Tonight as we gather here, our Jewish friends and neighbors are also gathering for the high holy days; for Rosh Hashanah ‚ÄĒ the beginning of the new year 5773. It is therefore fitting, I think, that one of our readings tonight is from the foundational story of the Hebrew people; from the Exodus, God‚Äôs delivery, through Moses‚Äô leadership, of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Our first reading tonight, from the Book of Numbers, tells a portion of their journey from slavery to freedom, from judgment to promise.
Most of us know the story. After centuries of Hebrew slavery in Pharaoh‚Äôs Egypt, God hears their cries, sends Moses back to Egypt, and with signs and wonders brings the Hebrews out of Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land. They escaped Pharaoh‚Äôs army, his chariots and horses. God leads them through the waters of the Red Sea. On their way, God feeds them with bread from heaven ‚ÄĒ manna ‚ÄĒ and, when they are thirsty, gives them water flowing from Rock to drink. Above the mountain we call Sinai, God displays mighty power in fire and thunder and lightning. From the mountain, Moses descends with God‚Äôs
Promise and the words we call the Ten Commandments. The people are free, and on their way to a new land and a better life. On there journey, God caters to their every need, they lack nothing. Their present is shaky, but their future is bright. .And then, our first reading announces, ‚ÄúThe people became impatient on the way.‚ÄĚ
After all they‚Äôve been through; after the depths of misery they have lived; after all this has been put behind them; after all the signs ‚ÄĒ deliverance, food, water, community and promise ‚ÄĒ that their life is going to be better in just a bit, ‚ÄúThe people became impatient on the way.‚ÄĚ
Although it‚Äôs kind of cool that the story we are hearing in this Christian Church dovetails nicely with the celebrations of our Jewish neighbors, what is more impressive to me is the way this sentence describes us. ‚ÄúThe people became impatient on the way.‚ÄĚ
Why? Why were they impatient? More to the point, why are we?
I think reasons for impatience are perfectly clear. No matter how much we see God at work for us, with us and among us, we, like those journeying Hebrew people, have lost sight of where we‚Äôre going and we feel as if we‚Äôre moving forward blindly, unsure of where we are going; unsure if we‚Äôll live long enough to get there, where ever ‚Äėthere‚Äô is. And so we live day-by-day for that day. We have no patience to wait for the future; we want what we want right now.
God‚Äôs response to the Hebrews and God‚Äôs response to us is precisely the same. God says, ‚ÄúLook up and live!‚ÄĚ
Look up and see everything you fear defeated, conquered, objectified! Look up and see what you‚Äôve been through, cling to the promised future and live! For the Hebrews, look up and live meant seeing a poisonous serpent, bronzed, hung and made visible on an upraised pole.
For us, it means seeing Jesus as the God whom we often fear, the God whom we often mistrust, the judge whom we often dread,
nailed and murdered on an upraised pole with a crossbar, on the cross‚Äô tree. In both cases ‚ÄĒ I would say, in all cases ‚ÄĒ God‚Äôs purpose is to get us to look up and live. To stop living just for what we want today and to live and work and love for the joy that is set before us, for the promise already revealed.
Today is Holy Cross Day and Christ‚Äôs cross is held up before us ‚ÄĒ‚ÄĒ not to cause us sorrow, not to make us fear, not to make us ashamed, but to give us a reason to hope; to live and work and love for the future and to trust that the future, God‚Äôs future, promised by God to us, is safe and secure. To Christ‚Äôs cross is held up before us so that we would look up and live and commit ourselves to helping others do the same. Here at Saint Peter‚Äôs we say ‚Äúto creatively shape life in the city.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe people became impatient on the way.‚ÄĚ The price of impatience is always the same: Lethargy, inability to act, loss of direction, loss of the wiliness to really live. Today God responds to today‚Äôs impatience with the same words spoken to another impatient people so very long ago. Look up and live! When we do, everything changes. Once we do, we can really, really live!