Lent 3 2020
Rev. Doug Floyd
Exodus 17:1–7, Psalm 95, Romans 1:16–32, John 4:5–42
Today as we worship and pray and pay attention to the Word of God, we cannot help but carry the awareness of our world in crisis. Our lessons today speak directly to the human struggle under impending threat. Even as the children of Israel face the threat of extinction in the wilderness, our nations grapple with the rippling of a virus that is causing an economic meltdown, society slow down, and healthcare overload. National news has been in a frenzy, driving many people to hoard various household goods. Today our Bishop and Archbishop Foley Beach has asked all the churches in the North American province to pray for our world.
That sets an interesting contrast that we will return to as we meditate upon these texts: hoarding and self-preservation vs pouring our hearts and lives on behalf of others.
The children of Israel are walking into the wilderness. The Lord has dramatically rescued them from the cruel hand of Pharaoh. He drowns the whole Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea, and the people sing, “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble” (Ex 15:6–7). Now as they pass through the wilderness, they begin to face their own weakness and simultaneously God’s strength. Through the story of the children of Israel, God reveals Himself to the world.
As we read these stories, we behold the image of God at work in the midst of His people. Even as Israel is raised up to reveal the God of all creation, they also reveal our human condition. As we read these stories, we don’t stand over and above them, judging ancient Israel. Rather, these stories stand over and above us, revealing our hearts, judging our sin.
As we read today’s complaint of no water in the midst of the wilderness, we see a people in fear, wondering if God has abandoned them. They cry out to Moses, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex 17:3). The wilderness strips away the civil spirituality of prosperity. In the wilderness journey, we see human lust for power, the heart that instantly disobeys the call of God. We see fear for today and tomorrow. We see rebellion, idolatry, immorality, and violence. In other words, we see ourselves stripped of our niceties. It makes me think of Gwennalt’s poem, “Sin.”
strip off every kind of dress,
The cloak of respectability and wise knowledge,
The cloth of culture and the silks of learning;
The soul’s so bare, so uncleanly naked:
The primitive mud is in our poor matter,
The beast’s slime in our marrow and our blood,
The bow’s arrow is between our finger and thumb
And the savage dance is in our feet.
As we wander through the original, free forest,
We find between the branches a piece of Heaven,
Where the saints sing anthems of grace and faith,
The Magnificat of His salvation;
We raise our nostrils up like wolves
Baying for the Blood that redeemed us.
Even as we behold humanity in its broken, sinful condition, we behold God who provides for His people. He provides water to those who distrust Him and curse His appointed leader.
In today’s story, I see myself. My own fears. My own questions, “God, will you provide for me? Will you be faithful to me? Will you abandon me?”
I have mentioned before that as a young teen, I asked God to save me every night just in case my last prayer didn’t work. At night, I lived in fear of hellfires. These were only some of the fears that occupied my mind. I also feared sickness. I am reminded of middle school health class. This was my most hated class in school. In this class, we learned about all sorts of human illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. After each class, I would go home and imagine what it would be like to have these various diseases. I would fear suffering the sickness in my own body and soon I would think I had early symptoms.
Fear can overtake us, and soon, we are turning inward and focus only upon our own self-predicament. My great dark period after college was rooted in fear that God was absent; that the world was meaningless; that life was absurd. During this time, music brought no relief. Intellect brought no relief. The only true relief I felt was reading Scriptures out loud. I would write them on little 3 x 5 cards and read them as I drove to work. While working, I was constantly reciting them or short prayers for mercy under my breath. I was struggling in and through Scripture. I was learning one lesson of the wilderness, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Wrestling through the Word helped me personally to discover the God who is absolutely trustworthy no matter what happens. Over the years, I faced other times of fears and struggle, and met a God who gave me real peace in the midst of major health problems, depression and darkness, pain, and loss.
In one way or another, each of us have encountered this God who calls us to Himself, who calls us to rest in His faithful love. For all of us, reading Scripture is not simply an intellectual exercise but a struggle, a cry, a listening, an encounter with the Word of God outside of ourselves. As the writer Hebrews tells us, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12–13).
We don’t simply hear this resounding word in the quietness of our personal time of devotions. We hear it while immersed in the very real struggles of life. Even now, as our world reels from the threat of global pandemic, the Word of God resounds with vital life.
In today’s psalm we hear the praises of Israel recounting the God who revealed Himself in the wilderness. Psalm 95 rehearses some of what the people learned in their wilderness sojourn. These former slaves of Egypt are encountering the God of their Fathers in the midst of crisis. Moses is not simply teaching them on the mountain. He is speaking the Word and leading them through the challenge of following God in the wild. The ancient stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob come to life in the living struggle of their own lives. As God defeats Pharaoh and leads them out through the Red Sea and to Mt Sinai, they encounter this God who is not one god among many, but who alone is creator of all.
The Psalm opens with a shout, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” These first five verses rejoice in the God who revealed Himself as above all gods, all powers: the gods of Egypt, the gods of the land, the mountains, and the sea; the gods of their enemies along the wilderness route. “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”
He is the Creator of all. In this sense, there is no power that can challenge Him. His authority is absolute.
Then the Psalm shifts to intimate worship.
Oh come, let us worship and bow
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95:6–7)
This same God who is Creator of All has revealed Himself to Israel as their true King, their true and only Father. He called them out of Egypt and just as He made the world, He is making them, shaping them to be His people, His children, His kingdom. At Mt Sinai, the children of Israel are bound to God in covenant. He will be there God. They will be His people. He will lead them as a Good Shepherd, and they will follow. In this holy and sacred bond, the people bow down and kneel in worship and adoration of His everlasting loving-kindness.
In these first seven verses, we see how the story of Israel has revealed a God who is all-powerful and who is good and loving and caring for His people. We meet a God who is absolutely trustworthy.
In my own life, the rest in God’s faithful love strengthened me when I faced real struggles when my kidney failed when I face other physical problems as a result. That same faithful love kept again and again through real times of loss and pain. It is in these great struggles and fears of life, that we meet the Creator who is also the Lover, the Healer, the Redeemer, the Shepherd.
This is the beautiful picture in our story of the Samaritan woman. As a Samaritan, she is despised by the Jews. She is a woman who has had many husbands and appears to be at the well anticipating an encounter with some man, any man. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walks into her life, her world with true and vital living water. It springs forth from the words of life He speaks. These words finally penetrate her heart and suddenly she takes off running. Where? To share the love she has encountered with her whole village.
This is the movement of God’s faithful love. It is not hoarded and stored up in case of emergencies. It overflows to all around us. It moves outward to a world in need. Our generosity is simply a response to the generosity of God.
With this in mind, I turn one last time to Psalm 95. Every day since around the 6th century, the church has prayed Psalm 95 each morning. We are to be reminded every day that we are God’s people, that God is absolutely faithful and trustworthy.
The final section reminds us that God is speaking.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
He is speaking, and we are expected to be listening and heeding.
Over the last 1400 years, the church has passed through one cataclysm after another. From wars to invaders to civil wars to plagues to famines to economic collapses to complete infrastructure collapses. The people have face great and often unexplainable crisis, but in the midst of it, God has not forsaken His people. He is absolutely trustworthy.
He can provide water in the wilderness, light in the darkness, and peace in the midst of turmoil. He can and will provide for us in the midst of all the fear and frenzy of our culture. As we face the uncertainty of this season, let us rest in His absolute and unshakeable faithfulness. Let us offer Him thanks and praise for His goodness and grace.
Let us also heed His voice and share His love and grace to a world in need. Let us intercede as His priestly people. Let us also our out His love in tangible ways to those near and far in need.