"The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year." - Joshua 5
How would we define "real life"?
Some of us would say real life begins when we put our noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel, etc., etc., etc. All those clichés that say, in essence, that real life begins when we assume full responsibility for our lives and do what is necessary to thrive, or at least, to survive.
Others might say that we waste too much of our energy bellying up to the buzz saw, scratching out a living, climbing the career ladder, or any of the still-long list of clichés that cast the life of labor in a less favorable light. This angle on "real life" says that we would do well to spend less of our time worrying about gathering things, accomplishments, and sort-of-proudly-worn blisters from our labors, and spend more time welcoming God's gifts into our life's landscapes. More time in prayer, contemplation, contentment with things as they are.
We can hardly imagine what "real life" looked and felt like for the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years after their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Living in a tent can be fun for a while, but dragging meager possessions across a harsh landscape for 2/5 of a century would, for most of us, feel less like a camping trip than like a sentence to Hell.
Sure, their daily food fell out of the sky, so they didn't have to spend any time planting, weeding, harvesting, picking potato beetles, praying for rain, putting food by, and wondering if the larder would hold out until more food came. But the tent thing still hung over their heads; at least that's how I imagine it must have felt.
Finally, after forty years, they arrived in the Promised Land. They celebrated their first Passover in their new home and, for the first time in so long that none had been alive when it was so, they had to turn to the land and its possibilities to wrest a meal out of the unfamiliar soil. Their food stopped dropping magically from the sky.
Which one was "real life"? The short answer is probably that both were real, again, in ways we can hardly imagine. But, of a sudden, their home was no longer a promise; it was there in front of them, full of challengers, beauties, sorrows, and joys.
Every individual, every family, every community, and every nation experiences times of promise, and then times when the promise becomes real and the "real work" begins. This is not to say that those forty years - or whatever time - do not have their challenges; surely the story of the Israelites in the Sinai tells of many such stones in the road. But then the road stopped at the gateway of a Promised, but unknown Land, and it was time to shape an enduring community; to make a home that would reflect the original promise.
Often, when we find ourselves at the point where the road of promise ends and it becomes time to fish or cut bait, we tie ourselves in knots devising strategies, rules, governments, and procedures to guide us along. To be sure, some part of this is important work; we do need rules and norms to live in community.
But the questions that a home of any kind ask of us are, finally, spiritual questions, not tactical or political ones. Will we love each other unfailingly? Will we do the hard work of forgiving mistakes and betrayals, and asking forgiveness when we are the betrayers? Will we live on the assumption that there is plenty for all? Will we stop our own self-focused work long enough to pick up and encourage the lost, the broken-hearted, and the wounded? Will we remember our common ancestors and their beautiful struggles?
We meet in voting booths and Town Halls to ask - and presumably, answer - the tactical questions that arise in community. it's important that we do so.
But we meet in worship to ask and wrestle the spiritual questions that lie beneath our practical problems. The Holy Spirit does inform. the Holy Spirit does advise. The Holy Spirit does comfort. The Holy Spirit does demand that we answer the hard questions honestly and humbly. If we tend to this work, the Promised Land does keep its promises. If we don't tend to this work, the promise slips away. We have only to look around us to see what happens when we don't tend to this work.
Join us. Each one of us brings the voice of the Holy Spirit to this essential, holy work. Every one of us. Ten AM; it's beautiful work, in a sacred place on the Common of our community.