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2023 Lenten Preaching Series 3: One Hundred Hours

One hundred hours. That’s the oft-cited statistic for how long a human body can typically survive at average temperatures without access to water. Today’s Sinai Peninsula averages 91°F in June, with the average high temperature at 104°F. In such extreme heat and with exposure to sun, the timeline for survival shortens considerably.

Now we’re down to fifty hours. Exertion—such as walking long distances in the daytime, carrying one’s belongings, tents, and small children, and wrangling livestock along the way shortens the timeline further.

Under extremely hot desert conditions of at least 120°F … during forced marching … sustained high sweat rates can reduce estimated survival time without drinking water to as little as seven hours, or approximately the time it takes to walk twenty miles. One long day’s march on an unusually, but not impossibly, hot, June day was all it would take to finish God’s people. Because they had no waterthat’s the context we have for the first reading today from the Book of Exodus.

And the people of Israel were right to complain to, contend with, and test their leaders … and their God. We would be, too.

While about 71% of the earth's surface is water-covered … and the oceans hold about 96.5 % of all earth's water … and that water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers … and even in you and your dog, there still many in our world who thirst for water – clean and available drinking water.

Water is essential to life, yet 771 million people in the world – that’s 1-in-10 - lack access to it. According to one report, the water crisis is the #5 global risk in terms of impact to society. Nearly 1.5 times the population of the United States lives without a household water connection. These people, in particular women and children, must spend time to get water, instead of working or going to school or caring for their families. Unbelievable in 2023!

Moses, the leader who bears the brunt of the people’s contention, fears the people will stone him, because the landscape has no edible plant life and surely no visible water, but it does have lots of rocks. Moses has exhausted the avenues that are familiar to him and has no ideas for moving forward.

In response to his desperate query, “What shall I do?”, God instructs Moses to look to the very landscape that has engendered the people’s despair and his own mortal fear and tap the resources it does have to engineer a creative solution.

Moses must be willing to put himself out in front: “go on ahead of the people”. Moses must cross in front of the people, and in so doing become vulnerable to their anger, fear, and insistence. In so doing he will also see the need that is written upon their bodies and in their faces, and he will have to confront and respond to the magnitude of their thirst.

Moses is not the solution himself, however. Lest he imagine himself as the sole agent of the people’s salvation, he is to take with him a group of people, elders from among the Israelites. The elders carry with them their testimony to the past. They carry the trust and the hurt and the hopes of the people. In this new moment they will witness God’s presence and saving action in the present. They will participate through their own ministry of courageous presence.