Reading from Exodus 17:1-7:
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
GRUMBLE, GRUM BLE, GRUMBLE
Grumble, grumble, grumble. Do you recall what I said last week, that the people of Israel proved themselves to be pretty good grumblers as they went on their forty years journey from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey? Two weeks ago they were caught between a rock and a hard place. Pharaoh’s armies were being them ready to slaughter them and the Red Sea was ahead waiting to drowned them. Do you recall what they said?: “Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you had to bring out into the desert to die?” So, what did God do? God rescued them by parting the Red Sea and allowing them to cross on dry ground to the other side. In this way, God proved that he could look after their safety and security. Did they learn? No.
Last week, the issue wasn’t safety. It was even more basic. They were running out of food. And they said, “If only you had let us die by the LORD’s hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted. But you have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” So, what did God do? God sent quails in the evening and manna in the morning. In this way, God proved that he could look after their food. Did they learn? No.
This week, they have safety and security. And they have food to sustain them on their journey. But they have another complaint. This time they’re thirsty. They say, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Remember that God has told them that he will look after them. So far God has brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea and provided all the food that they need. Why are they now concerned about water? Haven’t they yet learned to trust God?
Like I said last week, this is a pattern that will be repeated over and over again throughout their forty years of nomadic wandering in the desert. And every time it happens, every time they grumble about something, every time they doubt that God will look after them, God does something amazing to remind them one more time that God is God and that there is no other, and, of course, that they can trust God to meet all of their needs.
In the midst of all of this we have Moses who seems to be just about at the end of his rope. In verse 4 he calls out to God and says, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
I’m going to get personal for a moment and tell that I totally get this and I don’t think I’m alone. We live in a rather chaotic world and the church has proven to be just about as chaotic as every place else. Covid-19 has created incredible challenges. We had to put huge amounts of time and effort into reopening the church for worship. We’ve moved into a world of virtual meetings and we are more reliant on technology than ever before. But thanks be to God for that technology and the team that we have here at the church who looks after that. We also have discovered that many of the things that have been integral to our ministry are no longer practical. And so our Sunday School, nursery and choir are all on hold. That’s upsetting. And it’s even worse when I hear people say things like, “But that church over there is doing those things so why can’t we?” The reason, of course, is that we have made the commitment to follow – and, in some cases, even exceed – the guidelines because we don’t want our church to end up as the lead story on the evening news.
I totally get Moses’ sense of exasperation. I was not prepared to learn all of the new skills that I’ve had to master. Six months ago, I had never scheduled a Zoom meeting. I’d never even been on one. I had no intention of become an online televangelist. I didn’t know how to trim a video and upload it on to Youtube. I didn’t know very much about copyright infringement in the online world. In fact, I had little interest in any of that stuff. But it quickly became apparent that if I wanted to continue in ministry, I had to make a radical right turn in my whole thought process about what I can do and how to get it done.
To be honest, I’ve found it all more than a little exasperating at times. I was saying to Ruth just the other day that there have been times when I’ve wondered if I did the right thing by not retiring when I turned sixty-five in May. Am I really prepared to make all of the changes that need to be made in ministry? Do I need the headaches? Do I need the frustrations? Do I really want to do this for another three to five years? There are certainly moments when I’ve considered just pulling the plug and saying, “I’m outta here! Here’s my ninety days notice.”
But I haven’t done that because I know that my frustrations will not last and that, even on the darkest and most frustrating days, the sun will shine again.
Here’s a reality we need to face. The church is not immune and free from grumbling? That’s because we’re human and people get frustrated. Right now lots of us are frustrated with the way that Covid-19 has affected the way we do things. On the whole people realize that we are doing what we are doing because we need to keep people safe. But that doesn’t mean that people have to like it. If we had our druthers, we’d rather be worshipping in the sanctuary than in the Fellowship Hall. We’d rather not wear masks. We’d rather be singing songs out loud instead of humming along to videos. We’d rather be practicing for the Christmas cantata rather than wondering how we can do music differently. We’d rather have our Sunday School and nursery operating than keeping the children with us during worship. We’d rather have the Guides and Scouts meeting in our building than outside.
In the church, we need to resist the temptation of getting frustrated with the way things are. There are two reasons for that. One is that it looks like things are going to get any better in the foreseeable future do we might just as well get used to it. The second reason, of course, is that this whole Covid-19 thing has challenged us to think about how to do things differently.
