He Will Be Your God and You Will Be His People, Exodus 17:1–7, Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020
Once upon a time, there was a Sunday morning worship service, in a south Mississippi costal community. The service had begun and most everyone was in their assigned seat ready to hear the proclamation of God’s Word, ready to worship with songs of praise and thanksgiving to their one true God, Creator and Redeemer of the universe. He would be their God, and they would be His people.
Both longtime members and visitors that gathered had trekked through the foggy city streets in order to gather and worship together. And even though signs of spring were starting to be seen, the grass was still brown, and the trees still barren and dreary looking. The sidewalks and streets were still so cold, that what persisted seemed nothing more than a long and gloomy winter. There were no green leaves yet on the trees, just dead and falling ones to give the Monday work crew more to bag up.
Yet in just a few weeks April would emerge. Flowers would be popping up from the seeming dead dry earth. But before that time arrived, those faithful people of God still made their way into the small church sanctuary. As the Pastor stood up to deliver his God given message, there were a few who rolled their eyes in un-anticipation, or likewise shifted their hips in the pew to make themselves more comfortable as he began to speak. “Here we go again. Such a dry and unentertaining way to spend the next fifteen minutes of my life! I’ve got more important things to think about. Where are we going for lunch today? How long is this going to last this morning? It seems almost like wandering in the desert. I’m so thirsty.”
And so those gathered decided they needed just a little something a little more refreshing, so they could make it through another sermon, so they could make it through another day. But the pastor just went on about how the season of Lent was in full gear this week. He went on about how over the next two weeks things will start to brighten a bit as they draw nearer to Easter. But between them and Easter joy lies the valley of the shadow of death. The pastor droned on about how we should shoulder our crosses and follow this Jesus to Golgotha.
That little congregation reminds me a lot of a similar congregation, oh so long ago. Throughout the second book of Moses, the Lord is listening intently to His people. He was their God; they were His people. Earlier in Exodus chapter two the people of Israel groan to the Lord because of their harsh treatment, and the Lord heard their groaning. Their cry was one of faith that expected an answer, deliverance, and salvation from the Lord. And He therefore draws out and rises up a leader named Moses.
Then in Exodus chapter four the people hear the report that the Lord has visited them, in His encounter with Moses. They believe and worship. But after Moses has his first meeting with Pharaoh, things get worse. Moses goes back to the Lord, and the Lord again promises that He will be the people’s God, and they will be His people. After the plagues, the people of Israel do what Moses instructs according to the Lord’s Word, and they celebrate Passover.
In Exodus chapter fourteen, God would harden Pharaoh’s heart to come after Israel so that He could frustrate Pharaoh and receive glory from the people of Egypt. Again, right after they cross the Red Sea on dry land, and see the salvation and deliverance of the Lord, this time they don’t just cry out or groan to the Lord, but complain and murmur to Moses.
Yet again, the Lord encourages them to listen to him and do as He commands. The Lord indeed seeks to keep the people in their status as His people. But, believe it or not, yet again in Exodus chapter sixteen they grumble against Moses and Aaron. The Lord still listens to their grumbling and provides manna.
This brings us to this morning’s text. Through this ebb and flow throughout Exodus, we understand this as yet another episode in the unfolding drama of God’s relationship with His people. The question to the people of Israel, and to us is, how will we respond when the Lord leads us where He will? Even if the water is bitter, the food scarce, if it seems to us that there is no water or food at all.
Jesus knows the depth of our problems, there is no hiding from Him. Before His judgment seat our darkest secrets are utterly revealed. He knows and grieves over what we have become. We have a serious God problem, it is true. Our sins and our death and our screwed up lives are all an affront to God. This is much more than moral, it is simply the way we are. We are thoroughly broken people. We too don’t even deserve to be considered God’s people.
