God’s Sustaining PresencePosted: September 28, 2014
God’s Sustaining Presence
SLIDE 3: LONG WAY TO FIND SOMETHING TO DRINK
Poor Moses, once again the people he was trying to lead were complaining. This time the problem was water and having driven through the Sinai I know you can go a long way to find something to drink. The people were thirsty and they complained to their leader. In frustration Moses turned and complained to God sort of like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. “God what should I do with these people, they are going to stone me?”
SLIDE 4: SPLIT ROCK
God told Moses to use his staff to strike a rock. Some scholars point out that in the desert there can be hollow rock formations where water can collect, and protected from the sun it does not evaporate. So Moses followed God’s lead and struck the rock and behold water flowed at least enough for everyone to get something to drink.
In his frustration Moses struck the rock twice, when apparently once would have been enough, and for that reason God did not allow Moses to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Hardly seems fair. But then leaders often must serve and never quite arrive, because different leadership is needed at the destination than on the journey. There is in the Sinai a “split rock” that according to legend was the rock from which the water flowed.
SLIDE 5: LIFE IS DIFFICULT
The point of our story is that for those who journey in faith, even those who have their doubts and those who complain God’s sustaining presence goes with them. The journey of faith is not easy. Life is not easy. Life is difficult, and in the words of Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
SLIDE 6: LIVING WATER
I would go a step further than Scott Peck, for those who journey in faith, even when life is difficult God’s sustaining presence will bring us through. God’s sustaining presence is like water in the desert. In the Gospel of John Jesus promises that those who follow him on the journey of faith will receive living water.
SLIDE 7: CISTERN WATER
What is living water? Living water as opposed to dead or stagnant water is flowing water full of life giving oxygen cleansed and filtered by the process of moving and aerating. Much of the water in the hot dry climate of the Middle East comes from cisterns. Water that has collected and then been stored away from sun light to prevent evaporation, but also water that is stagnant, tends to lose some of its oxygen content. Cistern water will do when fresh water is unavailable, but living water is full of life.
SLIDE 8: CAESAREA PHILIPPI – LIVING WATER
When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” he took them to Caesarea Philippi, the most important source of living water in all of Israel. Here the snow melt from Mt. Hermon the highest mountain in the region bubbles up out of the ground in several locations forming the Springs that come together to form the Jordan River the life blood of Israel — God’s sustaining presence in the life of the Promised Land. John the Baptist called his followers to prepare for the coming of the Anointed One by being baptized in the waters of the Jordan. When Jesus came up out of the water of the Jordan he received his commission as Messiah from the Holy Spirit. And Jesus promises us if we follow the way of life and love, like Moses and the Children of Israel God will sustain us on the journey of faith.
SLIDE 9: FAITH IS A JOURNEY NOT A DESTINATION
Faith is a journey and not a destination. Too often the church has treated belief in creeds and formularies as the object of faith a final destination. Just subscribe to this statement of beliefs and you will be saved. And by the way if you don’t subscribe to this doctrinal formula we will exclude you and persecute you – torture you if necessary until you agree to worship and believe the way we do.
SLIDE 10: PASTOR JOHN ROBINSON
Traditional dogma is the opposite of freedom. That is why at United Church we affirm Pastor John Robinson’s exhortation to the Pilgrim congregation as they left for the new world:
“I charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ. If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.
“The Lutherans” he went on to comment, “cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. Whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they (the Lutherans) will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.”
SLIDE 11: GOD IS STILL SPEAKING
The Lord hath yet more truth and light to break forth from his word is the basis of our United Church of Christ Still Speaking Campaign. We must keep open minds and open hearts in order to invite everyone to the Sharing Table of Jesus. We are not chained to a literal reading of the words of scripture. We are not confined by the boundaries of dogmas formulated hundreds of years ago. Our tradition is fluid, flexible, even expansive opening up to include as many people who want to come.
SLIDE 12: BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING
Our stewardship theme this fall is “Blessed to Be a Blessing.” On October 12th we will celebrate United Church, because as a progressive congregation of the United Church of Christ we have been a blessing of tolerance, acceptance and diversity in the Tennessee Valley. God has called us to be living water for the spirit of Huntsville.
SLIDE 13: DISCOURAGEMENT
Even though we are called to be a blessing, sometimes we become discouraged. I become discouraged. If only I was a better preacher or more charismatic, or more extroverted maybe then the church might grow. So I am reminded of a peanuts cartoon.
“Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown? You know what your trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re YOU!”
“Well, what in the world can I do about that?”
“I don’t pretend to be able to give advice. . . . I merely point out the trouble.”
SLIDE 14: IF WE WERE ALL THE SAME THERE WOULD BE NO NEED FOR YOU
It is discouraging, because like it or not we are ourselves. Or as Bill Tucker likes to point out, “If we were all the same, there would be no need for you.” That is why we have to go to such great lengths to welcome everyone to the Sharing Table, accept everyone, love everyone. Despite the difficulty of accommodating a wide diversity of personalities, personal beliefs, races, sexual orientations, social classes and opinions from a multitude of perspectives, we need to learn to love each other. We don’t have to like one another, but we have to love and respect each other. You must be free to be you, and I? Well I am who I am whether Lucy or anyone else likes me or not.
SLIDE 15: GOD’S SUSTAINING PRESENCE GOES WITH US
So this morning allow me to reiterate the great truth that God’s sustaining presence will go with us even into the wilderness of the future. I know people become anxious. The sky is falling! How will the church survive? We are not called to survive. We are called to thrive. We are called by God to be a source of living water in the Tennessee Valley, a progressive Open and Affirming congregation in the South. If we are faithful to our calling God will make us a source of living water.
SLIDE 16: NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD
On a personal level I also believe that God’s sustaining presence goes with us always. I don’t know what all that means, but I am called to trust like the Children of Israel in the wilderness that God will not abandon us even in death. Or as the Apostle Paul affirms not death, nor life, nor angels, nor the past or the future, nor principalities, not even the Roman Empire will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
SLIDE 17: TARGETING
The other day I was marveling that in June I will observe the 40th anniversary of my ordination. In a culture in which 80% of a seminary’s graduating class is no longer in parish ministry after the first 5 years, maybe 40 years represents an accomplishment. And believe me, some of those 40 years have been difficult. I have noted that in college football there is a new penalty for an infraction they are calling “targeting.” That is when an opposing player hits a defenseless player, meaning from the blind side, in the head or neck. There have been times in my ministry, when I wish there had been a referee, who could throw a penalty flag for targeting the pastor. But through 40 years of parish ministry God has not abandoned me yet. And so I think if God has brought me safe thus far, do I really think God will abandon me in death? I think not. God’s sustaining presence is with us always.
SLIDE 18: FOR ALL I KNOW THIS IS THE ROAD HOMEWARD
And so I come back to a poem I wrote a long time ago, when I could not possibly understand the deep wisdom that was revealed to me in that inspiration.
“The hair runs grey now time has streaked
With winter white,
The brow relaxed from tempest,
And storm subsides all energy released—for nothing.
The world turns ever; the grasses sway
For breeze of tempest lost.
The sun wanes and rises, wanes again
No rage can halt the revolution of the light.
No waters can wash the soil of age.
But nothing never ceases; fear of loss
Is child’s embrace, that wrinkles ease
And years decrease.
Steps bring journey always closer to the end.
A path I do not fear, for all I know
This is the road—homeward.”