Notes and passages prepared for sermons given in Uppermill Methodist Church
THE MESSAGE 19th NOVEMBER 2017 UPPERMILL
How long can a human being survive without water?
- 100 hours or about 4 days
How long can a human being last without water in extreme heat 95F/40C?
- 50 hours
How long can a human being last without water in temperatures of 40C when they are walking long distances, carrying their belongings and their children, and coaxing their animals along too?
- 7 hours
When they camped at Rephindin there was no water and they complained. I don’t know what you would have done but I think I’d have complained too! Tired, thirsty, frightened? Particularly when you think of all they have experienced in recent weeks.
Some weeks previously they had left behind their lives as slaves in Egypt. They had been led out by Moses pursued by Pharaoh and an army. The Sea had parted and they passed through the waters which then closed over the Egyptian army. Safely on the other side they began their journey to the Promised Land. God was in no hurry to get them there. It’s also important to remember that these Israelites were “donkey nomads” not “camel nomads” They could not cut across the desert they had to move from one oasis to the next for water and pasture.
3 days into their journey they arrive at an oasis, but the water is too bitter to drink – this is typical because of the mineral salts which would have been in the water. The people grumbled against Moses but as God’s anointed leader they were grumbling against God. Acting as God instructed Moses throws in some wood and it becomes sweet enough to drink.
In chapter 16 they have been travelling for about a month and they are grumbling. This time they are grumbling because they don’t have enough food, but they don’t have any meat. They had forgotten all about being slaves and talked about all the meat they could eat in Egypt. They accuse Moses of bringing them out to the desert to die. Typical of mankind! Looking at the past through rose coloured glasses.
On this occasion God provides quails and manna.
Exodus 17 they are complaining again. There is no water. God brings water out of something that is lifeless. The rock is a symbol of God’s presence, power and provision. God’s faithfulness and hope for the future. Chapters 15-18 of Exodus are a “desert journal” and there are at least 12 occasions when the People of Israel are grumbling
There are several things to notice here.
God does not get angry with his people.
God teaches his people through their experiences.
God tests the faith of his people.
God does not get angry with his people
The God of Exodus is a holy God who acts to save but he also acts in judgement because he is a God who can be angry. God’s attitude towards sin is changeless – he hates sin and he will judge sin.
In December 1985 the United States NBC TV News ran a week-long feature on its evening news program. The advertising in the lead up showed a child praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, what about the earthquake in Mexico City, the Japan Airline crash that killed 520 people, the AIDS epidemic, and the starvation in Africa?” The advertisement finished with this tag line: “Is God punishing us? We could say a similar prayer today: Our Father, who art in heaven, what about the earthquakes in Mexico, the Iran/Iraq border, the suffering of the Rohinga people, the mass murders in America, the war in Yemen, the war in Syria? Grenfell tower?
I was brought up thinking that God was an angry God. Sat on a cloud fuming at all the things I was getting wrong. He was judging me all the time and punishing me too. But here even though his people are seemingly complaining all the time God is not angry. He understands and he provides. What makes God angry – unfaithfulness. Worshipping other gods not loving God and not loving our neighbour as ourselves.
BUT God would rather save than punish.
God is love! As Christians we know this and we also know that Jesus took the punishment for our sins on the cross and that we are free from that worry. We do have to live with the consequences of things we do wrong. The world is facing the consequences of our abuse of its resources.
BUT God would prefer to save than punish.
Does God teach us?
God teaches his people. They are being taught to trust, they are being taught patience. I remember when our daughter was younger and pestered and pestered for a Con 88 trombone. Those of you who know anything about brass instruments will know that we were talking about thousands of pounds. We all love our children to bits and want to do our absolute best for them. She pestered and pestered… I said to her at one point. “I want to give you everything you want. But I can’t give you everything you want” and I could have added what good would it do you anyway?
Loving someone is not giving them everything that they want. It is not about making life so easy that valuable lessons are not learned. When real life and the real world are encountered we need to be equipped to deal with what comes along, God teaches us lessons throughout our lives through circumstances, events and people. Are we learning?
A number of years back the codfish industry on the northeast coast of the US had a problem. The fresher the fish the better. So how could they keep the codfish fresh while they transported them across the country? When they froze the fish, they lost too much flavour. When they transported them live in tanks filled with saltwater the fish got soft and mushy.
Finally, they found a solution. They placed catfish in the tanks. Catfish are a natural enemy of codfish, so the catfish would chase them around the tanks all the time they were being transported. The cod now arrived in better condition than ever.
Have we got catfish in our lives – the difficult people or situations in life that may not be pleasant but keep us healthy and growing? God teaches us – he would not be a loving heavenly father if he didn’t.
Are we a people of faith or unbelief?
At the end of WW2 these words were found scribbled on the wall in the basement of a house where a Jewish family had been hidden from the Nazis by the local people:
“I believe in the sun even when it does not shine. I believe in love even when it is not given. I believe in God even when he is silent.”
In Exodus 17 the people doubt that God is in charge – they rehearse their memories of the good old days when they were in Egypt. They have forgotten the reality of life as slaves. They have the evidence that God is always with them. What about the bitter water which was made sweet enough to drink, the quails and the manna, the water from the rock never mind their escape from Egypt? But they don’t have the faith, they don’t trust. When things are not going well do we doubt? What happens to our faith? God will help us to move from fear and doubt to trusting- Do what the people of Israel did not do >look back and remember. > Look to others for help and support we need.
God does not always do things in a typical way. What did the people of Israel want when they were travelling through the desert? Probably a more comfortable journey than they were experiencing.
What are we looking for as evidence of God’s power and presence today? Are we expecting a trouble-free existence?
Success in everything we turn our hand to? No money worries. Popularity – everybody loves us – a big congregation at church where there are more people than jobs?
If we have troubles, if we fail, if we are not popular, if we find it hard to make ends meet, if the congregation is only small, if we sometimes feel low - does it mean that God does not love us?
Of course not.
One day, the eagle decides it’s time her chicks learned to fly. She forces her way right into the nest and then pushes her chicks out. The chick starts plummeting down the cliff-face, terrified, shocked, heartbeat racing, aware that death is just seconds away. And then something amazing happens. The chick instinctively stretches the wings it never knew it had, the plummet becomes a fall, then a gentle rise. Soon the chick is soaring like its mother.
It’s in that split second of terrifying danger that the chick comes face to face with itself, and face to face with wider reality. In that terrifying moment the chick discovers what it is. And without that terrifying moment it will never learn to soar.
We are loved, we are being taught and we are being tested.
When you feel that you are not loved – know that you are. God is teaching all of us because if we are not taught we do not learn. Yes, our faith will be tested – how will we respond? Will we be impatient, start grumbling and complaining? Jump to pessimistic conclusions and assume it’s all going wrong and that God has abandoned us?
Unbelief is impatient, unbelief is quick to come to a pessimistic conclusion, unbelief makes assumptions that it’s all going wrong, unbelief concludes that God is not there.
Faith is patient, faith endures, faith ponders, faith waits on the answer.