September 19, 2011
First United Methodist Church, Hermiston, OR
The children of Israel are free. They are also hungry. Through the miraculous plagues of Moses, God has redeemed them from house of slavery and defeated their former overlords with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and brought them to the wilderness of the Sinai Desert. They’re hot, dirty, hungry, and whiny in a way only those first three conditions can produce. Did God bring us out here to die?
God responds by being faithful to God’s people: by feeding them in ways – from the nature of the food itself to the way it was collected – that would have them know this could only come from God.
God did not bring them out into the desert to die. God brought them out into the desert to live. God had a plan for these people, and it included neither slavery on Egypt nor starvation in the sand. They were to become a light and a blessing to all nations in their own, good land.
As people in the desert, we may know all about how God can take a person away from what is familiar and down a frightening path to a place known only to God, but that will figure heavily in their destiny and purpose. I know I do.
In May of 1993, I graduated from Eastern Washington University. I had been in college all four years Janie and I had been married at that point. We were living in a tiny little crackerbox in the Spokane Valley we were renting from some friends of her mom’s. I had been back in the area for about six years after living in Illinois, and Janie had been back for five after living in California ( and, actually, here for a short time, too). Spokane was home, and we enjoyed it. It is a fun place to live – not too big, not too small.
But I had this degree and a lot of loans to pay off. Janie, too, had an accounting degree she wanted to use. And one of Spokane’s few drawbacks was that even in the best of times, it is a very difficult place to find a job. We knew we would probably have to leave Spokane again.
I had sent resumes to every newspaper in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. I got one response: an interview at the Hermiston Herald. The interview went well, and I was offered a whopping $1,150 a month to be a reporter in their old offices about a block from here.
I had only been to Oregon once – to the coast for our honeymoon. We drove through here on the way, having lunch at the Crossroads in Umatilla and topping off my car’s radiator with water in the parking lot of the apartments next to the Mormon Church. I have to admit that I was, to be frank, not impressed. On the way back, we drove through a dust storm which started in Boardman and lasted until Connell. This made me even less impressed with the area.
So to be moving from home to here filled me with something less than ecstasy. Truthfully, I hated it. I hated the wind. I hated the sand. I hated the heat. I hated the dry. I hated the fact that everything was brown. I humored myself by saying we’d move on – hopefully back home – in a few years. I referred to my time here as my exile.
That was eighteen years ago.
You see, we ended up owning a house, then a bigger house. We ended up always getting jobs when we needed them. We started attending this church. We had a son. All of this from God’s hand. Always, God had things to keep us working and fed and housed and busy in Hermiston. We would often look to the north and think about how we could get back, but, in time, those thoughts, while never disappearing totally, are much less frequent now.
How long was it before the fleshpots lost their allure for the children of Israel? Forty years? Probably not even that. God had to fix things so that none of the people who actually left Egypt were alive to cross the Jordan. Only their children and grandchildren saw the Promised Land. Despite having been in bondage, Egypt was the only home that first generation knew.
I think this speaks to the general human condition: Better the devil you know. Resistance to change is planted deep in the human character. We just don’t like it.
Yet God called the Israelites out of bondage and into the wilderness and the promise of freedom and a good land. When they whine for food, they are not left to fend for themselves; to root, hog, or die. God provides not just fine manna, but meat – a luxury – as well. God gives water from the rock and makes clear that, though people complain, God does not provide out of anger but out of love.
Based on this scripture and my own experience, I can tell you this is how God works. God may set you on a path to the scary unknown, but God will also sustain you in the journey. God will address your hunger and your thirst and your needs. And God will place you in a good land at your journey’s end.
As I write these words, it occurs to me that it is likely the Lord is telling me I will never live in Spokane again. I would be lying if I said this did not inspire a bit of sadness in my soul. But we’ll survive. God had been wasteful in his blessings to my family here, and therefore I am confident that God will continue to shower us with his love and grace.