Sermon Text: Exodus 17: 1-7
Last week the Israelites complained for food. This week they complain for water. Tune in next week to hear how they need a new Xbox and a car.
In all seriousness, the Israelites are in trouble because they’ve been traveling through the wilderness and now they are camped at a place that has no water. Not only that, but scripture tells us God has been leading them, so to them it looks like God has forgotten this very basic need of water. I’ve been backpacking in the dog days of summer and I know how much water you consume when you’re exerting yourself in the heat. The Israelites are walking long distances, they’re carrying their possessions, they’re carrying their children, they’re wrangling their animals, and they’re doing it all in a place where the temperatures can easily climb into the triple digits. This is a life or death situation. They need water. Not to mention, thirst is an insanely persistent feeling that encapsulates the mind. Talk to anyone spending time in the hospital while they can’t have liquids and they will always mention how thirsty they are. I think we’re all on board with that the Israelites are going through.
Once again we hear the wilderness storytelling pattern: There is a threat. The people complain. Moses runs the complaint up the flag pole to God. God does a saving action.
In this case, God instructs Moses to take his staff—the very same staff that turned the Nile to blood, the very same staff that parted the Red Sea to let the Israelites walk on dry ground, the very same staff that washed away the Egyptian army—God instructs Moses to take his staff and strike the Rock at Horeb, and water will come gushing out. God will give life out of something that appears to be lifeless.
It is also interesting to note that this all occurs at Horeb. That name may sound familiar because weeks ago we heard the name in a different story. Horeb is the location of the Burning Bush, where God first appeared to Moses. Now we hear that God will be standing there in front of Moses and the Israelites on the rock that Moses strikes. It is here that God makes his promise to bring the people out of slavery into new life and now in this same location God will show, yet again, the great desire to sustain life and to make himself known.
The Israelites are ready to receive this gift and to continue building this relationship with God. They are primed to do so because they are drained. They are empty. And when we are empty we are in a position to be filled by God. As I mentioned last week, the Israelites and God are int eh arduous process of creating new identity. It is a process that will take forty years. Moments like this, at Horeb, will help to fill up the people and build trust. Once again, the best time to be filled is when you are completely empty.
April of 2019 was my water from a rock moment here at Zion. There was a nine-day stretch, from April 12 to April 21, that left me absolutely drained. I checked my calendar to prep for this sermon and that block of days was a sea of blue ink.
April 12 was the day of Scott Hesley’s funeral. It was the first time I ever buried a friend and co-worker. He was a fixture in this church as a sexton for decades and his death was a real blow for this community. The next day was another funeral, for John Scheffer. Then came Palm Sunday services. From there we were off to the races…Holy Week is always the busiest season in the church.
Monday of Holy Week contained a renewal of vows service with the Allegheny Synod. From there highlights were, in order of appearance, was a Council Meeting here at the church, the Wednesday communion service at noon, Maundy Thursday, we hosted the Hollidaysburg ministerium Good Friday service, there was a medical emergency during that event requiring an ambulance, there was the Good Friday service, the funeral of Lois Bottomfield on Saturday, our first abridged Easter Vigil Service complete with dramatic readings, and finally the Easter services.
By the end of those Easter Services I was done. It was the most exhausting stretch of ministry I’ve ever experienced. I was drained. I was complaining to myself. I was complaining to God. I was without good personal support. At the end I felt like an empty shell. I felt like the Israelites after their long walk, parched, staring at a bunch of rocks, doubting anything good and life-giving could flow from them.
At the start of that Easter Sunday I felt as empty as Jesus’ tomb, but God used this congregation to fill me up again, to provide a source of life, care, and encouragement. God used the presence and care of Zion to move me from a place of emptiness and doubt and exhaustion into a place of trust and consolation. That is something that we can count on—God uses the people and resources around us to full us up when we are empty and most ready to receive grace.
Threat. Complaint. Intercession. God’s salvation. It is a patter we are all familiar with. We all have times when we feel drained, wondering how we will ever be reenergized because the circumstances we’re facing seem insurmountable. It’s not hard to see how we are dry and empty like the Israelites, especially these days.
Emptiness in the families and friends of the 200,000 people who have died from Covid-19 here in the United States.
Emptiness in people whose homes are in ashes in the west.
Emptiness in people whose homes are underwater in the south.
Emptiness in people whose businesses were crippled by this pandemic and the hardships of restrictions and lockdowns.
Emptiness in those who lost their job.
Emptiness in those stuck in isolation.
Emptiness in those waiting for racial justice.
Emptiness in those disgusted by our fragmented political system.
Emptiness in families surrendering to the new normal.
Emptiness at all of the losses, too numerous to name, that have affected how we work, play, worship, educate, and come together as friends.
We are thirsty and our canteens are dry. And yet, God is standing on the rock, ready to soak us in a torrent of grace that will slake our deepest thirsts.
However you are experiencing thirst in your life, wherever you are feeling empty, lift the complaint up to God. Lift your concern up to the church as well. For I know the healing water that God can bring from this source. I know that the church can be the rock of Meribah and Massah. God will use whatever resources are available to care for his people, and that includes you and me. Together we will experience relief. Together we can provide relief. For we trust that God will give new life when people are feeling empty. God will fill us with grace and keep us moving forward into the future God desires for us. So pull out those canteens, for the water of life is coming. AMEN