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Sermon for Sunday 15 March 2020

First Reading                                  Exodus 17:1-7

1All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm                                                          Psalm 95:1-9

1Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. 2Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. 3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4In his hand are the caverns of the earth, and the heights of the hills are his also. 5The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land. 6Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice! 8Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me. 9They put me to the test, though they had seen my works.

Second Reading                                   Romans 5:1-8

1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Gospel                                               John 4:5-29, 39-42

5So {Jesus} came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”  39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”


Wombats are little burrowing creatures popular to New South Wales in Australia. Something like a ground hog, God created these wonderful little creature to instinctively know, just where to burrow to locate moisture beneath the surface.  A researcher at Western Sydney University says that wombats are like “water diviners.”  They just seem to sense the presence of water.  That makes them very popular critters with local farmers, who need underground sources to water their crops and animals.

Water, as we are well aware, is a necessity to life.  We as human beings can’t go more than three or so days without water.  Water makes up a good portion of our physical bodies.  In a sense, it’s the essence of biological life.  That means, seeking water is a primary goal in our everyday lives.  For most of us, it simply means going to the refrigerator for a cool drink or running to the store and buying bottles of water.  But for many in other parts of the world, a shortage of water is a daily reality.  

Sometimes people in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Holy Land must walk miles to retrieve their daily water needs from a stream or underground well.  And if that well dries up, the community’s source of water will be completely gone.  This is why ministries like Water Mission International and Samaritan’s Purse water projects are so vitally important and need to be supported.

Following God’s guidance, Moses led the people from the wilderness of Sin toward Mount Sinai.  It would be at Mount Sinai that God would give the people His laws and regulation that would guide them and distinguish them as His chosen nation.  As they moved on in stages, they came to Rephidim.  It was here at Rephidim that the lack of water began to be a huge problem.  It would, at this point, be no surprise that the provisions they took with them when they left Egypt were beginning to run out.  After all they had now been on this journey for about three months now. 

Usually accustomed to living in a fertile area, they had no idea where to find water in this wilderness between Egypt and Canaan; it was a new territory and experience for them.  In Egypt, water had been in abundance.  Here, in this foreign area, doubt was beginning to set in, and their parched throats and weary bodies began to tire from the unyielding sun.  So it’s no surprise that we read that they complain to Moses, who petitions God for help.  

In response, the Lord instructs Moses to take his rod (the same one given to him by God) and to strike the rock at Mt. Horeb and to retrieve the water that gushes from it.  God tells Moses, “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Mt. Horeb” (vs. 6).  Moses takes the elders, as instructed, with him as witnesses to the event, so that they can answer to the people who are asking, “Is the Lord really with us or not?”

Underground water is a reality in all nature, but it’s especially important in the deserts and hills surrounding the Holy Land.  Unlike our modern drilling techniques where water can be obtained at great depths, wells and underground springs needed to be close to the surface.  Because of this reality, as you can imagine, disputes would arise, and wars were waged over water sources and access to water.  All agriculture and animals are watered by creating wells, building catchment ponds, cisterns or by sourcing rivers.  

Rain, what little there is, is captured and stored in ponds and cisterns.  Dry areas are watered by irrigation ditches that run through the land from the source.  Underground springs or water that was found within the mantle or bedrock of the earth was called “living water,” because it seems to gush forth from nowhere, like we read in the creation story in Genesis 2.  People were always grateful for these life-giving sources that seemed to come out of nowhere from the depths of the earth.

No doubt the Israelites tried to seek water on their own, perhaps by digging a well or searching for a source.  The ponds and natural cisterns they had located were likely drying up, so they were becoming discouraged, unable to locate new sources by their own means.  Now they began to blame God for their lack of success, even though they hadn’t truly relied on God to supply them with what they needed.  Instead, they complained to Moses that perhaps God had abandoned them or really hadn’t there to begin with.

Frightened by the mob threatening to stone him for leading them into this barren wilderness, Moses appeals to God for help.  And God responds.  The imagery in this Exodus story is vital to understanding its power in the memory of the Hebrew people.  But to truly understand this event and this point in Israel’s history, we need to peel back the layers of the story and consider what has transpired of the past 400 years.

400 years prior to the Exodus, the Hebrew people have been living in the land of Goshen which was a part of Egypt.  Approximately half that time, they lived in freedom and thrived.  After some five generations, the Hebrew people as a nation had grown, prospered and became a perceived threat to the Egyptian people.  So slowly, the Egyptians begin to enslave the people until finally they cried out to God to deliver them.  Now it’s important to understand, that for some 10 generations, the Hebrew people had been provided for and were used to having the things they needed readily at hand. 

Recall also, if you will, their response to Moses concerning their request for meat in the previous chapter: “the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (vs. 3).  And over in Numbers chapter 11 we read: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Vs. 4-6).

Even while enslaved to the Egyptians, the Hebrew people were apparently well cared for.  I point this out because the Hebrew people in this story are not all that much different than we are today.  They had only been on their journey for three months.  They had seen God’s hand in sending the ten plagues that the Egyptian suffered.  They had crossed the Red sea on dry land and then witnessed the Egyptian army drown when they crossed over after them.  They saw the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that God used to protect them, and they were eating the manna that God was providing.  The proof of God’s provision and care was all around them, yet they refused to look around, recall the events of the recent past and see God’s presence.

The reality is, both they, and we, here in the US have it good.  Let me ask you this:  How many here remember being without electricity after hurricane Hugo back in 1989?  What was your reaction to suddenly being without power and if you had a well, without water?  And without power in the area, the stores were closed, the gas stations couldn’t pump gas, so basically you found yourself without all the things you were accustomed to having.  How was that two to three-week experience different from what the Israelites were going through?

