Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Just a few weeks after Moses and Aaron had managed, through God's actions, to gain freedom for the Israelite people, they are once again in the hot seat. This time it is not Pharoah, but the Israelites themselves who are criticizing what Moses and Aaron have been doing, or not doing.
It’s been about seven weeks since they left Egypt. In those seven weeks, the people marched out of Egypt in triumph. When Pharoah finally sets them free, they have God's power, parting the Red Sea and giving them water in the desert. And yet they are still complaining, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.” Okay, do the people really want to go back to Egypt? Where they were slaves? Are these the same people who cried out to the Lord to save them? Forced labor, terrible living conditions, their children drowned in the Nile?
Before we start thinking they are ungrateful, let’s remember that they are incredibly scared, tired, and hungry. None of them ever imagined that they would ever be free from slavery. None of them even knew what freedom actually was! It had been several hundred years since Joseph and his family moved to Egypt during a famine. In the mean time, the family had grown and multiplied so much that Pharoah was afraid they might rise up and destroy Egypt. So afraid that he enslaved the Israelites.
Being a slave, forced to work with no pay, no freedom, under constant threat of death, was horrible. And now, freedom is frightening in another way. Their lives have been turned upside down. Yes, they are free, but freedom is not easy. If you have always lived as a slave, every day was the same: work, being fed terrible food, and suffering, every day. These people had no idea of how to do anything on their own. It’s like being released from a prison sentence of 40 years with the clothes on your back and not much else into a world so changed you hardly recognize anything.
The Israelites were not just hungry, they were terrified. They certainly had no experience living in freedom or surviving in the wilderness. Their lives had been turned upside down. Everything had changed. “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” They had to learn to trust again, first Moses and Aaron, and through them, God. Even though God has brought them out of slavery in Egypt, the people were too frightened to trust that God would take care of them.
We, too, are going through similar times. In the two years since the pandemic began, we have lost 700,000 people in the U.S. alone. Families have been broken by death, or by conflict over masks and vaccinations. Jobs have been lost, some forever. People are afraid to go back to some jobs because of the fear of Covid. “Why can’t we go back to the way things were before this whole mess started?” I hear people wishing we could go back to before Covid, but I'm not sure that will happen.
Think of all the things that have changed. In the last two years, we have been spending more time online. With working at home becoming more popular, some people may not go back to the office. Even something as simple as shaking hands may not come back. There are many things we will lose, and many things we could gain from our pandemic years.
Like the Israelites, we will need to learn to live in a changed world. We also have another thing in common with the Israelites. We have a loving God who will never leave us. God loves us, all of us. We may not be able to see it, but God loves all people. Vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, conservatives and liberals, even Yankee fans and Mets fans! This is what we must remember as we live in this new reality.
We are divided over many things. And there is a danger that we do not see each other as fully human. When you disagree with someone so fundamentally, it is easy to forget they are as fully human as you. This may be hard to hear, but it’s true. Please take a moment right now. Think of someone that you despise, someone who has opposite beliefs from you, someone who you think is stupid or reactionary, or radical, or whatever label you prefer. Hold that person in your mind. Okay… now as you imagine that person, I want you to remember that that person is a child of God, a beloved child of God.
When we worship together, we remember and profess here, every week, that God loves all creation, all people; and we are called to do the same. Loving each other does not mean we need to agree with each other. We don’t even have to like each other, but we must see each other as human beings worthy of God’s love. Amen.