3rd Sunday in Lent – Exodus 17:1-7 – Vicar Matt Huckel
1 The community of Israel journeyed from the desert of Sin breaking camp and moving on according to the commands of the Lord. And they camped in Rephidim but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So the people quarrelled with Moses and they said: ‘Give to us water to drink!’ And Moses said to them: Why do you quarrel with me? And why do you test the Lord? 3 But the people thirsted for water there, and they grumbled against Moses and said: ‘Why have you brought us here up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’4 Moses wailed to the Lord and said: What should I do with these people? Again, they are nearly ready to stone me!’ 5 And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Pass over before the people, and take with you the elders of Israel and your staff with which you struck the Nile. Take it in your hand and go. 6 Behold, I am standing before you there upon the rock in Horeb and you will strike into the rock and water will come out from it so that the people will drink. And Moses did so in the eyes of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place, Massah and Meribah because of the quarrelling of Israel and because they tested the Lord saying: ‘Is the Lord within us or not?’http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/20170319_message.mp3
As I was composing this message on our text, I had the tune of the famous Ben E. King song ‘Stand by me’ running through my head. This is simply because I had this picture of God standing on the rock of Horeb, standing by Moses in his leadership and providing that life giving water to a people who had given Moses a real heckling. That opening verse of the song gives us an interesting perspective on our text:
‘When the night has come And the land is dark And the moon is the only light we’ll see No, I won’t be afraid Oh, I won’t be afraid Just as long as you stand Stand by me’
Firstly I think the mention of a dark land with the moon as the light is highly relevant. It just so happens that the desert of Sin in our text actually means the desert of the moon; as Sin was one of the Sumerian gods in the ancient world. Secondly the song asserts that confidence of not being afraid so long as we have a special someone standing by us. I can’t quite picture Moses singing this song in the desert at Rephidim, because actually he is afraid; for his life in fact. Furthermore the text ends with the number one core issue of the people: ‘Is the Lord with us? Is he even within us,…. or not? Moses’ prayer might be: ‘Lord, in this dark wasteland with a people who want to stone me, please, please, stand by me!’
But how did Moses get into that situation where the people would want to stone him? Well you might say: ‘Well these people are a bunch of ragamuffins, it’s in their nature to be a pain’. This might be true to an extent, but I think much of it had to do with their faith capacities in God, and also much to do with expectations.
After travelling around in the desert heat for so long, imagine how you might have felt when Moses’ announced that the people would camp at Rephidim. The name Rephidim is based on the meaning to ‘stretch out, be comfortable, make a bed or be refreshed’, and it was supposed to have a stream of water. I reckon the Israelites might have sung a similar song to Daryl Kerrigan in the famous Australian film ‘The Castle’: ‘We going to Bonny Doon!’ Feel the serenity, look at the powerlines, the tranquil lake and that smell of two stroke. Paradise! But… It was nothing of the sort. No water, no baths, nothing. No 5 star hotel with spa, telly and toilet facilities. It is no wonder the people turned on Moses. This was yet again another situation where they didn’t receive what they were expecting.
Moses at first takes it personally: ‘Why do you argue with me?’ Then he directs their dispute to God be saying that they are actually testing God by trying to force his hand. To deal with their quarrelling he needs to retreat into God. The people were in riot mode, likely sitting out the front of his tent with placards and demonstrations all night long. Moses wails and cries out to God for support. Numbers chapter 11 gives us a picture of Moses’ feelings about the people towards God: ‘What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on to me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry these people in my arms as a mother carries an infant? This parenting picture shows that Moses’ feels he is not just a leader but feels like a parent holding in his arms a multitude of crying needy children. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger as kindergarten cop with a headache; but ‘It’s not a tumour!’
But notice what God does here. He takes control, instructs Moses to calmly pass in front of the people taking some elders with him, and instructs Moses to come to God himself; standing on the rock. Here is a miracle of creation: water from a complete wasteland. Even here, creation through God’s hands can still provide life. What’s more the elders as witnesses see that God really is with Moses; he is a legitimate leader and carer of the people. I would say they now stand by him in big way. It’s not long in the chapter before we hear about Aaron and Hur standing either side of Moses holding up Moses’ arms as Israel battles with the Amalekites. Now that is what I call solidarity for their leader and carer.
