Sermons

The Provident Christ

(Part of Lent series).

Today’s message is about the Provident Christ. Yet in our world today we see hunger, about 10% of the world lives in extreme poverty, where malnourishment can kill, this average is higher in the African Sub-sahahra at 23%. In the last Australian census, over 115 000 people identified as homeless. On average one woman is murdered is each week Australia by her partner or former partner. The total area of land ravaged by bush fires in Australia this year is about the same size as Belguim. The corona virus continues to spread, not only impacting those who catch the virus, but causing fear and panic which leads to poor behaviour choices.

Water is essential to our survival. People cannot go more than 2 – 3 days without water, while changes to our environment means that we are seeing less useable water.

It can be very easy to question God’s goodness and provision, to doubt God’s existence and care.

We can see this mirrored in the Bible reading from Exodus. The Israelites, having followed God’s command to travel in stages end up in this place called Rephidim. The Israelites take naming very seriously, names relate to purpose and destiny and so Rephidim means refresh or support. But instead of refreshment the Israelites find no water.

Sadly, I have to acknowledge that I would probably join the Israelites in their bitter complaining. Coming to a place I expect refreshment and there is none to be found. They were so angry that Moses was in fear of his life. The original Hebrew language is very strong, similar to the vocabulary used in legal charges as the Israelites blamed Moses for their misfortune. They remember their time as slaves in Egypt as the good old days. This too is something I often find myself doing, thinking it was better in the past, why can we not return to the past? But we often only remember the good parts not the bad.

I remember reflecting a few years ago that life in the ‘church’ was better was I was younger. More people went to church and more people believed. But when I actually sat down and crunched the numbers in my head, it wasn't really the better that I believed. In primary school I was the only person in my year level at church. We changed churches when I was in year 9, partly because it had a better youth group, where I was one of two in my year level with another three attending the youth group from the church down the road with no youth group. Of the five of us, only two of us continued to attend church during our uni years. This was not the ‘better’ I that I had imagined but followed what we still see today in church statistics.

When confronted by hardship, the Israelites imagined a past better than reality. They forgot what God had done for them to escape Egypt. There had been the plagues to release them. The pillar of cloud to guide by day and one of fire to guide by night. The Red Sea had parted allowing them to escape Pharaoh’s army. At the place of Marah, where the water had been too bitter to drink, God had enabled Moses to make the water sweet and drinkable. To meet the people’s need for food as they travelled in the desert, God sent daily provisions of quail and manna. This too, becomes easy for us to do, to forget what God has already done in our lives, how God has acted on our behalf in the past. We focus only on the present need or lack. The New Testament of the book of Hebrews, calls the followers of Christ to remember how God has been with his people since creation. This book reminds that it is an important part of our faith journey, to recall what God has done, to be thankful and to acknowledge that God will continue to act for us.

In this passage from Exodus, I begin to appreciate why God chose Moses a hot-tempered murderer to be the leader of God’s people. Moses was not perfect. He admitted to God that lacked many of the skills such as public speaking that would make him a good leader. God saw something in Moses that the world did not, and Moses demonstrated it here in this recount. Moses did not query the lack of water, which is what I would do, and the people did. Instead Moses went to God and asked how to deal with the people. Moses knew the problem lay not with God but in our response, our attitude. Not only did he know where the problem really lay, he knew where the answer would be found – God. The Israelites blamed Moses and looked to Moses for answers. Moses had faith and looked to God for answers.

This is the original sin if we look at the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. The snake says to Eve in Genesis 3 verse 1, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Satan or the snake is calling Eve to doubt God’s goodness and provision – you shall not eat from any tree. She replies that they can eat from any tree except the one in the middle of the garden. The snake challenges Eve and says that she will not die if she east is but that she will be like God, knowing good and evil. As humans we continue to doubt God’s care and provision.

In the wake of the Australian bushfires and the Corona Virus, I am beginning to wonder if this is not a wake-up call for humanity, to remind us that we are not God. Is this an opportunity for us to call out to God for solutions and not to act solely on our own strength and understanding?

God answered Moses and asked him to take the elders as witnesses to the rock, where Moses hit it with his staff and water came forth to refresh the people. Moses did not forget the power of God, even if the people did.

Our second reading from the book of John, ostensibly is also about water and God’s provision but in a much different manner and context.
The route that Jesus took to travel from Judea to Samaria was not one that most Jews would take. Yes it was the shortest route but it went through Samaria, a place the Jews avoided where possible. The Jews believed the Samaritans to be unclean and to be avoided, why?

