A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown, Ct on March 12, 2023
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7 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. 2 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?” 3 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?” 4 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. 6 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. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Let evening come.
let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
I met Jane Kenyon, the poet who wrote those words, while watching a Bill Moyers special on NPR, almost thirty years ago. It was mostly an accident; I’m a Moyers fan. I was taken by the idea that both Kenyon and her husband, Donald Hall, were members of the local UCC church; I was not looking for poetry.
Sometimes we really find the most wonderful things by accident. I intend to go to a poetry reading, wasn’t taking an English course, hadn’t even picked up a book… but there I was, listening to Kenyon, and hearing these words…. let evening come.
I’ve been thinking about the challenge of “enough” for a while now, and I’ve been wondering if all the losses of the past few years, combined with the terror of political life, the challenges of regular life – whatever that might have been – have not just all worked together to make it almost impossible to recognize “enough” even if we tripped over it. In other words, stress challenges our ability to be satisfied. Before COVID, I’d have expected that in this kind of stress, we’d yearn for something to be satisfied with, but instead, it seems to me that it’s become harder to see and acknowledge anything good.
I should have known better – I knew the testimony of today’s reading, the story of the journey of the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of a new land…. and how they keep meeting one challenge after another…. and how they keep blaming Moses for everything that’s just not completely and absolutely perfect. It’s a classic illustration of how stress affects groups, and I just didn’t see it.
In our story, the people of Israel are whining because there’s no water. Not that they weren’t right to want water, that part made sense. But in the previous chapter, they’d whined about food, and in the one before that, hadn’t liked the taste of the water. In other words, the whole journey had been punctuated by the followers complaining to their leader that one thing or another wasn’t right. Despite God’s promise to provide, they had struggled to trust that promise. They kept harking back to the past, implying that they were better off in slavery than free and on their own.
In other words, the enough that was before them was not enough to meet their stress-heightened needs.
Today, I want to talk a little more about enough, because when Pastor Will comes, I’m sure there’s going to be lots of high expectations about what he’ll do, and how quickly he can do it…
The first thing I want to say is that enough doesn’t have to mean enough forever. More often than not, it’s really about enough for today.
The second thing I want to say is that enough is not the same as all I want. It’s not the same as achieving perfection.
And the third thing I want to say is that enough is exactly what it says it is. Not insufficient, not too much, not overwhelming, not disappointing… but enough. It is not a call to complacency – so, I have enough, so everything’s fine…. not that, never that.
So, let’s look a little closer at the idea that enough doesn’t have to mean enough forever. More often than not, it’s really about enough for today. Do you remember the line in Matthew where Jesus is talking to folks who are worrying about what will happen next? It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount, and ends with him saying: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Turn that right side up, and it says, don’t look for tomorrow’s good today; today brings good of its own. In the Lord’s Prayer, which we recite each week, we say give us this day our daily bread. There we’re asking not for infinite amounts of bread now and forever, all we can stuff down. We’re asking for bread for the day. We’re asking for enough. Just for now, just for today, or just for tomorrow, but just enough.
Enough is not the same as “All I Want”. I took a few vacation days early this week and made my yearly trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show – for the first time since March of 2020. the Flower Show is next door to the Reading Terminal Market, which is the greatest public market/food hall in the US. The Reading Terminal Market is where I finally realized how very German was the food we ate as kids… scrapple and sauerkraut, chicken and gravy, dried beef on toast… maybe not your cup of tea, but nostalgic for sure. And the RTM is filled with food places…. African food, Moroccan food, Irish food, Mexican, Caribbean, Pennsylvania Dutch, and of course, Philly delicacies like cheese steaks, soft pretzels, hoagies, and Bassett’s Ice Cream.
The Reading Terminal Market is a place where everyone comes face to face with the difference between “enough” and “all I want”…
Enough is exactly what it says it is. Not insufficient, not too much, not overwhelming, not disappointing… but enough. But not a call to complacency – so, I have enough, so everything’s fine…. not that, never that.
Yesterday, the Daily Devotional from the UCC was about gratitude… written by Lillian Daniel, whom many of us knew when she was the pastor at Church of the Redeemer in New Haven… Lillian wants us to remember that being grateful doesn’t mean being complacent, doesn’t mean blinding ourselves to the continual call to be better, to do better. She writes: Gratitude in the Christian tradition is not all about you or what you feel. It’s about giving thanks anyway, and keeping alert to the well-being of others.
Enough, the way we’re using it, is a call to understand the essential imperfection of human life. Last week, a minister wrote in Reformed Journal about his journey from the Christian Reformed Church to the United Church of Christ.
The article is a wonderful song of love for the theological principles on which we build our way of being Christian. And when it was shared among other UCC’rs, there was always someone who thought it wasn’t enough… mostly, he wasn’t clear that we often fall short of our own vision for being church.
So, there it is – on the one hand, Lillian reminding us not to be complacent with our gratitude, and on the other hand, an essay reminding us that, however incomplete we are, we are still enough. That’s the challenge of being grateful for what we have, what we are. We balance between those two poles….
I think one of the clues to help us keep our balance, between being both grateful and impatient for better and more… is this: remember that life is imperfect at best. We will not be judged failures when we do not get everything right in every thing we do. Well, at least we won’t be judged failures by God and it’s God who has our deep allegiance.
Give thanks, be grateful, for the progress we’ve made towards being God’s love-based community. Don’t beat yourself, or others, up for not being as good at this as you wish we were, or they were, or you were. But take those gaps as guidance on where we need to grow. Be grateful for enough for today, and even more grateful for the call to a better tomorrow.
© 2023, Virginia H. Child