Journey to the Cross, step 3: The Test

March 23, 2014
Third Sunday of Lent
Service for the Lord’s Day
Indian Hill Church
Exodus 17:1-7
Reverend Stephen Caine

 

17: 1 “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, You give the water of eternal life through Jesus Christ your Son. May we always thirst for you, the spring of life and source of all goodness; we pray in the name Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

The human narrative continues forward from – the fall of Adam and Eve, to the call of Abram and Sarai, and now to the Israelites and their journey in the wilderness.  While they are traveling – they put God to the test.  The Israelites are the people of God.  They were born out of an agreement that God made with Jacob, a grandson of Abraham.  Remember it was Jacob who wrestled with an angel of God.  And Jacob, who held his own and did not let go of the angel until the Lord blesses him.  Jacob is blessed and his name is changed to Israel and in that moment the nation of Israel is born.

 

Now, we jump forward – the Israelites are on a journey into the Sinai desert.  They are led by Moses, a man they hardly knew and each step took them further away from what they knew and deeper into the unknown.  (Note that in the bible the wilderness is a place of depravity where basic human needs are lacking.)   So, as the Israelites are following Moses through the wilderness they face hardships and trials.  The first hardship they faced was the water was too bitter for them to drink; then they ran out of food; and then they run out of water to drink.  Doubt sets in; their sense of trust erodes, their fears overwhelm them, and they begin to complain.  And they quarrel amongst themselves, then they quarrel with Moses and ultimately with God.

 

However, each trial the Israelites face, God provides: God delivers them from slavery and the Egyptian army, God provides sweet water for them to drink, food to eat, and then water from the rock.   The LORD heard the Israelites cry in the midst of slavery, danger, hunger, and now thirst and God provides for them each time.

 

Now while they are wandering in the wilderness they have used up their resources.  They have lost their way.  They have forgotten God.

 

In their forgetfulness the Israelites have settled at a place called Rephadim and they have run out of water and they can’t find any water anywhere.  They “quarrel with Moses, and say, ‘Give us water to drink!  Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?‘”  In response, God tells Moses to take his staff, the same staff he had used to part the Red Sea.  Then at a designated place, Moses was to strike the rock, and water would come out, and the people could drink.

 

Yes, this is a story about Israel and its’ history, but it is also a story for us.  Even though we live in a time and a place where water is available at the turn of a faucet and food is abundant.  During this time of Lent, many people create a sense of want by giving something up, coffee, chocolate, bread, cursing, or some other pleasure.

 

So, on this Third Sunday of Lent, it is fitting to contemplate the Israelites experience of thirst and want.

 

As we reflect on this story our primary purpose is not to learn about the past. You see, it is not the people of Israel who were stiff necked, hard hearted, and lacking in faith.  It is all of us. It is not just the people of Israel whose community was threatened by their sinfulness.  It is true for us, our nation, our communities, too.  It is not merely the ancient Israelites who complained against God.  We do too.  Notice that God did not condemn their grumbling.  Because, God can handle it.

 

This story tells what it means to be human – sinful, broken and fallen creatures that we all are but more importantly it bears witness to the faithfulness and graciousness of God.  In fact, the entire Book of Exodus is about the faithfulness of God.  God hears the people groaning in Egypt and remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

 

This story also has something to say to us as individuals.  The Israelites look at their situation and they ask the hard question.   It is the same question that has haunted men and women of faith since Adam and Eve – ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’  We ask it on a personal level as individually we wrestle with the challenges of life in our everyday trials and temptations.  Why me lord?  Why cancer?  Why the economic downturn? Unemployment? Why an earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear meltdown?  Oh Lord, are you with me or not?

 

We ask it corporately as a Church, as our community is changing around us how do we respond?  Are you with us Lord?  Time and again the Israelites had evidence of God’s presence among them, God’s gracious provisions for them and God’s covenant with them.  The Church today is in the midst of great change – the challenge for us is to have faith and hope in a God who is always travelling with us, providing for us and loving us as we go!  God has been with you and me, our ancestors, the ancestors of this great church, since the beginning.  God has never forsaken us.  God will not desert us now and God will be with us in the future.

 

As the Israelites thirsted in the desert, their plight became a crisis because they forgot the story of what God had done for them.  Let’s vow never to forget what God has done for us.  Let’s remember God’s story of faithfulness to the people of Old Testament, again, again, again and again until we can’t help but remember!  Let’s tell each other the stories of how God has worked in our lives so that we can celebrate God’s faithfulness to us!  Let’s proclaim what God is doing in our lives right now so that we will know that God is with us and will be with us to the end!  As we remember, we develop faith that the God who was with us in the past will be with us through all of our tomorrows.

 

God is at work in you!

In me!

In each of us!

If we trust in that, and in the spirit it brings to life in each of us, then there is truly nothing God cannot accomplish in and through us.

 

So whatever wilderness you find yourself, know this: God is with you…

Just as God was with the grumbling Israelites.  It’s amazing to me that with such a lack of trust and faith, God still gave them what they asked for. God is with us.

 

Let us pray:

 

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