without that.
  51. But I hope that you will see the desirability of cultivating memory and hope.
  52. I can’t help remembering some famous verses from Hebrews 11, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”
  53. I won’t read it all, but there is a long section about Moses who grew up as an Egyptian prince. Hebrews 11:26 says: “He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.”
  54. Memory and hope.
  55. I’d like to end with a little exercise about that.
  56. Take a minute of silence to think of a time.
  57. Pair with someone not married to.
  58. Share.
  59. Share a few with group.
  60. “Lord, thank you for your mercy.” After each one.