Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exodus 17:1-7

You’re in the right spot this morning because we’re giving away free ice cold water. We don’t want anyone going thirsty -- especially as we’re going to be talking a lot about water this morning -- it just makes good senses that we put cold, clear, fresh water in the hands of everyone.

So, enjoy! Drink it all! I do want to mention, though, that the restrooms will remain locked until after the message -- but go ahead and enjoy the water. All kidding aside, you’re always welcome to get up and move around as necessary.

The very fact that we can hand out water, joke about it, put it in plastic bottles... By the way, they use 1.5 gallons of water in the production of each plastic water bottle. I learned that last Tuesday on World Water Day -- which seeks to draw attention to the fact that one out of eight people in the world lack a reliable source of clean drinking water and two in five lack water for sanitation.

We ARE making good progress but it is a hard issue for us in the modernized West to wrap our minds around because we can afford to be casual about water.

I mean, have you ever been truly thirsty? I mean really really thirsty -- without options.

In January I was a part of a teaching team for the vocational excellence class that we offer to prepare Covenant pastors for ordination. As a part of that class we have a baptismal renewal ceremony -- where people come forward and dip their hands into a bowl of water.

We talk about how it is that spiritual development and formation is a matter of living out your baptism. Then people walk up to dip their hands in the water.

About halfway through the dipping part, one of the pastors walked forward to the water -- looked down at the bowl -- and suddenly had this very traumatized look on his black face -- and he froze. Then he started to weep. People quickly jumped up and embraced him. He stood there weeping for five minutes before he finally gained composure.

He then dipped his hands into the water and slowly lifted them -- letting the water drip from his fingers. And he began to talk. Simon explained that he had just had a flashback to a powerful memory from 15 years ago -- as a teen in the Sudan. He and a couple of his buddies were fleeing the war -- hiking across the desert toward Ethiopia.

And they had been out in the desert for five days without water -- traveling at night when it was cooler. Five days -- no water -- praying that God would provide -- that God would save them. And into that fifth day -- they were getting desperate -- really desperate.

And as they were walking along they came across the dead and decaying body of a man on the ground. They stopped and turned him over -- and there -- covered by the body was a bowl of water -- very similar in size and appearance to the bowl of water that we were using for the baptismal renewal ceremony.

Simon said, "We prayed to Jesus that we wouldn’t get sick from the water that was under a dead man." Then they drank it.

A big grin came over his face, and he reported, “we didn’t get sick -- God saved us.”

In contrast, in Exodus 17 the Israelites were wandering from place to place in the wilderness. And verse 1 explains
“At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. 2 So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded.”
Thousands of desperate, thirsty former slaves -- stuck in the hot desert -- waterless and ready to riot.

Moses -- their reluctant leader never wanted the job in the first place. He was quite satisfied with his quiet little shepherding gig -- which had actually been in that very area. He’d much rather keep watch over some stupid sheep than stupid whining people. But the Lord had called him and it would have to be the Lord who’d come up with a solution because poor Moses had absolutely no idea what to do. He was as desperate as they were.

“Quiet!” Moses replied. “Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?”

Well, you all know where this story is going because we read it a few minutes ago. So I want to jump into what I see as the formula in the story -- the point that we need to take home.

The first component of the formula is DESPERATE-TESTY PEOPLE. We might even call them faithless.
Vs. 3 -- “But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?’ 
4 “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!’”
I mean, you can almost sympathize with all of these people. And as desert dwellers who have lived through 120° heat in July -- you get it -- perhaps better than most. You know how grumpy people get when it’s that hot.

It was hot and dry in the middle of the desert and there were thousands and thousands of people without water. And the margin for survival without water is very thin. They were feeling desperate. But desperation is not an excuse for testiness -- especially considering the circumstances here.

Remember, these are the people who had already seen the plagues in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea for their escape.

These are the people who at the end of Exodus 15 complained about the lack of water. And God turned a pool of sour water into a pool of good water for them.

These are the people who in chapter 16 grumbled that there was nothing to eat -- and the Lord sent manna and quail -- more manna and quail than they knew what to do with.

So, you’d think by chapter 17 that they’d have figured out that the Lord was committed to providing for them in some way shape or form.

But they didn’t get it. Sometimes it’s just easier -- and more fun -- to whine than to trust the Lord. Sometimes it’s almost like we enjoy whining about how bad things are. It makes us feel important -- as though the world revolves around us, our problems, and our comfort and well being.

I mean, back to the whole water thing, we feel victimized every time the cost of water goes up. But in reality -- from a big picture perspective we’re paying little for a lot -- that is, compared to what the rest of the world has.

God, you’ve abandoned us -- your precious children. You don’t care -- you should care enough to do things the way we want them done -- the way I want them done. You’ve turned me into a victim. Lord, what are you going to do to make it right?

A mob mentality develops. And Moses begins to fear for his life. “What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!”

DESPERATE-TESTY PEOPLE -- the first component in the formula.

Then I love verse 5 -- “The Lord said to Moses, “Walk out in front of the people.”

At this point I’m thinking, yeah right God, show me the exit. These guys are collecting piles of rocks -- big rocks -- which are obviously intended for me.

But the Lord says to Moses, step out in front of these desperate, thirsty, testy people who are conspiring to kill you. Just step right on out there.

Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to “take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call some of the elders of Israel to join you. 6 I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai. [Some of your translations might say “Horeb” -- Horeb and Mt Sinal are the same place.]

Why do you think the Lord asks Moses to bring that particular walking stick? Anyone want to venture a guess?

Yeah, I don’t think God needed anything to do what he was about to do -- but it was a symbolic prop -- a gesture to remind them of Moses’ authority from the Lord and how the Lord had rescued them in the past.

And here we are with the second component in the formula -- OUT OF THE ROCK PROVISION.

