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Posts Tagged ‘Exodus’

“Thirsty Souls”

A sermon based on Exodus 17: 1-7

In a number of different contexts, I have been encouraging people to practice an ancient Christian tradition: lectio divina, or ‘holy reading’.

You take a passage of scripture and work through four steps with it. Here’s how I have described the steps:

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the scriptures. It helps us to listen deeply for God in the scriptures and engages us in conversation with the living God.

LectioRead the scripture passage  (or a portion of it, if it is long) slowly, preferably out loud. Do this several times (at least three times).  Pay attention to the words or phrases or images that speak to you.  Some unexpected word or phrase may emerge as you repeatedly read the passage.

MeditatioMeditate on the word or phrase that has drawn your attention as you read through the passage in the lectio stage. What thoughts, hopes, memories, desires, concerns, ideas come to mind?

OratioPray the word(s) or phrase(s) that you have been meditating on. Enter into an unhurried, loving conversation with God.  Interact with God as you would with one whom you know loves and accepts you. Offer to God the experiences that emerged in your meditation. Let the words or phrases from the scripture text speak to those experiences, with God’s healing grace.

ContemplatioRest in God’s presence, allowing yourself to receive God’s transforming love.

For many people, this is a different way of engaging the scriptures. As with any new skill or habit, people can feel uncomfortable with it. They tend to say, “I don’t get it”, or “I am not getting anything out of it”. When someone is learning to play the piano, it takes some time before they actually ‘hear the music’. When someone is first training to run in a long distance race, it takes some time before they find the rhythm. You learn to dance, to paint, to play baseball by making your way through a time period when you feel awkward.

Generally, we have been used to reading a passage of scripture in order to understand it. You ask, “What does this tell me about God or about Jesus or about how I should live the Christian life?” Some people get more serious about studying the Bible and seek to understand the historical background of a passage. What was the culture like when the story was happening? What did the words mean originally?

Other people, using the scriptures in their daily devotions, may approach a passage asking, “What does this tell me about prayer? about how I should treat my neighbour?” They stand back from the passage and figure out how it applies to their lives.

Many people have found these approaches helpful. However, a lot of people could not see how the Bible applied to their lives. There were some passages they just could not understand, no matter how much background information they got. Eventually, they gave up reading the Bible altogether.

Lectio divina does not invite you to understand the Bible. It invites you to stand under it. It says, “Do not step back from the scripture; step into it.” In lectio divina, you do not go to the scriptures to find out about God. You got to the scripture to encounter the living God, who is waiting to meet you there.

I encourage people to develop this practice because I am convinced that people do not first of all need to know more about God. They need first and foremost to know God. Years ago, I was at a workshop where the instructor asked someone, “Do you know the Shepherd’s Psalm?” The participant answered, “Yes, and I know the Shepherd too.”

We have thirsty souls: souls that are parched for the living God. Do you know what a thirsty soul feels like? When our throats are thirsty, they are dry and scratchy. When a soul is thirsty, it can feel like that deep yearning that hovers in the backgrIMG_3676ound of a busy life: a yearning that, when you stop long enough to attend to it asks, “Is this all there is?”

A thirsty soul can feel like a deep loneliness that does not go away, even when you have lots of family and friends.

In today’s Bible story, thirsty souls showed up in the midst of a crisis about having no water in a desert. The people were afraid and angry and feeling powerless. They turned on Moses because they needed someone to blame.

They turned to Moses, because that’s what we often do with our thirsty souls. We look for someone or something to fill the emptiness or to stop the loneliness. We think that it is someone or something that we are yearning for.

One of the elemental lessons to learn in your spiritual journey is that your deepest yearning, your deepest thirst is for the living God.

Somehow Moses knew that. When the people started complaining to him, he knew that he could not give them what they wanted. he know that only God could do that. So, he turned to god. He prayed a direct, honest prayer. He does not begin with polite or vaguely religious words. He launches into prayer: “What can I do with these people? Any minute now, they are going to kill me!” In other words, “This is your problem, God! Do something!”

Sometimes our prayers don’t go very deep because we are too polite with God. We only bring the surface stuff into our conversation with God — the places where we are still in control; the places where we still retain the illusion that we are in control. It is harder to trust God with the ugly parts of our life, with the broken places in our souls.

