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April 23, 2017, 12:00 AM

Keep Up the Good Work Part 1

by Sandy Bach

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:19-29)

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Or so the saying goes. If that deal is too good to be true, check the fine print. Very likely, there’s a "gotcha" in there somewhere.

Christ is risen from the grave. Christ is alive. It’s way too good to be true. We need more than one witness to testify to his resurrection. And we get them: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter, the Beloved Disciple…

We also have Thomas. In fact, we need Thomas. Thomas is us. Sometimes Thomas was courageous, sometimes confused, and today, he doubts. Yet, these are the things that brought him to believing.

We need Thomas to point the way through courage and confusion and especially doubt.

Remember when Jesus left Judea because the people wanted to stone him? His good friend Lazarus died, so he announced his intention to go to Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. His disciples tried to hold him back. When they were unsuccessful, it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16b NRSV)

He was a mix of courage and foolish. Unwilling to leave Jesus’ side, he voluntarily accompanied Jesus into potential danger.

My mother demonstrated courage the day she decided to stay in a Sunday school class despite the fact that her teacher behaved like a jerk.

They were studying a book by a progressive theologian, Marcus Borg. In his book he stated that in his extensive reading and study, he disagreed with the concept of the virgin birth among other things. The teacher presented the material as matter of obvious fact and anyone who questioned it was obviously ignorant.

I explained to Mom that this was one person’s opinion; that the Greek word for virgin meant “young woman.” I left it up to her to come to her own conclusion.

A few weeks later we talked about her class some more. “Why don’t you find another class?” I asked her.

“Because, despite the fact that teacher is doing a lousy job, I’m engaged with some of the concepts the author offers.”

“Do you agree with him?”

“No, not necessarily. But he’s helping me understand what I do believe.”

A courageous moment could be a foolish decision, but it’s an opportunity for incite to see, “my Lord and my God."

Bible reading is confusing. That’s probably why there is such a low Biblical literacy rate. Does Genesis have one long creation story or two shorter ones? What’s the deal with God telling Abraham to sacrifice his only son?  Is the Bible a factual, scientific document or a series of stories that seek to reveal God to us?

When I finally engaged with the Bible I discovered a lot of things that disturbed me. The more I studied, the more I changed.  My views on life changed; my politics changed.   And it scared me.  Every time I learned something new or viewed a beloved scripture in a new way I was afraid I’d lose my faith.

It would have been easier to give up. It would have been less faith shattering; less unnerving; less courageous; less confusing. But, I learned to embrace and look forward to new ideas and new concepts in interpretation. I learned that doubting is good; that skepticism is good. It led me to moments of fresh incite where I fell to my knees saying, “My Lord and my God.”

Courage. Confusion. Doubt. They are who Thomas was and we need him to point us in the right direction.

Thomas is often referred to as, “Doubting Thomas.” When you read this text you see that Jesus appeared two times. Once without Thomas present and once with him present. Both times he displayed his wounds. Both times he said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus didn’t chastise.  Our brains are wired to be skeptical without proof. We can’t help it. In fact, we need it for survival.

So, for us to believe, we need the witness of Thomas and the disciples. They saw the wounds; they saw the risen Jesus. They report it to us so that we can believe without seeing.

That’s the “Way of Jesus.” Being a disciple of Jesus, we find ourselves moving through the messiness of courage and confusion and doubting and believing. We can’t really help it. It’s a part of who we are. It’s our faith journey. We need courage to move forward when we’re in doubt and confusion. We need doubt and confusion to deepen our faith. When our faith deepens, God comes closer and we have those oh so awesome moments of incite.

That's when we fall to our knees, saying, “My Lord and my God.”

And we fall in love with the Master, again.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




April 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

Jesus Journeys for Us

by Sandy Bach

21 1-3 When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”

4-5 This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:

Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
    poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
    foal of a pack animal.”

