“The rabble…had a strong craving,” so begins the first reading this morning. The Israelites finally left the demeaning terrifying slavery of Egypt behind, but now they’re in a dark wilderness of overwhelming fear. The Hebrew masses don’t know if they’ll make it to the Promised Land. The Israelite riffraff don’t know if they’ll survive the night without sustaining food; at least they could count on that in their slave-infested life on the other side of the Red Sea. Yes, “The rabble…had a strong craving,” but not just for food, but for their hopes to be fulfilled, for, honestly, a little bit of divine compensation for all the suffering they endured. Moses, the one called to let God’s people go in the first place, would have to find a way to respond.
How eerily similar for us today as the church. We may not say it out loud, but there’s those people outside these walls this morning: the ones who no longer trust organized religion, who say they don’t need a church to feel connected to God, who think the church is too judgmental, too political, too self-centered, filled with the biggest hypocrites on earth. We may not say it out loud, but deep down, in the back of our mind, in the depths of our soul, we call them our rabble of today.
If only they would give us a chance. If only they would realize we aren’t as bad as the stereotypes make us out to be. We aren’t really that judgmental. We hug. We smile. We care about each other. We all have our trouble-filled pasts and that doesn’t stop us from coming through those doors. However, the rabble have a crave for something else, for some One else.
You see the church has tried countless ways to convince the rabble to come in, to be part of our family. We’ve knocked on doors. We send out flyers. We take part in community activities, wearing our brightly-colored t-shirts. We try different worship styles. We use our sign on a busy street to let people know all that we do. We setup websites, Facebook pages to spread the Good News instantaneously, but the rabble aren’t budgin’, and yet that strong craving remains in the depths of their soul.
Except it’s not for a church. The rabble don’t crave membership to one congregation, to one denomination even. They don’t want annual meetings, extensive budgets, late-night council sessions. The craving isn’t for us so much, it’s for God: it’s for open and honest conversations with absolutely no limit to questions and wonderings. They crave authenticity and humility. They desire real down-to-earth, something that doesn’t make them feel like they don’t have enough faith to understand, something that actually spiritually feeds them with God. The church just seems too high and mighty, too much of a social club for a privileged inner-circle. They don’t feel like they’re good enough to approach us, let alone come in and be part of any worship or Bible study or Sunday school class.
But the rabble still have this irresistible craving, just as strong as the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses had no idea what to do, and the church doesn’t either. But God knows. God knows the rabble, but of course to God, they’re not annoying masses or riffraff, they’re precious children of God, just as cherished as anyone who attends a worship service every Sunday for their entire life. God knows the depths of the very soul who feels too guilty to walk into any sanctuary. So what does God do for the rabble Israelites? The same thing that God does for us at baptism: the Holy Spirit goes into action, as seventy were raised up to satisfy cravings not just for food, but for meaning, for hope, for conversations about God’s presence in all of this life.
Out of the waters of baptism we are raised up to help satisfy the strong craving not of rabbles, but of all children of God in our homes, in our communities, and beyond. We are not made Christians to show off how good we are, because in the end we have all fallen short of the glory of God in need of a Savior beyond our wildest imagination. God uses baptism to make us into the living disciples of Jesus Christ; not for us to make others feel guilty for not getting baptized as an infant, or at all, but that we may share joys and sorrows with others in the most authentic Christ-like way possible.
After all, the rabble, as we think of them, are much smarter than we give them credit for: they know when the church tries to lure them in just for more members and more money. They won’t fall for that. They crave something much more meaningful than statistics on a page. They crave stories similar to their own: stories of struggle and hardship, of wondering what can this God possibly be doing in this life. They crave our real, human, broken stories. They crave the Holy Spirit to actually open us up to these powerful conversations, to see God at work on our journey and those around us. They crave to be no longer treated as rabble, as beneath us, but one in Christ: one in our pains and sufferings, one in our joys, one through the cross’s victory for us all.
The strong craving cannot be satisfied by St. John’s, but only through the God Who saved us all, for all children of God. That strong craving of all humanity can and will be satisfied yet again, because this God is far from done with us and with this world. The love of God brought to life on the cross and out of the empty tomb will continue on through the rest of this life and for all eternity. And for that, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon