Since I attended the Summer Institute for Theology and Disability last week in Atlanta, I decided not to sing in the choir at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. I wouldn’t have gone to church at all but it was Mark Ramsey’s last solo sermon before he begins serving a church in Austin Texas and I didn’t want to miss it.
I do hate sitting with the choir and always looking at the backs of worship leaders’ heads so it was nice to see everyone’s face. At the reception, Kristy Farber the other minister at Grace said that Mark’s sermon was a “greatest hits” kind of sermon. This was true but I needed to hear some of his greatest hits!
While I don’t agree with him that being in the wilderness is not the exception but rather the rule, I appreciated his sermon on Exodus 16:1-12. I could be wrong though because I do seem to spend a lot of time in the wilderness. Perhaps others do as well. (Read sermon here: rhttp://storage.cloversites.com/gracecovenantpresbyterianchurch1/documents/sr-31May15-alt.pdf)
He also said wilderness times are extreme times. “Highs are higher and lows are lower. Joy is richer, and pain is more intense.” Again, this isn’t true for me for when I’m in the wilderness all I see is darkness and I feel no joy. It may be that my wilderness times happen when I’m depressed which makes these times bleak and lonely but when I’m there, all I can do is repeat over and over again that God is with me.
As Flannery O’Connor says, “I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” Sometimes I need to close both eyes and simply remember what God has done for me in the past for even squinting my eye doesn’t help! In any event, Mark was right when he said, “In the wilderness, God strips…and God provides. That means we have to learn new things, new ways, we have to walk down new paths.” He calls this a wilderness gift.
Mark’s favorite thing about the word Manna is the literal translation which is, what is it? “Every morning families would go out and gather a bowl of what is it? They would prepare it as creatively as they could, but in the wilderness, there weren’t a lot of options. Presumably, there was no ‘what is it’ helper” and on he went. (You may wish to listen here for his delivery is excellent: http://www.gcpcusa.org/#/the-message )
He said “…the people of God were nourished by a question, not nourished by answers… but by a question: What is it? What is it, God that you are doing? What is it that you are making us into? What is it you are asking of us? This is the question that kept them alive in the wilderness.”
It seems I’m always asking God for help through the wilderness. Perhaps my questions are keeping me alive! I often think God gets impatient with all my questions, my moaning and my groaning. Perhaps She does but Scripture is full of stories about people who are just like me. We’re searching for a way through the wilderness. As Mark often has said over the years “keep open to the wonder of faith, keep nimble to move where God is moving, keep yearning for the large, deep world God is giving us….and leave all the rest to God.”
This is what I try and will always try, to do. Stop worrying and leave all the rest to God.