6-9 The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”  (Matthew 21:1-11 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

Many of you may remember the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I can still hear those lyrics as I imagine Jesus descending from Mt. Olives into the Kidron Valley and to the gates of Jerusalem.

In this scene, the crowd lines each side of the road calling out to Jesus:

"Hosanna Heysanna Sanna Sanna Ho
Sanna Hey Sanna Ho Sanna
Hey J C, J C won't you smile at me?
Sanna Ho Sanna Hey Superstar"  (http://www.lyricsdepot.com/jesus-christ-superstar/hosanna.html)

Later they call out the same words of joy and add,
"Hey J C, J C you’re alright by me!"

Here he comes. Making his way into Jerusalem. He is the son of David; son of God.  Jesus continues descending from the Mount joyfully, laughing and touching the crowds.

God is always doing a new thing. Creation and re-creation; judgement with grace; hope out of hopelessness.

This Lenten season, we’ve examined “Life’s Continuing Journey.” We are tempted and fall because of it. We answer God’s call to go to a new place but not without God. Life seems barren and hopeless until God calls us to a place of promise and hope.

We fall into slavery. God provides freedom and a new way of life. Just when we think God has given up on us, leadership and promise arrive in the most unexpected way.

In the valley of death, we receive second chances and community steps in to unbind us and set us free.

We’re on a journey, you and I and the rest of humanity. A journey in salvation and promise and renewal. It isn’t an easy journey. It requires help and assistance from each other. It requires God.

It’s a journey into salvation.

Today we watch salvation move toward us. He’s on a donkey and colt, symbol of Judah, ancestor of David. He rides on animals that symbolize peace rather than horses of war and death.

The crowds cry out as if in one voice: Hosanna! Save Now!

Come down from Mt Olives like the prophet Zechariah promised. Restore us. Redeem us.

Today is the day we’ve been waiting for. Since the beginning of time we have looked forward to God coming down from Mt Olive into Jerusalem. God, our king, is arriving and all will be well.

The crowds spread cloaks and branches on the road, a welcome befitting a king. Rome stands by and watches. The religious elite stand by and watch.

The crowd welcomes him. This crowd has been building throughout Matthew’s story. And here they are, lining the road from the Mount down into the Kidron Valley and up to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is in turmoil.  Jerusalem trembles. The trembling won't stop until it is finished.  This is the beginning of the worst week in history.  Jesus’ authority will be questioned; Jesus’ parables will be sharper and the imagery more cloudy to those without ears to listen or eyes to see.  And Jerusalem will tremble.

Jesus will shame the Temple leaders; he’ll pass all the tests on Torah that are flung his way. He’ll foretell the fall of the great Lord’s Temple and his warning will be dire.

The trembling won’t abate.   It will mount, day by day.

"Hey JC, JC, won’t you fight for me?"

"Hey JC, JC, won’t you die for me?"

We can’t do it without you. Hosanna. Save now.

Hosanna has judged us guilty. Hosanna has pronounced the sentence: death. Hosanna knows we can’t save ourselves. So he comes down from the judge’s bench, riding symbols of Judah and David and shalom. Hosanna comes down and removes his robes and takes our place.

Hey JC, won’t you die for me?

Yes. In just a few days.

He'll be betrayed and denied.  He'll be tried and beaten.  He'll die a horrible death.

The trembling will become deafening. The earth will move. The curtain will be torn from top to bottom.  Even the rocks will split and the sun will hide in the darkness.

All because God chose to put on skin, enter into this God-hating world and take the punishment we so richly deserve.

Hosanna will die for you and me and the world.

No wonder Jerusalem trembles.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




April 2, 2017, 12:00 AM

Say the Word

by Sandy Bach

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was...

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world..."

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” ... he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:1-45 NRSV)

 

She hadn’t felt well for weeks.  The doctors couldn’t figure it out.  She was tired and rundown.  She was depressed and weepy.  She could barely get out of bed in the morning.  They ran a battery of tests. Finally, a result came back that made sense. She had mononucleosis. A virus commonly associated with college kids, only she was 40 years old.