I bring this up because it’s easy for us to get all judgey as we read this story and become critical of the ancient Hebrew people.  However, this story is placed here for a reason:  we need to place ourselves within this story and see that we would or probably have reacted the same way under similar circumstances.  We need to see that these stories are here not only to teach us about God and the people of the past, but also about what to expect from God when we find ourselves in a similar situation. 

Considering those times when we’ve been through difficulty, did any of you ever ask yourselves or hear someone else question God’s presence among us during the aftermath of events like Hurricane Hugo?  This story from Exodus is about how those people reacted in times of scarcity, especially after they had enjoyed years, even generations of plenty. 

Let me contrast the reaction of the Hebrew people to adversity with an example from the Bible that we’re all very familiar with, Job.  As you have come to learn, Job was a “blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (v. 1:8).  One day a discussion in heaven occurs and the devil challenges God that if Job were to lose everything, he would turn his back on God.  So, God allows everything, including all Job’s children, to be taken away.  When Job fails to turn his back on God, satan returns and says that Job also needs to be stricken with sores, then he would curse God.  As we learn from the book of Job, Job remains faithful even when faced with losing everything including his health.  If pressed, can we say we’re more like Job or more like the whiney Hebrew people in the desert?  When our faith is tested, how do we react?

Now let me draw some similarities.  The Hebrew people had been chosen by God to be set apart as His people.  We too have been chosen in the waters of baptism to be set apart as God’s chosen.  God freed the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt and now sent them into the desert in order to prepare them to enter the promised land.  Again, in the waters of baptism, we too have been freed from the bondage to sin, death and the devil and are being prepared every day for service in His kingdom.  God still remembered His promise to Abraham and was still blessing them and to be certain, He is blessing us today.

As heirs to the promise, we too are continually blessed and protected.  The Hebrew people had learned to depend on the Egyptians, now they need to learn to depend on God.  Can it be said of us, that we’ve learned to depend on the things around us more than we depend on God?  For 3 months Moses had led them toward the Promised Land and now they find themselves faced with diminished water supplies and after all God has done for them, how do the people react?  The people become angry and are about to revolt against Moses.  They’re threatening to “stone” him.  

These “stones” represent the “sin” and “stubbornness” of the Israelites, and their refusal to look around and see the presence and power of God.   They refuse to rely on God as their protector and provider choosing instead to want to throw “stones” at God’s messenger.  Meanwhile, God tells Moses to take up the “rod” he had been given.  A rod, made from a strong tree, was a thick shaft of wood with a kind of round knob at the end of it.  In essence it looked something like a primitive sledgehammer.  A rod was used to fend off wild animals from sheep herds, to protect them from harm, and as a tool to make way through difficult terrain.  In essence, the “rod” was an authority, power, justice kind of tool, as opposed to the “staff” which was the guiding and leading tool of the shepherd.

Please notice that God doesn’t tell Moses to take up the staff, as He later does with the defeated poisonous snake on it, but God tells Moses to take up the rod, the symbol of God’s power and authority, and a “weapon” of force and decisiveness.  Moses is told that God will stand before him there on the rock at Horeb.  Moses is commanded to strike that rock with the rod and living water will gush forth.

Moses’ rod isn’t his tool, but God’s tool, given to Moses.  It represents the power of God.  Similar to the way the angels sat upon the rock at Jesus’ resurrection, God stands upon the rock at Horeb, signifying that what comes next will be God’s doing, not Moses’ doing.  God stands upon the rock of the people’s sin and unbelief, their stubbornness, and refusal to budge or have faith in God’s presence, and God instructs Moses to take that Rod of God and to strike the rock!  The rock breaks, and water gushes out.  The living water of God’s salvation.

Salvation, or the “saving” act happens as the life source, living water, is delivered to God’s people.  But what is delivered isn’t mere physical sustenance, but renewed faith, and forgiveness, another chance, a new start.  Massah and Meribah, strife and contention, is eased and soothed by the living water of God’s presence and power.  With that strike of God’s mighty rod, God has quelled the bloodthirst of the people, and has returned them to a place of obedience, faith, and trust.

Later, Jesus would tell a woman at Jacob’s well that in the future, all people would worship God in spirit and in truth, that neither tradition nor the laws of humankind would matter, but only God’s truth would reign.  And the question, “Is God with us or not?” would be answered for every person.  Today, as Christians, we too have experienced God’s “salvation.”

Jesus, our rock of salvation, the One who carried all of our sin and stubbornness, doubt and disbelief to the cross, had to be smitten and crushed in order for God’s eternal living water to refresh, nourish, save, and restore all who believe Him to life.  As His blood and water flowed, our sins were forgiven, and we were given a new chance at life.  For us, God’s “rod of power, authority, justice, and salvation” was the cross, the tree that Jesus hung upon.

In this time of Lent, as we contemplate the great gift of life that God has given us in Jesus, we cannot do it without first understanding the even greater gift of sacrifice that God made for us in the death of Jesus, that God continually makes for us as we remember that sacrificial gift.

We are a Massah and Meribah kind of people, prone to doubt and disbelief. Whenever we encounter difficulty or challenge in this world, whenever we can’t handle our problems on our own, instead of relying on God, we often get angry at God, lash out at God’s messengers, and we too ask, “Is God really with us?”  “Or not?”  The story of Moses and the people at Massah and Meribah, and the death of Jesus, reminds us that God is always with us.  And when we rely on God’s power and might, authority and salvific gift of grace, we will be fed and quenched with the Living Waters of His salvation forever and ever.

May this time of Lent quench our thirsty spirit, and may we acknowledge the Source of all power, glory, and love, Jesus Christ our Lord, our Living Water. Amen

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