You know God could have provided for his people in a number of ways. He could have led Moses to a previously unknown well or pond. He could have made it rain dramatically from the cloud of his presence -- three times a day. But God had a different plan to capture the hearts and minds -- and imaginations -- not just of the Israelites in the desert but of all who might hear about them in the years to come.

Okay, here is a rock. If you’re looking for water -- the last place you look is in a rock. While you might be able to squeeze some moisture from the soil -- depending on the water table or the amount of recent rain -- you can’t get water from a rock. Feel this -- how hard it is. There is no capacity for storing water in a rock.

Back to vs. 5 -- “‘Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.’ So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on.”

Truly out of the box -- or out of the rock.

If God can provide for his people using something as ubiquitous and unlikely as a rock -- shame on you Israelites for not trusting him. You get all testy and hot under the collar -- and God has had you covered the whole time.

And this brings us into the third component of the formula -- DESPERATE-TESTY PEOPLE + OUT OF THE ROCK PROVISION = a sign that GOD IS PRESENT EVEN WHEN WE THINK HE’S ABSENT.

The water from the rock is a sign of God’s presence with his people -- and his provision -- in spite of our desperate and testy state.

vs. 7 -- “Moses named the place Massah (which means ‘test’) and Meribah (which means ‘arguing’) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord here with us or not?’”

Bob Deffinbaugh, a pastor in Texas, says -- and I think he summarizes this whole thing quite well -- “God often reveals his presence through circumstances in which he appears to be absent.”

The Israelites failed the test -- Massah Meribah -- but the Lord, in spite of their failure, passed with flying colors.

And this is the story of Israel throughout the entire Old Testament. They keep testing God -- proving his faithfulness -- but in doing so failing their own tests.

Now, there were bright exceptions -- but on a whole they flunked. They didn’t get it. And we don’t get it when we start to whine about how thirsty we are -- how terrible God has been to us.
I never win anything. God, why can’t I win the lottery -- just once?
Why can’t I win at love -- just once?
Why can’t I lead the pack -- just once?

We’re never satisfied -- never happy -- always feeling desperate. In our minds we almost seem to enjoy the sense of desperation.

Having something to whine about keeps me feeling like it’s all about me.

No wonder it’s so hard to be a leader. Can you imagine trying to be president of a nation of whiners driven by consumption and public opinion? There is no way that you can possibly do enough of the right thing to make enough people happy -- regardless of your political persuasion.

Moses was the most sane leader in the Old Testament. He didn’t want the job God gave him -- but he was simply being obedient. Anyone who has ambition for high political office is by definition crazy -- okay -- more or less. But you get the point. The more they want the job the less qualified they are.

We are by nature demanding and testy people in need of internal transformation. When you try to lead a bunch like us you’re going to get crucified.

In the John 4 passage we read there is a different discussion about thirst. Jesus engages a Samaritan outcast woman of questionable morals as she came to draw water from Jacob’s well. At first he asks her for water but then he ends up offering her living water -- and he tells her that if she’ll drink it she will never be thirsty again. Jesus’ point through it all is that HE HIMSELF is the source of living water -- he is the well -- or to frame it in Exodus 17 language -- he is the rock.

In 1 Corinthians 10 the whole water from a rock thing comes up again, this time from the apostle Paul.
1 “I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.”
The apostle Paul quite freely interprets Exodus 17 and says -- “Ya know, when we look back on this whole episode in our history 1,400 years ago -- we realize that Christ is the rock out of which the water flows -- spiritually speaking.”

All the stories are pointing the same direction. In spite of our desperate testiness, God remains a steady presence and provides for us from out of the rock.

So this is really an invitation to quit whining, even when things seem hopelessly desperate -- even when it feels like God has totally abandoned you -- and you feel totally justified -- quit whining and do the unthinkable -- turn to God -- and to the rock of Christ to deal with your thirst.

Now, I know that some of us have been marching through the desert for a long time -- waiting for everything to get better. And you’re thirsty -- and tired -- tired of asking for water. But somehow you do continue to plod on -- step by step -- laying low in the heat of the day -- traveling forward in the cool of night.

In as much as you do so, trusting in Christ, you’re on the right track. Don’t give up. But as soon as you begin to grumble and whine about the whole thing you’ve failed the test.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask questions about why things are the way they are or why God doesn’t seem to respond to you. That’s certainly allowed.

But questions are not the same as grumbling against God. And as soon as the questions become grumbling, demanding, and whining we’ve failed the test.

Now, when we fail, that doesn’t mean that God loves us less or that he isn’t going to provide for us -- but as with the case of Israel -- so it seemed the more they whined -- the longer the time out.

And don’t think of it as punishment but as personal development.

Why are the Israelites out in the wilderness to begin with? At first it seems like it’s the best escape route from Egypt -- but as time goes on it becomes apparent that they as a people are there to learn how to trust God through the desperate times.

It’s survival school. And when you’re in survival school you learn that you can’t take water casually and that you often find a drink in some unusual out of the rock places.

God is present in the wilderness -- even if we think he is absent. And he’ll provide -- indeed he has already done so through the rock -- who is Christ Jesus -- the source of living water.

And that’s the good news.

Let’s pray.

[Silence.] God, so many of us feel like we’ve been wandering in the wilderness for way too long. We’re frustrated and annoyed -- not only with others -- but ourselves as well. Why is this taking so long? Why am I so thirsty?

Perhaps this is your prayer -- and if so -- pray it after me -- God, I want to trust you. I am desperate for some salvation. Fill me with your living water -- the kind which flows out of the rock Jesus. I do trust him. Please come take control of my life. I am relying on your love and patience with me. I know that you died for me and that you were victorious over sin and death. So I’m yours -- desperate and ready to trust you -- today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

No comments: