Sermon – All Age Worship with Holy Communion, March 19th 2017, The Third Sunday of Lent.
Main passage: Exodus 17:1-7 ,
also John 4:4-42
‘Not safe but good.’
What do we need to live on? Can rocks give us that?
Well half a million people were in the wilderness and all they could see were rocks. And they complained – ‘Moses! Give us water to drink’.
I think today’s Gospel and OT reading bring us themes to continue to seek to build into our individual lives and as we move forward as a church.
To be a church steadfast in difficulty – why are they in the place of rocks? We read they were travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded until they come to Rephidim. And we then read there was no water.
Following the Lord’s ways can bring challenge.
Have they been disobedient?
Have they worshipped false idols – no not yet that comes later.
They have gone ‘from place to place’ as the Lord commanded. And they are in a place of rocks – no water. Challenge. It is possible to think – as I grew up believing for a time – that if I am obedient, loving, reading the Bible, praying, then there shouldn’t be any problems. From my sin, sin of others, sure, trouble comes but… why should problems come when I am doing what the Lord asks?! It reminds me of our well known story (Mark 4:35-41)– the disciples climb into the boat, Jesus says, ‘let us go over to the other side’, and then a huge storm erupts which scares even fishermen who know all about the sudden storms on the Sea of Galilee. To be obedient can mean we can go in difficult places, face challenging situations. We can be authentically hearing the voice of the Lord, and yet we can come into challenging places.
And these difficulties can be hard. ‘V1 ‘but there was no water.’ V2 we hear it again – ‘give us water to drink’. V3 ‘“why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst.” They are taken to the end of their resources, it is a real problem, a real challenge. And like those disciples in the boat – they were scared and said to Jesus “don’t you care if we drown.” Not only can the Lord’s leading make us uncomfortable but it leads us to the edge it feels at times.
The response of God’s people?
Faith – well he has saved us before, redeemed us, he will take care of us now.
It is God’s fault.
Moses is blamed but the chapter (Exodus 16) before Moses warned them if they complain against him, they are complaining against God – for Moses walks where God leads. And the more and more we consider it: it is 6 weeks or so since they left Egypt. They have seen the Lord destroy the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, they have complained about the waters at Marah being impossible to drink but the Lord made it so, and then later guides them to a lovely oasis at Elim. Then they complain about food – and the Lord provided manna (and will provide it daily from then onwards for 40 years) and quail briefly.
Consider. That day they go up – the thirst has grown – yet they got up, they saw the pillar of cloud at the day, or when they went outside at night the pillar of fire was there, and that morning, yes thirsty, they gathered manna as they would ever day. BUT there is still a doubt – summed up in the last line: ‘is the Lord among us or not.’ (v7). They have seen and know what God has done, they see daily reminders that he is with them, and yet they still doubt and accuse God of not caring for them.
We hear the same words in the disciples: Teacher, don’t you care that we drown, (Mark 4).. Those are harsh words– ‘don’t you care.’ They do not say: ‘teacher, help us.’ Instead ‘Don’t you care.’ ‘You are in this boat. Don’t you care?’ ‘God you are in this pillar, don’t you care…?’
For me, this asks – could I do that? Can I see all the signs around me and yet not let it sink deeply inside so it really shapes how I see and act towards God? Can I take Communion, can I enjoy worship, can I sense his presence or peace, and yet say ‘does he care?’ Could I say ‘don’t you care?’ Can I perhaps forget how he has been faithful in the past suggesting he does in fact change – like I do – that as I may not be consistent, I suggest that the Lord isn’t? The Psalms are full of how we can bring to God what we think and feel – wonderful book – and I believe we can share all in prayer. But we cannot let that become an excuse not to self reflect and ask ourselves – ‘why am I saying these words to God, what is going on in me?’
It does appear that the Lord can take us to the end of our resources. The question is, from Exodus, how will we respond to him in those places? With faith? Do we question is he with us? Do we question his goodness? Our doubts can be natural – wrestling with what is going on around us in our difficulty. But do we begin to ask – is there, within us, an assumption about God that is not right? We expect something of him that is incorrect?
God is good.
In the series of books, The Chronicles of Narnia. CS Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia records a character Lucy asking about Aslan the lion. Aslan represents Christ through the stories. Lucy asks another – As a lion, is he safe? Safe, replies the other, no he is not safe. But he is good.
Is he safe? The rocks are saying NO WAY.
But is he good. Yes. He is good, as we see in this story.
Note the patience. ‘Moses, go out in front? I will stand there. Water will come out of the rock.’ Good, he provides as he would have done, maybe in same way maybe not. And we see him act in way totally unexpected – water from a rock. He does the unpredictable.
Jesus who is asked – ‘don’t you care if we drown’ – says ‘Quiet, be still!’ And the Jesus who sits at the well, talks at length with a Samaritan woman – which she would never have expected, nor his disciples, not that village. And yet the goodness – she is introduced to the water she has thirsted for, living water, and her life which began, restless, perhaps dark, hours later, has become one filled with peace, joy, love, a new sister in the Kingdom.
BUT to finish.
I am concerned by the response we read in Exodus compared to the gospel and Mark 4 I’ve been referencing. Mark 4 – ‘Who is this?’ – a new deeper revelation of who Jesus is, a fear knowing someone is acting in a way only God can. John 4 – joy, excitement, discovery “We have heard for ourselves and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the World.” The Hebrews – no response except they drink. No statement like in the days of Elijah – ‘the Lord is God the Lord is God.’ No response like song Miriam and Moses led the people in after the Red Sea miracles. Did they take it for granted what God did? Was it received selfishlessly – God you were meant to have done this? Did they learn anything about God in this experience? In the calming of the story, the disciples learn something through the storm, they had not learned to that point. In fact, perhaps in challenges there is a great opportunity to reflect on what we are learning of God. We can be thankful for how God has provided water out of the rocks, calmed our storms, brought inner healing, but in addition we can consider, what have we learned about God through these experiences?
As we face the challenges – sometimes he asks us to walk up the mountains and not just along the lovely rivers – as we face difficulties, we can choose to live in the awareness and peace that Jesus is in the storm, in the wilderness with me, he stands among the rocks. His presence doesn’t guarantee comfort. But he is good. And it does build faith that he will calm the storm, he will bring water out the rock, he will know the deep inner storms and wilderness and seek to bring living water. He can do that miracle. Amen