Immediate Cravings and Eternal Desires
Lent 3, Year A
Exodus: 17:1-7; John 4
The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." The Lord said to Moses, "Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink."
Jesus said, "Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
What is the difference between craving and desire? That is a question I hear bouncing between our excerpts from Exodus and John’s gospel. To my mind, cravings are about feeding an immediate hunger. Literally – as in wanting a burger from Five Guys when I’m famished – and metaphorically – as in I want what I want – in my life, my job, my relationships, my prayers – when I want it which is pretty much right now.
Desire, on the other hand, is a deeper longing. We desire meaning – peace –reconciliation. We desire love. Desire connects us with things eternal.
There is water we crave when we’re thirsty. There is living water to quench our desire for God.
As I’m sure you know, two pretty big events are chronicled in the two chapters previous to what we hear from Exodus this morning. In chapter 14 – the people are racing for their lives in the desert, with the Pharaoh and his army in hot pursuit. And the escaped Israelites hurl their fear at Moses - "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?”(Exodus 14:11). To which Moses replies – do not be afraid. Stand firm in the Lord. (14:13).
And you know what happens – the parting of the Red Sea – walls of water on either side – and the Israelites cross on dry ground. And when the Egyptians continue their pursuit the waves come crashing down and it says the entire army was destroyed. See Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film, The Ten Commandments, for the classic movie version.
And then, the next big event two chapters and about two weeks later – the freed and wandering people of God are famished and again, they hurl their complaints at Moses - "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; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (Exodus 16:3). To which the Lord tells Moses – tell the people I have heard their complaining and I will rain down bread from heaven (16:4ff). Which happens and the people who gather up the manna are filled.
I remind us of this because it is on the heel of these events – instances when immediate needs were literally addressed by God – that we hear this morning, the people yet again hurl fear and complaints at their leader, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
Did they forget what God had done? (Just like we do?) Why do they continue to accuse Moses – and God – of trying to kill them with suffering when God has consistently responded to their cries?
Because, as I think we all know, desire is forgettable in the face of immediate cravings. The people had been enslaved and oppressed. They truly desired freedom and liberation. But getting there is hard. That scripture of Paul from Romans reads really well in advance of the journey – we know that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope – and hope does not disappoint (Rom 5:3-5a) But when we are in the midst of the wilderness of not having answers, or life-threatening circumstance, or identity changing choices – words don’t often satisfy our cravings. We want fixes and solutions. We want to just get to the other side of “it” already.
We want a tangible answer in the affirmative to the ultimate question of faith – Is God with us, is God with me, or not?
Unlike the people in Exodus – the woman at the well seems to be having a pretty ordinary day – going about her chores getting some water. (I always think of this passage when doing chores, picturing Jesus just sitting there and waiting for me to strike up a conversation!) It’s a long scripture passage – edited here – so read and reread it. A lot of inferences and assumption have been made about this woman, who she is and what her problems are. But it’s a simple story of Jesus meeting someone where they are and tapping right into their desire for God, for a connection to the eternal, for a trust in belief.
Like most of us, the woman wants literal answers to her question. Jesus directs her attention to something more. It’s not literal water that Jesus brings, it’s the waters of life. It’s not about which mountain or city you worship in, it’s about a desire for God in Spirit and truth. And through taking the time to talk with God the woman’s true desires are met and she goes and shares the good news of that conversation with the people she meets. She pours out what she has been given to help others who struggle with that question – is God with me or not?
God knows, when we are in the midst of the more challenging circumstances – we are going to call on God just like those Israelites – but it will be about the immediate need. And our prayers are not always answered immediately.
God is always with us – but it does not always feel that way. If at present, you are at a crossroads in your journey – if you are in the midst of challenging circumstances – cry out to God, hurl your fears and prayers at the Almighty. Our faith is built on people over the ages who did likewise; who were reminded instantly or inevitably that God responds. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness (Ps 103).
If, on the other hand, at present in your journey things are going ok, pretty well even, why not strike up more conversations with God in the midst of your ordinary chores? Perhaps in doing so you will follow in the footsteps of people over the ages who came away from that time with God renewed. And in turn go and share words of experience, strength, faith and hope – with other children of God longing to connect with things eternal. And through you the question is answered in the affirmative – yes, God is with me.
We walk by faith – not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). It is a path, a journey, a climb up the mountain and then back down, of getting from one side of the desert to the next again and again. There is eternal life to be found in walking that road paying attention to our desires for meaning – for peace – for reconciliation – for love. And just like the people the woman shares her story with, we have to come to know and hear and see it for ourselves. For out of love God has poured that desire into our hearts. Amen.
The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks