Sermon for March 12th, 2023
It won’t be enough, you know.
Whatever it is you are chasing after; whatever you are longing for; when you finally get it, it won’t be enough.
Food, drink, sex, money, attention, fame, power. These are the things that humans spend their lives chasing after and when they get them, they often discover, sadly, that they aren’t enough. We are never content; never completely satisfied. I wish that I could just blame this on capitalism, or “the Man,” or the system, or the government, or big pharma, or Madison Ave, or Wall Street. I wish that I could blame someone for our lack of contentment and all the misery that comes along with it. It would be so easy. I wouldn’t even have to lie. After all, politicians, big business, drug companies, ad executives, journalists, none of these individuals really want you to be happy. They want to sell you happiness, but in order to do that true contentment always needs to be one more transaction or one more vote away, otherwise they’d be out of business. It would be so easy to just blame them, but the truth is, the problem, the real problem, lies within us. Each of us. We are the ones who are never satisfied or content. We are the ones who always want more. That is why it is so easy for us to be manipulated and led astray by charlatans and devils. That is the story of humanity, and that is the great insight of the Bible into human nature. From the very beginning of Genesis the Bible makes it clear that it is this discontent, this longing for just that little bit more, that is the cause of the downfall of humanity.
No matter what we chase after, when we finally get it, it is never enough. We always want more.
Was it enough that God sent plagues upon Egypt to convince Pharoah to set the Hebrews free? No.
Was it enough that God led his people with a cloud and fiery pilar? No.
Was it enough that God split the sea to let his people escape, or that he released the waters to trap the Egyptians in their own evil? No.
Was it enough that God sent manna from heaven? Or Quails? No.
Was it enough that God had already turned bitter water into sweet?
Not for us humans, because it’s never enough for us. I am reminded of this beautiful anthem that the choir sings on Good Friday, the Reproaches, which are based on a passage from the Prophet Micah, but are basically God saying to his people: “what more could I have done for you?” But it is never enough for us.
In the Exodus story this morning, we find the Hebrews journeying through the desert. They have seen visible signs of God’s presence among them all along the way. All along the way, God has provided for their needs. Now they need water again. That’s only natural. You can’t blame them for being thirsty. It’s the desert and human bodies need regular fluids and nourishment. You can’t blame them for being thirsty. But these people who have seen God’s salvation over and over again, why don’t they just ask God for what they need? Why don’t the Hebrews ask God for water? But they don’t. What do they do? Well their first course of action is to go to Moses and complain. Not just complain, but complain bitterly. They are angry, they want to stone him, they blame him for all their problems. No matter how many times God has already saved these people and proven himself to them, it’s not enough. They still don’t trust him. There’s still no faith. Now it could be that these people have already forgotten what God did for them in the last chapter. Humans have notoriously short memories. But it could also be that these people don’t recognize that the God that saved them in the past is still with them. He’s right there. I think that is really the bigger issue. People just don’t recognize that the God who has saved them in the past and who is going to save them now is right there in the midst of them. They don’t recognize that God is there, so they go to Moses and complain.
But what does God tell Moses to do? God doesn’t just say “give them some water.” God gives Moses very specific instructions. God tells Moses to take the staff that he used to perform his first miracle; the stadf that he used to turn the Nile into blood, the first plague to strike Egypt; the first sign of God’s concern for his people; that, incidentally, was the same staff that Moses held over the sea to make it split in two; this staff that has been in Moses’s hand throughout this journey to freedom. God tells Moses to take that potent symbol of his power and his presence and to use that to strike the rock and make water come forth. And God tells Moses that I will be standing there, right in front of you on the rock. But the people don’t see God, they can only see the symbol of his presence, the staff, and even then some manage only to see the water. Enough to quench their thirst for now, but not for long. And the place is given a name that means “is the Lord among us or not?” Fitting, because most of the people there can only see the water, and not the true source of it. It was that inability to see the presence of the Lord that led to all that quarrelling and anguish. That was what made people question if there would be enough. It’s an ongoing problem for us humans. If we don’t recognize God’s presence among us; if we can’t see that the God who saved us in the past is here with us now, then nothing else we chase after or long for will ever be enough.
This water that the Hebrews miraculously drank from the rock. It wasn’t enough actually. Moses will have to go through this whole scenario again. If you think that the Bible repeats itself, it is because human history repeats itself. God saves us and we forget. God provides for us, and we forget. We forget that God is present among us. We forget that we can ask God for what we need. We forget God and we panic and quarrel. We forget God and chase after other things, but the other things are never enough. The problem isn’t with these Hebrews in the desert; the problem is with humanity. Throughout time.
On one of his journeys, Jesus met a woman at a well. She wasn’t Jewish, she was a Samaritan. Samaritans are related to Jews, but let’s just say it’s complicated. She has come to fill her water jars, but they won’t be enough. She will have to come back again and again and again. Of course, we also know that water isn’t the only thing this lady has been chasing after but never quite getting enough of, she has had five husbands and is on candidate number six right now. And don’t you folks go shaming her because you’re secretly jealous either! We don’t know much about her back story; maybe the men in her life couldn’t get enough either. Jesus knows your secrets too, just like he knew hers. And he offers you the same thing: grace and life, refreshment, rebirth, that is more than enough. We need it, just like those villagers in the story needed it. There is in each and every one of us a voice of discontent that never wants us to be satisfied with what we have; that is always driving us to that next thing which never quite seems to be enough. We are a hungry and thirsty people and until we learn to look to God, to recognize God’s presence among us and to ask God to supply and satisfy our needs, nothing else we chase after will ever be enough.
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