The Sunday Sermon: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7
Strike the Rock
Strike the rock, the rocks, actually. We are … the rocks.
Pray with me …
A lot of you have been traveling together for many decades in this place – forty or fifty years or more. I think of Sis Marker and her family who were on the cradle rolls here. Sis turned one hundred and one last week. I think of Vivien Reinhardt and Don Whitehouse, Mary Boone, Bob and Pat Payne, Ralph and Judy Hall, the Logans, and Bob and Lois Hicks – all still able, and willing, to attend this worship service regularly. They have been doing so for decades. Last week, I had the privilege of making my way out to Tom and Betty Deibel’s house to sit with them, and Elder Larry McCarson, and share Communion. They laughed about the decades past and the life shared here by their children and so many more of you. There have been, and are, four generations of the Deibel family in this place, in this church, this community. There are more in that category of “many decades” in this place. D.D. Hendrickson and John – D.D.’s family is generational here.
Others have not been here quite so long, maybe a decade or two or three – ten, twenty or thirty years or so: Shirley Hawkes, Paul Culbertson (the elder), the Clarks, the Grant-Fletchers, the Williams, Sis, Matt, Richard Ray, Claudette Schlader, the Bates, John and Kathy Bott, Linda Heleringer, Sue Toole, Mark Lane, the Fauls, Margaret and Regan, the Stoess-Meades and Lynn. I’m going to offend many of you in this category, not saying your names out loud. Debbie Thompson, Carol Culver, Karen Wood, Ed Staats, the Warrens, Ron and Carol, and Brad and Betsy, the Vices, the Waynes and son Richard, Jan and Jerry Beaverson, the Wheats, Jim Trimpe, Patty Weeks, Rebecca Byford, Jill and Emma. Many of them have raised children, and grandchildren, in this place.
My family has been on our journey with Pewee Valley Presbyterian for just over a decade. I will finish eleven years with this community later this Fall. Since our coming here, we’ve welcomed Sally Bunnell, the Kinnicutts, Tom and LaMont, the Gardiners, the Fishers, the Yeltons, the Andersons, Deb and Anita Hicks, Lynn Wilkinson, Julia Hood, the Woods, Virginia Baumann, the Kingsleys, Peggy and Lydia Morris, Joanie and Alan, Mary Jones, Karen and Jay Poole. Most recently: Jay Willets, Laura, Sarah and Ryan Volk. We’ve been walking with Barbara Webb, now … Staats! And Joshua and Tracey Lenavitt since last Easter!
Who have I left out? Plenty of others on our official rolls who may not be here as often, but who have I not named who is here (speak up, there’s a reason for this “naming”) … ? (And we have visitors with us this morning that are now part of this list …) We are the rocks.
And for fifty years or more, since just this past Easter, (or just this morning), no matter how long we’ve been together, or how long it may feel like we’ve been together, as long as we’ve been together we have been on the move. We’re on the move again. Rabbi David Hartman notes that our scripture, itself, says “Happy are those who are searching for God,” not those who have found God. For when the journey ends, the discoveries cease.
Our scripture reading this morning finds the people of Israel once again “on the move.” The particular story we’re going to read in a moment, 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, and through it all, the power of the journey. God’s power over us is God’s grace for us. Think about that. It will finally get through …
Listen for the Word of God. Read Exodus 17:1-7. The Word of the Lord.
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.” In the larger story, we’ve already heard about the dramatic departure from Egypt, Red Sea and all; water was made sweet for the sojourners and bread from heaven has been provided in response to early complaints. Later the group will be at Mount Sinai as they wait for God and Moses, and 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 of the final destination. People of faith are always “on the move,” are always seeking something more, or at least something different, and we are always led by God.
