PRM Sermon part 1

Having not given a sermon to any audience since the spring of 2010, I wasn’t sure how this whole situation would end up at the Peoria Rescue Mission, especially when I walked into the small chapel filled with men who were all waiting on me to say something.  While the cold sweat came quickly and continued during the entire speech, it is during these times that I am most invigorated and excited because God has given me a message that I think other people should hear about and I’m nervous (probably sweating more because I was nervous ha ha).

So I titled the first portion of the message “water and the israelites: we can trust God in our calling.”  This portion was based on the text from Exodus 17:1-7.  I began with some context.  Where are we in the Israelites’ story?  Where have they been and where are they going?  Why are they going anywhere?  Many more questions could be asked about this tidbit of scripture, but a general idea of the last few chapters prior to this event is that the Israelites have been released from the stronghold of the Egyptians (if you want to know how they got to Egypt in the first place, check out the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis).  God has called the Israelites out of captivity and into the wilderness under Moses’ leadership.

Three important events have led up to this point in the story.  In Exodus 14, God parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross-over on dry ground and escape Pharaoh’s armies.  Pharaoh had told them that they could leave after his son was killed in the tenth plague, but he soon realized that he really could not give up his entire labor force, so he quickly changed his mind.  In Exodus 15, God changes the bitter water of Marah (which means bitterness; check out the book of Ruth also for another use of the word Marah) to clean water that the Israelites can drink.  They had feared that Moses had brought them out to the wilderness to die of thirst, and God came through for them as he often does for all of us, though we may not always realize.  Finally, in Exodus 16, God provides manna in the morning and quail in the evening for the Israelites to eat.  Again, God comes through for them in the midst of their suffering, lack of trust, and fear of death.  In fact up to this point, God has provided for them even though they have been grumbling, complaining, and quarrelling in every difficult circumstance.

I put an interesting note here in my sermon thoughts.  Because I’ve been studying behavior management in some of my teaching classes, I was thinking about how differently God would have acted had he been a behavioral psychologist.   Why would he continue giving positive reinforcement to the Israelites in their whining and complaining, two things that are definitely not healthy parts of communities?  I’ll touch on these thoughts in another post, in which I came to a conclusion with the help of Mike Danner.

Now, in Exodus 17, the Israelites find themselves in another dangerous place.  They come to an area known as Rephidim, but they again are without water and fear that they will die of thirst.  Interestingly they responded to this situation in the same way that we do when we encounter suffering in the midst of God’s calling.  We often think that because God has called us to something, he will make the whole situation and process easy-going and happy when that is the complete opposite of what is promised to us in scripture.

The Israelites’ first response is to look back to their captivity and their comfort in it.  They’re thinking that while they suffered under Pharaoh’s oppressive rule and had to create brick after brick after brick, they at least had food and water and shelter, which are things that are coming in short supply in the wilderness.  What’s really funny about this is that we do the very same thing.  When we encounter suffering or lack of certainty in God’s calling, we turn and look back to the life that we had before we ever decided to follow Jesus in the first place.  In fact, many of us think that because we are suffering, we are actually no longer in God’s calling and that he has abandoned us.  Trusting God is very difficult in light of stressful and uncomfortable circumstances.

The Israelites’ other response is doubting God’s ability to come through for them in spite of their past experiences with Him at the Red Sea, Marah, and the manna/quail.  We look at the Israelites and say that they are foolish for not trusting God.  How could they not trust him with all of the miraculous things that he has done for them in the wilderness?  What we do not do is look at our own lives and ask ourselves if we do the same things that they already have done.  Think about all of the times that God has come through for you, and yet your first instinct is to take control of the situation and give up on trusting God because he’s probably gone anyway.  It’s hard to trust something that we cannot see especially in light of the enormous situation sitting in front of us.

In the end, though, we realize, as the Israelites did too, that God provides life for us through the situation.  He does not whisk away to a better place where we will escape our circumstances, he comes into our circumstances and aids us, strengthening us.  In the Exodus story, God provides physical life, but we’ll see in the story of the woman and Jesus at the well that God also provides spiritual life for us.


~ by randallkoehler on March 28, 2011.

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