Even after God provides water for the people, Moses call the location “the place of quarrelling; the place of complaint”. This, too, is part of the journey. There will be places and times when our thirsty souls cry out, quarrelling with others, complaining about what we do not have. This story signals that even our quarrelling and complaining are invitations to encounter God. Even our brokenness and yearning and emptiness are invitations to place our whole lives in God’s hands.

Interestingly, when God answered Moses’ prayer, God provided water but, more importantly, God provides God’s own presence: “Go to the rock that you will strike with a rock and water will come out AND I will be standing there in front of you.”

God is not just ‘there’ to meet your needs and to answer your prayers. God is standing there in front of you, longing to enter into relationship with you; yearning to be in communion with you. In every part of your life, God is reaching out to be with you and to share God’s great love and grace and transforming power with you.

Do you believe that?

Brennan Manning was an author and public speaker who, often, would invite people to trust that deep love of God and to enter into it. In one talk, he says, “In the forty-eight years since I was first ambushed by Jesus in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania, and then, in the literally thousands of hours of prayer and meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on judgement day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask us one and only one question: “Did you believe that I loved you, that I desired you; that I waited for you day after day; that is desired to hear your voice?”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM)

Do you believe that? That is what your soul is thirsty for. Jesus offers you himself — living water to quench your thirst. That is the invitation the lectio divina offers: an invitation into the heart of God’s love and God’s great longing for you.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia on September 12, 2010.

Scriptures:
Psalm 14

Luke 15: 1-10

Three core stories form us as followers of Jesus Christ. They are the lenses through which we learn to see the world. They help us understand what it means to live in faith in the God who is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three core stories are Exodus, Exile and Easter. Those stories become metaphors, or figures, that run throughout the scriptures. They seed our imaginations and open our spirits to the living God in each new season of faith.

Within the story of the Exodus, the figure of the wilderness plays a prominent role. Hebrew slaves escape in the middle of the night; Pharaoh’s soldiers chase them down to the edge of the Red Sea; by a miraculous act of God, a way opens where there was no way. The people go through the waters and find themselves in the wilderness. They are in the desert with forty years of wandering ahead of them until they get to the Promised Land.

A few thousand years later, Jesus is baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River. He goes through the waters and then spends forty days and forty nights in the wilderness being tested by the devil before he begins his ministry.

Surprisingly, the people of God spend a lot of time in the wilderness even though the wilderness seems an odd place for God’s people to be. It is a harsh, difficult place. Food and water are scarce, if they can be found at all. There is unbearable heat during the day and numbing cold at night. Either one can kill you if the animals don’t get you first. It is easy to get lost in the wilderness — to get turned around, become confused, unable to find your way out.

When you are lost, it is easy to lose touch with God. Psalm 14 paints a picture of God surveying God’s beloved creation.
The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
   to see if there are any who are wise,
   who seek after God.

3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
   there is no one who does good,
   no, not one.

4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
   who eat up my people as they eat bread,
   and do not call upon the Lord?

The psalm gives a glimpse into God’s heart: God’s heart is aching because we have all gotten so confused and lost. We have all wandered away from the goodness and delight that God intends for us to enjoy. We cannot find our way home.

Sometimes we end up lost in the wilderness simply because life takes us there: we suffer a devastating illness; we lose a job; a loved one dies; someone wounds us deeply. Some of us do not feel lost ourselves, but we pray every day for a child or grandchild who has lost his or her way. There’s nothing we can do except bring their names and our love for them to the feet of the living God. Some of us feel lost because the culture is changing so rapidly that we cannot keep up.
Talk with young people in their twenties about feeling lost in the wilderness: some of them will tell you about having gone through high school being told that, by the time they graduated, the Baby Boomers would be retiring in droves. There would jobs for the picking. Now, many of them are running out of Employment Insurance and there are no jobs in sight.

Sometimes, we get lost simply because life happens and we get confused and disoriented and cannot find our way. Sometimes, though, the scriptures say that we find ourselves in the wilderness because God has led us there.

The Official Board has been studying a passage from the book of Exodus (13: 17-22) that says that the Hebrews could have taken a shorter route to the Promised Land, yet Yahweh led them in a roundabout way. There were lessons that they had to learn in the wilderness — lessons about God’s faithfulness and about trusting in a God who acts in surprising ways.

One of the challenges to our faith can come when it feels like God has pushed us into a wilderness time and then has left us wandering around long past the time when we figure God should have rescued us from our troubles. We pray for direction; we beg for help. We try to find a short-cut past our troubles. We look for a way to escape or someone to rescue us. Nothing opens up.