I am always amazed at how easy it is to get stuck in a rut. Churches are famous for doing just that, for doing the same things year after year after year. Churches, of course, are not the only ones guilty of that. But I’m talking specifically about churches. The good news about Covid-19 is that it has shocked us out of our complacency. Lots of us have been able to climb out of the rut if for no other reason than the fact that the rut doesn’t exist anymore. It’s quarantined on an empty cruise ship somewhere off the coast of Argentina.
But even though we know that the rut doesn’t work anymore, we can still miss it and still grumble about it.
The people grumble against Moses and against God: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Grumble, grumble, grumble. God hears their grumbling – just as he hears theirs and God responds by calling Moses to act. “Moses,” says God, “Take your staff, the one with which you struck the Nile just before God parted the waters. Take it and strike that rock right over there. And when you do that, I will make water pour out of that rock to quench the people’s thirst.”
This is where the story gets weird because we have this vision of the early Old Testament patriarchs as fearless, stoic people who always did what God told them to do as soon as they were told to do it. But do you think that’s how it happened? I don’t think so. I don’t doubt that God had to do a little convincing. Can you imagine how crazy God’s command must have sounded to Moses. Take stick and smack a solid rock sitting in the middle of the desert and water will gush out of it.
And I’m sure Moses says something like, “What, are you kidding me? I remember the parting of the Red Sea and that manna stuff is pretty neat. But how to you expect water to come out of rock? And you want me to take some of the elders with me as I make a fool out of myself in front of them. Everyone’s going to think I’m nuts!”
But God says, “Trust me,” And Moses does. It says in verse 6 that he does what God tells him to do and water pours from the rock enough to meet all of the needs of all of the people.
Two things are going on here. The first is that despite his misgivings, Moses answers the call and does what God tells him to do. That is key because we, as the church and as individuals, often miss opportunities to minister because we hesitate to do what God calls us to do. We say, “You want us to what? Are you kidding me? That will never work.”
And God says, “Trust me.” And then we make a choice. Do we stay in the rut and stay thirsty or do we walk over to the rock, stick in hand and give it a whack to see what happens?
Cottam United Church has proven itself to be a congregation so rock whackers. God has put many rocks in our way. I don’t mean rocks in terms of barriers. I mean rocks in terms of challenges, rocks that we need to address in terms of what God is calling us to do.
Pam and I were talking on Friday about how far this congregation has come in the past sixteen years. We are a very different congregation now than we were then. And do you know something else. Sixteen years from now, this congregation should be different again. But let’s face it, a lot of churches are doing the exact same thing now that they were sixteen years ago or twenty years ago or thirty years ago. That’s a problem because they haven’t whacked any rocks in a generation or two. The results are obvious.
What I really like about Cottam United Church is that we are willing to try. That’s despite the fact that there will always be those who say it can’t be done. 2006 – you’ll never get the sanctuary renovated. We whacked that rock. 2011 – you’ll never get that office addition built for the church. We whacked that rock. Got it done in 2012. 2017 – the dreams you have for that Prayer Garden are just way too extravagant. Where’s the money going to come from? We whacked that rock. And the latest one. 2019 – how are you ever going to afford another minister? We whacked that rock too.
In all of those times, on all of those projects, there were times of frustration. It took time to convince people. There were some people who were never going to be convinced. But just because we get frustrated does not mean that we quit. If Moses had quit because he was exasperated by the grumbling of the people, they would all died of thirst.
That leads me to the second point which is this: because Moses got past his frustrations and God refreshed them with a fountain of cool, clear water. Obedience may be hard but it comes with a reward. That reward is the refreshment that God’s Spirit provides for those who find the courage to do what God calls them to do. And because of that obedience, exasperation turns to elation.
We can understand Moses’ frustration as the people show by their constant grumbling that they just don’t get it. They still don’t trust God to provide for their needs despite the fact that God has already shown his willingness and ability to do it. But now picture the elation that erupts when Moses is obedient and, in striking the rock, causes the water to flow. That would have been amazing. Once again their needs are met.
Water is not only a necessity of life. It is also a strong biblical symbol. At the beginning of time there was the primordial sea from which God made everything. Then there was the waters of the great flood through which God cleansed creation. Then there was the parting of the Red Sea. And now water from the rock. Water continues to be a powerful symbol even in the New Testament where Jesus walks on it, calms the storm the sweeps it and, of course, calls the church to baptize with it.
