At 5am you wake. The sun is up, and the sheep are already munching away. The best of the local vegetation, thin pickings to begin with, is all but exhausted. So today will be another travelling day.
As you pack up your few possessions, there’s the smell of sweetness in the air. It triggers a faint memory, of a place you visited as a child, green and lush, with milk and honey flowing in abundance. Or maybe it’s not a memory at all. Maybe it’s just a dream or a rumour turned into a memory by a tired mind? Either way it’s a far cry from the desolate wilderness that fills your view right now.
The Old Egyptian Shepherd
You travel that day to one of the well-known local watering holes, and there’s another group of shepherds gathered round talking. There’s nothing unusual about that, but immediately you know that something is different. From their tone of voice, from the expressions on their faces.
The Old Egyptian Shepherd is back.
The man who one day arrived from nowhere in the wilderness, speaking with a foreign accent, a stranger in the land, unfamiliar with your way of life. The man who married the daughter of the priest Jethro and settled down. The man who after forty years disappeared just as quickly as he had arrived. The man they called Moses.
And now he’s back again. And there are strange rumours. It’s not just him alone, or even just him and his family. A whole sea of people are moving across the wilderness on a journey. A whole nation who one moment served the Pharaoh in Egypt, and somehow now did not.
It sounds unlikely. It sounds unbelievable. But you can’t help but want to hear more. To catch even the slightest glimpse of something new. The rumour is that Jethro will be going out to meet Moses near Horeb, and so you follow the chattering group.
Is it true?
You arrive at a clearing, and there stands Moses. He looks older, and yet seems more alive than ever. Carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders, but and yet standing taller.
You hang around on the fringes of the group, straining to over-hear as Jethro, the priest, the one who usually provides the answers, steps forwards and asks the question: is it true what we’ve heard? Is it true about the God who speaks through fire, who controls the winds, and parted the waters?
And Moses replies. Still with the accent, but no longer with the feeble voice that sounded like he was apologising for every word. He speaks now with a confidence and an authority. He tells how God heard the people’s cry. Overthrew the greatest army in the known world. Rescued them out of slavery, across the sea, through the desert. He describes in wondrous detail how God has led them each day, and fed them with manna, quails and with water from a rock.
You stand there stunned by the things you’re hearing. Silence falls. It feels like an age before the silence is finally broken by Jethro…
Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods!
And you cannot help but join in. Who is this king of glory, the Lord God almighty who can rescue a nation? Who can lead a nation on a journey towards a promised land, a new way of life, and who brings hope, freedom and healing?
And so there in that place of wilderness you have known all your life, you join the worship and the celebration. And you realise that the sweetness in the air was not a trick of the mind – it’s real, a sign of hope, and now it’s overpowering.
A city on a hill
Why is it that when we meet on a Sunday we share testimonies from the week? It’s to encourage one another. And the right response is worship.
But our testimonies are treasures that we cannot keep to ourselves in the church community. Jethro was a pagan priest, and yet in Exodus 18 his response to Moses’ stories was to worship the one true God. In one of his most famous sermons, Jesus talked about how we are to be like a city on a hill, with the good things God is doing through us shining out across the land for all to see.
So how can we do this? We can take each other’s testimonies out from church meetings into the world around. For me the obvious time would be at work, when I’m asked about my weekend. Rather than talking about the BBQ we had or the film we watched, what if I shared the incredible story of the person who was healed, or the way that God provided for a family in need? I know I should, but it’s not always easy to break the mould.
Other opportunities could be at our own local watering holes. What are the rumours we discuss down the pub? Or in the playground picking up our children? And what are the things we post on facebook? Do we seek sympathy, share trivia or spread damaging gossip, or is our focus on God and the things he is doing?
But it’s not always easy. Sometimes it feels like we’re the ones stuck in the wilderness, not the people travelling through it. Sometimes we feel more like Jethro or one of the shepherds rather than Moses. And that’s where being a part of a community is so important. In times of struggle, we can seek out the people and the places where God is at work. Come along on a Sunday morning and be encouraged by God’s work in the lives of those around you. Get hooked into a small group for that mid-week boost.
Imagine what this would look in like in our local community. If we were known as a people on the move, journeying with God, blessed by him, heading for a promised land. Imagine if the rumours in the playground, down the pub, doing the rounds on facebook, were rumours of healing, rumours of marriages restored, rumours of a new hope. Imagine the sweet fragrance in the air, and the sound of celebration reverberating off the houses.
That’s the dream, let’s get starting some rumours!
This blog post first appeared as a sermon at the Bullbrook congregation of Warfield Church. For more information visit www.warfield.org.uk