The Sunday Sermon: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 8, 2017
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7
Striking the Rock
How many of you gathered here this morning have been in this congregation , been a part of this community for over thirty years? Twenty? How many have arrived her in the past ten years? (My family and I have been traveling with Pewee Valley Presbyterian on our faith journey for nine years, now.) How many have here for five years or less? That’s beautiful, isn’t it? Some here this morning will stay for life, others will move on from here to other faith communities as jobs, school, children, or other family move us around. And no matter how long we’ve been together, or how long we will be together, as long as we’re together we will be on the move.
“Happy are those who are searching for God,” our scripture says. Not “happy are those who have found God,” but who are searching for God. Yes? When the journey ends, the discoveries cease. We’re on the move. Our scripture reading this morning finds the people of Israel once again “on the move.” This particular story, familiar as it may be, highlights the journey that the people of God have had in common since it all began, and it describes beautifully the characteristics of our journey: God’s leading, human complaint, God’s grace.
Listen for the Word of God … Read Exodus 17:1-7 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
If we’re familiar at all with our bible’s retelling of the Exodus story, so central to the Jewish and Christian identity, then we recognize this reading as yet another “notice of Israel’s itinerary.” That is, this is not the first and not the last “check-in” on the ancient Israelites as they move through the wilderness, to Sinai, back into the wilderness, and finally to the Promised Land. In this story, we’ve already heard about the dramatic departure from Egypt, Red Sea and all. We’ve checked in as bitter water was made sweet for the sojourners and bread from heaven was provided in response to early complaints. Those legs of the journey were re-lived here a few weeks ago, before last week’s World Communion celebration. IN the weeks ahead, during this year’s Season of Stewardship we’ll “check-in” with the group at Mount Sinai as they wait for God and Moses, as they leave the mountain, and we’ll continue to note progress and problems all the way to Mount Nebo, opposite Jericho, just on the other side of the river from the final destination, the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey.
But the regular “check-ins,” the scriptural notices we have that follow Israel’s itinerary are not just interesting stories that move us along, or historical anecdotes to be used to make 21st century claims to insights, land, and even God. These check-ins help us to understand two things about our ancestors that are no less true for us today: People of faith are always “on the move,” and they are always led by their discernment of God, of the Love that calls us always forward.
Now I want all of you, I need all of you, to hear yourselves, ourselves, individually and more importantly as congregation, in the words that follow. We’ll come out of scripture, as we always do, and we’ll talk about people who lived a long time ago and things that happened a long time ago, but our time together on Sunday morning is always in service to understanding who we are, where we are going, and who we’re becoming now. Whether we’re laughing, crying, wondering, questioning. Whether we are confused, enlightened, or simply listening, we are doing this together to better understand who we are and who God is calling us to be. How God is calling us once again to use our time, our talents, and our “tithes.”
We, too, are on a journey, a never ending journey of discernment and discovery, whether we’ve been traveling together for 60 years, ten years, three years, or less. We are a community “on the move.” And we’re getting ready to shake the dust off our feet and move again. As the month of October continues and as we move into November our Fall 2017 Stewardship Drive begins in earnest. As in our reading this morning, we are called once again to “strike the rock” that it may flow with life and new life for us as we open our hearts, and our hands, and our wallets. This year we find something in common with the ancient Israelites.
In Exodus, Israel is a community on the move from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land, from a past act of redemption toward a promised goal – on the move. But promise, at this point in their journey, is still just a promise. It’s not fulfillment. And that goal, the promise, in no longer days or weeks away. It’s months or years away. The wilderness stories of Exodus are about a people “stuck between promise and fulfillment.” Wilderness is no longer simply a place but a state of mind. I trust your listening for our own journey and not just these old people in the bible. How many of you are feeling days and weeks turning into months and years on our journey? From the needs we have now to the hopes we have for the future? The days and weeks turn into months and years too easily.
We joke about it as Presbyterians. On the occasions, rare or not, that we come with a great idea, a provocative ministry, a creative “vision,” we form a Committee of some sort to be certain and then, if the way be clear, to develop it! Truth is, that’s not only true of Presbyterians, but of churches as a whole. We’ve increasingly allowed ourselves to be led by market studies, commercial interests, and economic realities. The problem with that is we are not, as a church, as a people of faith, as a community constantly on the move, led by any such stuff as this world can offer. We are led by God in the wilderness. By a Spirit that we profess “moves where it will.” Not by statistical outcomes, bank accounts, or our own creaturely comfort. Of course, we have to be responsible, good stewards – responsible and informed. All that yes, but finally, we must be led by God, by our hearts, in this place, for our church and the community we have come to rely on not just for community, but for meaning of some sort. We are led by God, by faith and Love, through our own wilderness journey.
The wilderness is a place where it is often difficult to sort out perceptions and reality. Uncertainty and doubt, insecurity and fear, selfishness and greed, every bit as much a wilderness for us as the deserts of Shur and Sinai. In our scripture reading, the people on the exodus are complaining again. There is no water to drink. They turn pretty sharply on Moses, their “leader” this time: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” And they wonder, again, whether Moses really intends to kill them, their children, and their livestock, their livelihood.
Who are we blaming for our hunger and thirst? And what is the response of our providential God?
In the Exodus story, as the people of Israel continue to complain, God doesn’t offer Moses advice on how to deal with them. God gives Moses directions on where to find what the people need. “Strike the rock.”
Discover my presence. Listen for my directions. Follow my lead. “Strike the rock!” and the water will flow … How many times must we thirst? How many times must we go hungry? How long will we wander aimlessly through the wilderness until we discover, follow, listen? When will we find God? These are the questions for yet another Stewardship Season in our community, on our journey.
In the weeks we’ve set aside for our formal season of giving, we’ll be gathering here for Sunday morning worship, but we’ll also be educating all ages in our Sunday school classrooms. We’ll be carving pumpkins with our youth. We’ll be laughing and roasting marshmallows at the Fourth Annual Holy Ghost Weenie Roast at the McCarsons. We’ll be feeding the wider community at our Fish Fry. We’ll be remembering the saints of this community who have died to new life this past year on All Saint’s Sunday. And so much more. In the weeks ahead, we will be answering the Exodus question in our reading this morning. The Lord is among us, yes.
Our call for the next month, then is our response: Stewardship. For the enduring presence of our physical church; for the expanding presence of the mission and ministries that we offer from this place; and for the eternal presence of God in the world offered through this community on the move.
All we need is right here, I believe that again this year. The time, the talents, and the money that is part of the community already gathered and traveling together is all we need. We will strike the rock once again and discover the water that is here for the nourishment of all. And so it begins again. It’s good to be traveling with you, my friends.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 8, 2017