Rev. Ryon Price
Exodus 17:1-17; John 4:5-16
March 15, 2020
This morning’s text is a story about a people living in an anxious time, on an uncertain journey, with no known end. They are afraid for their lives, and their livelihoods, and those of their children, and their children’s children.
It is an existential moment, and every tribe, and clan, and family, and individual is asking the same thing: “Is the LORD with us or not?” “Will we make it? Are we going to survive this?”
Then the LORD speaks to the spiritual leader of the people, and promises him that the Spirit of the Holy Presence will go before them, and make a way upon the path, and be waiting for them there in the place to which they are going.
And what the leader will need to do now in the meantime is to take his staff, and strike the rock on which he stands, and discover there within a well of spiritual water that has been buried beneath the surface of the ground their being since the very foundation of the earth.
In other words, the LORD tells the leader to dig down deep, and show the people the resources that have been stored for them there in the secret sanctuary of their own souls for just such a time as this.
We’re in our own anxious time, and on our own uncertain journey, with no known end in sight. We too are worried. We too are scared. We too are wondering if the Lord is with us or not.
But the word of the Lord comes to us this morning to tell us to dig down, and to look deep into the inner-resources of the human and divine spirit within us, and to be not afraid. For the presence of the LORD promises to go before us, and to meet us there on the path ahead, and to reveal unto us — just when the time is right – the prevenient grace of God’s provision hidden within us as individuals and as a community.
So we are going to keep walking. And like our spiritual forebears before us in the story, as we walk we are going to need some principles to guide us as we travel along this unknown path, and – as we sang earlier today – “pilgrim through this barren land?”
I offer four such principles this morning:
First of all, we are going to honor and protect life.
This is exactly what we are doing by worshiping online only this morning. We are valuing life and all its sacredness – and we are affirming our fundamental belief that nothing is more sacred than life itself, not even public worship.
The body is a temple. And we honor the presence of the LORD within the Holy Temple of the Body when we make sacrifices out of love and mutual concern for one another, as we are doing now, and will no doubt have to continue to do in the days to come.
This is true worship – to worship God in the spirit and the truth that all people are of sacred worth, made in the image of God, and deserving of the dignity of protection and care from their whole community. This is our first and most sacred duty.
Secondly, we are going to share. We’re going to share both the burdens and also the resources which are out in front of us.
Now we don’t have any choice about the burdens. We’re all in this together, regardless; and we are all suffering significant disruptions to our lives already. And these disruptions may well worsen, perhaps even drastically.
And that is why it is exceedingly important that we as a community make our commitments today to share our collective resources with one another and with our neighbors tomorrow, and to be willing to do what is necessary to make personal sacrifices as individuals, for the sake of the needs of the collective common good.
We simply cannot give into the temptation to hoard, but must instead come together in a covenantal trust of one another and also of the One who is the
God of our daily bread, and our morning manna, and also our cleaning supplies, and our medical care, and – yes – even our toilet paper.
Hoarding is robbing. And it is antithetical to the basic teaching of Jesus, summed up in his Golden Rule: “Do unto others as we would have them do unto you.” Or, as we might put it today, “Shop as you would have others to shop before you.”
Thirdly, we’re going to do all we can to stay connected.
It was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden; and it’s not good for anyone to be left alone now.
That means we must do all we can to reduce isolation and loneliness, and promote mutual belonging and togetherness. We have to continue to seek connection, wherever we can find it, and care for one another however we can give it – even if only virtually.
We must remember, we are a community. We as a city and country are a society of many, many people bound up together. And we as the world are one human family. And we as the Church are the body of Christ.
So, let’s look after each other. Let’s call friends, and check on neighbors, and keep in touch with the elderly and the isolated. Let’s be generous to the community with all that we have, including our time, and our talents, and our money – both individual and collective.
We’re going to need to be exceedingly just to our employees, and univocal in our advocacy for a medical and social system that leaves nobody behind in this present crisis and beyond.
Like I said, we are all in this together. And fundamentally, we’re going to have to resist the temptation to turn in upon ourselves and just look after me and mine. We’re our kindred’s keepers. We belong to each other. And we’re going to need each other — especially in an hour like this.
Finally, we’re going to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice”.
Some of us may lose friends, or loved ones, or acquaintances to this dreaded disease. That is a fact. There will be weeping; and there will be mourning.
And there will be other grief, as well. There will be the grief of changed plans, missed opportunities, hopes dashed, and jobs lost. We are going to have to recognize and attend to all the collective trauma and grief of all that will end up being lost in life and in livelihood in the coming days.
Yet at the same time, we cannot let the weight of those losses overwhelm us. We have to hold fast to joy, and learn to live life with gratitude.
“Life is gift,” one of my boyhood pastors and a former pastor of this church, John Claypool, used to say. And for sure, every birth, and baptism, and wedding, and service of worship – even online, and smile of a child licking ice cream from the top of a cone is indeed a gift, and a blessing, and must be received as such, from when the sun comes up at dawn to when the shadows grow dim at dusk, and all times in between, including this present hour.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said. And blessed also are those who fret not about the things of tomorrow, but enjoy the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air, and every other good gift God has given us on this still green earth.
These are anxious times. They’re hard times. But we all know it’s the hard times that count. As my hard-scrabble, West Texan Aunt Anita used to say: “It’s when the water is hot that you see how strong the bag of tea really is!”
We are strong. And even more importantly, God is strong.
“God is our refuge and strength!”
“Therefore be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; for the LORD our God goes with us, and will never leave, nor forsake us.”
And the water we shall need for the way ahead we shall surely find, hidden down deep in the depths of the foundation of the earth we call the Rock of Ages.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God and Mother of us all. Amen.
Rev. Ryon L Price