Water from the Rock

Sermon Title: Water from the Rock

Date: 28th September 2014

Preacher: Jacqui Smith

Church Calendar Date: Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2014

Lectionary Reading: Exodus17: 1 – 7

 

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Winnie-the –Pooh story and two of the characters called Tigger and Eyeore. Broadly speaking, if you so wish, you can divide the world into two sorts of people: the tiggers and the eyeores. There are the optimists, the tiggers of this world – those that bound around full of the joys of spring, their glass is always half full – there’s never a setback but an adventure, an opportunity for growth. Then there are the pessimists. These are the eyeores of this world, they don’t bound, they plod, while sighing heavily. Their glass is always half empty – something is bound to go wrong and if it does, it’s never just a setback; it’s a full blown disaster. You might like to think about which category you fall into.
In our Exodus reading today it appears that most of the Israelites belong to the second group; the Eyeore’s. The reading tells us they are journeying by stages as the Lord commanded – but as we know these are not just physical stages of a journey but also spiritual and faith stages of the journey to becoming God’s people – a trusting, obedient people. So how are they doing? If this reading is anything to go by, not very well.
As we have followed their story from bondage in Egypt, we have seen God’s gracious care, miraculously saving them from the wrath of Pharaoh’s army and providing for their needs. He has turned bitter water into drinkable water and provided manna and meat from heaven while all the while listening to their grumblings of how, “back in Egypt we had this and we had that”. It’s funny how the bad old days aren’t looking quite so bad now they are facing some tough times.
In today’s reading they have resorted to grumbling par excellence – “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us, and our children and livestock with thirst”? You can just imagine the big sad brown eyes of the little children and calves. Perhaps the saying “Never work with children or animals” goes back further than Hollywood.

Moses’ frustration is palpable, “What shall I do with this people?” And yet again, God comes through, guiding Moses to strike a rock that provides drinking water. The place becomes known as Massah and Meribah “quarrelling and testing” – because the people are saying “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Is the Lord among us or not? I don’t know about you, but I feel like grabbing the nearest Israelite and shaking them! “Yes, of course he is. What about the plagues and the red sea swallowing the Egyptian army, the water, the bread, the meat, the pillars of cloud and fire? Why are you so quick to forget all he has done?”
Because they are just people, people on a journey full of uncertainty and hardship and I believe deep down wanting to believe that God is for them, has their best interests at heart, but they keep running into difficulties and it doesn’t make sense. And we must remember that it isn’t a trivial matter they are getting discouraged about – it’s about water and food, survival essentials. Yet God seemingly keeps taking them to this pinnacle of potential disaster and they don’t know why.
What is God doing when he does this? Is he bored, playing games? Does he have a sadistic streak and likes to see them suffer? Well no, God doesn’t play games and he isn’t sadistic. What God wants to do is refine his people, create a people of character, a people totally reliant on God, faithful in their trust. God wants more tiggers, people of optimism and hope. Not a self-deluding optimism, but optimism grounded in reality, grounded in evidence. “Well I don’t know why we have to deal with this issue again, yes it is important and stressful, however, God has come through for us before and I believe he will come through for us again like he always has”. This is the type of optimism, of faith God wants – clear eyed, level headed and grounded in past experiences of God’s goodness and provision.
We are often told to walk by faith not by sight, not by how things appear to be. But the Israelites can’t or won’t commit to that type of faith at present. They want, they need, concrete proof that God is for them – “give us meat, give us water” – they want to turn faith into sight, into the solid and material. This is how they are testing God. And it shouldn’t be that way.

But they are, like us, creatures imprisoned by time and physical body. They may look back to the past with remembrance of deliverance and forward to the future with hope of things being different but their physical bodies are stuck in the here and now. And in the here and now, they are thirsty and probably feeling overwhelmed and frightened, facing another circumstance that doesn’t make sense and all that remembrance and hope flies out the window.
They feel this frustration, even this resentment towards God. Questioning, “God are you for me? If so, show me now because I’m pretty feed up of facing situations like this again and again”. – I’m not saying this attitude is right, but it is human. Can you relate to their frustration? I know I can, I’ve thought it, I’ve said it – “Is God really here in this situation or not?
And unlike the Israelites, we have centuries of history about God being for us – we have the bible replete with stories of God’s grace and we have Jesus, the ultimate example of God’s love and grace. Yet still we quibble and complain and at times wonder “Is God really for me? If so, why is this happening?”
And yet God still sticks with us, just like he stuck with these Israelites. He knew what was ahead when he chose them. God, unlike us, isn’t constricted by time. He knew they were going to complain, keep testing him, doubting him and walking away from him. Yet that doesn’t stop him a few chapters later making a binding covenant of tenacious fidelity to these feckless people. God chose them for the long haul.
God is also in it for the long haul with us. He clings tightly to us with fierce faithfulness though we continue to batter and bruise the relationship. Though we are a people who complain and at times doubt he has our welfare at heart, though we are a people who, like those in the gospel reading, “try to question his authority”, he not only continues to stick with us, he – to paraphrase that wonderful Philippians passage:

Emptied himself, becoming human, humble and obedient – serving us, having our best interests at heart even though it meant death, a horrible, brutal death on a cross.
It is in Jesus we have what the Israelites so longed for – concrete, material proof of God being among us and for us. What we see in both the Exodus and the Philippians passages is grace at work – the underserved, unmerited, enduring favour of God towards us. God demonstrated his fidelity and love for the Israelites in the giving of bread and drink, sustaining life.
Today we also partake in God’s ultimate proof of that love in the partaking of the bread and wine at Eucharist. Today in these actions of eating and drinking and what they symbolise, I will have my answer to the question, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The Lord be with you.