That’s something that we are going to do this morning. We have a baptism coming up. And yes I know that we usually do baptisms near the beginning of the worship during what would normally be the children’s time. But today is going to be different. Following this message, we will repeat the baptism promises that we make every time we celebrate this sacrament. Then we will have the final song and benediction. And then the family and some representatives from the church will go to the Prayer Garden. And in that garden there is a rock shaped like a lotus and bubbling out of that rock is the water that God has give us to refresh our souls.
I just think that is so amazing and so fitting today when we looked at how God met the needs of the people by bringing water from a rock. Our own water rock becomes a baptism font this morning. And just the thought of that takes away my frustrations and exasperations and fills me with elation.
Do you know what else fills me with elation? It’s the fact that parents today don’t always have their children baptized. It isn’t like it was when I was born, that parents just made sure to get their babies done. We don’t do children. We baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Today parents make an intentional choice to raise their children in the church in the hope that they too will someday embrace the faith as their own. That too fills me with elation because it is such an honour to have parents come to us so that we can walk with them.
I have one more piece of elation to share with you about baptism this morning. It is this. In an ever changing Covid-19 world that seems crazy and frustrating and exasperating, we have this young life, this child before us. Do you know what a child is? A child is God’s opinion that the world will go on. So do not fear the terrors of the night nor the arrows that fly by day, or pestilence or plagues because, in Jack, we are once again reminded that God’s got this.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We have so much, O God, for which to be thankful. There are the birds and the trees. There are the fresh rains and cool evening breezes. We have food and shelter, health care and security. We thank you for our families: our spouses and children, parents and grandparents. We give thanks for friends and neighbours who support us and care for us, sharing their gifts and gardens. We praise you for sunlight shining through stained glass windows and stars that guide our way through the night.
We thank you for the worship leaders of our Pastoral Charge who work so hard to make our worship worthwhile especially in these trying times. We thank you for our tech team, presiders, greeting and for those take on new roles such as screening at the doors. And thank you for the technology that allows us to reach out to people even when they can’t get to us. Thank you for creativity and commitment. Bless our efforts and energize our spirits.
We lift up in prayer our elected leaders and also for all those who had the courage to put their names forth. Government is a tough job and we seldom give them the credit they deserve. Help us to be properly critical and supportive and help us to do all of it with love and spiritual integrity. We also pray for our province as we approach election day in just a few weeks. Keeps us faithful to you in all things, O God, even the way that we vote. May your call on our lives be first and foremost in all that we do.
We pray for the sick at home or in hospital. We remember especially Richard, Gary and Bob. Grant them healing and wholeness in their time of recovery and need.
Finally, O God, help us to remember that there is a purpose and calling for our lives. Thank you that you have created us with a unique skills, talents, experiences and abilities. Help us to faithfully fulfill all that you have planned for our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 27, 2020 / Pentecost 17 / Proper 21
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Matthew 21:23-32; Philippians 2:1-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
Welcome to our time of worship.
It is a time to be fed, a time to be led, a time of rest and refreshment.
We gather with our God who serves us as we serve others.
We praise our God who provides all that we need.
Holy is your name, O God, and awesome is your love. May your wisdom abound in us, in every thought, every word, every decision, and every action. Guide our affairs and give us discernment and understanding that would otherwise be beyond our human ability. We look to you in our time of worship, trusting confidently that as we seek to know more of you, you will fill us anew with your Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, despite our sinfulness, you call us your children. We are thankful that salvation does not depend on human wisdom which is subject to change, but on your power, your character, and your faithfulness, which neither change nor fail. Help us to grow in understanding your word and your way so that we may be steadfast and immovable in our faith. Lead us into all holiness, we pray, and sanctify our every moment. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God wants the very best for us. God wants us to grow into the people whom we were created to be. That is why we have been given the gift of forgiveness and the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God that, through our honest and heartfelt confessions, we are purified from all unrighteousness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
For food, for drink, for time and talents we offer our thanks, O God of all Creation. Your gifts are innumerable. Your love is everlasting. Grant us the wisdom to use all of your gifts for your glory and the good of our neighbours. Amen.
We have come and we have been fed. It is time to return to the rest of our lives and share the nourishment that we have received in this place. Go into the world to be the hands and feet of God who will walk with us and be with us along every step of our journey.