Sunday, July 14, 2019 Is the Lord Among Us or Not? God Sends Water From a Rock
The message for Sunday, July 14 “Is the Lord Among us or Not?” by Pastor Erik Goehner, heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00AM Worship service.
Is the Lord Among us or Not? God sends water from Rock
Exodus 17:1-8 July 14, 2019
Water was one of the first things we would look for before we set up camp. I was working as a counselor at a Lutheran summer camp in Montana. Some of the weeks we would lead high school youth into the backcountry for several days of hiking and camping. When we came to a new area we would immediately look for where the nearest creek was so our camp would not be too far from a source of water. The water would be critical not only for filling our water bottles so we didn’t dehydrate, but also for filling our cooking pots so we could make our food.
Usually it wasn’t too hard to find a place near some water because there were a lot of creeks and lakes in the high mountains as the snow melted off from the winter. But on the last hike I helped to lead that summer things were a little more difficult. I knew there was no lake where we were going, and we would be camping on a high ridgeline above where the creeks typically ran. At the same time we would not be moving camp from night to night. We were setting up a basecamp where we would be staying all week, so it was even more crucial to find a site by a good source of water.
As our first day wore on, the campers in our group grew tired. The hike up had been steeper than anticipated and our group was exhausted. The sun was beginning to set, and our water bottles were running low. We needed to find somewhere to camp soon, but as we began to top the ridge, there were no sources of water in site. My co-leaders and I finally took out a map we had brought to see if there were any little creeks that were marked. The campers waited patiently for us as we had our conference. I knew they were exhausted and hungry. This was just the beginning of the week. I really wanted them to have a positive first night and to have good energy for the next day. Could we find some water before they got too restless? If they had to go to sleep hungry and thirsty would they blame me as one of the leaders? They would have every right to, since they had paid to have us take care of them that week
The map did show the marking of a creek, not too far away from the trail. The problem is that the map didn’t tell us how big of a stream it might be. Using the map and compass, myself and another leader set off ahead of the group. As it got darker I was feeling more pressure. What were the campers thinking? Were they wondering if they were following good guides or not? Were they wondering if I knew what I was doing?
Without the map and compass we would have probably never found the water source. We had to trust the authority of these tools beyond our own judgment because the source of water was truly just a trickle in a marshy area of the woods almost hidden as it wound its way through tall grass. But it would be enough to fill our water bottles and cooking pots. We would have dinner! The other leader and I were ecstatic and relieved.
Moses had to trust in an authority beyond his own judgment as he led all the people of Israel through the wilderness of the Sinai desert. If you were here last week you heard how the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea and the power of God was triumphant over the Egyptians. Even though the Israelites had seen what God could do, it didn’t take them long to start complaining. To be fair, though, they do seem to have a reason to complain. They are not just whining because it is hot in the desert. They are crying out because they are desperate and scared for their lives. They know they cannot withstand the scorching heat without water for very long. They begin to blame Moses for bringing them out into this forsaken landscape. After all, he is their leader. He is the one who promised that God would be with them. Where was God now? The people ask Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
MOSES TURNS TO GOD WONDERING WHAT HE SHOULD DO.
God has Moses go out ahead of the people and I can imagine Moses thinking to himself, “What if I don’t find water? Am I bad leader? Will they blame me? Is God going to come through for me and for the people?” Moses would probably not have found water on his own, but God tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff. Moses has to trust in a tool and an authority that is greater than himself. He strikes the rock with his staff and miraculously water comes flowing out. Moses is ecstatic and relieved.
In our walk of faith we can start out excited to follow God in our lives either because of our up-bringing or because of some spiritual experiences we have had. We can even have some miraculous events happen in our lives that encourage us to trust in God, but at some point we are going to have those moments where we seem to come up against some dead-end and we are thirsting for some relief. When we hit those moments we might wonder like the Israelites, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
My parents had a few of these moments over the years in their ministry working at non-profit programs for developmentally challenged adults with special needs. These moments tended to happen more at the beginning of the programs, when they and their partners were not sure how they were going to get started and where the resources would come from. This was true of the first program they helped to start in Arizona. When they first felt the call to begin a ministry there, they were not sure how they were going to get by financially while it was getting started. Would they be able to make a move to a new state?
Then suddenly within a week my dad and his partner both were offered jobs at two different churches which allowed them to move from California to Arizona. The next step was to try to find some land on which they could build the ministry. They went to the bank but neither my dad nor his partner Ralph had any savings. They also had no real collateral of any kind. So they were denied a loan by the bank. But then they found out that a friend of Ralph’s had some property that they hadn’t used for years and that friend would give them a generous financial arrangement with plenty of time to pay back the loan.
My parents and their friends were experiencing God’s presence in tangible ways, but there were still obstacles to be overcome before the ministry could begin. One of those was finding water on the property. Where would be the best place to drill? My dad and Ralph went out to the property and looked it over. Should they drill on the hillside or down below? God had seemed to be guiding them so far, would God guide them again? They prayed, then decided to pick up a rock and throw it over their shoulder. Wherever that rock landed, that’s where they would drill. It landed on the hillside.
When the drilling company came the technician was surprised they wanted to try and put a well on the hillside. Wouldn’t the lower area be better? No, my dad and Ralph insisted. They wanted to try the hillside. It only took 86 feet and the driller hit water! God had brought water from prayer and a little rock thrown out in trust. That water would transform those ten acres where my dad and his friend began their ministry, which in turn would transform the lives of adults with special needs who came through the program.
One of the first miracles that Jesus performs in the Book of John involves an incredible transformation. It happens unexpectedly at a wedding. Jesus is there with his mother and the wine is running out. This could be very embarrassing for the host for having the party cut short. Mary, the mother of Jesus appears moved to want to help out this wedding couple. So she goes to Jesus because she knows he has the power to do something about the situation. At first he seems to refuse her saying it is not the time for a miracle. But Mary trusts that Jesus will not just stand by and let this couple be humiliated so she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. He ends up having them pour water into stone jars, and when the chief steward goes to taste what is in the jars he discovers that it is no longer water. It has been transformed into wine!
Notice what kind of jars the water is poured into. John says that the water was poured into stone jars. The jars could have been poured into jars made of some other material such as clay. Why does the author of the Gospel of John feel it is important to tell us that the jars were made of stone? Perhaps the author provides this detail because he could be saying that just as God worked through Moses to bring water from a stone in the desert, God was now working through Jesus to provide something from a stone as well. Only Jesus is providing something new since he does not just bring water from a rock, he brings wine. Water is a symbol of meeting our basic needs. But wine is a symbol of going beyond our basic needs. Wine is a symbol of the extra abundance of God’s grace that flows through Jesus through his death and resurrection. It is a symbol of a new kind of joy through which God is blessing the world.
Sometimes, however, it is not always easy to see this blessing. Sometimes as we are thirsting for meaning and purpose we can look around and wonder, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Sometimes when God sends us out to lead people to the water of God’s love we can wonder if we are going the right direction and worry if people will blame us if something goes wrong. Through Jesus, though, God gives us the tools of the Spirit so that we might gain strength from an authority that is greater than ourselves. God gives us the tools of the Spirit so that worry can be transformed into trust, so that anxiety can be transformed into peace, so that fear can be transformed into faith, and that faith will remind us that, yes, the Lord is among us.