Thanks be to God! God’s holiness does not abide by our brokenness. His perfect Heaven does not fit our imperfectness. Could you imagine living like this for an eternity? Can you even imagine living like this for the next 1000 years? If our tendencies and inclinations are projected out over that amount of time, things are not going to be getting better, but worse, if we are honest with ourselves. It does not seem heavenly to me, but rather downright hellish.
That pastor that I spoke of earlier, he knew his own failings, he could never lay claim to being a true evangelist for God. How could he think that he could represent this holy God? Jesus may indeed love and care for him, despite who he is, but his past, his ignorance, his ineptitude; all conspire to render him into a miserable representative of God. God must surely be somewhat ashamed to call him one of His own.
You see, that pastor had once sat in the pew just like his hearers were now doing. The pastor had, on occasion, even thought to himself that he could do a better job preaching on this morning’s text. He, at some time, had the same thoughts of “come on, just get it over with”. But the pastor realized that he was now the one called to bring something in this text that his hearers could relate to. He was the one called to be a Moses, at least for today. And so he began to turn to those gathered and ask, “why are you quarreling with me?” And then he went on to say, “You are testing the Lord”.
This morning you are here for the water to refresh your souls, for what you thirst for. This is more than an Old Testament fairy tale that has no relevance to your current lives. Hear again these words from Moses. “All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (1-2)
Even if it seems that the Lord is not always with us, or not with us at all, we continue to believe His word that He is our God and we His people!
The Lord had a specific purpose for leading His people into the wilderness where it looked like they were lost. Be reassured, you are still the Lord’s people in your baptism, and that the Lord’s promises last forever. The One who provides all this is Christ. The great day of salvation when Christ came to be with His people, when He spoke to the woman at the well, when He preached to all, that whoever drinks from Him will never be thirsty, when He died, and when He rose.
You too, eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink that the people of Israel did. And yet, even so, Satan led the people of Israel, into temptation. Like the people of Israel, Satan will seek to draw you too into complaining, murmuring, and unbelief. Do not to be like the people of Israel, or like any of those who have gone before us, because there are plenty of examples of our forebears in the faith complaining and testing the Lord. Look to Christ for refreshment that you might not be tempted by Satan to say along with the Israelites, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
You see, God does not deal with us as we deserve, but as He loves. Our relationship with Him cannot be thought of in terms of quid pro quo, something for something. God’s love is never for sale, not even if we come with the impossible price of true faith, or perfect humility, it is only freely given and He has lavishly given in Christ Jesus.
While many in our culture today might think this weakens faith, it actually empowers it. Faith is not the one thing we get right, it is instead the thing God is making right in us, and the vehicle by which He works transformation in my life and yours. If I share with Abraham, Jacob, and Paul, and other great “heroes” of the faith a certain weakness or failings of faith, that is not cause for alarm, but thanksgiving. God was gracious to them, and to all of us.
He is your God, and you are His people. And He delights to see the love He has given returned, even in our crude attempts at righteousness. God’s love does not evaporate because we have failed to love Him in return. It just doesn’t depend on us at all. It is His majestic gift to give, and He gives it freely, to the humble and the proud, and to sinners of every stripe.
Like the Israelites, you and I are in a desert, and we’ve still got some wandering to do. We should not be surprised to have dry, lifeless, thirsty days. And maybe, along the way, we will grumble. But bring your grumbling and complaints to the Lord, knowing that He hears your pleas and answers your prayers. Maybe not always as you would like, maybe not as quickly as you’d want. Like the Israelites, you may very well ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?” And the answer is “Yes, yes, yes!” And He will never leave you. And with that, you can be satisfied.
Our Lord provides for you living water. It is that same water that He provided to that Samaritan woman, that woman who had been so often divorced. Now there was a woman who was thirsty, thirsty for something that the world could not provide.
Nothing can fill your ultimate longing but Christ Himself. St. Paul speaks about the rock in the wilderness, and he says that the rock was Christ! He is your source of living water. He is the Lamb slain, from whom comes the river of life, in which your sins are washed away. He is the well, from which your deepest desires are at last fulfilled. He is your God, and you are His people. Amen.