October 1 2017 Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 2 ~ Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 ~ Matthew 21:23-32
Any leader of any a church recognizes the truth reflected in today’s readings. There are days when we have that Moses experience of crying out to the Lord – ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me’ – especially when the going gets tough. And, there are days when we walk a very fine line between paying attention to people, helping discern when God is leading us in a new direction, and protecting the flock from those who would do spiritual harm or lead folks astray. It’s not uncommon for us to find ourselves looking for God between a rock and a hard place, which is why we are all called to pray for our leaders – to ask for wisdom & guidance & a clear understanding of what is happening.
Is the Lord among us, or not? That’s the question the Israelites are asking as they grumble their way through the wilderness on the way to the land of promise. And we’ve all been there – parents, teachers, community leaders. We all have trying times when it seems like nothing is going right to the point that where we’re not sure if God is still with us; or got annoyed or distracted and wandered away.
It’s a hard place to be. A dry and thirsty place. It is also a place where God can surprise us by quenching our thirst with life-giving water from unexpected places.
Sometimes it seems like God works best in the dry and thirsty places of our lives. Maybe that’s because there’s more room for God because we’re not quite so sure of ourselves; so full of ourselves. And that leaves room for God to surprise us with living water.
And sometimes God fills that gap with gracious silence, leaving godly space for our free will. That’s what’s happening in this morning’s gospel.
Did you notice that when the father orders his son to go and work in the vineyard and the son says, ‘I will not’, the father doesn’t chastise the son or threaten to take away his inheritance? He just leaves it be. That’s the gap of the gracious silence of God, which allows space for free will. Sometime later that day, the son changes his mind and goes to work. The actual Greek word used here is better translated, not as a change of mind, but as a change of caring; a change of heart. In other words, out of love for his father, the son decides to do what the father asks.
On this incredible journey with God, this pilgrimage toward our land of promise, there are always stages of adventure and potential growth mixed with stages of rest and refreshment. There will be times when we feel really good about it all and times when we will wonder if God us with us or not. And there will be times when we may not want to go where God is leading us. But God is good and gracious and patient, and will leave space for us to have a change of caring and out of love for God, go and do what we have been asked.
So perhaps a better question for us today, is not Is God with us or not? But where is God in all of this? That’s the question we are all taught to ask in seminary and in any pastoral or spiritual training.
Where is God in all of this? The question presumes that God is faithful and is with us somewhere in the situation; not as the one causing bad things to happen, but as the one who helps us find living water, hope and healing in unlikely places and people.
The really good news for leaders of the church is that, even when we get it wrong or fail to do what we’ve been asked, the grace of God leaves room for us, albeit at the back of the line. So, when we add all this together, we find that, instead of seeing the wilderness moments in our lives as a curse, we might want to consider them as potential blessings; moments when there is space for God to surprise us and room for us to grow.
And even if we fail to notice or acknowledge the presence of God in our midst, as was the case with temple authorities when John the Baptist was at work, God gives us the time and space we need to catch up and get on board. Godly space filled with divine patience and grace and room for our free will. God is indeed with us as we try to follow our Lord on the way.