Sermon, Sunday September 28, 2014.
Exodus 17:1-7 God gives water from a rock The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” 3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” 4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
If there is anything we need at the most basic level to survive the day, it is water. We can go without food for quite a while, but we can only go without water for a maximum of 3 days, if that. Once on a three day hike with 12 other young people we got into a bit of trouble with not enough water – but that was pretty tame compared to what we hear of in this account of God’s people. It is a desperate situation. God’s people find themselves out there in the desert at Rephidim with no water – the most acute human need. As we have now seen a number of times, the people’s default response to hard testing and their need is to want to return to “the good old days” and the “good old gods”! At least as slaves to the gods of human skills, power, imagination, intellect, belief in self and etc….., the people got a drink and stayed alive. Of course, the gods of Egypt could never deliver true freedom, peace, sure hope, true self-giving love and kindness and true release from all fear of being wrong and even from death itself. The people experienced this. The people often cried out to God to save them from their pain and trouble (Exodus 3), and yet, in their hard testing they want to return to what is known, natural and easier. Fair enough. So do I. I suggest you do too. It is a real challenge to trust in the Lord in times of hard testing. We often cry out to God asking him to save us from the temptation of forsaking him as we pray Jesus’ prayer – the Lord’s Prayer; “deliver us from temptation/hard testing” we pray. And yet, it is also our natural way to seek and find what we think we need – in our need. It is our way to act like those we might despise when it gets desperate – clamoring over our fellow travelers to get to the limited places on the lifeboat of the sinking ship. This is what we would never do when all is well; actions and words we would deride others for doing. That is, until it us who have the acute need for life and hope and future beyond this hard testing. It is then that nice behaviour and high and lofty words quickly end, and we are right there looking after ourselves like the rest. Friends, we are not living in a desert without water. But often we do find ourselves asking their question of each other and God. “Is the Lord with us or not? We are living in the shifting sands of huge change – and we feel the sand shift and we are not as sure footed as we might have been in the past. We are unwell. We are unsure of our job. We are unsure of our church’s future. We are addicted. We are hurt by others. We have a heart wound we carry around like a lead weight. We hear of terrible things and feel afraid. I know what to do – blame someone or something! Blame the church! Blame those who don’t care about church or God – blame someone – anyone! The people of old blamed Moses. Moses cries out to the Lord and says the people are ready to stone him! They were ready to kill off all this new vision and promise and hope and just get back to living in their own strength, understanding and way. This is where blaming ends. It does not help. It is better to listen to and seek the Lord’s voice in the testing and need. What was God up to in this thirst? There is no sign that he had reneged on his earlier promises – to make these refugees into a nation with a purpose; to be a nation so great that all would know their name and their God, and all the world would be blessed by their God through them, that they would have a land to call home and be a numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the beach (Genesis 12). So what was their hard testing about? The testing was for their trusting.
5 The LORD answered Moses, “…..6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
As they were in their exodus – their way through, God provided an exodus – his way through. The thirst and the test you are facing in your job, your marriage, your involvements, your decisions, your family, your school, your church is all about trust, depending on, learning from, seeing things differently in the Lord’s word. We are all being shaped into the way of the new Moses by his Word. He made his own exodus through not merely thirst, but dark death for us. We were drowned in the water from the Rock as we were named with his name – “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, and continue to be every time we gather in his community in his presence. As our home text says, he gave up heaven and lived in the dirt and thirst and human need and fear and pride of us and our gods (Philippians 2:1-13). He did this not to make us slaves again to fear and endless keeping of rules and expectations and fashion and making our own great name among our peers – but to make us new by the Rock that is Jesus Christ (1Cor 10:10) – everyday. The Living Water fills our need in word and meal and we are full, we are satisfied. We are new and we are generous. The Word is shaping you in his promises which still remain – affirming you and renewing you in his way of things – the way of the Rock and the Water of life – Jesus. The testing is for our trusting. In the hardest time Jesus is life. No need to blame. Only the need to listen and generously walk on – with his love given in his way out – the safe ground of the cross – the way of self-sacrificing love for undeserving people. The testing is for our trusting. In the hardest time Jesus is life. Amen.