King Solomon’s reign began well but as he married lots of foreign wives he fell into worshipping other gods. God then announced his intention to take the kingdom of Israel from Solomon’s son. So after Solomon’s death the nation split from the twelve tribes of Israel, to the nation of Israel made up of 10 tribes and the nation of Judah, which was the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. They became separate kingdoms, all of which is documented in Kings 1 and 2, Chronicles 1 and 2. The nation of Israel collapsed and was captured before Judah. The people were moved by their captors, married outside of Israel and took on many customs of the groups they married into. Their descendants later moved back to Israel and became what was known as the Samaritans. They believed in God and the books of the Law but did not accept the writing of the prophets. As Matthew Henry put it in his commentary, the Jews saw Samaritans as ‘mongrels’ of the faith of Abraham, lesser and unclean.

One of the main points of contention between the two groups was where God was to worshipped, which the woman brings up in conversation with Jesus.

This interaction is remarkable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because Jesus spoke to a Samaritan, secondly because she was a woman – in a time where women were seen as lesser, more sinful beings. In times past, the woman was seen as a fallen or immoral woman. More recent commentaries acknowledge that this is just a theory and cannot be verified. The theory stems from the fact that this encounter happened at midday, a very unusual time to be getting water from the well and that perhaps the woman wasn’t welcome to be at the well with other women because she was immoral. As I say this is just a theory.

Jesus startles the woman because he asks her a drink. She is very surprised, given the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and men and women, that he would do this. He in turns responds that if she knew who he was, she would ask him for the living water.

I think the woman reacts, as we humans tend to, thinking of the physical. Where is his bucket, where exactly is this water? She is thinking of an actual drink of water. Jesus says that if we drink of this living water they will not be thirsty again, it becomes a spring that with gush up to eternal life. The woman still does not fully understand but Jesus does have her attention. She wants the water Jesus is offering so that will never have to trek to the well again. She is still in the physical realm -this water will save her time and energy, while Jesus is wanting to save her for eternity.

Jesus then has words of knowledge for the lade. He knows how many husbands she has had and that her current man is not her husband. Knowing these personal facts about her, helped the woman to see that Jesus as a prophet or messenger of God but becomes distracted by the argument about where God should be worshipped. Jesus tell her it is not about the physical but the spiritual. God is spirit and there must be worshipped in spirit and truth.

The woman demonstrated a knowledge of the promised Messiah. Jesus responded, ‘I am he’. This declaration “I am” is the same as God’s declaration to Moses in the burning bush. When Moses asks who is speaking to him, God replies with “ I am who I am”, which is the sacred name of God or Yahweh. Jesus is definitively linking himself with God through his most holy name.

Here once again Jesus chooses to act in a way that is different. He chose this woman to be a witness. She ran off to tell everyone of the encounter. Women had no legal standing and were not able to be witnessed in the community. Yet many people came to believe – because of the woman’s testimony and because of Jesus’ teaching. It is also interesting to note that these ‘hated’ Samaritan’s heard Jesus’ message and responded with far more welcome and belief than his own people. In fact, the following chapter of John tell us how Jesus was not accepted back in his own home town.

Just before I finish, I want to look at the response of the disciples in all of this. While Jesus was talking to the woman at the well, they had been in town getting some food. They were very surprised by Jesus talking to the woman but did not express their surprise. Was this because they trusted that Jesus knew what he doing or did they think it impolite? Who knows!

The disciples then ask Jesus to eat but he responds that he food they do not know about. Just like the woman, they immediately think in physical terms – where is this food, who gave it to Jesus. Just like the woman they did not understand that Jesus was talking about the spiritual not the physical. That his source of sustenance or nourishment spiritually came from doing God’s will. There are many ways in which the kingdom of God is different to that of the world, and here is one of them. From the world’s point of view, we get tired and worn out working for/helping others. But Jesus is saying that serving others, doing God’s will provides him with strength, energy, rejoicing, restoration and refreshment. You might even say that to receive we first must give, following the example of Christ.

I felt called by God to my previous church in Carramar. I knew that it would be hard work because the majority of the church members were new to Christianity. There were only a few of us with a mature faith and I was aware that this meant that I needed to help the minister disciple others. But because of this sense of call it was not a burden, or too stressful. I was also aware that the sermons would not be about growing my faith but those around me. Yet God used those experiences (if not those sermons) to grow me. What I gave out, God certainly provided back.

So there are two things I hope you take away from today, our trust in God to provide is important. Firstly, we need to recall God’s provision in the past and remember that God’s provision does not always look the way we expect or want – the Israelites didn’t get a river or a lake, instead, water flowing from a rock.
Secondly, God’ provision is about the spiritual as much if not more so than the physical, because God is spirit. God’s spiritual provision helps us to do all that he called and asked us to do, gives us the understanding and attitude to face times of trial and difficulties.

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