Take your Staff
A sermon preached by the Rev. Adrienne Koch at Cheshire House on Sun., Oct. 1, 2017
Every year, my Great Uncle Joe, would take me shopping for basketball shoes. It was a ritual that started in middle school when I joined St. Felicitas Catholic School’s first girls’ team in the sixth grade.
Uncle Joe was one of my biggest fans and greatest coaches. [shrug] “It’s good to pass the ball,” I can recall him saying with his Italian Cleveland, Ohio accent, and flailing hands, “But you should drive more, take the ball to the hoop. You’re a point guard, after all, so, uh, get some points.”
I never knew why he always bought me shoes, as the brother of my [count] mother’s mother, he certainly didn’t have any family obligations to me; he wasn’t a parent or a grandparent…
I’ve imagined a number of scenarios to explain uncle Joe’s generosity, but the best I’ve come up with is that the reason he bought me a good pair of basketball shoes each year was that those shoes were a sign of his love for me, a sign that he was thinking of me even if he didn’t make it to a game, a sign that he was, in some way, with me.
I still remember my favorite pair of shoes: they were white and yellow Nikes.
We got those my junior year of high school, and, to match my school’s colors, I wrote scripture verses all over them in purple permanent marker: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and other verses like it.
Now if any of you have been on a sports team, you know that players can often become superstitious about what they wear, especially if they’re on a winning streak. Some have been known to go weeks without washing their socks…
It’s the belief that if a specific object that saw me through something hard before, maybe having it with me will see me through this new hard thing before me.
Now wearing the same socks every game wasn’t for me, but I did become attached to this pair of shoes, because,
that year, 1999, my team was on a winning streak like we’d never been on before,
and so I wore those shoes until they started to tear at the seams, I wore them to practice, and scrimmage, and games, I wore them every day, until we beat West Geauga High School—
the conference hopefuls—and won the championship.
I was 17 and it’s been 18 years since that time, but I was reminded of those yellow and purple shoes when I read today’s Old Testament passage.
This scripture is a familiar one to me, one that I grew up learning in vacation bible school— Moses struck the rock with a stick and water came out because God provided in miraculous ways for the Israelites in the wilderness.
But something surprised me this time around, when I read the story, I noticed two things:
First, before God expected Moses to draw water from a rock, which sounds pretty hard to me, God told him to go grab his favorite pair of basketball shoes.
Or at least, the closest thing that Moses had to it. The Lord said to Moses “take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.”
There’s something about wearing the shoes that I won that championship game in—they tell a story about hard work, faithfulness, trust, companionship, joy, awe, and I imagine that whenever Moses took the staff in his hands, the one that parted the seas and saved his people from slavery, Moses was reminded of the hard work, faithfulness, trust, companionship, joy and awe that he experienced the last time God asked him to do something that seemed impossible for him.
The second thing I noticed in today’s Old Testament passage is in the line that comes just after this part of the story. After God tells Moses to take the staff with him and to strike the rock with it, God tells Moses. “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.”
Now that is something we never saw enacted in the vacation bible school skit. God is standing on the rock in front of Moses before he strikes it.
And this is where God really one-ups my Great Uncle Joe.
Uncle Joe gave me those basketball shoes so that I’d know he was thinking of me when he couldn’t make it to a game, but God, God showed up at Moses’ big day so that Moses wouldn’t have to try to do this seemingly impossible task alone.
See, at this point in the story of the Israelites Exodus from Egypt, Moses was carrying the weight of the whole community on his shoulders. The expectations of the people were heavy on his back. He cried out to God for help when he didn’t know what else to do, when he had nothing else he could do on his own.
And God responded by encouraging Moses to hold something in his hands that reminded him of the way God saved him from trouble once before, and then God promised Moses that he wouldn’t have to go through this next challenge alone. God was going to be there again to see Moses through.
I wonder if there’s something you’re facing today, a challenge that feels like a heavy rock of responsibility on your shoulders, something you’re carrying the weight of on your own.
Sometimes, like Moses, we think that we’re the only ones who are responsible to fix a situation in our lives, but oftentimes we find that we don’t have the answers.
We learn from Moses today that if we’ll ask God for help, God not only points us to the totems in our lives, the objects that signify to us great accomplishments in our past, but God also shows up, and walks with us through the scary moment we find ourselves walking toward.
What impossible task is looming before you today? As you move through this next week, and try to live up to the expectations around you, remember that you don’t have to face this alone.
Pick up your staff that got you through something challenging before, put on those old worn basketball shoes that read “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and run toward that heavy rock…
Because when you get to it, God will be there waiting for you, and you just might be able to do the impossible, together.