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Series: Change and Transition
Sermon: Longing for the Past
Text: Exodus 16:1-5; Numbers 11:4-15
Rev. Laura Brewster
Change is a part of life. We pursue some changes; others are thrust upon us. The question is not whether we will face change in our lives, the question is how we will respond. Last week we spoke about taking the first step to initiate change. However, that first step is just that – a first step. What comes next can seem like a challenging journey of a thousand miles. That can tempt us to want to quit and return to where we started.
The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years when God sent Moses to Egypt to set the Israelites free. When the Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go free, they began their journey to a new land. But then came the next step of change – a journey through the wilderness. Food and water were scarce, and the Israelites began to doubt the choice they’d made. After about a month and a half in that desert, they were ready to quit and go back to Egypt and back to slavery. Read Exodus 16:1-5. Also read Number 11:4-15. The Israelites and Moses were overwhelmed by the challenges they encountered. Perhaps you too have become overwhelmed by the challenges that come when you are seeking to navigate change in your life.
The In-Between, In Betwixt Time
When we are living in the period after we decide to make a change but before that change is fully realized, we may feel that we are wandering in a desert and not making any progress. We church folks sometimes refer to that as “wilderness time.” I recently heard a speaker who offered different metaphors for this challenging in-between time. He said, we all have a “homeland,” a place where we adopt ideas, biases, behaviors. Then God calls us to grow, change and adopt new ideas, new behaviors, new goals, new dreams. If we agree, we move to “wonderland.” Wonderland is a place where we feel lost and find ourselves wondering: Where am I going? What am I doing? How do I move forward? Did I make a huge mistake to try this new thing? Should I just give up and return to where I started? Wonderland is a place where we struggle to make our goal into a reality. It’s the place we go through to get to “newfoundland” – the place or time in our journey when we finally achieve the change or the goal we wanted.
The Value of Wandering in the Wilderness
None of us really like being in the “wilderness.” None of us like the time of struggle as we work toward something new. None of us like feeling like we are getting nowhere as we struggle to become a better spouse, or a better parent, or start a new business, or begin a new career, or get clean after years of addiction, or work on our mental health, etc. But there is value in being in the “wilderness.” First, it is during this time that God form us and shape us. It is during this time of struggle that we can gain new skills, patience, tenacity, etc. Matt Miofsky puts it this way: God uses those times to do something new IN us so that he can do something more THROUGH us when we come out on the other side. Second, time in the wilderness teaches us to trust in and rely upon God and not just ourselves.
In short, friends, every time we start something new – whether it is seeking to rebuild a marriage or make a life in a new city – we may find that the journey from “here” to “there” may seem unnecessarily long and challenging. We may feel like we’re the Israelites wandering in the desert. But to quote Matt Miofsky again, “Learn to be okay with wilderness experiences because it is in the wilderness that God is able to do some of God’s best work.