Striking the Servant
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13
Rev. Charles Svendsen, Oct 1, 2017
Last Tuesday evening some 14 WPCers, including several from you Pastor Nominating Committee, meet at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church to welcome Pastor Dave Rohde to our San Fernando Presbytery. It's actually an "examination" on the floor of the Presbytery with Dave addressing questions from teaching and ruling elders. The questions were not easy, but we all agreed that he handled them with insight, poise, thoughtfulness and with grace. Dave was unanimously received into our presbytery from his soon to be former Presbytery of Los Ranchos. So you are to be congratulated as you call just your third pastor/head of staff in your almost 50 year history.
On this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, in year A, we have two extraordinary texts before us. The first from Exodus 17:1-7, the story of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness, and the second from Philippians 2:1-13 - the apostle Paul describing the life of Jesus as a humble servant. So moved is Paul in his sharing of his Lord's humility to the Philippian believers that he breaks forth in song - that we will see in a moment.
Back in Exodus 16, the previous chapter to today's reading, the congregation of the Israelites was finding themselves after the Exodus "lost," isolated, thirsty, hungry, and did I mention "lost" in the Sinai wilderness?! They, with one voice, complained to Moses and his brother Aaron, "If only we had died in Egypt, at least there we had bread to eat." "But you," pointing a finger at Aaron and Moses, "you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!" And God's response to Israel's complaint? It was grace. The grace of bread, "I the Lord will rain bread from heaven." And as the Israelites gathered this fine flaky substance as frost on the ground, they said to one another, "what is it?" which literally was the Hebrew word manna. So in the morning, a Hebrew mother would wake up the children and maybe her husband and say: "Please go out and gather the daily 'what is it?' The daily manna."
No sooner did the people of God receive manna and meat (in the quail) than the people began to quarrel with Moses again. Exodus 17: "the whole congregation had journeyed by stages as the Lord commanded them" (note the orderliness, making them good Presbyterians and obedient "as the Lord commanded"). Yet at camp in Rephidim, there was no water for the people to drink. Of course, water was basic, especially in that part of the world. The harshness of the Sinai wilderness is legendary. Even with the euphoria of a young nation over newly gained freedom, still the basic gut life necessity was water. So "impatience" and "faithlessness" characterized the spirit of the people, and that poor behavior was memorialized as Moses named the place of Israel's quarreling: Massah "test" and Meribah "quarrel."
So life threatening was their situation that the people in desperation shout out to Moses, "Give us water to drink" as if Moses knew about water somewhere or had the miraculous power to produce it! Moses said to the people, "Why do you quarrel with me?" And maybe under his breath, "their quarrel is really with God. God brought us out here. They are really questioning God!" So said Moses aloud to the people, "Why do you test God?" But the thirsty people had no will to search their souls in that scorching heat. They, like a laser, burned hot against Moses, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt? To kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" And Moses, as he had done so often before, cried out to the Lord, "Now what, Lord? What am I going to do with these people? I'll tell you what they're going to do with me. They will kill me."
God instructed Moses that day. God said, "Take some of the elders, walk on ahead of the congregation, and that staff that turned the Nile to blood, with that staff, go to the rock at Horeb and strike the rock, and as you strike the rock water will flow forth." But the little verse that is often overlooked in this story is verse 6. God said, "I (the Lord) will be standing in front of you Moses on the rock at Horeb. I will be standing there in front of you." It's at first a beautiful picture of the presence and leading of God until Moses got to the terse command by God, "Strike the rock!" You see, to quarrel with one another as the people complained to Moses often is to complain against a gracious God who provided manna and quail is to "strike that God." In striking the rock, that staff, that blow, comes to the God who stands in front of you, Moses, "I will be standing in front of you Moses," and then words that Moses long remembered, "strike the rock and grace appears and water will come out of it so that the people may drink." And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. There's a very intriguing set of verses in 1 Corinthians 10. Paul is in a discussion with the Christians at Corinth, and they were a quarreling bunch, and Paul speaks of this incident at Massah and Meribah.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4: "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ."
Could it be that the Apostle Paul, looking back through the lens of the cross, read the Exodus 17 story when God stood before Moses, taking the blow, the strike to the rock? Why, said Paul, that rock was a foreshadow of Christ? Taking the blows of complaints and quarreling and ingratitude at the cross. Many have noted that the water that came from the rock was a foretaste of the water that flowed from the spear pierced side of Christ, the rock, at the cross. You see our quarreling has consequences, Moses was not permitted to lead the people to the promised land because of this incident. So meet conflict with grace. We note the three M's. Is the 3M company still around? It used to be on TV when I was a kid. "Brought to you by the 3M company." All three M's describe the service and the servanthood of Christ. Paul begins this famous chapter two of Philippians with a series of appeals to Christian experience: "If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation from love, if there is sharing in the Spirit." The Philippians have experienced some of all of these gifts which allowed Paul to exhort them and us at Westminster to be of the same mind: that's the first M, "the same mind" and what the Apostle Paul is underscoring is unity in community. That's what the "same mind" means. It means having the same love for God. It means placing the community and the unity of the community above personal choices. Notice Paul is exhorting them to unity, not uniformity. Being of the same mind does not mean we all think alike or act alike or that we all arrive at the same conclusions. Christians need to engage in discussion and even debate, but we are to remember that we are, in the end, to be of the "same mind," and for Paul that's translated: "In humility regard others as better than yourselves." In Acts 15 there was a great debate in Jerusalem among the apostles about new Christians coming to faith and how much of the old law of Moses they ere to keep. And after their decision, which really was a compromise between keeping some of the old and some of the new laws, there is a little verse in Acts 15:58 that summarized their unity in community. "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit." That's what the "same mind" means, seems to us to be good to the Holy Spirit. Our PNC has been through a period of discernment, and it's this spiritual discernment for "the seemed good to the Holy Spirit." A new pastor is arriving soon. They are a model of the "same mind."
Secondly, Paul exhorts the Philippians and us to have a servant manner of Jesus, borrowing an ancient hymn. Notice the first half of the hymn depicts Christ as the one, the servant who gives up his prerogatives and, for the sake of obedience, "emptied himself," "taking the form of a slave," "humbled himself," "became obedient to the point of death." Notice that downward progression. You musicians, what do you call it when you get quieter? Decrescendo? Then the hymn in the second half, God exalts the manner of the servant. Here's Philippians 2:5-8 from "The Message:"
"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that - a crucifixion."
Same mind, servant manner. Note thirdly, the saving mission of God. Paul exhorts the Philippians to "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling." Paul does not, of course, mean that the Christian can bring about their own salvation or that they can earn any part of it. The next verse says that it is "God who is at work in you, enabling you to will and work for God's good pleasure." That the saving Mission of God, to do Christian work at WPC and beyond. What is the mission of God at WPC? Our mission statement underlines the core of our ministry and mission: "Westminster Presbyterian Church is a gathering place, filled with God's grace, helping us become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."
And what is the saving mission of God for you? What and how is God working in your life this fall which gives God pleasure?
Same mind, servant manner, and saving mission. Beginning with Moses who struck the rock, foreshadowing the day Christ, the servant, was struck that we and all who believe on him may live in him.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to God, through Jesus Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer.
Westminster Presbyterian Church