Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is the Lord Among Us or Not?

The text for next week's sermon is Exodus 17:1-7.

Verses that intrigue me:
Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me, why do you test the Lord?" (v.2)
Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." (v.4)
The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you…I will be standing there in front of the rock…" (v.5)
He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (v.7)

Questions I have:
When is it okay to question God? Shouldn't we be able to use our reason to question and ask "where is God in the midst of my pain?"

Why does this pattern of complaining to Moses continue? Wouldn't one such story have sufficed? Why is there story after story of problems in the desert, the people complaining, Moses praying, and God responding? What can we learn from the repetition?

Finally, and this is the hard one to answer in the midst of someone's pain, "Is the Lord among us or not?" If you were Moses, what would you have told the people? Or better, what do you tell friends, family, co-workers, etc. who do ask you this question?


The Gibbon said...

WOW! Great questions. This is a lot of fun, thank you Pastor for this forum.

Verse 2) This is a bold statement: "if you pick a fight with me, you're picking on God!" It brings to mind that the religious leaders of the day found Jesus' self described unity with the Father as heresy, leading to his crucifixion (even though the punishment for such a sin was stoning).

Verse 4) The messenger is often damned for the message. Note the reaction to Jesus' statement in his home synagogue that he fulfilled scripture (Luke 4:16-29). It also makes me think of Jesus' statement in John about those without sin being first to throw stones! Jesus cried over Jerusalem, wishing he could take his chicks under his wing to protect them; I'm sure Moses would have related.

Verse 5) Rocks are big in the Bible: my rock, foundation on rock, rejected corner stone, stumbling block, rock of my church, etc. Life from unlife.

Verse 7) Massah/Meribah: MUMC starts with an "M"; hmmm....

When is it OK to question God? I'm reminded that God and Abraham negotiated about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah(Genesis 18:16-33); David's psalms were full of questions and yet he was favored by God; God put a limit on Job's questions, but praised him for asking them (Job 42:7-9); and even Jesus asked for the cup to be removed (Matthew 26:36-42). The key is that at a certain point, each said to God "not my will but Yours". We can and should question God's actions, but not His intent.

Why does the pattern of complaining to Moses continue? Our flesh is short-sighted (hunger can cause the destruction of some parts of the body to save other parts), and immediate (what have You done for me lately?). Israel's 40 years collapses time and events to symbolize not only our entire history as a people, but also our individual lives; stiff necks and all. It shows that we can't help ourselves - if we could, there would have been no need for Jesus' sacrifice. Although we are serial sinners, God's grace is abundant - the abundance of life-giving water (living water) flowing out of a rock in the desert.

Is the Lord amoung us or not? The story of Job reminds us that God does not allow us to be tested by more than we can handle; but that as creatures made in His own image and leaning on His support, we can handle a lot! God did not test Job; Satan did. God had faith in Job, and God was with Job even when Job felt most alone. Jesus on the cross quoted the opening line of Psalm 22: "Why have You foresaken me?". Taking the quote "as-is" puts it out of context and makes it appear to be a complaint by Jesus against God! But if we read the whole psalm we see something new.

The Gibbon said...

Part of our "method" as Methodists is to ask questions: “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’” (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church-2004, p. 77). This has come to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Another marker of methodism is our emphasis on the concept of grace:
"Go on before the people - Though they spake of stoning him. He must take his rod with him, not to summon some plague to chastise them, but to fetch water for their supply. O the wonderful patience and forbearance of God towards provoking sinners! He maintains those that are at war with him, and reaches out the hand of his bounty to those that lift up the heel against him." John Wesley

The Gibbon said...

What did Six-B(Becky Bartelt's Brown Bag Bible Bunch)have to say about this week's readings?

The Gibbon said...

Who Are You?

Who gave you so much authority
that you split the deep red sea?

Did you bring it to tribal council
or did you follow Another's will?

Who do you think that you are?
How did we let it go this far?

Our empty bellies writhe and groan
but you make these decisions alone?

How can you tell us what we need;
where were you in our captivity?

On the Nile the climate was mild,
but you got us lost in the wild.

When we're hungry we get dew-bread.
Day after day; we'd rather be dead.

Now we have unquenchable thirst.
How can our lives be any worst?

It's not for food we're hungry?
It's not for water we're thirsty?

Who are you that you dare judge us?
We want fairness; you want justice.

You're not one of us you see,
so we challenge your authority.
If though you were just as we,
we'd really test your authority.

by Tiwago

The Gibbon said...

Is God in the midst of our pain? Read this from NPR's "This I Believe": http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94836671.

Pamago said...

When is it okay to question God?
From the examples we see in the Bible, God allows us to question him, but we have to be prepared to hear his answer when he is ready to respond. Sometimes we wait awhile, sometimes we may not like the answer, but it seems we have the right as children of God to ask the questions we have. Being ready to hear, and accept his answer and bend our will to his is a our challenge.

Why does this pattern of complaining to Moses continue?
It is SO the nature of humans! to complain! When we hear the story of Moses and the people in the desert, it is our story, too. We are given everything by God, but we tend to always be on the lookout for the next thing. If we're starving, manna seems a great gift... after a few days, we start grumbling about the lack of variety in our meals! Those examples of the Israelites in the desert are important. I can see myself in them, and it makes me more aware of my own behavior.

Is the Lord among us or not?
The Lord is always with us, in our despair and in our happiness. We are such creatures of this world that it's hard to imagine God as omnipresent.
The irony of faith is that it's like keeping your eyes focused on what you can't see.

Mark Beville said...

the Gibbon is off the chain! Awesome. sorry, just tuned into the conversation...

as the Gibbon so thoroughly described, God's people have a long history of questioning Him.

I think God welcomes this interaction. If we knew all the answers, we wouldn't rely on God. He created us to be in relationship with Him. Just as Christ did - our example.

I love when my own kids come to me with questions, looking for guidance. the uncomfortable questions...I defer to their mother.

The cylical process simply represents life (the Zoe). the abundant life as Christ came to give us. if we stop coming to God with questions, the relationship suffers, and we stop growing closer to Him.

Mark Beville said...

Coming to your leader with questions reminds me of a quote by Colin Powell, the great military leader. He said, "Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."

I think this relates to God. Our persistent questioning shows that we know who our leader is and that we trust him and believe that he will take care of us. The fact that we have access to the power of the universe is beyond my comprehension. We have a loving omnipotent God yearning for us to ask him a question. Just as Jesus never seemed to be too busy to stop in his tracks and ask “What do you want me to do for you?” and the blind man said, “Lord, I want to see,” Luke 18:40-41 (NIV)

I am that blind man. I am every character in Scripture and makes me cherish God's mercy and grace.

One of my favorite songs is by Caedmon's Call called "Mystery of Mercy". here are the lyrics...

I am the woman at the well, I am the harlot
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path
I am the son that ran away
And I am the bitter son that stayed

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King?

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing

I am the angry man who came to stone the lover
I am the woman there ashamed before the crowd
I am the leper that gave thanks
But I am the nine that never came

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King?

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing

You made the seed that made the tree
That made the cross that saved me
You gave me hope when there was none
You gave me your only Son

My God, Lord you are
My God, my God, Lord you are.