Sermon on Exodus 17:1-7
Is the Lord among us or not?
This is the question that Moses claims the people raised when they came to a place on their journey through the desert where the was no water to drink.
You might remember this core story of the history of God’s people. Before this point, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. He ended up in Egypt and his dreams helped him be recognized and the people store up grain for the coming famine. Then when Joseph’s family was affected by the famine and they came to him; he forgave them, and the people of God known as Israel were saved from food scarcity.But time went on and later the rulers saw these Israelites as people who should be exploited and made them slaves, and treated them worse and worse… Moses, who grew up in the Pharaoh’s house, was later called by God to free the people from slavery. God did many mighty acts to show Pharaoh it was time to let them go, eventually they got away, God helped Moses lead the people on dry land through the Red Sea. Later they were hungry and God provided manna for them to eat. Then at the very next place, there is no water and they say now it is thirst that is just killing them, and why did Moses ever lead them out of slavery if it was for them to die of thirst in the desert?
Yes they are thirsty. Being very thirsty is not a pleasant sensation. But how quickly they forget all that God has done for them so far?! Is the lord even with us on this crazy journey through the desert after all? They ask.
I think we might see a lot in common with the Israelites in the desert these days. There are some good reasons to cry out, is God even with us anymore? We passed this week the marking of now 200,000 of our fellow Americans dead from the coronavirus. Each one precious to God, each one mourned by many loved ones left to grapple with that hole in their lives. And some of our fellow Americans still claim it is a hoax and made up.
Our nation is going through some very tense and divided times, that can also make us cry out, where are you God? Breonna Taylor a young EMT sleeping when police barged into her dwelling and shot into the apartment, another one precious to God, yet no one has been charged with any crime pertaining to her death. That announcement led to a ramping up of protests and yes some violence in the midst of some of those. All violence is lamentable, and there needs to be proper accountability.
Our nation lost a supreme court justice this week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg who worked throughout her career for all of God’s children in this country to be treated equally, unleashing even more tension and division over how a nominations process for her successor should or should not proceed.
What a week.
The fires continue, contained little by little, storms on the East and south of our nation hit again and again.
Is the Lord among us or not? If there was ever a time for us to ask this question, now is as good a time as any.
Last week was the Annual conference and the theme was “know that I am God.” I am familiar with that phrase as I have used the full verse from psalm 46:11 “be still and know that I am God” as a guide for meditation with intentional breathing and listening to God- regularly for about 15 years now. A Lutheran Bishop taught me that practice. Let me read the whole psalm for you: God is our refuge and strength,
a very present[a] help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city;[b] it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.[c]Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.[d]Selah
The psalm describes some giant upheavals. The mountains shaking and the waters roaring, the nations in uproar, the very earth melting, God breaking all the instruments of war. Seeming to say, there is no weapon that can help you when all this is going down. But then, be still, and know that I am God.
To know that God is God, and we are not. It’s first a relief, we don’t have to fix it all on our own. It’s also an empowerment- God is God and God wants to work through me, somehow, no matter how terrible it all seems. God is still our God and yes God is with us.
We know this for sure because of Jesus, because of how he came to earth and humbled himself and gave his followers the promise: Lo I am with you always, to the end of the earth. The earth is still here, fragile though we know this reality is- so God is with us still too.
Some things jump out at me in this story from Exodus:
The Lord went before Moses. The Lord had been going before the people the whole way in cloud by day and fire by night, but now the Lord seems to come a little nearer still to Moses, who is quite upset by the people asking for water.
God doesn’t get upset in this passage. God doesn’t rebuke the people or tell Moses he’s blowing things out of proportion, he says, here’s what we’re going to do. You need water, I’m going to get you some water.
The people had a need, God took care of it.
God led Moses to do yet another miracle, but I wonder a little about the how of the miracle. Was the water always there under the rock, they just needed to discover it? In any case the presence of that water now flowing, seemingly impossibly, from the rock, showed that God was indeed there among them. When they let their need be known to God, even maybe getting a little dramatic about it, God takes care of them.
Gosh I would like some miracles. I would love if we could just snap our fingers and make this pandemic disappear. I would love to exorcise the sins of racism and hate from all of us with some simple prayers. I would love for true justice and accountability to be automatic for every person. I would love for politicians to behave in fair and decorous ways.
We can pray for miracles. But just like when I still myself and try to sense God’s presence I am often reminded of the ways God wants to work through me- that is what we are here for. We’re all Moses in a sense, carefully following where God leads to show us that what we need really has been here all along, we just needed to look in the right place, we just needed to listen carefully for what God wants us to do, we just need to act in obedience.
God is God, Amen. We are the beloved children of God. The Lord goes before us, even now. We can quiet ourselves to really, really know God IS- and we can be empowered to be the hands and feet of God, providing for one another. Providing food, providing help, providing prayer, maybe even water, and revealing as we do so what the psalm proclaims is true: The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. God is with us, no matter what. Let us follow as God leads, Amen.