October 1, 2023

Exodus 17:1-7
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“One Loving Change”

On this final Sunday in the “Season of Creation” it is fitting that the Revised Common Lectionary gave us a story about water. The search for water that we read about in Exodus, where adults, children, and animals are close to death, is desperate.

We don’t have to look far for a contemporary example because much of the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in forty years. For example, in Laikipia in Kenya, the resilient nomadic Masaai people have lost livestock, and the riverbeds are baked dry, with desperate wild elephants storming and destroying bore water tanks in search of water.

Women and children dig for hours in the dry riverbeds, searching for small pools of moisture, lifting out precious water in cups. As night falls, the wild animals come to the pool and drink, and in the morning, the process begins again. We all need water for life.

Or perhaps you saw the CBC News story last week about the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The Mackenzie, one of the longest rivers in our country, runs from Great Slave Lake through the Northwest Territories before eventually emptying out into the Arctic Ocean. It is used as a highway to transport goods to remote communities along the river and in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the high Arctic.

But the water level is much lower than normal this year, with some parts of the riverbed having become completely dry. Record high temperatures and a lack of precipitation this summer were part of the problem, likely rooted in Climate Change. And it’s not just a matter of losing a scenic river, but losing the primary means of transporting food and other essential goods to the communities in the North.

Alternate methods had to be used this summer after boats began running aground and getting stuck. These included trucking goods out of the territory then north onto the Dempster Highway, an unpaved road, and shipping goods from the west coast north and around Alaska, also known as the “over the top” method. Both of these, are much, much more expensive methods than using the river, which will eventually drive up prices on everything for the people who live in those communities. We all need water for life.

God gives us life, and the water pouring from the rock in the passage from Exodus is a life-giving gift from God to a thirsty people, and a loving symbol of presence and salvation. There is a lesson in this story about trusting God and God’s saving plan and that God’s presence is indeed life.

There is also a reminder that God uses leaders and people of faith to do what is needed in order to ensure that there is water and all the other necessities of life available for all God’s people. Which, of course, is much easier said than done.

It’s difficult to put ourselves in the place of Moses in today’s story because we also hear the cries and complaints of people throughout our world who are suffering without the basic necessities of life. Every week we hear about more needs and concerns that require our attention and support, and we realize that Climate Change has truly become a Crisis that is putting more and more people into desperate circumstances like the Hebrews without water in the desert.

Moses’ first response to their complaint was to put them off. I can imagine how irritable and annoyed he sounded when he asked them: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” And yes, perhaps their trust in God was waning as they watched their children getting more and more thirsty without any relief. But unlike Moses, God does not take any offense at their request for water.

To be clear, there are times when the people complain in the wilderness, and they should have kept their mouths shut. There’s a story in Numbers 11 in which the people complain that they don’t really like the manna they’re getting. They long for the meat, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic that they had in Egypt. And God responds to those requests rather angrily.

Water, however, is most definitely needed. And when Moses asks, God immediately tells him where and how to find a spring at the rock on Mount Horeb. And that makes me wonder how often God might be able to direct and help us in our efforts today if we were simply to ask, to pray, and to listen for God’s voice.

I think we need to begin by believing and trusting that God is indeed with us. The Climate Crisis and all its terrible impacts are not evidence that God has abandoned humanity, but simply the result of our human choices to live on this Earth in ways that have done harm to our ecosystems.

Yes, God is still with us. And God loves us. And God can show us how to do the work and make the changes both to meet the real needs of our neighbours and to protect the Creation for future generations.

Jesus’ Parable of the Two Sons is a fitting challenge for us to put our good intentions into actions for the sake of the environment and all its creatures.

What do you think? Jesus asked. A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ [The first son] answered, ‘I will not,’ but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same, and [the second son] answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go.

Which of the two did the will of his father? Which of the two?

Yes, it was the first son who went and got the job done. Like Moses, who was not immediately excited about helping, who didn’t really want to deal with the problem, but who changed his mind, talked to God about it, and then went and found that necessary water.

In Jesus’ parable, we see that what matters to Jesus to enter the Kingdom of God is the integrity of people’s actions over empty words. This is an invitation to put into practice actions that care for people and God’s planet. Empty promises and good intentions are worse than useless. There is urgency to act.

The “Season of Creation” preaching resource for this week includes a reflection on today’s passage from Philippians. It points out that the passage implores us to “imitate Christ’s humility and value others above ourselves, looking past self-interest to the interests of others.”

In verse 13, we are reminded that ‘it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill [God’s] good purpose’ just as God worked through Moses to quench the thirst and save the lives of the Hebrews. We have a part to play also, imitating Christ’s humility and good purposes.

“Behind climate change and damage to creation lies a spiritual sickness of human greed, selfishness and sin. As followers of Christ, we are to put aside our selfishness and care for each other’s needs.

“God calls us as the Church to be loving, not indifferent, to the cries of the poor and the groans of our planet. God’s Kingdom on earth is taking shape through the Holy Spirit and through the Church. This includes our calling to overlook self-interest and love our neighbour and all of God’s creation.”

And so, this morning, I want to invite us to be like Moses, leaving behind our initial grumbling responses and our uncertainties and fears that we do not have the knowledge or capacity to help. I want to invite us to be like the first son, who may have said the wrong thing, but then found the will to do the right thing. I want to invite us to be like Christ, to humble ourselves, and to act for the interests of others.

How can we imitate Christ’s humility and make one loving change in our life as a response?

Maybe you’ve already started to ponder that question during this “Season of Creation.” Maybe you’ve already begun to make one loving change for the sake of God’s Creation.

It was delightful to watch the people of First Church at our potluck supper last Sunday night embracing one loving change in our community. The Fellowship Committee got a compost bin for our church kitchen, and encouraged everyone to put the right things into it as the meal drew to a close. They also announced their intention to absolutely stop using plastic cutlery, as convenient and easy as disposable forks and spoons can be.

So I guess that’s two loving changes we’ve made recently. And we need to keep on considering, listening to God, and putting our good intentions for the Earth into action – one loving change at a time.