The Power of Water

According to unicef, everyday, nearly 1,000 children die from the lack of clean drinking water.  One thousand children. Every. Single. Day.  That’s a child dying every minute and half.  That’s roughly the population of Tampa, Florida dying every year, due to something as correctable as the lack of clean drinking water.  The human body is 60% water.  The surface of the earth 71% covered by water.  We’ve all seen the videos of why one should never attempt to drive through standing water.

We are well aware of the need for access to clean water in our lives, but I’m guessing that many of us take that access for granted.  I know that I often do.  I’ve never lived in a drought plagued place like California, north Alabama, or Sub-Saharan Africa.  When I turn on the tap, cold, clean water comes out.  It wasn’t until the Student Body President at VTS in 2004-05 mentioned it that I had ever even considered that on a daily basis I have the privilege of using clean drinking water to take a shower.

Two of our lessons for Lent 3 would remind us to not take water for granted.  They are both stories of the power of water, not to sweep away a car in a flood, but to culturally and, more importantly, as a source of life, a gift from God.  At Christ Church this week, we will hear these lessons in the context of a homily from Steve Young, not that one, the Executive Director of Living Waters for the World, Steve Young.  He will share with us the work that his team, of which Christ Church will soon be included, is doing to bring access to clean water to the remotest of places.

Their foundational text is the story of Jesus meeting the woman at Jacob’s Well.  In that story we hear not only that even Jesus needed water, but the power of the well socially, as this woman who had been married several times and was now living with a man who was not her husband, was forced to wait until the heat of midday to draw water.  Jesus turns that hurt right-side up, meeting here there, at noon, and engaging her in conversation.  He turns the concrete reality of water into a spiritual thirst for living water, and shows her and her whole town that thirst is not merely a physical desire, but it is at the core of who we are as created beings.

I’m struck by the power of water today, and I give thanks that I so rarely have to think about my own access to it even as I grieve that so many don’t have access to clean water to drink, let alone to spend 10-15 minutes showing in.

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The Power of “I Am”

What God was asking of Moses at the burning bush was nothing short of a suicide mission.  Go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and tell him to “Let my people go.”  This task would have been difficult enough if Pharaoh was a plantation owner and the Hebrews were a dozen or so slaves, but to ask Pharaoh, the King of all Egypt, to give up more than a million slaves, on whose backs the entire economy of Egypt rested?  You’d have an easier time convincing a sitting American President to deport all the undocumented laborers who ensure our cheap houses and $0.99 heads of lettuce.  As one might guess, Moses is unsure of the possibility of success.  His fear isn’t just of Pharaoh, but of the more than one million Hebrews who only knew the life of slavery.  When they asked, “Under whose authority do you do this?” What was Moses to answer?

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Tell them “I Am” sent you.

The name God gave Moses to drop is a peculiar one.  In time, the name of God would become so sacred, that the four letter word I’ve posted above is not to be said aloud in the Jewish tradition.  When a reader comes to this word, which is transliterated at YHWH, they say, “Elohim” instead.  More peculiar than that, the name God gives is a verb.  Not even Kanye and Kim named their children a verb.  And it isn’t just any type of verb, but an imperfect verb, indicating an incomplete or ongoing action.  God wasn’t, God is.

In the course of human history, the imperfect verbiness of God will prove quite helpful.  When Moses and Pharaoh are going back and forth through the course of ten plagues, it is nice for Moses to know that “I am” is with him.  When the people of Israel have their backs on the Red Sea while the Egyptian army barrels down on them, there is some comfort in “I am” standing there too.  Forty years in the wilderness, the walls of Jericho, the Judges, Kings, exiles, and even Roman occupation are made a little more bearable because “I am” continues to be.  Even as Jesus hangs on the cross, seemingly abandoned by everyone he has ever loved, feeling forsaken by the Father himself, “I am” is still there.

This is good news for those of us who continue to walk in the Way of discipleship.  Nobody ever said life was going to be easy.  There will be financial pressures, health issues, family quarrels, natural disasters, and any number of other stresses in life when things might feel lost, when God might seem far away, when hope might be dwindling.  In those moments, whether you believe it or not, “I am” is there, holding you as a hen protects her brood under her wings, for God is an imperfect verb, constantly active, and never ending.  That’s the power of “I am.”

Offertory Sentences

I wasn’t born under the stark regime of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, so I don’t have that nagging desire to keep odd things from it like the falsely named “Installation of a Rector” which is really called “An Office of Institution of Ministers into Parishes or Churches.”  I’m not overly fond of the latent sexism in Rite I language, though I do think that the penitential tone of Cranmer’s Eucharistic rites are worth hearing from time to time.  I do, however, have one bit of the “old Prayer Book” that I wish the church would have held on to.  The 1979 Book of Common Prayer removed my favorite offertory sentence from its suggested list.  In the 1928 Book, after this great rubric: “Then followeth the Sermon.  After which, the Priest, when there is a Communion, shall return to the Holy Table, and begin the Offertory, saying one of these Sentences following as he thinketh most convenient” comes a list of no less than 16 choices.  Second on that list, having survived since Cranmer’s first Book in 1549, comes words from Jesus recorded in Matthew 5, “Let your light so shine before [others], that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father [who] is in heaven.”

