A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2017
(Exodus 17:1-7; Ps 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42)
Our reading from Exodus see the people God led from Egypt continuing their recently begun sojourn of freedom in the dessert.
God is leading them. These people have seen God’s plagues. Witnessed the wind of God part the Red Sea. Followed God’s cloud and fire. Moses, this living legend, remains among them.
Yet, today they are thirsty. True thirst has a maddening quality about it. It requires a timely response. They are growing week. Water is necessary for immediate survival. They turn to Moses and demand: ‘Give us water to drink’.
The great man sees their request for what it is: a ‘testing’ and ‘grumbling’ against YHWH. They blame Moses for the whole predicament: ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’
It is a sobering moment. All the miracles. All the needs met. Yet, here in the desert at Rephidim, the people’s word and action convinces Moses that his very life is in danger: ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me”, he asks of God.
YHWH gives instructions. Before the elders Moses will strike the rock with the God of the universe before him. Water will flow. The people will drink.
‘And Moses did so…’
Sadly, this place could not be re-named after this extraordinary act of timely provision. It becomes an eternal reminder of the people’s attitude. ‘Massah’ means testing. ‘Maribah’, quarrelling. There those who witnessed God’s might so closely asked their most sobering question: ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’
Is it any wonder the event at Massah and Maribah is still found among the folksongs of Israel? Our psalm leads us through a celebration of the greatness and might of God. It becomes an invitation to worship. Then – the possibility is raised: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Maribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness’.
We all encounter challenges in our lives. In our gospel reading Jesus – of all people – experiences thirst. In the middle of a hot day he breaks protocol and requests a drink from a Samaritan woman beside the well of Jacob.
It leaves the gentile flabbergasted. The discussion moves quickly to Jesus’ ‘living water’ that springs from inside. This lone woman is tempted. The discussion reveals Jesus as a prophet and eventually as the long-awaited Messiah.
While Jesus’ followers wonder at his strange actions. The woman quietly moves away with a remarkably personal testimony to share: ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’
And in it all Jesus has moved from hunger and thirst – to satisfaction. Even as the woman heads into town the Messiah declares the harvest ready. From this simple testimony will come revival.
In both these memorable stories there is thirst. There appears a lack of that which is necessary. For the Israelites it led to complaint. Sadly, in this moment their hearts hardened. Jesus, in contrast, found God’s provision to be truly abundant.
Paul insists, in our reading from Romans 5, that there is suffering even among those who are ‘justified by faith’ and ‘have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Certainly we know both ‘joy’ and ‘hope’. Alongside these we also experience sorrow and loss.
We tend to avoid such experiences. Paul, however, encourages rejoicing even here. Suffering can lead to endurance, character, and hope. God can lead through suffering. After all, ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’.
In Christ, at the perfect time, God saved us. Paul believes this provision to be as timely as water in the desert or satisfaction through conversation at a Samaritan well. Similarly, salvation extends from God’s timely act of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Ours is the same joy as a thirsty one who finds water in the desert.