But, what if the pandemic wasn’t the test? What if it was the lesson - what if it was the opportunity to learn various lessons about God, self, and others. And only now are we beginning to get a glimpse of the test - which is taking what we learned and applying it to life after COVID, or in our case, after a year and a half of COVID.
A test that asks, “what did you learn and how will you live your life differently because of those lessons?” “How will you do and be church differently?” “What did those lessons teach you about yourself, God, your work work, family, neighbors, your place, and your purpose as individuals and as a people?”
What if, church, the pandemic wasn’t / isn’t the test, but rather the lesson? That is the question Founding Pastor Albert Tate, of Fellowship Church, asked during this year’s Global Leadership Summit, and many of us in attendance were fascinated by his comments.
To help us unpack the question, we turn to one of the greatest examples of learning, testing, and trusting ever recorded - found in the book of Exodus, chapter 16. Here a group of people had recently experienced horrendous living conditions, a brutal work environment, and existed on the bottom rung of society found themselves struggling to figure out what was going on, what was happening around them, what was next, how were they to respond, and where was God in the midst. Questions, I think many of us asked over the last year and a half.
Moses receives a burning message from God (literally) telling him to return to Egypt and free his people. He convinced his brother Aaron to go with him and together they faced Pharaoh who of course was reluctant to release the Hebrews. It took famine, disease, and plagues of frogs, locusts, lice, hail, darkness, and finally the death of his own son for Pharaoh to release the Hebrew people to Moses and Aaron.
It is said that 600,000 Jewish males, with their wives and children and elders, left Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. There is some debate about that number but even half that would be an incredible number. Not a move that could happen quickly. It truly was an exodus. They cross the Red Sea and leave Egypt behind them...but did they? Did they learn the lessons God had for them? Did they trust those lessons to carry them through and trust God was with them? Did they recognize God’s hand throughout the process?
In Exodus 16:1-16 we read that a month and a half after being free from Egypt and the rule of Pharaoh, the people of Israel complain and wish they were back in Egypt. They were in the wilderness, free from the brutality and rule of the Egyptians, and they were grumbling within a month and a half. “At least in Egypt, we had food to eat.” They were experiencing freedom and acting as if they were in bondage. They were looking back to their bondage and thinking that was freedom. They thought the hardship and escape from Egypt was the test but what if that was the lesson and here in chapter 16, God was showing them the wilderness - their life in freedom was the test - their chance to show what they learned from the hardship of Egypt and the escape from Pharaoh. Their chance to apply the lessons they learned. God tells Moses and Aaron “this is what I am going to do…I will lay it all out there and make it clear. All they have to do is show me, the one who delivered them out of the hand of Pharaoh and so much more, I am their God and they are my people.
This story is about seeing how God equips us in and through hard times and challenging situations building in us a trust, dependence, and recognition of God that we carry throughout times of transition, change, transformation, and rest.
We are just stepping into the wilderness church. In fact I am not convinced we are all the way through the lessons of Covid yet. What we have learned thus far has better prepared us for what is ahead. We will be on the other side of this one day, we are already moving in that direction. The test is how we will live once there. We could ask the same of how do we live this side of 9/11, this side of The War on Terrorism, this side of resettling Afghan families, this side of ______ (fill in the blank with your own situation).
How will we apply the lessons of creativity, of slowing down, of reprioritizing, of reaching out, staying connected, of practicing the presence of God?
All throughout the Bible, we see this pattern over and over again. The pattern of when people or individuals went through something substantial, intense, terrifying, or life changing. The classic bible stories: Noah and the flood, Daniel and the lions den, David facing Goliath, Ruth staying beside Naomi, the judge Deboraha leading an army when no one else would, the woman at the well, the healing of Jairus’ daughter, Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, the man who was lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus was, the blind man healed, the crippled woman healed, and on and on…most of us read or learned those stories thinking those moments were times of testing for the person involved.
How is God asking you - asking us to live out the lessons we have learned and what will it look like? May we have the courage to find out.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine