Saturday, September 26, 2020

Pentecost 17A

Exodus 17:1-7

1From 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. 2The 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?" 3But 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?" 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

5The 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. 6I 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. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

Psalm 25:1-9

Refrain: To you I lift up my soul; to you I open my life. I give my trust, I give my hope to you.

Teach me the way of holiness;
my eyes are ever on you.
Teach me the way of honesty;
my eyes are ever on you.

Your perfect love as old as time;
we live in your covenant love.
Your faithfulness as old as times;
we live in your covenant love.

Psalm paraphrase by Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan

Intro / Season of Creation / The Gift of Water

You may remember "40" is one of those famous biblical numbers. Scripture tells us God's people Israel took forty years after they left Egypt to reach the Jordan River and cross into Canaan. It may have been a few years more or less, but forty equals two generations, long enough for people to start forgetting and stop longing for their former lives, long enough to learn to trust God's daily provision. Today's reading is from fairly early days in Israel's wilderness trek.

Last week's notes mentioned the Season of Creation emphasis some churches follow during September through the commemoration of Saint Francis of Assisi on the first Sunday in October. Saint Francis is the weekend most churches offer a Blessing of the Animals, as we've done the past three years. Season of Creation began early in this century in the Lutheran Church of Australia by a pastor who was hyper-aware of meteorological seasons, flora, and fauna. This year's overall theme is Justice for Creation; for The Gift of Water this Sunday, the Old Testament reading is the same as for Pentecost 17 in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Water is the womb of this planet's birth and of our own beginnings. We're learning justice for all creation begins with justice for water because water is life!

Journeys in Stages / Water / Moses' Staff

17:1 The Israelites journeyed by stages…

Today's scripture comes from the extensive wilderness narratives detailing Israel's departure from Egypt, through their sojourn at Sinai where they received the gift of the Ten Words/ Ten Commandments, and on through their arrival at the edge of the Jordan River, the body of water that marked the border of the Promised Land. Today's Water from the Rock segment comes from a water-related series:

• they leave the Sea of Reeds and journey through the wilderness of Shur – Exodus 15:22…
• and arrive at Marah, where God asks Moses to sweeten the bitter waters with a piece of wood – Exodus 15:23-26
• from Marah they go to Elim, where they find twelve springs of water – Exodus 15:27
• from Elim it's onto the wilderness of Sin, where God first provides manna – Exodus 16:1-36 (only for reference; doesn't mention water)
• from the wilderness of Sin they travel to Rephidim, the setting for today's account – Exodus 17:1-7

"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'" Exodus 17:5-6.


• Exodus 4:1-5 – God turns Moses' shepherd's staff into a snake to convince the people God had heard their cries of pain and would redeem them.
• Exodus 7 – Moses' staff turns the Nile River into a stream of blood that smelled so terrible no one could drink from it.
• Exodus 14:16 – "Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground." Moses' shepherd's staff became an icon of deliverance.


• Exodus 17:5-6 God tells Moses to take his staff and "strike the rock" at Horeb with his staff the same way that he previously struck the Nile.

• Exodus 17:7 Moses gave a name or title to this event so the people wouldn't forget their distrust or forget God's grace: "Massah" means testing; "Meribah" is quarreling or striving.


17:1 The Israelites journeyed by stages…

The Egypt to Canaan "journeyed by stages" tradition says a total of about forty years, a time period covering two generations that's long enough to forget old loyalties, long enough to establish new ones.

It doesn't take many earth years for a human to realize life happens in stages, some shorter, some longer, some difficult, a few quite easy. The last 6+ months feels like at least forty years. We don't know when the county will move into the next stage of opening up; we've heard reports of vaccines in development but don't have any reliable estimate of trial efficacy and forthcoming public distribution and availability.

• Exodus 17:7 Moses gave a name or title to this event so the people would recall their earlier distrust and also remember God's grace-filled response. As the pandemic and its fallout continue, can we remember and testify to the world how God has met our needs again and again despite our doubt and feeling of abandonment?

• Or does that feel wrong?
• Does claiming God meets our needs sometimes or always feel like a lie?
• It feels as if lockdown may continue for another forty plus years?????
• What name would you give this experience of isolation and loneliness and uncertainty? Wilderness, winter, exile, sabbatical, something else?

In Exodus 17:5 God advises Moses, "Don't go alone; take some of the community leaders with you." Future unknowns and economic troubles aside, actual isolation is a serious factor in the difficulty everyone has been having during Stay Safe-Stay Home, Safer At Home. Even family units of parents, kids, and grandparents who can't be described as solitary and solo still are going more than a bit crazy due to lack of contact with outside people and places. In addition, at any educational level, remote learning never can be the same as in-person.

• What have we learned about the wilderness, about meteorological winters and psychological ones, all of those in between places where and when we have trouble even imagining something else is at the next stage or at the end of the journey?
• What do we know about the Saturday that comes inbetween Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

God baptizes us into community; the Holy Spirit assembles us around Word and Sacrament every Lord's Day. Those are essential aspects of our life together as the people of God in this time and place. Essential means can't be church without.

• How have you felt about Zoom or other virtual gatherings for worship and other normally in-person activities?

Water where we live: the Los Angeles River

These days feel mostly about COVID-19, but besides reminding us to trust God's presence and provision, today's scripture is about life-giving water, so let's go local. Formerly known as the world's largest storm drain, the river that named the city continues in several ongoing processes of restoration and revitalization brokered by different agencies. Justice for all creation begins with justice for water because life begins with water. Water is life!

• Have you participated in any river cleanup days?
• Spent recreational time by the LA River?
• Gone kayaking?
• Joined Friends of the LA River–FOLAR?
• Attended our judicatory Green Team's now annual World Water Day celebrations?

Is the Lord among us or not?

Is the Lord among us or not?

…is a frequent question throughout scripture, and it's one we often ask, especially when reasonable plans don't work out as soon as we'd expected—if at all. We ask if God is paying attention to our political and economic lives, as well. One goal in studying scripture is to learn about God's past presence and faithful actions throughout history, and as a result to trust God in this present.

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." Exodus 17:5-6

This is the year of Matthew's gospel with its promise, "The virgin will be with child and they will call him 'Emmanuel'—which means 'God with us.'" Matthew 1:23 Jesus is God-among-us, God-with-us.

God not only is always and all ways among us and with us; God goes to prepare for our arrival wherever God sends us. God even is already there at those places we sense we may have reached by mistake! We sometimes refer to God going ahead and waiting for us as the previousness of God.

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