The wilderness stories in the scriptures always include the surprising discovery that God is present there. Even more than that: God is not only present but God is also working our our salvation in those wilderness conditions. It often does not seem that way. Part of what makes the experience feel like the wilderness is that we feel bereft, abandoned. It seems that we have been left on our own, with nobody caring. It feels as if God, especially, does not care.

The promise of our faith is that God does care. God cares deeply and passionately for each of us. God, says Jesus, is like a shepherd who will leave ninety-nine sheep in order to go find one that is lost. God is like a woman who will tear her whole house apart looking for one small lost coin. then, God will throw a grand party to celebrate when the lost is found.

The problem, then, is not that God does not care. The problem is that the salvation God offers to us often does not look like the salvation we were wanting or expecting. Because it looks so different, we do not perceive it.

Luke says that Jesus told the parables of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep and of the woman searching for a lost coin and of a father searching the horizon for a lost son to Pharisees and teachers of the scriptures. These were people trying to live as God’s people. They were good religious folk. However, they could not imagine that God’s Saviour would save them by spending so much time with people who lived on the margins of respectability. This was not the way they were expecting God to rescue them from their oppression.

They were ‘murmuring’ against Jesus, says Luke. Murmuring — like the Hebrews did when they realized they wouldn’t be going straight to the Promised Land. They found out that they would be spending a lot longer in a dry and desolate place than they had planned. They realized that the journey would take a lot longer than they had expected, and that it would be a lot more difficult than they wanted. They murmured against Moses and Aaron: “Why did you bring us out here? Where are we to get water? Where are we to find food? Is the Lord with us or not?”

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law also murmured against Jesus: “He welcomes the wrong kind of people.” Salvation was supposed to be a gathering of the righteous. it was to be a great banquet where the righteous would receive their reward for doing God’s will. But Jesus just kept gathering in the broken, the lost, and the wounded. He kept inviting people to the feast that did not seem to qualify. Such an inclusive community was God’s salvation, happening before their eyes, said Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the Law could not see it. They were lost in a wilderness of disappointment and confusion. If they were going to get in on God’s new creation, they were going to have to change their expectations.

That is true for us as well. Sometimes, we find ourselves going through a wilderness time that lasts far longer than we hope it will. In those times, the task that faces us is to open ourselves to the ways God is changing us rather than changing our circumstances.

Someone has suggested that we wrestle daily in prayer with the kinds of questions that open us to God’s holy, transforming work:
What are you doing, God, in these circumstances?
What are you asking me to leave behind?
What are you asking me to become?
What are you telling me?

There are no short-cuts through the wilderness. The answers do not come easily. This Saviour who finds us in our lostness does not seem nearly as concerned about our comfort and safety as we are. He has something much greater in mind for us. The change God wants in us can be painful, hard work. We resist. We cling to what we know rather than embrace the mysterious new creation that God has in store for us. We become impatient, wanting to get past the pain. Instead, God invites us to move deeper into the pain and to find even there God’s grace and God’s strength and God’s faithfulness. That is what will see us through to the end of our days.

The lessons we learn in the wilderness are always lessons about God’s faithfulness, about learning to trust this God above all else. God longs for us with a love that is deeper than anything that tries to separate us from God. God has purposes for us that are better than any that we imagine for ourselves. In times of wilderness wandering, God grows us deep so that we shall find the streams of grace that run through all our lives. The promise is this: God’s grace will be sufficient for us. Knowing that, we shall join the celebration. Thanks be to God.

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I’ve been posting some convictions I’ve developed about core activities of the Church. Here’s ‘proclamation’:

The church’s unique message is rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s what we have to offer. A dying congregation took this seriously: their guiding principle was, “‘If it has nothing to do with God raising Jesus from the dead,’ then they would not fool with it…. questions would be reframed in light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (Rick Barger, A New and Right Spirit: Creating an Authentic Church in a Consumer Culture p. 18 – 19) They experienced new vitality as they recovered their core identity.

The work to which congregations in North America in the early years of the 21st century have been called is the proclamation of hope. Hope is rooted in God’s capacity to create new beginnings where we see only endings and dead ends.

The core stories of the Church are Exodus, Exile and Easter. That’s what God is up to in our world. Our job is to pay attention, point it out and participate.

Proclamation in the 21st century will be based upon stories. We need to get comfortable enough with telling the stories of God’s work in our lives to each other, that we shall be able to tell them to those people outside the community of faith.

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