Thursday, March 31, 2011

this side of the Cross Covenant by Pastor Bettye

March 27th, 2011 The Third Sunday of Lent Exodus 17:1 – 7 “Dying to self means trusting the catcher” or so says a troupe of trapeze artists. Van Morrison in one of his musical hits sings of an invitation to a lover to join him from the dark end of the street to the bright side of the road. God simply says “trust me with all things” and the people of the Exodus cry, “Is the Lord among us or not?” In today’s first reading we hear the struggle with “dying” to the fears and anxieties of life and trusting the God of promise. We hear this today most profoundly in the text from Exodus; a text which is referred to as one of the “murmuring stories” from the books of Exodus and Numbers. Let’s look at a companion story as found in Numbers 20:1 – 13: 1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. 2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” 6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” 9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” 13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he was proved holy among them. Murmuring stories…..the stories of whining, frightened people of God. What could any of this ancient information have to do with us today? Surely we have developed enough in our understanding and relationship with God that we would never ask “is the Lord among us or not?” or would we? Can our personal stories resonate with the story from the Old Testament? This is a question we ask ourselves in almost every Bible Study class. Let us take a look, go a little deeper within ourselves this third Sunday in Lent as we pull out bits and pieces of the story of the people from the Exodus and learn from their experience with trusting in God. First, the difference between the account of the lack of trust as found in Exodus and the one found in Numbers differs in one major way. One occurs BEFORE the covenant or promise God made with the people at Sinai; the other occurs AFTER the covenant rpomise. Before Sinai the slaves were frightened children living for centuries as slaves with the psychological marks of the slavery experience. God took pity on these poor slaves and showed them patience in the EXODUS murmurings. After all, they had been deeply wounded as a people and needed to learn again that God is a God of trust and love. They were to learn this at the hand of a loving God who exuded patience. After the Sinai covenant we hear the people of the Exodus murmuring as “renewed covenant “people who had a lack of faith despite God’s exhibition that he is a God who can be trusted and has chosen his people Israel. Apparently, it was still very difficult for the second generation Exodus wanderers as found in Numbers to get over the oppression that the first generation slaves experienced. They could not hold unto the promises of a covenant God. Memories of God’s salvific acts with his people ran short. Perhaps, God in both cases was offering testing or challenges to see if the people of the Exodus were ready, even in fear, to move out into the dangers of God’s wilderness simply with trust. Perhaps God was engaging in a “trust building” exercise with the people of the Exodus. God allowed witnesses in the elders to help ensure a trusting response by the people. God’s provision to the people of Exodus followed them throughout the wilderness. Lack of trust, does not beget God’s wrath but rather, as in the case of Moses and Aaron not entering the promised land, it does beget consequences. The burden of the Exodus story is found in its final questions: “Is the Lord among us or not?” Moses in both the Exodus and Numbers murmuring stories is caught in a very difficult space with the burden of the question “Is the Lord among us or not?” Moses in the ancient account of the Exodus gives today’s listening ears a means to handle the burden. First, Moses prays; short sweet and to the point. As the problem arose he did not head to his accountant or community gossip leader for advice. Moses goes to the God of covenant in prayer. Second, God reminded Moses that he possessed the tools to solve the problem a hand, tools which God had gifted him with. Grumbling was not the answer. Moses resorted to that which he knew worked with God in the past. Third, Moses worked miracles in front of the leadership, the people of community influence called to comfort and guide the people. Leadership for the solution came from the people God had chosen. So….. Was the Lord among the people or not? During our Lenten journey this year we have concentrated our learning times with voices from the past, voices of experience with God who can testify that the Lord is most definitely among us. The question posed in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament covenant with Jesus. We are and remain in a covenant through baptism with the One who came to answer our sermon question with his own innocent suffering and death. This season among our own fears and trembling we remember the fears and trembling of the ancient’s on the other side of the cross of Christ who hoped for his coming as the final covenant act with God. We stand loved and forgiven on this side of God’s completed plan, flesh and blood covenant story with the barren cross and the empty tomb. This Lent the voices from Exodus calls us to remember this God of covenant on this side of the cross. This is the message Jesus brings to the woman at the well who like the people of Exodus before her where thirsty for hope. Today’s living water in Jesus is the continuation of the covenant God‘s love as found in Christ, the ultimate answer to our sermon question. God is among us and Christ is not only the bearer of the ancient hope but the hope itself for all time and for all people to God’s glory.

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