Reading Ramblings – March 19, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2017

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95:1-9; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-30, 39-42

Context: God continues to pour out his grace and blessings upon a rebellious and sinful creation, a creation that doubts and hesitates to acknowledge the obvious good that God has done in the past, or to see him as capable and active in providing it now, and therefore uncertain as to whether He is trustworthy in the future. We pause and doubt and wonder and question, but God simply continues to bless. Without pause or doubt or question.

Exodus 17:1-7 – We are uncertain where Rephidim was, but it was the last stop before reaching Mt. Sinai and there was no water there. The multitude (perhaps 2 million people!) following Moses and the burning pillar of cloud and fire out of Egypt are acutely uncomfortable in every sense of the word. The secure if ugly routines of life they were accustomed to in Egypt have been shattered. They wander in the wilderness trusting blindly the cloud and the Moses. Where are they going? What are God’s intentions? And why wander in the wilderness where death can come quickly through heat and sun and exposure, through thirst and starvation and sickness or hostile tribes? They, like us, grumble and complain. But God responds not with judgment and wrath but with water. In these tense moments of uncertainty God confirms both his miraculous and blessed power and care for his people, as well as Moses’ position as his mouthpiece. There is no situation that God cannot overcome, no obstacle that cannot be removed. God’s people are reminded to trust in God’s provision. Where we see only rock and sand, God is capable of bringing forth water, life, and hope.

Psalm 95:1-9 – I grew up singing these verses almost every Sunday as part of our worship liturgy, and the melody floats through my head even still. While rock connotes strength and is more likely intended in the sense of a strong foundation upon which to build a fortification, in combination with the Exodus text we can see that in the wilderness God was literally the rock of their salvation, drawing water from stone. As such, how can they – or we – do anything other than praise and worship God for his goodness, goodness that is not simply objective and impersonal, but intensely specific – He is our salvation! He holds all of creation in his hands. His sovereignty is not like an earthly ruler who can command people but not the elements. God commands all of creation, and in this awesome knowledge we offer our homage as part of that creation. Our worship is fitting and appropriate and only natural.

Romans 5:1-8 – An unfortunately placed chapter division is where we start, with a conclusion based on what Paul says in 4:24-25. Jesus was killed for our sins, and raised as the source of our justification – our being made right with God the Father. Because of this (therefore) we know that through faith in Jesus Christ as the source of our justification, we are at peace with God the Father. We stand here and now – not just someday – in his grace and we look forward to the full glory of God to be revealed in the return of our Lord. We rejoice in this hope, but we also rejoice in whatever our circumstances of this world are at the moment, even in suffering. Paul is not saying we should seek out suffering, but rather that when we encounter it in our lives we don’t encounter it passively as victims, but actively as glorious victors in Jesus Christ who can be fully confident that our God is present with us in our suffering. As such, we endure. Moment by moment we discover that what we thought we could not survive or endure, we can by the grace of God. We grow stronger knowing that He sustains us moment to moment. This alters who we are, it changes our character. It shapes us as people of faith who know what it means to rely on God and to have God demonstrate his ability and willingness to carry us. This inevitably leads us to be people of hope. People who know God’s strength in the past can hope for his strength in this moment and in any future moment to come. We do not despair and give up. Our God lives and reigns and He is with us and for us! We know this intellectually and theologically but in the midst of suffering this knowledge becomes palpable, the very means by which we endure. How do we know that God is for us? Because He sent his Son to die for us. Not to die for us at our best, in our intermittent shining moments of nobility, but rather in the depths of our depravity and sin. Jesus stretches his arms out to receive the nails seeing us when we most would wish to hide from his sight. If Jesus will not die for me at my worst, I cannot trust that He died for me at my best.

John 4:5-26 – By the standards of the day, this conversation should never have taken place. Rarely between a man and a woman. Rarer still between a Jew and a Samaritan. Rarer even further between a rabbi and a common person. But Jesus meets with the woman at the well, engages her in conversation, answers her questions, points out the sin in her life, and allows her the room to come to her conclusions. In the process an entire town is changed. This woman is changed. And for those who have ears to hear, we are changed as well. Where we would be quick to judge and dismiss or ignore, Jesus listens and in the brief relationship that develops, the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of many.

All of these readings emphasize God’s faithfulness. We are fickle and prone to doubt and changes of mind and attitude. God is not. He is committed to his creation and to his faithful. So committed that He offers his Son in exchange for the sins of anyone who is willing to take God at his Word and trust that the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ are actually for them. Not simply objective historical events to be studied and debated, but the power to subjectively change every single person who will allow themselves to be reborn and transformed.

God’s saving power is not given and then taken away, however. He saved his people from slavery and death sentences in Egypt, but even in their repeated failures and rebellions afterwards He remains their God of deliverance. He doesn’t reject them and send them back to Egypt. He continues to guide, sustain, and sometimes to discipline them. So it is with you and I.

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