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I love that Offertory Sentence, and have used it all through Epiphany season, but as the calendar moves to Lent, it is time to pick another one, and I’m thinking about going beyond the suggestions of the Prayer Book again, this time from Deuteronomy.  In Sunday’s Old Testament lesson, we hear what sort of Offertory Sentences the Lord requires of those who are entering the Promised Land.  Ignoring the potential for a killer stewardship sermon for the time being, what we hear is the rehearsing of salvation history, and a reminder that everything we have is a gift from God.  It might be a bit long to memorize, and tough to turn into a second person directive, but these words are so very important as we enter the Season of Lent and take stock of the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s dream for us.

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Let us with gladness bring before the Lord the first of the fruit of the everything that God has given us.

Moses’ Transfiguration

Moses is a very special character in the Bible.  His unique birth story came during a period when all Hebrew boys were to be killed.  As a young adult, he went into a fit of rage, killing an Egyptian, and causing him to flee from his comfortable life in the palace family. He encountered God for the first time in a burning bush, and from then on had a unique, personal relationship with the LORD, unlike anyone who would follow him.  Moses is the arch-typical prophet, and it was thought that each generation would have a Moses-type character to lead it.

In many ways, the story of Jesus sets out to lift him up as a prophet in the line of Moses.  His also a unique birth narrative, complete with the slaughter of innocents.  He and his family had their own Exodus experience from Egypt.  Jesus has a special, personal relationship with God the Father, and is the bringer of a new sort of Law.  Even the Transfiguration of Jesus seems to be following in the pattern of Moses.

In Sunday’s Old Testament lesson, we hear the story of Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.  Moses saw the holiness of God, and was not destroyed by it, but he was most certainly changed.  The author of Exodus tells us that as Moses came down the mountain, his face shone bright, but he didn’t know it.  The translation is a bit murky as to what really happened to Moses face.  The Hebrew word translated as “shone” seems to be something even more vibrant than that.  The same word for “to grow horns,” it seems that Moses’ face was transfigured such that beams of light were bursting forth from it.  Like headlights on a dirty wind shied, the light was refracted with resplendent glory.

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I’m not sure why it looks like a profile shadow of Jesus’ crucifixion is on his robe.

If this is anything like how Moses’ face looked, it is no wonder that the people were afraid to come near him.  If this is the same sort of Transfiguration that Jesus underwent, the babbling nonsense of Peter seems perfectly normal.  The Transfiguration experience of these two are not the norm, but they aren’t the only people to be changed by an encounter with the living God.  Every disciple of Jesus will have moments of transfiguration in their lives.  Some might be cataclysmic moments of healing or restoration, but more often than not, these are moments of what seem like subtle changes, but are really mountains being moved.  By the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are constantly being transfigured more and more into the image of God.  We are being made more and more loving, more and more compassionate, and more and more kingdom oriented.  We are, as the collect says, being changed from glory to glory, until one day, we will find the light of Christ radiating forth like Moses coming down the Mountain.

Well Played, God. Well Played.

Sometimes we forget just how funny the Bible can be, but there really is a lot of humor in the Scriptures.  Sunday’s Track 2 Old Testament Lesson is chief among them.  Throughout the Torah, we hear the story of the people’s unfaithfulness and grumbling against Moses and the Lord.  They sound like the well worn trope of kinds on a long car ride, “I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I’m hot.  I’m cold.  He’s touching me.  She’s looking at me.”  Only the make it even worse by wishing they were back in Egypt, back living as something less than humans, bonded in slavery, doing back breaking work.

The rabble grumble and complain and complain and grumble until the anger of the Lord (and of Moses) is stoked into red hot fury, when Moses turns to God and says, “You fix this.  These are your people, not mine.  I’m not their father, you are.  Fix their troubles.  Give them meat to eat or go ahead and put me to death.”  By now, to say that God is displeased would be an understatement, but God cares for Moses and God cares for his Chosen People.  So God tells Moses that he will fix things, by taking some of the load off of his shoulders.  God instructs Moses to gather 70 of the elders in the tent of meeting where he will take some of the spirit that is on Moses and share it with them.

