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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
NOTE: I'll be away for the next few weeks. Next posting will be in late -October. As the Israelites learn to live as a community of God’s people, they encounter frustration and anger, and then hope, as God’s compassion comes in a surprising way. God’s people today still encounter God’s grace in unexpected places and persons. Taken together, these texts challenge us to discern God’s abundant provision and our response. Exodus 17:1–7 The people of Israel are still wandering in the wilderness, led by Moses and Aaron. In the story last week, the hungry community called out for food, and God fed them day-by-day with bread from heaven. Sunday’s focus scripture begins as the Hebrews set up camp at Rephidim, and discover there is no water. Their reaction to this dilemma is a familiar one – they lash out at Moses. How could they be sure that God was still with them? In spite of their deliverance from Egypt, their reliance on God’s sustaining presence falters once again. The people accuse Moses of intending to kill them all along. Moses, in turn, cries out to God for guidance. “What shall I do with this people?” Moses and the Hebrew people are not left alone in this wilderness of frustration and anger. God responds with grace and the journey resumes: “Go on ahead of the people…I will be standing there in front of you.” God’s faithful presence and provision sustains them once again. God’s faithfulness prevails over the Hebrews’ lack of trust and faith. Moses strikes the rock as God directs, and water rushes forth. The springs that are created there are named Massah and Meribah, Hebrew words that recall the Israelites’ quarrelling and testing. This may seem like a reminder to not raise complaints to God. Or, perhaps, the names are more a judgment of their lack of trust in God’s willingness or ability to hear and to act. The text concludes with the question: “Is God among us or not?” This question remains critical for all who journey in faith. So does the response given in this text – water springs from a rock to bring life in the wilderness. This will not be the last time that the people of Israel grow anxious and fearful on their journey to the Promised Land. Still, as is often the case for them, this time of crisis pushes them to re-affirm their trust in God’s presence. Trust that God is among us is evident in Psalm 78:1–4, 12–16. God’s provision of good things is celebrated with joy. The lectionary skips over 78:5–11, the memory of the people’s rebellion against God and their refusal to keep covenant. As a remedy against this happening again, the psalmist calls the people to remember and recite accounts of God’s powerful works. Paul, in Philippians 2:1–13, declares, “God is with us!” And to live in God’s name is to be of service to all. When Paul implores the community to “work out your own salvation” (v. 12), he is not saying salvation is earned, but that the community must take the steps necessary to reach and express their complete wholeness. God calls; humans respond. In Philippi, some favoured Caesar and some Jesus as their lord. In Matthew 21:23–32, Jesus faces religious authorities who refuse to take a stand either way. Jesus responds to this time of testing by declaring the importance of standing with God’s truth, regardless of the consequences. As we live between frustration and hope, we call out to God and to our human leaders. We long to know we will be heard, that there will be a response. Assured by Christ, we can be confident of God’s sustaining presence. What does it mean to trust in God alone in the midst of test and struggle? How might we support one another as we grow in trust of God’s compassion and provision?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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