You know I can really identify with Moses in two major ways. Firstly as a parent I know what it feels like to be so burned out and overwhelmed that when a child expresses a need through a negative behaviour we can really feel like saying: ‘Why are you giving me such a hard time?’ But of course they’re not trying to be deliberately difficult; it’s just that they have a deep need that’s not being met. Secondly even once the water starts flowing and the children are satisfied, the parent still can feel spent and exhausted. They need their arms held up. All of us do in fact need our arms held up at certain times, which is why we have such a thing as a loving church family. But those in particularly caring roles such as carers of people with disabilities or terminal illnesses, pastors, clinicians and of course parents always need people to stand by them to catch the arms that drop when they’re exhausted. When we have run out of puff and are spent, we feel we are in the wasteland and we can’t see any place for refreshment. When Jesus was dead on the cross in the wasteland of death, a soldier struck the side of his body and water and blood flowed out. That flow has never stopped. Even in lifeless death, Jesus still offered living water.
God the Father is standing here today in our midst on the rock of Jesus, who pours out the living water of the Holy Spirit for us to drink. When you go to Holy Communion there should be a confident answer to this question: Is the Lord with us or not?. Yes he is. Is he in us or not? Absolutely. Better still, take in more of him in the bread and wine. Drink his blood to quench your thirst, eat his flesh as manna from heaven to strengthen and preserve you. Friends, Communion is not just a ritual we have to do week after week, something to get over and done with at the end of the service. It is a real encounter with Jesus, and spiritual things actually happen to people. But it is an opportunity to have our hands held up, and our thirst quenched. Once we are refuelled and our thirst quenched by the Lord we are more able to help each other. So go visit and support the carers who care for others. Encourage the pastors and leaders who protect and nurture us and think twice about how much complaining is necessary or helpful. Make a bee line to parents who feel isolated who would love a listening ear, a coffee or a cooked meal. Find the disability carers and help them arrange appropriate doses of respite that make a real difference. Take the living water of Jesus to each other as the Spirit leads. Be with those who cry ‘stand by me!’. To those who are carers of others and also to those who receive care, the Lord says ‘Come and be refreshed from the rock of our salvation’. Amen.
1 The community of Israel journeyed from the desert of Sin breaking camp and moving on according to the commands of the Lord. And they camped in Rephidim but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So the people quarrelled with Moses and they said: ‘Give to us water to drink!’ And Moses said to them: Why you quarrel with me? And why do you test the Lord? 3 But the people thirsted for water there, and they grumbled against Moses and said: ‘Why have you brought us here up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’4 Moses wailed to the Lord and said: What should I do with these people? Again, they are nearly ready to stone me!’
5 And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Pass over before the people, and take with you the elders of Israel and your staff with which you struck the Nile. Take it in your hand and go. 6 Behold, I am standing before you there upon the rock in Horeb and you will strike into the rock and water will come out from it so that the people will drink. And Moses did so in the eyes of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place, Massah and Meribah because of the quarrelling of Israel and because they tested the Lord saying: ‘Is the Lord within us or not?’
As Christians we often have deep needs which we know God can satisfy. However we can sometimes feel like complaining when we feel not cared for enough by those people such as pastors and carers. How might you sensitively and in a godly manner communicate your needs to those who care about you without accusing or complaining harshly?
Many people in the church feel like they are thirsty for the Lord and need their arms held up. But it is important that those who are carers need others to care for them too. Pray about how you can offer that care to someone in the church that you see giving much to others. It may not be immediately obvious but have courage to ask if they need any support. You might be very surprised.
3) As a carer of others, reading this, you might have had occasions when you have felt burned out with no one to turn to. Pray about how you can express your need for refreshment and support in your church family and for the Lord to show you someone who will listen and stand by you in times of stress and exhaustion.