“Is the Lord Among us, or Not?”

woman

The Pas                       Lent 3

Year A

19 March 2017

 

Exodus17:1-7

Psalm 95 BAS pg 833

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-42

Gracious God,

you provide us with living water in abundance for all to share.

Nourish us with this abundance,

so that we may be streams of living water to those who thirst for you;

through Jesus Christ, the rock of our salvation. Amen. Amen.

__________________________________

 

“Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b)

 

This is a question we are still found asking today, and often in the depths of our lives, as we seek God’s direction not just for us as the people of Christ Church, but for our lives, as well as our discernment of God’s will for each one of us as individuals.

 

Today, in the passage from Exodus, we see the Israelite people in the Desert of Sin, and even this name is able to have significance for each one of us in our lives, and where we are on any particular day, especially when we feel God is not a part of our day, of our lives.

 

We see them grumbling and complaining against God, and against Moses who, following God’s direction, leads them from slavery to freedom; from being a society of slaves to being a nation. Moses leads them from being individuals to being the people of God.

 

We’re told “the whole Israelite company set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded.” (Ex 17:1a)

 

And in this we can see that God is the one with the map. God is the one calling the shots as to where they go, and how far each day.

 

At the same time, we see that the Israelite people, although hardened with the work they did for the Egyptians, aren’t cross country sprinters. They like their comforts of life – a pillow and a bed that’s softer than the desert ground on which to sleep.

 

So they complain: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b)

 

They’re hot, their feet and legs hurt. They’ve got blisters on their blisters. They’ve got sunburn in places they didn’t think could get sunburned. At the same time, they like an abundance of fresh, drinkable water to wash away the dust of the day, to quench their thirst and they want it now!

 

But where they camped, this day, water isn’t easily available. Water isn’t available until God is appealed to by Moses, who is once more at his wits end with this constant litany of complaints by the people he’s been commanded to lead from slavery to freedom.

 

As I was reading through this text, today, I was reminded of the burden of interim ministers. Ministers whose task is to help congregations transition from one pastor, one priest, to another. They’re the ones who stay long enough for the congregation to lose the “but Pastor So-and-so did it this way” so that when Pastor What’s-his-name arrives, then the slate is clean and the new pastor makes his own relationships, and traditions with the congregation.

 

It takes a very patient minister to be able to work with a congregation in this way and will often be with a congregation for up to two years.

 

Unfortunately, mostly retired clergy fill this much-needed transition from one state of being to another with a parish, so it’s not widely available to parishes outside of urban areas.

 

“Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b)

 

At the same time, we can look at Moses in this roll of interim leader. He’s in the role, but earlier in Exodus, he actively petitioned God to choose someone else, he didn’t  want the leadership that God has thrust upon him, yet, this is where he is – between the people of God and the God of the people.

 

We see Moses. We know that he was raised in the courts of the Egyptian kings; that he knows about the roles the Hebrew slaves have played in the life and administration of Egypt for generations.

 

We know that he ran away from Egypt and sent himself into exile and obscurity for the murder of an Egyptian overseer who was beating a slave.

 

We know that God called him from this obscurity, that God wouldn’t take no from an answer when Moses tried to turn down the job. We know that Moses and his family have been tested by God from the time they left the sacred mountain to enter Egypt and to represent God’s people to the hierarchy of Egypt.

 

Moses has faced and continues to face his trials. He’s faced God’s obstinacy when he wanted to throw up his hands and throw in the towel over and over again. He’s had his marital difficulties, and he’s faced both his Egyptian family and his Hebrew family, convincing them both that first of all he represents God, and that he has been called to lead the people to freedom, to the Promised Land, to the Land of Milk and Honey, that was promised to Abraham, so many generations ago.

 

And still today we see that “they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled 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?’” (Ex 17:1b-2)

 

“Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b)

 

But we do this, don’t we? We strive to follow where God leads, but the moment something doesn’t go our way, we want to put up barriers, arguments, claims against the one who loves us unconditionally.

 

We see this with the Israelite people.

