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Third Sunday of Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael J. Moffitt, March 12, 2023

The Rock Was Christ

Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1–13

Last year Teresa and I went to Roanoke for a get-together with sixteen old friends. Many of us have been close friends for over 50 years. We gathered at the home of one of them who has terminal lung cancer. We called it our “Big Chill” weekend patterned after the 1983 movie of the same name. The movie is about a close-knit group of friends who met after the funeral of one of them. They gathered to remember their friend, recounting a bunch of stories as together they sought to deal with his passing.

Our group of friends are all strong Christ followers and so we decided to have a time to meet together before Brian died. It was a very good time and by God’s grace Brian is still hanging in there.

Because we have been friends for so long we share a long history and a lot of funny and embarrassing stories. Many of those stories were about something I did or said, so people kept asking me to tell this story or that story. After a bit of prodding I would tell a story and everyone would laugh and laugh with delight. I was surprised because most of them had heard them many times before and could likely tell the story with the same details. I realized that those stories were what held us together after so many years and they pointed us to those times when we were intimately involved as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Later on I thought about the many stories that I’ve read in the Bible. Over the years they don’t grow old because they still teach me of the heart of God and often I receive further understanding, but I have also lived long enough to have seen the unity and power of the Word of God.

The Book of Exodus tells the story of God remembering his promise to Abraham by multiplying his descendants and growing them into a great nation, delivering them from slavery in Egypt, and leading them to the Promised Land. Along the way God binds them to himself with a covenant delivered to them through Moses on Mount Sinai. God’s power and strength were seen through many miraculous events delivering them from Egypt and continuous presence before them.

Remember Exodus 13:21–22,

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

Chapter 14 tells the story of Moses and the children of Israel being pursued after Pharaoh changed his mind. God holds back the waters of the Red Sea and Israel walked across on dry land. Pharaoh, seeking to take advantage of this miracle, tried to follow but God brought the waters down upon the armies of the Pharaoh and completely destroyed them.

 Chapter 15 is the song of celebration that Moses and Israel sang to the Lord remembering all that he had done for them and praising him for his deliverance.

At the end of chapter 15 they come to the wilderness of Shur and began to look for water. They travel three days before they find water, but it is too bitter to drink

And the people grumbled against Moses, “What are we supposed to drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

In chapter 16 they leave Elim and once again begin grumbling against Moses because they are running out of food and wish they were back in Egypt where they had plenty to eat—forgetting the fact that they had been slaves who were been severely mistreated for 400 years. Again Moses turns to God and God provides manna from heaven every morning and quail rains down into their camp for meat. Moses then says to Israel in verse 8,

“When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”

Now let’s consider our passage for this morning in light of what we have just seen. In chapter 17 Israel is on the move again. There are so many of them that they move in stages. When they all gather together at Rephidim they discover that once again there is no water to drink. Do they remember all that God has done for them? Nope. But again they come to Moses complaining and apparently they have become hostile, and Moses can’t reason with them. He asks why they continue to forget all that God had done for them since they left Egypt. So Moses cries out to God, “What shall I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Israel finds that they are lacking something that they need, and they begin to complain amongst themselves and then to grumble against Moses.

In every situation they encountered Moses was not the solution to their problems, God was. Each time they cried out to Moses, he cried out to God who had promised to meet their need and did so every time. The word used for “quarrel” is a legal term that means “to bring a lawsuit” or legal proceedings. So the threat to Moses is most likely to perform an official execution but Moses pointed out to them that in actuality they were charging God with being unfaithful to his word. It was God who was on trial, not Moses.

Surely Israel could have seen that Moses suffered from the same physical needs that they did but he always turned to God for his needs. God was teaching Israel trust and obedience. He was showing them that they could not meet their own physical needs. Israel saw their need for food and water as a sign that God was no longer with them and was unfaithful to his word. In reality God longed to provide them with the living water that flows from the throne of God.