She was sent home to bed rest for 30 days. It was a relief to know what was wrong and that she’d be okay, so she followed doctor’s orders to the letter. Sure enough, within 30 days she was back at work and regaining her strength and stamina.

Two months later she returned to the doctor. Same symptoms as before. This time the diagnosis was quicker in arriving. She had chronic fatigue symptom. She was sent home for another 30-day sick leave.

She didn’t care. She was neither angry nor sad. She was numb from feeling so lousy for so long. And that’s when she died a Lazarus death.

It was years later that she called it a Lazarus death. She believes today that she needed renewal and resuscitation and revival. She needed what only Jesus could give her: life.

For days and weeks, she sat in her favorite chair with no radio or TV; no books or magazines. She sat there reviewing her life. It wasn’t a conscious action on her part. It occurred after she prayed to God, “I don’t believe you caused this virus. But, I believe you want to use it for a purpose. I’m too tired to fight you or the virus. Have your own way.”

She didn’t like herself much. She had become the businesswoman she had vowed not to be: angry, proud, looking for a battle at every meeting. Bitter, even mean. This wasn’t her and slowly as the days passed, she felt different. She wanted to do things differently. She wanted to be a proper reflection of a Child of God.

Her return to work took about 45 days. Her resurrection about a year. She found friends who stepped in to unbind her and set her free. She became a woman who cared about others and learned to view life in new ways.

The name, Lazarus, means, “God helps.” When have you been a Lazarus? Or when have you met Lazarus and helped unbind him?

Lazarus is the one who’s meaning in life is corrupted. Lazarus is bound by the things of this world that have little meaning to most, but Lazarus believes them crucial to life.

Lazarus can be socially dead. The workaholic who can’t let go of his job for even a weekend of rest. Lazarus is found among the spiritually  or the emotionally dead. He is in need of nurture. He is filled with self-doubt, or he’s placed on the edges of society to fend for himself. He is the oppressed.

Lazarus dies because he tried to do everything for himself without allowing others in. Lazarus dies because others judge him to be not good enough, not the right color, not the right religion, or not the right credentials.

Lazarus needs to be unbound and set free. Lazarus needs us to cut those bandages that bind him. And Lazarus needs community to help tear away fear and anxiety and loss and grief.

Lazarus is the hail-fellow-once-met who everyone loves. Except for Lazarus who is convinced that he’s unlovable, even by God.

Lazarus is the worn out single mother trying to make ends meet day after day. She’s tired of being judged lazy, so she reaches out for help only when she can’t do it herself.

Lazarus finds life-made-new in community that empathizes even if it can’t relate. He finds new reality because the community shows him a better way and loves him even when he can’t love himself.

We are that life-giving community when we take some time to talk with another who just needs a listening ear.

We are the life-giving community because we know and understand the power of prayer. We know who we are and we know our limits. We know God’s call on our hearts to help others.

We are the life-giving community who craves to do more and prays for a door to open. We’re the life-giving community when we shake a stranger’s hand, not knowing any of their pain, but perhaps passing along something meaningful, anyway.

During this Lenten period we have been on a “Journey to Salvation.” We began in God’s Garden of Eden where we couldn’t stop ourselves from entering into temptation. We knew then that we needed a savior.

So God called Abram and Sarai to begin this journey with a journey of their own. A journey out of hopelessness to a new beginning that only God knew about. Their hopelessness became hope and though they stumbled often, they managed to be the vessel that created a great nation.

But, we found ourselves in slavery and God helped us out over and over again. God provided protection from enemies, food and sweet water. When we became parched and dry, we cried out again and God, once again, provided living water.

Meanwhile, God kept doing new things. One of them was choosing a leader for Israel from the least and the last. We learned to turn our fears of lacking what God needs into rejoicing that we are, indeed, enough.