Now I want all of you, I need all of you, to hear yourselves, ourselves, individually and more importantly as a congregation, in the stories of the Exodus journey. We come out of scripture, as we most often do, and we talk about people who lived a long time ago and things that happened a long time ago, but our time together on Sunday morning and on this faith journey is always in service to understanding who we are, where we are going, and who we’re becoming. That’s one reason I used so many names earlier. This story is about us. Whether we’re laughing, crying, wondering, questioning, confusing, enlightening, or simply listening, we are doing this together to better understand who we are and who God is calling us to be.
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, this past year, or less. We are a community “on the move.” And we’re getting ready to shake the dust off our feet and move again. Through the month of September we “gathered in” and “ordered up” so that we might “live out” our faith. Last week we began October around our Communion table. We do that every first Sunday of the month, but last week we recognized “World Communion,” and celebrated Christian communities around the world that perpetually travel together, moving from life through death and into new life. We are on the move, once again, and we’ll complain and remember what “used to be,” but we will also set our sights on what is ahead.
Our Fall 2019 Stewardship Drive begins in earnest this week – surely you’ve been preparing for this leg of the journey! It happens every year. We will consider the stewardship of this church – our physical properties, our missions and ministries, and the people – into early November. This morning, in the words form Exodus, we once again “strike the rock,” the rocks, our own hearts, so that we may flow with life and new life as we open lives in new ways to our church. We open our lives and our lives will flow forth if we listen closely and find ourselves in the history of our faith … on the journey of our lives.
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 the journey, is still promise, not fulfillment. The wilderness stories of Exodus are about a people “stuck between promise and fulfillment.” We talked a bit about promise and fulfillment last week around the Communion table.
The wilderness in the Exodus story is not just a physical place for us, but a state of mind. I trust your listening for our own journey and not just the journey of these old people in the bible. How many of you are feeling days and weeks turning into months and years in your life? From the needs we have for (what?) more members, exterior paint on the Family Life Center, new landscaping; to the desires we hold for increased outreach, increased CE opportunities, and more fellowship opportunities; the days and weeks turn into months and years very easily. And that’s just here. Consider your personal life: the days can drag on, but the years are flying by.
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, only if the way be clear, we 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. Not statistical outcomes, bank accounts, or our own creaturely comfort. I know, I know, 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 more than we will ever know, or even admit. We are led by God in this wilderness.
This year, like every year since I have been with you, we do not have a big thermometer or chart or graph plotting our journey. We have not set a monetary goal except for “all we need” to continue God’s work in our small corner of the world. We will have personnel costs and property costs, mission costs and ministry costs, costs for education and fellowship, for music and for worship, and costs for our Small Group’s Christian formation through retreats beyond this campus and gatherings right here. It will cost more than last year, it always does, but less than next year! And all we need is here already – in the names we spoke aloud, in the lives we share together – the time, the talents, and the tithes, the costs of good stewards.
In Exodus, though the people of Israel are in the wilderness, God has commanded the way to travel. Still, as clear as that is for the ancient Israelites, and as clear as we make that for ourselves at times like these, God’s leading does not entail coercion. We always have a choice to take other paths. And we have chosen other paths. We have, we do, and unfortunately, we will. We’ll justify it, even call it God’s way, because God’s interests do not always coincide with our own. God’s leading does not always move directly toward the “oases” we so deeply desire. In Exodus, the people of Israel are led, once again, to a place where there is no water to drink. Or so they think.
They complain again. They turn pretty sharply on Moses: “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. When Moses turns to God, God doesn’t offer him advice on how to deal with them – to placate them or to lecture them. God gives him directions on where to find what the people need right where they are. “Strike the rock,” God says. All we need is here among us, in the names we spoke aloud earlier (and those we may have missed, too). That’s why I asked for everyone to speak up! We’re all in this together – the blessings, the complaining, and the promise. All … “Strike the rock.”
Discover my presence, says God. Listen for my directions. Follow my lead. “Strike the rock!” and the water will flow …
In the Sundays ahead we’ll continue our Stewardship Campaign. This will be our constant call: For the enduring presence of this 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” through this community, we will cry out to one another: Strike the rock! All we need is right here. We are the rocks.
Strike the rocks. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 13, 2019