Worship Theme: Jesus Conquers Spiritual Thirst
Sermon Theme: The Lord’s Rock Solves Our Massah and Meribah
We complain. We grumble. We doubt. We ask, “Lord, are you there? Do you care?” and in doing so transport ourselves back to the wilderness with the Israelites, as shown in Exodus 17:1-7. That’s when the LORD’s Rock gushes forgiveness and we see how “The LORD’S Rock solves our Massah and Meribah.” March 12, 2023.
The job change seemed to be a great fit, no demands for extra hours, health care with a lower deductible, a salary bump? What she did not anticipate were the cold shoulders from those who worked there and a mean-spirited supervisor who not only criticized her initiatives but cornered her with unwelcome suggestive comments and threatened her safety if she blew the whistle. She got on her knees at night and prayed for a way out, but hearing no answer, wondered, “Lord, do you care?” Massah and Meribah. He reluctantly agreed that he could no longer live on his own and had to be moved to a care facility. But the bed sores and hours alone coupled with hardly any visits from the family made him wonder if God was still watching over him. Massah and Meribah. The friend who knew about her secret dreams and crushes blabbed them on social media, creating an embarrassing nightmare. How could she show her face again at school? Did she have anyone left who really cared? And where was God when she needed him? Massah and Meribah.
Some troubles come from circumstances and people outside of us. Some come from within, like when you get a reminder about past indiscretions or hurtful lip-flapping, and guilt presses down so heavily that all you can do is try to put on a happy face and go about daily tasks as if no big deal, but your conscience is still whispering and some days shouting, “You blew it! You’re the one!” Massah and Meribah.
The empty water jug wasn’t too hard to carry. It was the return trip back to the house from the communal well outside the village that was a challenge. She got used to it, but it took concentration, first to haul on the rope that brought up the bucket from the well, then latch on with both hands to tip it into the jug. Then she had to give it the old heave-ho to get it onto her shoulder and trudge back down the path. She wasn’t thinking of anything else. Her mind was laser-focused on the task at hand. In minutes she would have sweat trickling from her brow under the noon-time sun, kicking out her feet with each step to avoid stepping on the hem of her robe or tripping on a rock. She didn’t expect to see a Jewish guy sitting at the well, asking her for a drink of water. That was odd on a couple levels. What was a Jewish guy doing in Samaritan territory? In those days Israelites considered Samaritans to be lower life forms and didn’t even travel through Samaria much less engage a Samaritan in conversation. On top of that, he surprised her and offered special water that would well up to eternal life” (John 4:14). It sounded too good to be true! “Sir, if you can make my life easier, I’m all ears.” That’s when he shifted the focus of the conversation. “Go, call your husband and come back.” I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (Jn 4:16-19). There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who are thirsty and willing to admit it and those who are thirsty and want to ignore it. Until this conversation the Samaritan woman was in the latter category. But just like that, she got bumped into the former category. Just like that, she sensed in the depths of her heart and soul and mind thirst for relief from the error of her ways, from her lifestyle, her attitude, her guilt. Massah and Meribah.
Fifteen centuries earlier Israelites were not yet living in the promised land. They lived in Egypt for four hundred years, growing from a family of seventy-ish to two and a half million. Their status had changed from favored citizens to flogged slaves, building the pyramids and storehouses for the Pharaoh under the hot Goshen sun. But as bad as their situation was, they at least had access to water. In fact, they were surrounded by water. The Nile River without pollution and chemicals split into streams and irrigated the lush oasis-like landscape where they lived. Yet, the burden of back-breaking work foisted on them by the ruler, who feared their massive numbers would overtake his authority and used his military might to enslave them and even ordered genocide, the systematic murder of baby boys, led to pleas to God for rescue. He sent Moses to be their rescuer and lead them out.
