Sermon for Lent 3A, preached on Sunday, March 15, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
We don’t think too much about water. It’s nothing special, just H20. For us, it’s readily available, so we’re not concerned with it. We just need to go to the faucet and turn it on. Because of this, we can easily overlook the importance of water. But water is vitally important. If we don't have it, we can’t live.
Our bodies are about 60% water; therefore we need to stay hydrated. We think food is the most important thing. If we don’t eat for a few hours, we start to get painfully hungry. But as long as we stay properly hydrated, we can survive 30-40 days without food. But we can only survive about 3 days without water. This was something the Israelites experienced during the Exodus.
The Lord commanded the people to stop and make camp at a place called Rephidim; but this wouldn’t be the number one choice for anyone who knows anything about surviving, because it didn’t have water. The people got thirsty. They needed water, and not having any, they did what we all do when we don’t have what we need, or think we need...they complained. They quarreled with Moses. They loathed their condition, thinking it would’ve been better to stay in Egypt and die there a slave than be free and thirsty.
This wasn’t the first time the Israelites found themselves in this type of situation though. Very quickly after they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, just 3 days later, they had no drinkable water. The water they found was bitter, and the people complained. The Lord answered by making the water sweet. Then, about a month later, the people complained they didn’t have enough food. And again, the Lord answered: sending quail in the evening and Manna in the morning. Whenever the people were in need, the Lord provided. You would think the Israelites would’ve remembered this, especially since it all happened so close together. But they didn’t, or at least if they did, it didn’t matter. Their current suffering, their thirst was too great to bear. But again, the Lord fulfilled their need. He told Moses to take his staff and hit a rock, and from that rock flowed watered. The Lord provided water. He provided His people with life.
It’s interesting to hear what Moses called that place. He named it Massah and Meribah; and the reason for that name was because that was the place where the people tested and quarreled against God. Massah and meribah in Hebrew mean testing and quarreling. It’s interesting that he named the spot of God’s divine care and miracle after the people’s sin. You’d think it would be more appropriate to name it something like “The Lord provides.” Or maybe...maybe Massah and Meribah was the most appropriate name because it reminds us of God’s faithfulness, even when we’re not.
We’re no different from the Israelites. Too often, we let our current physical conditions and situations direct our faith and trust. I don’t have to rehearse all the news about our world's current health situation and everything going on because of it; but we see is people governed by fear and panic and anxiety, even Christians. Anything and everything that has a gathering of people is being canceled. Some are even questioning if churches should be holding worship services at all. This type of worry and panic shows us what we trust it. It shows trust in our physical bodies, in our health. As long as we’re healthy, we think everything else will be okay. As long as I don’t have a cough or fever, I’m safe and secure. As long as I don’t come into contact with anyone else, I’ll live. This trust in our health is nothing less than idolatry. Instead of looking to God with faith, we fear.
This is no different from the Israelites who were controlled by their thirst and feared death. This manifested itself in distrust of God, grumbling against Him. This grumbling was no small thing. This grumbling was downright disdain for God. It was wishing He never freed them from slavery. They could care less that He had already provided them with water and food before. They just wanted water now; and that’s what we want too. We just want God to give us the assurance of health now, so that we don’t have to suffer, so that we don’t have to worry. That’s what the woman at well wanted too.
Jesus told her that He gives living water, a water that becomes in us a spring welling up to eternal life (Jn 4:15). Hearing this, she immediately asked for that water, but she wanted it not for eternal life but so that she’d never be thirsty or have to go to the well again. But that’s not the point. That’s not why Christ gives us living water. The living water that Christ gives isn’t to end “thirst,” but to guarantee life even in the midst of “thirst.”
The living water that Christ gives is the Holy Spirit, who creates new life in you, everlasting life built and founded on faith that trusts in Christ alone for salvation. This living water you received in your baptism. It fills you up to eternal life. As that physical H20 was poured over your head, the Spirit fills you and gives you faith. As that physical H20 was poured over your head, you received the everlasting life of Christ, baptized into His death and resurrection, and because He lives, so do you. That’s what you trust in. With Spirit created faith, you trust in your Savior who died for your sins. You trust in your Savior who was and continues to be faithful to you, even when we’re not faithful to Him. You trust in His resurrection that defeats death and wins everlasting life for you. That’s why we’re here today. That’s why we can’t stop gathering as God’s people, because this is the place where Christ promises to be, to give us that living water, to give us that life we need, through His Word and Sacraments. We can’t let fear and anxiety and panic keep us from this. We must face these with the faithfulness of our Lord, who’s promised us life and given it to us. Nothing can take this away, no disease, no virus, not even thirst and lack of water.
The Israelites were governed by their fear. They didn’t have water, and they feared death. And yet, the Lord was faithful and provided them the water they needed. Like the Israelites, too often we let our fear govern us. But the Lord faithfully provides. He’s provided you with the true living water that will keep you going. This living water is the gift of the Spirit who creates faith in you, faith that looks to Christ alone for life, life that is everlasting. In Jesus’ name…Amen.