St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us


September 17th Pentecost 17, 2020                    Pam Martin

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32


Can you remember a time when you were thirsty?

I mean, really thirsty.

Your whole being aching, desperate for the touch of moisture.

You can’t think of anything else. There is nothing but . . . your . . .


The Israelites had left Egypt, had escaped from Egypt, surmounting impossible obstacles in a dramatic flight to freedom. But the drama was over, the vision had waned, and the reality, the ‘new normal’ that they were facing was as bleak as the landscape in which they found themselves. They were refugees. They had lived settled, predictable lives – exploited and oppressed, yes, even hopeless, desperate, trapped in slavery in a system that ground them down – but at least there was food . . . and water.

But now, here, in this wilderness, well, it’s all very well to proclaim that the God of your ancestors is with you, but what good is a God when there’s no water . . . again. When your children are so thirsty they’ve stopped complaining.

“the people thirsted there for water, and the people ‘complained’ against Moses and said, “Why did you bring me out of Egypt, to kill me and my children and my livestock with thirst?” (The word here translated as ‘complained’ is better translated as ‘confronted’, and they’re getting personal – no long ‘us and ours’, but ‘me, and mine’).

No wonder Moses was afraid for his life. And cried out to God.

(As our Indigenous brothers and sisters remind us, water is life. Pure, fresh, flowing water. Every time we turn on a tap and water gushes forth like it did for Moses from the rock at Horeb there in the wilderness, we should pause and offer a prayer of gratitude. For many in this world ensuring clean water requires hours every day to transport over long distances, by truck or by bucket, while water sources become collateral damage to industrial or agricultural waste or accident.  Competition for an increasingly scarce resource plays out at every level from international mega-dams to neighbourhood watering regulations.)

Life in the wilderness, then as now, is precarious. Hunger and thirst are ever present concerns, driving us to explore, to find resources and places to meet our basic human needs. New possibilities beckon, or threaten. Old expectations are left behind.

Wilderness comes in many forms. Sometimes we seek it out, more often it finds us unbidden, perhaps most often we stumble into it. For most of us here, city dwellers, the bush, the literal wilderness, is remote or, for some of us, a chosen challenge. Urban living brings different kinds of wilderness, with different challenges, different hungers and thirsts. Isolation, poverty, addiction. Struggles with illness and disability, physical or mental. Spiritual hunger and thirst.

What these and all wilderness have in common is an experience of unpredictability, the risk, or invitation, of the unknown, and a heightened awareness of our vulnerability, our basic human needs.

In the face of the vulnerability that wilderness experiences bring, we seek shelter.

We shore up the defenses, engage in what we euphemistically call ‘risk management’, hoping for a sense of order and predictability in the face of the unknown. We erect citadels of certainty to protect us.

And we may even cry out to God.

Ahh, but we want a GOD we can count on. A citadel of certainty. A GOD that is big enough and strong enough to protect us from our vulnerabilities, from the risk and yes, from the invitation, of the unknown. We want a predictable God, not the erratic, capricious Yahweh of Moses and the desert, but a GOD with a strong right arm who will come and save us.

And so we create structures, rituals, order and stability and authority to manage access to the divine, because, despite our best intentions and deepest fears, the Holy WILL not be contained, controlled or managed.

From the wilderness         to     the Temple.

From hunger and thirst    to    order and authority.

Confronted with a charismatic faith healer and wonder-worker who is disrupting business, turning over tables and attracting crowds with his radical teaching, the chief priests and elders want to know by whose authority he teaches.

But the holy cannot be contained in our citadels of certainty. The holy overflows into wilderness wanderings. The holy is sensed, responded to, noticed at the edges of our vision.

Thirst is what draws us. It is the lack that makes us long for God, that draws us in - the thirst, the longing, that brings God close. It is hunger and thirst – for righteousness, for peace, for justice, for love, that opens the flow of living water, the kingdom of God

Those who have not forgotten how to be hungry and thirsty, or maybe haven’t been able to escape it, are first in the Kingdom of God.

Those who are full, those who have more than enough, those who have power, and respect and authority, those ones who do not hunger or thirst, they will be last in the kingdom of God . . . but they too will find their way there eventually.