Any student of Australia’s history cannot help but be amazed at the epic journeys made by some of our European settlers. Burke & Wills walked from Melbourne right up to the gulf country of Queensland. Edward John Eyre walked across the Nullabor from Adelaide to Albany. Paddy Durack walked thousands of cattle across the arid north of Queensland to the Kimberly region in Western Australia.
These great explorers had to learn a few tricks from the locals – the Aboriginal people – in order to survive. Of course Aboriginal people have been travelling across our hostile Outback for thousands of years. What they discovered was that there were many resources in the desert places that would help them survive. It was not a completely barren place.
Some years ago, comedian Michael Palin made a television series in which he walked across the Sahara desert. It is hard for a Westerner to imagine doing this, but, of course, people have been doing this for centuries.
Michael learned very quickly the three key things that make this feat of human endurance possible.
Firstly, the clothing people wore. The wrapping cloak that keeps wind and sand away from the body but allows air to circulate keeping them cool was vital.
Secondly, they walked at the pace of camels. When a man sets out on a journey, he usually walks in a purposeful manner and with some considerable pace. Camels, however, walk much more casually or slowly. We might say they saunter along. They set up a gentle rhythm and they can keep this up for hours. Fortunately this is just as effortless for the people to keep up for those hours, too.
Finally, they travel in quite large groups of people. This means that they can keep an eye on each other. They can defend themselves from bandits as well.
This TV story helped me to understand what it must have been like for the Israelites as they trudged off towards the Promised Land.
If the geography is right, the journey to the Red Sea was one of a little over 100 kilometres. Then they journeyed down the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez, as we now call it – maybe another 150 kilometres.
As I said last week, whether or not you go looking for naturalistic explanations for the things that happened in this story, it remains a wonderful story about the relationship between the Israelites and their God.
God has led them out of their captivity and slavery in Egypt.
God has led them on their journey along the way with the pillar of smoke and fire.
God rescued them from the pursuing Egyptians when they came to the Red Sea.
God showed them where the waterholes were and how to purify the bitter water.
And today we read of God providing them with a good feed of poultry for dinner, and super-cornflakes for breakfast.
Yet, already, we have reports of the people complaining.
They complained when they realised the Egyptian army was pursuing them and they were facing a vast expanse of water with nowhere to escape.
They complained after walking for three days without finding water, and then when they did find water, it was bitter – undrinkable.
And today we read of them complaining again. They had been on the go for 45 days or there abouts. They obviously thought their rations were unsuitable.
Again, they proposed to Moses that it would have been better for them if they had stayed in Egypt as slaves than put up with this.
Now the thing that surprised me a little as I read this story afresh was Moses’ assertion repeatedly that God had heard their complaints and so was making this special provision for them.
As we read through the remaining stories in Exodus we will discover the people complaining again and again. Anyone would think they were Scottish, actually.
Ultimately it becomes clear that while the people could have arrived in the Promised land within a quite short period, God condemns them to wander around this Outback place for 40 years – not so much as punishment, although that idea comes through in the Psalms from time to time, but rather to teach them to truly trust God. The 40 years was to give time for the doubters to die out before they occupied the land.
This gives a hint of what I want us to take away from the story today. So does the parable Jesus tells in the Gospel reading we had today.
Two words come to mind – faithful and trustworthy.
In Latin these would be Fidelitas and Fiducia. This helps us see that while we might think of the words as synonyms, they have some important differences.
These two words make up some of the content of the idea of FAITH that we as Christians talk about. In fact these two things go both ways between us and God in a relationship of FAITH.
God is faithful to us and trustworthy, and he calls out from us that same faithfulness and trustworthiness.
Here in this outback story we see God faithfully providing for the needs of his people. As the Psalm we read says, God was faithfully keeping the promise he made to Abraham.
And God was indeed trustworthy, protecting them again and again from calamity.
And all the time God is showing them these wonderful attributes of his, he is calling them to live in the same way towards him.
This is what I want to leave with you today – a call to you, as God called the Israelites, to a life of faithfulness and trustworthiness. You can count on God being Faithful towards you (even when you fail and complain) and you can rely on God to be Trustworthy. God will keep the promises made even when we fail or complain, too.
This is how I want to express my life of faith to you and to my God.