Miracles piled up, one on top of the other. Plagues to expose Egyptian gods as frauds cascaded down on their oppressors: river to blood, frogs, lice, flies, sick cattle, sick people, hail, locusts, darkness, and death. When the escape route backed them up at the rocky shore of a raging sea and the thunder of the pounding hooves from charging chariots made them look back over their shoulders to see the glint of sharpened blades, the sea parted, and they all escaped to the other side without even getting their sandals wet. When the three-day water supply ran low and the pool in front of them was putrid, the LORD told Moses, “Toss in this log,” and the water tasted great. When the month-long food supply ran out, and they whined, “If only we had died … in Egypt!” (Exodus 16:3), the LORD rained down daily food from heaven. You would think that with all the evidence of God’s care and compassion, with all the miracles that he brought to bear in their lives, with the biggest miracle, rescue from slavery in Egypt, only a few months in their rear-view mirror, that their lips would utter nothing but gratitude, and their hearts would be filled with nothing but confidence in God’s care and love.
But no! They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” … They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us … die of thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me” … And he called the place Massah (which means “testing”) and Meribah (which mean quarreling) because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” They were in a stretch of desert. No oasis in sight, no rivers, no streams, no water. “LORD, do you care?” Massah and Meribah.
What happened next is hard to put on the screen of our imagination. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. You can’t get water from a rock. Try it. Pick up a sun-dried, dusty, rock. Approach a boulder. Grab it. Squeeze hard. Nothing! The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock … Strike [it], and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. I recall a highway in Minnesota that had a little pull-over for cars along the rock-face of a hill. From a pipe driven into the rock fresh spring water flowed. Crystal clear, cool, refreshing. This was more. This water from a rock was gushing like a pin in a giant water balloon, yet the water didn’t run out, water that quenched the cracked lips and parched tongues of over two million people. The LORD’s rock solved their Massah and Meribah, their trouble from the outside, their trouble on the inside, their pitiable condition of thirsty tongues and their more pitiable condition of thirsty souls. This boggles the mind.
Which was just like the Samaritan woman. Where could she go for relief from her spiritual thirst? She nervously murmured, “We know there is a Christ coming, a Savior, a Forgiver.” Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he” (John 4:26). The Rock of salvation solved her Massah and Meribah. This boggles the mind.
The Venite is so fun to sing, so powerful, so comforting. “What’s that, Pastor? What’s the Venite?” Most of you know it. A couple times a year the worship framework we use is called “Morning Praise.” Going back eighteen centuries, Christians often gathered midweek to open each day with words from God, prayer, and song, and one of the songs regularly used was Psalm Ninety-Five. Venite is Latin for the opening words: O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation … For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (Psalm 95:1,7). The shocker comes when you peel open your Bible and find that the Venite ends, but Psalm Ninety-five continues: “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me … though they had seen what I did … I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray’” (Psalm 95:8-10).
We complain. We grumble. We doubt. We ask, “Lord, are you there? Do you care?” and in doing so transport ourselves back to the wilderness with the Israelites, back to the well with the Samaritan woman, recreating Massah and Meribah, thinking there is no hope, no help. We may not have on our record immoral behavior like the Samaritan woman, but we have the thoughts, the dirty mind, the language, the patterns that are unhealthy. We start with, “I’m not spiritually thirsty! At least I don’t feel that way,” and then we get hit up-side the head with some reminder of our failings and failure before God and get caught in the desert of our own sin, in the wilderness of our own guilt, shifting categories from those who know they are thirsty and want to ignore it to those who are thirsty and are willing to admit it. Crawling in the dust, sand in our mouth, we turn to God and admit, “Lord, I’ve called you a liar when I’ve asked, ‘Are you there? Do you care?’ as though you have not promised help. I’ve created spiritual thirst from my own sin and guilt. I put myself in my own Massah and Meribah.”
That’s when the LORD’s Rock gushes forgiveness, promises the glory of heaven, and solves our Massah and Meribah. Isn’t your heart bursting like water from a rock to sing with King David: In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me … Into your hands I commit my spirit (Psalm 31:1-5). Rocks don’t offer water, but this one does. Jesus is the Rock who solves our Massah and Meribah. This boggles the mind. But I believe it, and I know you do, too! Amen.
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