Exodus 17:1-13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 15, 2020

As God draws us to Himself, He draws us to each other. And as God wins us over to relying on Him, He moves us to rely on one another. And when we rely on both God and His people, God wins the day.

We need God to win this day of fear and panic, this day of deadly threat from a virus we’ve never before seen.

We need to remember that God still governs this world and still restrains evil, confining it within the bounds of His permission. We need to remember who God is, this good and powerful Lord of everything.

We need to act responsibly, wisely, compassionately and generously according to God’s will. But we need to depend on Him and to depend on each other as much as, if not more than, we depend on the scientists scrambling to develop a vaccine, the politic leaders striving to organize society to minimize the danger, and the medical professional laboring night and day to heal the sick.

We need to depend on each other to keep praying and to move mountains with mere faith, to take responsibility for protecting our own health, to take responsibility for protecting the health of others, to let go of what we are used to for the sake of the common good, to help those who need to be quarantined, and to give ourselves freely in every way we can to help those most vulnerable and impacted by this terrible virus.

Even the spiritual giants who rely on God have to rely on other human beings.

Here is Moses leading the people through the desert wilderness to the promised land. He is leading them by following the route “the Lord commanded”, says verse 1. That route takes them to one dangerous challenge after another.

This time it has brought them to a place that for want of water threatens to kill them all by dehydration. They turn on Moses in angry disappointment and take God to task. They accuse God of having failed the test set up by their trusting Him. Only by making water materialize can God prove Himself to them.

Their attitude is wrong in several ways, but God graciously meets them where they are and assures them of His love in the only language they can understand at that moment, the language of H2O.

God tells Moses to take the staff with which once he struck the Nile River and turned a whole bunch of water into blood water and now with that staff strike a desert rock to turn a whole bunch of sand into a river of water.

Yet, God does not expect Moses to go it alone and work this divine miracle without human assistance. God tells Moses to “take some of the elders” along with him. The God who knows everything knows Moses needs the encouragement and moral support of those elders in order to dare to believe enough for all those doubting second-guessers of God and to carry out what must seem, in the absence of faith, an absurd and futile act. Who gets water out of a rock by striking it with a stick?

God also knows that Moses is about to be, in fact at the very next challenging stage of the journey, called upon to give that same encouragement and moral support to others. To give it, Moses has to receive it.

After the Hebrew children drink from the rock, they are attacked by marauding Amalekites. In response, Moses sends out Joshua and his hand-picked soldiers to fight them off while he, Moses, climbs a hilltop to stand like a flag pole, to hold up his staff like a banner of the Lord and to inspire the soldiers’ faith for the strengthening of their spirits for their fight. Moses is to be the visible sign of the invisible presence of the mighty God for whom no challenge is too great and by whom those soldiers might hope for victory. For those soldiers fighting on the battlefield below, the sight of Moses and his staff up there high on the high hill will bring God to mind and thereby give them the heart to fight on through that long and terrifying day.

As is often the case in the practice of our faith, our faithfulness for the Lord does not always have immediate impact. This battle wages on, with neither side prevailing, for such a long time that Moses’ arms give out and he grows so weak he can’t hold up the staff one second longer.

Thanks be to God, that Moses has learned his lesson from the rock water miracle. Moses has brought along with him his support team! When Aaron and Hur up there on the hilltop with him see Moses droop and the spirits of the soldiers begin to flag, they improvise a chair for Moses and hold up Moses’ hands for him. So Moses, too fatigued to finish the job himself, relies on Aaron and Hur to keep going, and the soldiers rely on the three of them to inspire in them the inner strengthen to keep fighting, and the many on the battlefield below and the three up on the hilltop above rely together on God – and God gives them the victory!

That same God is still alive and working miracles today. May we all, whether in the flesh at church or in the Spirit from home, rely on Him, and each other, to bring us victory over fear and the COVID-19 threat.

May we take the challenge of these days as an opportunity to show people who our God is and what He can do! May we, with hearts settled in the Lord, radiate the peace God gives for an unsettled and panicking city. May we, by actions of compassionate care and concern for the most vulnerable and impacted, show people God is on the premises and loving us all!

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