I understand the problem that Moses was dealing with. If you are in any ministry whether ordained or not you must be aware of your limitations. I’m sure some of you have heard of “the Peter Principle” which is the maxim that as you rise in responsibility and authority you will come to the place where you have “risen to the level of your incompetence.” Moses told God up front that he was not the correct person to accomplish what God was demanding. God knew that Moses was the right man not due to his qualifications, but as the vehicle that God would empower to accomplish his will.

God wanted Moses and Israel to depend upon him for the simple things in life so they would be prepared to trust him for the really difficult times ahead as they entered the Promised Land. That would be times when they would face their enemies and would need to know what it was to trust God. He told Moses to pass before the people as their mediator and to take elders to be witnesses to what was about to happen. He tells Moses to take the staff with which he had struck the Nile in Egypt and had used to part the Red Sea.

The name Horeb is not speaking of an actual rock in the desert but of a lower summit that leads to the top of Mt. Sinai, the place where God will later on give Moses the law. God is going to be standing there on the summit of Horeb and Moses is to strike this rock or summit with his staff. The result is that clear, fresh, living water pours out from the rock and the people are able to drink freely. God demonstrated that he was not guilty of abandoning his people and never again in their journey in the wilderness do we read of them lacking water.

In the scriptures rock is often a metaphor for royalty and here God is showing that he is the divine King who makes provision for his people. Instead of giving up on them for their disrespect and arrogance God instead shows them patience and mercy at least for now.

Dr. Edmund Clowney in his book, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, suggests that when God stood upon the rock at Horeb and commanded Moses to strike the rock with his staff it was because God was taking upon himself the judgment for Israel’s sin of unbelief and this points us to what God was going to do through Christ our savior. Israel was deserving of God’s judgment being poured out upon them. After all that he had done to demonstrate his love and power, they turned away from him and his promises at the least hint of discomfort or suffering. God would have been totally justified in wiping them off the face of the earth but instead chose to take their punishment upon himself and provide them with the water they craved.

Psalm 95 that we read this morning, you may remember is called the “Venite” in the Daily Morning prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a wonderful Psalm acknowledging that God is worthy of praise, honor and glory. We should enter the sanctuary to bow down before the Lord in worship, for he is our creator and our Shepherd, we are the people of his pasture. In the final four verses there is a warning from the Lord to listen to his word and obey him. The Psalmist begins with praising and glorifying the Lord reminding his people why he is worthy of such praise. He then exhorts them to not fall back into unbelief and gives an example from their own history of the price of unfaithfulness to the ‘Lord who is a great God and a great King above all gods.’

Today, if you hear his voice,
  do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had
seen my work.  For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray
in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

In our Epistle reading this morning the Apostle Paul is referring to this same generation that saw and experienced the mercy of God but rejected him. He reminded them of the failure of Israel’s forefathers who encountered the presence of the Lord in amazing ways. They experienced God‘s power and mercy in parting the waters of the Red Sea and experiencing his benevolence in providing manna, the bread of angels and quails who fell into the camp at their feet. They saw fresh living water coming from a rock and yet they rejected God. That generation did not enter the Promised Land.

Paul finished an exhortation at the end of chapter 9 encouraging the church at Corinth to think of their Christian life as running a race. His primary point was not that they had begun but that they needed to finish the race to win. He then draws their attention to the Old Testament example of Israel in the wilderness. He compares the example of Israel passing through the Red Sea and baptism.

Christian baptism stresses the union of the believer with Jesus Christ in much the same way as the Israelites had all gone through the ordeal and deliverance of passing through the water by virtue of their identification with their leader Moses.

All the members of the church in Corinth had been baptized into Jesus Christ and had in this experienced God’s deliverance, but if they did not remain faithful to God their baptism was no guarantee that God would be pleased to save them any more than he was when Israel turned away from him.

In addition to his baptismal analogy Paul warned the Corinthians that they should not find false comfort in the fact that they all came to the Lord’s Table in the celebration of the Eucharist. He reminds them that all Israel received the divine provision of food and drink from God’s spirit who went with them wherever they went and in much the same way the church receives the Spirit’s nourishment in the Lord’s Supper.