 

They’re learning to be more than ‘Hebrew slaves’. They’re learning that generations of prayers calling for freedom have been heard, and that Moses is the response to those prayers. But Moses looks nothing like Superman.

 

Moses looks nothing like God. And because of this, because their journey in the desert comes with dust and dirt, with blisters and heat stroke, they want the comforts of life, they want the easy access to medical care that was, in the life of memory, better than camping where there is no water found easily at hand.

 

In the absence of an oasis, in the absence of a running stream, or a deep well, the people loose what little faith they’ve gained and start into the “we never did it this way before.” Or “things were so much better in Egypt”, or “what do you think you’re doing leading us away from water, from food, into this ‘desert of Sin’?”

 

The complaints come hot and heavy, and no one looks at how far we’ve come from what was had before. No one looks at how we’ve grown since we last looked back. Instead, nostalgia reigns supreme, and the complaints fly in the hot evening light as the blisters burn our heels.

 

We know, looking at the passages of the bible, that their sojourn, their passage in the desert lasted forty years. We know that they learned much in that time, that they left behind the complaints that life was better under the Egyptian lash.

 

Moses, we can see in the role of the interim leader – the one who replaces the Egyptian overlords with God’s loving guidance. Who helps them to establish the ways of life that carry them through the generations to the time when the Romans destroyed the temple after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

 

At the same time, today, we can identify with how this is going for the Israelite people.

 

They feel abandoned because they don’t have easy access to what they had before. We can see them in a time of transition, and at the same time we can identify how God is working in our lives urging us to grow, to enter our own wilderness experiences, and to learn of the love of God for not just those in the Exodus experience, but for the rest of us as well.

 

“Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b)

 

How often do we see people asking this question, if not in words, in deeds, even today?

 

We’ve seen it throughout the pages of the bible, at the time of Abraham when he doubted that God would look out for him amongst his adversaries.

 

We’ve seen it throughout the book of Judges when the people lived lives that were shameful and inexcusable in personal and faith conduct with each other.

 

We’ve seen it in the times of exile so that the prophets urging us to come back to honest and humble worship of God in all aspects of our lives.

 

We can even see it in the writings of the New Testament authors as they seek to encourage us in all aspects of our lives, knowing that not everything seems rosy all the time.

 

Romans tells us “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God… but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” (Rom 5:1-5)

 

Even Jesus, as we’ve been hearing throughout Lent, has had experiences of and in the wilderness when he is tempted by Satan. We see the ways in which he relied upon God, upon faith, upon the love of God for his defense in these trials.

 

Today’s gospel tells us of the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman who has experienced her own desert experiences even amongst her own people, especially if we see her coming to the well in the daytime when she knows she will be alone.

 

But even then, as in the Exodus account, God offers water, water that revives, nourishes, and brings us back to life.

 

The Israelites rally around the question “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b)

 

We ask the same question in our own lives. And frankly we acknowledge that it can be difficult to wait for an answer, especially if we are dying of thirst.

 

One of my favourite excerpts from the marriage course I use with people is “be careful what you pray for, you might just be the answer to your prayer.”

 

Another, from the internet is if you pray for change, be prepared to wake up next to a shovel.

 

God needs us, and the Israelite people to realize that it is God who gives water, shelter, food, hope, and life for all who adhere to God.

 

The hope is there. The answers are often found within us and through us. The need is all around us, and although we ask “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex 17:7b) we know that he is here, now, in our hearts, in our lives, every day.

 

“Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people?’ The Lord answered … ‘I will stand before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.’” (Ex 17:4-6a)

 

God gives us all things when we ask. At the same time, God makes us part of the solution even before we’ve asked for aid.

 

We can take Moses example to heart, as we can the example of the woman at the well whose heart is opened to the life that only God can give.

 

We can choose to be part of the problem, or we can choose to be part of the solution. The choice is ever before us, as is God, standing by the rock, urging us to drink the water that comes forth, for our nourishment, for our life, for today, and for tomorrow.

 

Amen.

 

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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