And this week, we journey into death that brings new life.

What will you do with what you’ve learned these past weeks? How will you respond to the God of new beginnings; the God who brings hope out of hopelessness; the God who provides greatness out of the least and the last; the God who brings new life out of death?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 26, 2017, 12:00 AM

Open Your Eyes

by Sandy Bach

16  God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”

2-3 “I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

God said, “Take a heifer with you and announce, ‘I’ve come to lead you in worship of God, with this heifer as a sacrifice.’ Make sure Jesse gets invited. I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”

Samuel did what God told him. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the town fathers greeted him, but apprehensively. “Is there something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I’ve come to sacrifice this heifer and lead you in the worship of God. Prepare yourselves, be consecrated, and join me in worship.” He made sure Jesse and his sons were also consecrated and called to worship.

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!”

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.”

Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.”

10 Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”

11 Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?”

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”

12 Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health—bright-eyed, good-looking.

God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.”

13 Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life.

Samuel left and went home to Ramah.

(I Samuel 16:1-13 "The Message" C pyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This is a drama fit for the stage.  There's action and emotion and lots of questions.  Most of all, we see God actively involved in the narrative.

First, God tells Samuel to quit grieving over Saul, the first anointed king over Israel. Samuel had anointed him. But it was God who told him to do it.  Sadly, Saul didn’t fare well. He failed to put his trust in God. His own agenda got in the way and eventually Samuel had to tell Saul that he’s lost Israel.

As harsh as Samuel was with Saul, he grieved mightily. After a period of time, God tells Samuel that it’s time to move on. That God is doing a new thing in Israel.

Then, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to Jesse’s home. It’s a dangerous mission. If Saul gets word, he can have Samuel killed. God does an end run around this by telling Samuel to hold a worship service.

The strangest part of this, though, is how God chooses the next king. Samuel is certain that Eliab, Jesse’s eldest son is the one to anoint. He’s tall, like Saul, he’s handsome. He looks like a king!

But, no. Eliab isn’t the one. Nor is the second-born, the third-born, or the fourth-born. It’s getting tiresome. The action is beginning wane.  We need someone to anoint.  Did Samuel feel foolish? And how did these sons feel? One strapping young man rejected after another. Jesse parades each one before Samuel like a beauty contest or a horse show. Nope. These won’t do.

They won’t do, because God’s sight isn’t Samuel’s. God’s sight isn’t skin deep. God’s sight takes in all of the person: heart, mind, and soul. God sees all of it: our emotions, our ability to discern, our commitment, our intelligence, our wisdom and our character.

I could use a bit of that insight. And I trust you could, as well. We look at a black teenager wearing a hoodie. Whether we mean it or not, we wonder if he’s up to no good.

A dark-complexioned man is speaking English with a thick Hispanic accent. We assume he’s an undocumented immigrant.

A teenager with tattoos and all manner of piercings walks past you in the store. Is she on drugs?

We didn’t get up this morning planning to judge others in this harsh light. After all, we sit in church every Sunday morning vowing to love God and neighbor. The problem is, we watch the news. The news is troubling. We learn that we must be careful. Next thing we know, we’re afraid of anyone who doesn’t look and act like us.

Samuel’s eyesight isn’t any better. He’s stuck on looks and stature. He’s stuck in the past, looking for an improved version of Saul.

God’s vision is for something new. Someone new. Someone who’s heart is in the right place, who will trust in God and discern God’s vision.

The problem is, it’s son number eight. Often in scripture the number “seven” means completeness or perfection. For example, seven lamps in the tabernacle where God is worshiped; Joshua led a march around Jericho seven times; Jesus told his disciples to forgive not “seven” times but “seven times seventy.”

Jesse has a complete family with his seven sons. There’s a stray kid out in the pasture minding the sheep. He’s the youngest, probably unimpressive. Samuel calls a halt to the selection process and waits for this young boy to be brought in.