Paul points out that the spiritual Rock that provided Israel with living water was Christ and he was even then the divine, life-giving King. Paul was building on the rabbinical tradition that the same rock followed Israel through all their wilderness wanderings. Whether it was the same rock, or the stream continued to follow them doesn’t much matter. The point is that Christ was present with them in the wilderness and went before his people as their mediator, and as God who stood upon the rock to take the blow from Moses' staff. This was a foreshadowing of Jesus coming to take our sins upon himself on the cross. Despite all these blessings from God Israel remained stiff-necked and disobedient to God’s commands and the result was that most of them died in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land. Of the original group that left Egypt only two, Joshua and Caleb entered the land that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants.

The Corinthian church had fallen for the same lies of the enemy as Israel. They both thought that their safety and security were assured because of the outward blessings that God had lavished upon them. Israel saw circumcision as the sign of their covenant relationship with God and they were right, it was, but that relationship necessitated that they be obedient to the Lord that had established the sign for them.

The Corinthians saw baptism as the symbol of their covenant relationship with God and it was, but it also necessitated that they walk in loving obedience to the Lord who had given it to them. Both of them forgot that God had called them into a deep spiritual relationship where he was their God and the focus of their lives and the longing of their hearts. God desired intimacy with them and had withheld nothing from them that they needed and expected their love and devotion in return.

In our Gospel reading this morning from John 4 Jesus offers the woman at the well the same living water that was offered to Israel. In truth he had come for those who realized their need for God regardless of their nationality. He was offering her a new beginning where he was the source of real life and refreshment. In John 4:13–14, he draws a parallel between the water she had to labor to carry every day with the living water that would well up quenching the thirst of her heart for love and meaning and a new life.

Israel was so spiritually blind that they couldn’t see all that God was offering them even though he revealed himself in many miraculous ways. The Corinthian church at the time of Paul’s writing had become fooled into believing that they were somehow special and were free to do and act however they wanted. I’m afraid that much of Western Christianity has fallen for the same old lies and deception. God is not seen as holy, just, and aware of all things and every thought.

Israel found out that God would deal with their insolence and unfaithfulness, and they lost all that they had gained. God has not changed, he is still holy and requires that we bow down before him in repentance, faith, and surrender. The good news is that Jesus is still the living water and the only hope that we have for life. The promise and the acceptance still have the same requirements and blessings. God’s desire is still that he would be our God and we would be his people.

Teresa and I have watched all the episodes of “The Chosen” and we decided to watch all of them again during Lent. We watch one every night after our time of prayer. If you haven’t taken advantage of this series I encourage you to do so. One of my favorites is in season 1 episode 8. It’s the story of the woman at the well. Just like Israel, the Corinthian church, and the women at the well the teaching that Jesus was and is the “living water” was initially misunderstood as water coming from a well. Israel didn’t pick up on the fact that when Moses struck the rock and water poured out it should be an amazing thing never seen before. It should have brought them to their knees.

They were physically satisfied with the water that came out of a rock, but it didn’t seem to change their hearts. The woman at the well picked up on Jesus’ meaning when he:

•  Didn’t condemn her but offered her life with him in his kingdom.

•  Told her details about her life that he couldn’t have known.

•  Sent her to tell others the account of meeting Jesus.

The encounter changed her and everything in her life as the promised living water from Jesus removed her condemnation in her own opinion of herself as well as the spiritual refreshment that she needed for her new life. Paul was pointing the church to the same transforming power of Jesus, the bread of life and the living water.

So far in our Lenten journey we have seen that even Jesus depended upon the bread of life as he dealt with temptation. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 to Satan who tempted him to take matters in his own authority and turn the stones into bread. He replied,

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Last week we read the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus to understand who he was. Jesus tells him that he must be born again. Being a teacher of the law wouldn’t save him and

“unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

This week we put the two together and see that only in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the bread of life and the living water can we be restored to a right relationship with Christ. The goal of our Lenten journey is to encounter the Lord more fully asking for the “bread of life” (God’s Word) and “the living water” (the Holy Spirit) What are you hungry and thirsty for?

Let’s pray.

©2023 The Rev. Michael J. Moffitt

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