Sunday, 23 March 2014

In the desert

Exodus 17:1-7
Water from the Rock
 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 quarrelled 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?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

John 4:5-14
So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” ( For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Our readings this morning speak of a search for a basic necessity - water - water from a rock and water from a well.
Two ancient stories of the quest for thirst quenching water, set in two very different circumstances, but each story speaking right into our culture today.
We read of the Israelites in the wilderness - we seem to have spent an awful lot of time wandering with them recently.
In our reading today, they're searching for water.
And, of course, looking for their leader Moses to provide some.
Settling into their usual default position- Harking back to the way it was in Egypt, when they always had sufficient water to drink.
Now, here they are, out in the wilderness, dragged there by Moses and dying of thirst.
Sound familiar?
It's a familiar refrain in the story of Moses and the Israelites, always harping back to the way things were, to how good it was in the old days.
And, perhaps, it's a familiar refrain for us today.
To harp back.
To see the past, especially in the church, through rose tinted spectacles.
See how good things were then.
And how dry and barren they are now.
Like the Israelites, we sometimes prefer to live in a time warp.
Forgetting that everything else has moved on, progressed.
But wanting our church to stand still.
So - the Israelites in the wilderness do what they always do - they complain to Moses their leader - Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?
And Moses uses his usual coping mechanism - he complains to God- God what am I to do with these people?
As I said, a familiar refrain. :)
God told Moses to take  the elders with him and strike the rock - and Moses did.
He showed the elders how to obtain water in a dry place.
How to satisfy people who are thirsty.
And then Moses named those places.
Last week, when we considered Abram's journey, we considered all those places he sought out, the thin places where he could commune with God.
And the places he named as places of blessing.
Moses, too as he travelled with the Israelites, named places as he went along.
And the names spoke of the trials and tribulations of their journey.
Massah and Meribah was the name he gave to this place where the people complained about lack of water.

Massah and Meribah,
is the Lord with us or not?
Massah and Meribah.
That place of questioning,
that place of dryness
where, in the desert of our souls
when we question the presence of God, we discover the answer:
a resounding Yes!
God is with us
especially when we lack sight. 
God is with us
refreshing our dry,
discouraged spirits
with wonderful cleansing water.
Massah and Meribah,
those desert places
where God is revealed.

There is no doubt that, sometimes, we need those dry places to enable us to see God.
When things are clipping along, when we're feeling content we can often lose sight of all the ways that God is at work.
So a little dryness, a little thirst can go a long way to help us to sharpen our focus on God in our everyday.
The dryness opens our eyes to God.
And that, I think, is just one of things that happens when Jesus comes to the well in Sychar.
As I mentioned earlier, both of our readings today, speak to us of plumbing the depths - to get to resources that are already there.
Both speak of a quest for life giving water.
The Israelites, on their wandering through the desert, looking for water to drink.
And Jesus, stopped at a well at midday. 
That particular well at which Jesus stopped, is one that had been used for a long time.
It is the well where Jacob met his wife Rachel when she came to draw water many years before.
A watering hole well used by all those who lived round about as well as by those who travelled through.
Jesus was sitting by the well, wearied from his journey, needing a drink.
But he has no bucket to lower into the well to get himself some water.
Along comes a Samaritan woman who can quench his thirst by drawing him some water.
And Jesus allows her to minister to him, to meet his need.
In that service, the woman's eyes are opened to God.
Sometimes  it is in serving that we are served.
As we do things for others that we realise that our needs are being met.
Or we begin to appreciate how much those whom we imagine need us actually bring to us, teaching us about life.
Jesus paid the foreign woman the compliment of asking her to serve him, to draw him water to quench his thirst.
And then he gave her a gift beyond imagining - the water of life.
And once she realised what a gift that was, she went off to share the wonderful news with her neighbours.
We only read a part of the story this morning.
If we'd read,on, we would have read about the woman urging her neighbours to "Come and see"
She was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and she wanted her friends to meet him too and also benefit from the water of life that Jesus offered.
Dryness exposes us to all kinds of opportunity.
Thirst, be it our thirst or the thirst in others, focuses our attention on things that matter.
It opens our eyes to the presence of God.
We might ask of ourselves today:
Where are the places that we feel dried out right now?
Where are the dry places in our lives and in the life of our community?
And what might that dryness be teaching us?
Where can we see God at work in our desert?
And when can we allow water to become more than just something we need for survival?
When can we allow water to be used for quenching thirst and also for celebration.
As in the waters of baptism
Water that brings fullness of life.
May we look at water in a whole new light - as a necessity for life but also as a life enhancing gift.
And, in all our dry spells may we be especially conscious of the presence of God.
As we welcome the water of life, may we welcome the Messiah and go and invite others to Come and see and to Come and drink of the fountain of life.
Jesus said  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
May it be so.

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