Painting Pictures of Egypt

“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” 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?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Exodus 17:1-7


In times of stress, hardship, anxiety, and fear it is natural to long for the known, even if the known wasn’t that great. I can relate to my Israelite ancestors. They are literally walking the path of and toward freedom – toward the promises of God, but the journey is hard. There have been many times in my life, while in the middle of a present struggle, that I “paint pictures of Egypt.” Sara Groves sings these words: 

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard
And I want to go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned

Now – this present moment of uncertainty, loss, and struggle is one of those times. Why can’t things go back to the way they were before Covid-19? If only this would go away, we could resume business as usual! Everything was better before 2020! By no means do I want to downplay this present moment. It is hard – maybe the hardest thing many of us have ever weathered. And we need to lament – we need to foster what Euguene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction” – in this case, sitting with our grief and lament and bringing it to God is faithful participation in God’s story. And also, we need to pursue a posture of hope and trust – a posture that is open to the creative, surprising, boundary-breaking work of the Spirit leading us to new possibilities, new freedoms, new learning, and new mission. “The places that used to fit us cannot hold the things we are learning…” The question posed at the end of verse 7 is a question we ought to sit with: “Is the Lord among us or not?” Is the Lord among us or not? May we lean in, carrying our grief and anxiety, our disappointment and frustration, and our defiant hope and trust into the arms of the Lord, the one who is always, forever, in every way, among us.

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