The RCL Divining Rod skips over God’s promise that the Hebrews will have so much meat that “it will come out of your nostrils and become loathsome to you,” which is also quite hilarious, but we do get the amazing and humorous story of Eldad and Medad.  Moses gathered the 70, just as God had instructed, and the spirit came upon them with power and might.  But there were two men, Eldad and Medad, who were not in the tent, but prophesied anyway, and now Joshua is the one who is angry.  “Tell them to quit!” he shouts at Moses, but Moses, at least in the way I imagine this scene, looks up to heaven with a wry smile and says, “Well played, God.  Well played.  Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”

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God is always ready to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  God is always there to stretch our expectations and to remind us of who is ultimately in charge.  In that moment, Moses realized that God was in control and that it wasn’t that God was leaving Moses to handle things on his own, but that Moses was quite capable because God was with him.  Two old men in the middle of the camp reminded Moses of God’s great power.  What is your reminder?

Eldad and Medad

I’m nearly, almost, sort of, thinking about getting ready for another summer session in the Advanced Degree Program at The School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South.  This year, I’ll be taking classes from two visiting professors: The Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner from Duke will be co-teaching a class on preaching the feast days with The Rev. Dr. William Brosend and The Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, retired from Church Divinity School of the Pacific who will be teaching a liturgics class on ordination and the Eucharist.

In my reading last night, came the topic of what is absolutely required for a valid ordination with further discussion on the whole Apostolic Succession dealio.  Over and over again in these readings, it is suggested that for ordination, the laying on of hands with prayer is the sole requirement of a proper ordination.  As one who fought against the ritual of anointing my hands at my priestly ordination (while ultimately finding it very moving), this makes sense to me.  Before the clericalization of the Middle Ages and the direct associate of the priesthood with the Eucharist, it was the practice of the Church that the laying of hands was “a sign of the Spirit invoked in blessing, dedication, or absolution” (Sthulman, p. 23).

This is all well and good, or as an Anglophile might say “meet and right,” until we reach further back on the Day of Pentecost and hear the story of God setting apart the 70 elders to assist Moses with the leadership of the Hebrews in the wilderness.  The way the story reads, it can be assumed that as the Lord took some of the spirit away from Moses, something like hands were laid upon the 68 who came out to the tent of meeting, but then there is the curious case of Eldad and Medad, two elders who stayed behind.  It seems as though the spirit just sort of plopped down upon them out of thin air.  I’m sure the liturgical scholars of Moses’ day were pulling their beards out trying to come up with an appropriate response, but it is Moses that gets the best and final word.

“Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets!”

Hands laid or not, the Spirit blows where she will and rests upon any with whom God has found favor.  Sometimes, it is neat and tidy and fits in the Diocesan discernment process.  Sometimes, it is like a mighty rushing wind and fits nobody’s time table whatsoever.  I love the story of Eldad and Medad because I love that God works how God works whether the liturgical scholars agree or not.

Food and Water

As usual, I’m in complete agreement with the folks over at Sermon Brainwave on WorkingPreacher.org.  I just don’t understand why, here in the midst of the year of Matthew, the vast majority of our lectionary readings for Lent come from John’s Gospel.  I understand that without this little foray into the final Gospel we’d miss out on the story of Nicodemus, the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus, or Sunday’s lesson about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, but I suppose I don’t understand why we need them all in the same year.  That being said, thanks to the looooong and rambling lection from John’s Gospel, at least the lectionary folks gave us a solid theme for Lent 3, Year A.

Food and Water.  Hunger and Thirst.

In the portion of the Exodus story that we’ll hear read on Sunday, we get the recapitulation of the complaints that the people of Israel had against God and Moses.  It goes unmentioned, but the first struggle the people had after they crossed the Red Sea was thirst.  In the wilderness of Shur, they found bitter water at Marah and “complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?'” (15:24).  After the LORD turned the bitter water sweet, the Hebrews moved on to Elim and the wilderness of Sin where they became hungry and “the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron… ‘If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…'” (16:2-3)  The LORD provided manna from heaven, literally giving them their daily bread, as well as enough quail to keep their strength up and they continued to journey through the wilderness of Sin and came to Rephidim where there wasn’t enough water for everyone to rehydrate and again they complained against Moses saying, “Why did yo bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (17:3)  Yet again, the LORD provided water for them to drink by having Moses strike a rock with his staff.

The story of God’s chosen people begins with three stories of hunger and thirst which come to define the human condition, we are hungry and thirsty for the bounty of the LORD’s provision.  This theme replays itself in our rambling story from John.  First, in the exchange between Jesus and the Woman at the Well who go back and forth over water: the water from Jacob’s well that Jesus seeks and the living water of the Spirit that the Woman desires though she doesn’t even know it exists yet.  And again, in the encounter between Jesus and his disciples over Jesus’ hidden food supply.  The disciples are perplexed over Jesus’ “food that they do not know about,” and Jesus explains that his sustenance comes from doing the will of the Father.  Or, to mix gospels, he hungers and thirsts for righteousness.

Hunger and thirst are primal and universal parts of the human condition, and, as such, make perfect teaching elements for the life of faith.  While many may not know it, each of us hungers and thirsts after the Kingdom of God, the restoration of the world as God created it to be.  This week’s lessons remind us that God wants to and will provide living water and daily bread, even in the midst of the wilderness of Sin.