We wait with Samuel. We wait for our Messiah to return and make all things new. We wait for God to reject that which we would reject and bless that which we would bless.

Finally, he arrives. Unlikely as it is, God chooses him. Only after he’s anointed do we get to know his name.  David.

How’s your eyesight? Are you, like Samuel, judging the outside appearance? Or are you trying to see others through the eyes of God?

Is it blurred by a tumultuous heart? What does God see in you? Is it good enough for God?

So what if you aren’t good enough? That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that God loves you. God loves you and sees everything: guilt, shame, prejudice, bias; joy, laughter, hope. God sees it all and loves us anyway.

Did your family tell you that you weren’t good enough? To God, you’re more than enough.

Are you working hard to keep God loving you? Stop and rest for a while. Let God be God; let God in.

Are you busy trying to prove yourself? Let it go. You have nothing to prove because God sees all and knows all and loves you anyway.

Theologian, Paul Tillich was fond of saying that “faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”  (http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/tillich/resources/review_tillich-paul_couragetobe.htm)

“…the courage to accept acceptance.” How would that look in your life? To accept that God accepts you as you are? That you don’t earn God’s love? That you don’t work to be acceptable to God?

I read the 23rd Psalm through a different set of eyes this week. There is nothing in this Psalm for me to do but to rest, to be nourished and to know that I walk with God daily, even through the dark valley. And eventually my eyes see that light that Christ brought into the world.

It's a drama fit for a, well for a king.  It's a drama with an important message for you and me.  Let God be God.  Let God's voice overpower those internal voices that try to tell you you're less than okay.

God is always doing a new thing.  God needs you to accomplish it.

Take notice this week.  How has God called you?  Where has God called you?

Enter into this new week with eyes wide open.

Wide open with the lens of God to shape your faith.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 19, 2017, 12:00 AM

Keep Your Mouth Shut

by Sandy Bach

17 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. 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?” 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?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 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. 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. He called the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7 NRSV)

Our journey to the cross and salvation continues this week with an escape. An escape from slavery.

The Hebrews had lived in unspeakable conditions. They were slaves used mercilessly for Pharaoh’s ever-growing building plans. Their plight became worse when Moses wouldn’t let go of his plea to pharaoh to “Let my people go.” It was a difficult time for all of them.

It took ten plagues to gain their freedom: water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, diseased livestock, boils, scary weather, locusts and darkness. The slaves survived with God’s provision. The worst plague was that night the Angel of Death came through and every firstborn in the land died. The Hebrews were protected.

They followed instructions and were kept safe by God. They escaped into the wilderness where God provided safe passage through the Red Sea waters; safety on the other shore when the sea closed up; travel by day and night with God leading them. Bitter water was made sweet; manna and quail arrived daily from heaven.

Just when they thought they were at the end of their rope, God stepped in and provided.

Now, they have no water. Without water, the entire population and their livestock will die. We know of water shortages in many parts of America and the world. Flint, Michigan with its toxic levels of lead in the water. People in many parts of the world still have to find water in ponds and rivers; some depend on standing water and don’t know to boil it before they use it.

Water is important to survival. It takes very little time before we die from thirst. Moses is leading a great multitude and a lot of water is necessary to sustain them. So, we might well wonder, why is Moses chastising them?

The Israelites took a huge risk. They not only packed up and moved, but they escaped slavery. They left behind routine and a certain sense of security. Now they find themselves in a strange and unknown place: a hot, dry, arid wilderness with no supply of food without God’s provision and now: no water.

On the other hand, they’ve seen the work of God protecting them over and over again. Shouldn’t this situation have been met with faith that God was with them and would provide?

One would think so, but look again. They’re slaves. Every morning they and their ancestors got up knowing where they would be working; what they’d be eating and where they would lay down their heads at night. They knew punishment for not meeting Pharaoh's goals.

