March 4, 2021 Pastor Ashley’s Column

Church Family,

In our devotional reading yesterday, Rachel Dodd reminded us about the bread from heaven in Exodus 16 as she reflected on Jesus as the bread of life, the sustenance for our souls. Today, our devotional took us back to Exodus 16 to reflect on this story of manna from heaven in the wilderness. If you haven’t had a chance, go read it really quick! It’s a miraculous story of God’s provision for God’s people when things seemed grim. God provided in a way that the people never expected. Would you expect bread and quail to fall from the heavens? Me neither. I think that even though the Israelites had seen the miraculous ways in which God provided, they were quick to forget God’s provisions. God instructed them not to keep the food overnight, because more would come the next day. As the day wore on, their trust waned, and some hoarded food, not trusting in God’s provision for the next day and failing to remember how God had already provided.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wilderness this week. The wilderness we find ourselves in as we grapple with the realities of COVID-19, mental and physical health challenges, grief, change, unrest, injustice. I’m not sure if each one of these is its own wilderness, or if compiled together they are what make the wilderness we still find ourselves in. But I know that from where I stand, I see glimpses of hope, change, and resurrection. Yes, this is because I look forward to Easter with great anticipation during this Lenten season, but it is also because I feel encouraged about the possibility of a future when it is safe to gather again. This is also what I know: we aren’t quite there yet. Like a child who rounds the corner to see the park come into view or the Israelite who finally glimpses the promised land, I want to take off sprinting to that new reality, the long-awaited hope and joy, the return to “normal”. In my eager desire to run off to the next thing, I can miss the provision of God right here, in this moment. It is even more scary to think that I could forget God’s provision altogether, thinking that the only way in which God would provide would be in the “promised land” or in the future.

Why did we spend the whole fall talking about the wilderness? It is because I truly believe that in the wilderness God is forming us, providing for us, and walking with us. Provision is not some future, distant reality. God is providing for us now. God is with us. In Psalm 78, God’s people challenge the question of God’s provision, asking “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness? True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?” It’s a silly question, because if you’ve read the testimony of Exodus 16, you know that God already has set a table for his people in the wilderness. Manna fell from the sky and they were provided for. God gave them ample instructions on how to live, grow, and worship in the wilderness. They didn’t merely survive the wilderness, but they were formed, changed, discipled, and cared for in the wilderness. The wilderness, which seemed barren, dark, and empty, offered bread falling from the sky, new life from the dust, and hope for an even better future to come. Not to mention, the wilderness was the Israelites refuge from bondage and slavery.

So today, I am asking something difficult of you. I know this ask is not easy, and I’ll affirm that it is not easy for me, either. I’m asking you to sit down at this table that the Lord has set for us in the wilderness. I am asking you to allow God to provide for us right where we are, in the ways that only the Lord can. I know the return to “normal” is coaxing us, but as we sit here at this table in the wilderness for a little longer, take a moment to consider how God has formed you. What has God been teaching you, teaching us? How has God provided for you? How has this wilderness been a refuge from ways of living that were dominating and controlling your life? What further provision and teaching might God have for you at this table in the wilderness? What will we carry with us from this wilderness season into what is to come next? What will change in you, in us, because of this wilderness season? These are not just hypothetical or rhetorical questions. I challenge you to grab a pen and write down some of your answers to these questions. If you feel like sharing, I would be overjoyed to hear some reflections from you. I want to hear how God has been forming you, and also how God has been forming our church during this journey in the wilderness. I want to sit down at a table, in the wilderness, and spend some time reflecting with you as we look forward to the hope that is to come.  

Thank you for walking with me through this wilderness,

Pastor Ashley

P.S. As an additional note, I will mention that I am grieved to be walking through another Lent and Easter season under COVID restrictions. I know many of you are grieved as well. There is no band-aid to fix this grief. I must continually remind myself that loving my neighbor and protecting others is something that has taken immense sacrifice in this season, so I just want to thank each one of you for continuing to sacrifice on behalf of others. I also want you to know that I am working on re-establishing our team to make plans for further church re-opening, which will be implemented when it is safe, and the guidelines allow. If you are interested in serving on this team, please let me know. I look forward to seeing your faces this Sunday for our Zoom service, as we welcome four new members into our congregation!