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"Enemies of Gratitude--Nostalgia"

Howard Boswell

Exodus 17:1-7

Sermon Preached by the Reverend Dr. Howard W. Boswell, Jr.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 1, 2017

Kenmore Presbyterian Church

Kenmore, New York


At the end of the book of Deuteronomy,

as Moses nears the end of his life,

he passes on the mantel of authority to Joshua.

In Scripture, we read that Moses made a mistake and

God punished him by forbidding him

to enter the Promised Land.

Moses remains on top of Mount Nebo

as Joshua leads the people of Israel across the river Jordan.


Now, I know what the Scripture says,

but I can’t help but believe there is another document

somewhere, hidden and waiting to be discovered.

In this document, God speaks to Moses and says,

“Moses, you have been a faithful leader of my people

for forty years.

You endured great hardship

as you wandered in the wilderness.        

I have changed my mind:  You may enter the Promised Land

with the rest of the Hebrew people.”


This document records

how Moses looked down from Mt. Nebo,

across to the Jordan Valley.

Then, he looked back at the people of Israel,

whom he led for forty years,

listening to them complain nearly every step of the way.

Moses said unto the Lord, “You know, I love the view,

so if it’s OK with you, I’ll stay here and

let young Joshua take over,

because all the people ever do is kvetch!”


For those who do not know Yiddish, “kvetch” means complain,

only more so.

I think after forty years in the wilderness,

Moses wanted some peace and quiet.

Can you blame him?

Today’s Second Reading provides evidence of what I mean.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me:

the lack of water was a real problem.

Yet, most nomadic people search for an oasis

where the water bubbles up to the surface.

The people of Israel wanted water and

they wanted it immediately, if not sooner!


What makes their demand even more tiresome is that

before this chapter, God provided for them, again and again.

When Pharaoh would not let them go,

God sent ten plagues to persuade him.

When Pharaoh changed his mind and

sent his whole army after the people of Israel,

God had Moses raise his staff and split the Red Sea,

so that they could escape.

Then, when the supplies they brought with them gave out,

God provided them with

manna in the morning and quails at night for food.

God provided again and again,

but the people accused Moses of bringing them

out into the wilderness to die.

Kvetch… kvetch… kvetch…


Yet, underlying their complaining was an odd desire:  

They wanted to go back to Egypt.

Now, we may not understand

why slaves would want to return to slavery.

Maybe, they preferred the familiarity of Egypt to

the freedom of the wilderness.

No wonder, when the people felt parched,

they turned on Moses, saying,

“Why did you bring us out of Egypt,

to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"

Kvetch… kvetch… kvetch…


Yet, it’s funny when we think about it.

Even though we’re not slaves running from Pharaoh,

we understand how the safety of what we once knew

may lure us.

Nearly every church I know long for a return to a golden era.

We look back fondly on when the pews were filled and

the building was new and the budget was made.

We long to return to those simpler times.


Yet, such nostalgia robs us of opportunities in the present.

We come to think, as the Israelites say,

“The Lord is not among us.”

Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth.

The Lord is here among us now and

God wants us to move forwards, not backwards.


Nostalgia will tell us a lie, if we aren’t careful.

The word, “nostalgia” means something like homesickness.

Now, everyone experiences homesickness, now and then,

but when all we want to do is return to what we once knew,

today loses its luster.

The Southern novelist, Thomas Wolfe was right,

“You can’t go home again.”

Nostalgia robs us of the joy of each new day.

It steals away the possibility of gratitude.

Yet, most importantly, if we keep looking back,

we’ll never make it across the Jordan River,

into the Promised Land.

We’ll always confine God’s grace to the past,

rather than allowing it to fill us, here and now.


Here and now, our Lord calls you and me to this meal.

We call it by many names.

Some say it’s communion.

Others say it’s the Lord’s Supper.

Still some use an odd Greek word, “Eucharist.”  

In your bulletin, whenever we come to this table,

we call it the Eucharist, which means, “Thanksgiving.”

At this time, we give of ourselves

out of gratitude for what God gives us.

Then, we respond to the gracious invitation.

Then, we pray, remembering all of God’s mighty acts and

recalling that God is not done with us yet, not by a long shot.


Yes, it can be bittersweet to come to this table,

as we remember what once was.

Yet, this bread and this cup is food for today

to give us strength for the journey ahead.

So, look around at what God might be doing in our midst.

Look ahead to where God might be calling us

tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

God waits for us there and is present with us here.

Give thanks.


©2017 Kenmore Presbyterian Church