They were victims and slaves. Escape from Egypt, though, didn’t mean escape from slavery. They were still thinking like slaves; still victims without ability to think for themselves. Their 400-year history had ingrained them with this slave mentality.

So, they stand before Moses: hot, sweaty, dirty; dreams of the Land of Promise fading with each dry breath they take. They are depending on Moses to provide and they’re worried that Moses isn’t doing a very good job.

A few times a year I receive a call in my office that goes something like this:

Do you help with utility bills?
Yes, tell me what’s going on.
I have a baby at home and my electricity is going to be turned off in two hours. If that happens I won’t be able to keep my baby warm.
How much do you owe?
$385. I’m three months past due.

Now, the first question you might ask is, why did she wait until the last moment to seek help? She knew this was going to be a problem more than a month ago.

Living in poverty is a form of slavery. Most days you wake up to a new problem that has to be solved. The past few months, this mother has been figuring out how to feed her family; or how to pay the water bill; where she would get gasoline so she could go to work; how to get her car fixed so she could go to work.

Every day brings a new problem. And after a while, they run out of options and slip into the slavery of reacting to problems. There’s no time or energy to think proactively. People in poverty become slaves and victims of their circumstances.

Choices are limited when you live in poverty. Solutions are scarce. The wilderness is a difficult place to be. The wilderness is a good place to see God.

Coming out of slavery is chaotic. It’s the ultimate wilderness experience. Ask a recovering addict or alcoholic.

Many of you have experienced other forms of slavery. All of them place shackles on us and hold sway over our lives. It comes between you and God; it loves to keep you under its spell by making you believe that you have to have it or you don’t deserve it.

Slavery holds us under false assumptions. Breaking out sends us into the wilderness where we honestly hunger and thirst for something to make us feel better. We second guess our decisions. Was it really that bad before I came out here? What am I doing here? This isn’t what I signed on for. I want to go back. This place is God-forsaken. I want my life back – it was awful but at least I knew what to expect.

The Gospel of John shares with us the story of a Samaritan Woman at the Well who also was chained: she was a woman of low status living in Samaria, the enemy camp of the Jewish people. She had had many husbands, perhaps by Levirate Law. She had no one to care for her unless she stayed with a man. Apparently, she’s shunned by others because she waits until everyone is finished using the well before she comes out for water. It’s high noon and it’s hot.

What was it about that phrase that Jesus used, "Living Water," that touched her; that unleashed her potential; that sent her to the townspeople who had sidelined and shunned her; whose testimony convinced them to "come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!" (John 4:29)

I think Moses understood the plight of the Hebrews. He knew they were in a tough situation, but he also knew that leaving slavery behind would take awhile.  His vision was for them to become the people God desired them to be.

They were headed for the Mountain of God where God would form them into a people with laws and rituals and vocation. They would become the chosen people of God, blessed to be a blessing. But that won’t happen today.

Our journey to salvation contains moments of hunger and thirst in the wilderness. God is there to provide for us. God provided for the Israelites with manna and quail and water. Once the basic needs were met, God was able to form them into a race of people blessed to be a blessing to others.

Did you notice what Moses did in this passage? First, he prayed. It was brief, it was humble. He was frightened of them and for them. In prayer, God reminded Moses that he had what he needed to fix this. Remember that staff you used to show Pharaoh my power? Remember when you used it to strike the Nile and blood ran? Use it again.

And Moses brought the company of elders with him. They would be the ones to tell the story to their children and children’s children. They would share about the time when Moses prayed and then used the staff to bring much-needed water to a thirsty population.

God provided that day, they’ll tell their children. And God provides today.

What tools do we have at our disposal that we can use for God’s people in this world?

The Land of Promise awaits us and it won’t go away. So, let’s hunker down, get some of that good sweet water. Then let’s return to learning who we are and who God has called us to be.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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