God With Us

October 1, 2017

Series: October 2017

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Exodus 17:1-7 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 and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and God’s might, and the wonders that God has done.  In the sight of their ancestors God worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.  God divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.  In the daytime God led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light. God split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. God made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

  If the stories mentioned in this Psalm sound familiar, it is perhaps because we have heard them in worship very recently. Over the last few weeks, we have journeyed with the Israelites as Moses has led them out of Egypt and away from slavery, toward the promised land. 

Two weeks ago, we heard the story of the Red Sea parting, so the Israelites could escape Pharaoh’s army and make it safely to the other side. Last week, we heard the story of the people receiving manna from God - bread raining down from heaven when the people were at their hungriest.  As Rob noted last week, before the manna comes, as the people get hungrier and hungrier, their complaints get louder and louder, and they even begin to wish for their old life of slavery.  Even that would be better than this!  Neither God nor Moses seems to be doing anything right.

I promise I’m describing the scripture passage we heard last week, from the 16th chapter of Exodus.  But I could very easily have just been describing the passage we heard today, from the 17th chapter of Exodus.  Simply replace hunger with thirst, and the story seems to be repeating itself.  The people get thirstier and thirstier, their complaints get louder and louder, and they even begin to wish for their old life of slavery.  “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”  They begin to yearn for their old life of slavery – as awful as it was – and neither God nor Moses seems to be doing anything right.  The people even begin to doubt God’s presence with them, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

God has parted the Red Sea for them. God has rained bread from heaven for them.  Yet the going has gotten tough again and again they begin to wonder if God is with them.  They begin to wonder if this new thing that God has called them to do and to be is all a big mistake.

A ministry colleague of mine was recently sharing her own struggle with this stuck in between feeling. Stuck between the old and familiar and the new and unknown.  She has been pastoring a church on the East Coast for several years, and some relationships there have deteriorated to the point where she feels it is not healthy for her to stay.  She very much feels that God is calling her to a new thing.  At the same time, however, the prospect of leaving behind not just the church, but the community, and the schools, and the friendships is overwhelming.  She can’t help thinking to herself, as unhealthy as my current situation is, might it be easier to just stay where I am?  At least I won’t die of hunger or thirst here.

The thing is, though, in these stories the Israelites did not die of hunger or thirst as they slowly made their way to the promised land. They may have felt like they were going to die.  They may have felt like God had abandoned them.  But God did not.  God not only stayed by their side, but God also provided for their needs.  God sustained them through their darkest hours.

It is hard to follow God sometimes. It is especially hard to follow God to something new.  The familiar can be so comfortable.  And even when the familiar is not comfortable – slavery certainly was not comfortable for the Israelites - at least it is familiar!  The thing about God, though, is that God is always challenging us to move away from the familiar.  God is always calling us into new ways of doing and being.  Into new relationships and new communities.  Into new ways of advocating for justice and peace.  Into new ways of sharing hope and love. 

I have heard it often joked that in churches, one of the most commonly used phrases is, “But we’ve always done it that way.” How easy it can be to cling to the familiar.  Thankfully, that is not a phrase I hear very often here at Westminster.  In fact, our Stewardship campaign that kicked off last week has as its theme, “Funding our Future.”  I love that.  We are a congregation who looks not backward, but forward.  We are a congregation who knows God is always calling us to new things.  That can be scary at times.  But it is less scary when we remember that we are not alone. God is with us.  And we have each other.

Did you notice in the story today that God instructed Moses to take some of the elders with him when he struck the rock? It was important that Moses strike the rock in the sight of the elders because not only is God with us, but our community is also with us.  Our leaders help give us the hope and the inspiration and the vision to keep moving forward.  I have been inspired this year by the desire of our church leadership to own and claim their role in our Stewardship campaign.  Our Stewardship team asked our Elders and Deacons to have their pledge cards ready to turn in today – to lead the way in our pledge campaign - and they wholeheartedly agreed to do so.  They know how important it is to fund our future.  They know how important it is to support the work and ministry of this congregation.  I would like to invite those Elders and Deacons who are here today to bring your pledge cards forward at this time.

The Psalmist reminds us of the importance of sharing the stories and traditions of our faith with the coming generation. That is what we are doing when we fund our future.

It is not lost on me the significance of having this plate here, on the Communion table. For here at this table, we remember Jesus – the one who was called Emmanuel, which means “God With Us.”  We remember that as a Christian community, we are called to follow Jesus.  We remember that we are called to share God’s love and peace and hope just as Jesus did … in ways that are comfortable and familiar, and in ways that push us into something new.

I want to share with you a Communion blessing called “And the Table Will Be Wide.” It is written by Jan Richardson.  I am going to read it slowly with several moments of silence.  In the silence, consider what this blessing means for your own life.  What feels comfortable and familiar?  What new things might God be calling you to do and be?

 And the table will be wide. And the welcome will be wide. And the arms will open wide to gather us in. And our hearts will open wide to receive.

And we will come as children who trust there is enough. And we will come unhindered and free. And our aching will be met with bread. And our sorrow will be met with wine.

And we will open our hands to the feast without shame. And we will turn toward each other without fear. And we will give up our appetite for despair. And we will taste and know of delight.

And we will become bread for a hungering world. And we will become drink for those who thirst. And the blessed will become the blessing. And everywhere will be the feast.

 And everywhere will be the feast.  Today is World Communion Sunday.  We gather with Christians around the world to remember and celebrate Emmanuel … God with us.  God is with us.  All of us.  May we live into that Good News.  Amen.