March 15th, 2020
Exodus 17: 1-7
Acts 2: 42-47
Today we were scheduled to talk about a third mark of a vital congregation. That was the plan a few weeks ago, that was the plan when I wrote the liturgy on Monday, finalized it on Tuesday, and Kathie printed the bulletin on Thursday morning. That was the plan. If we learned anything this week of weeks, hopefully we all learned and are accepting that plans change. Plans change and we have to learn to be flexible and adaptable. Plans change and we must continue to trust God. I think we will still talk about a vital congregation and community today, we will just approach this from a different road than lifelong discipleship. You will most likely hear elements of discipleship but today, I think we all need to hear, despite changing plans-God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us.
When it comes down to the bottom line, that is the story from Exodus today. God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us. The Israelites had endured much, 400 years of slavery, the multiple plagues. Freedom at last came only to be intensely followed by the Egyptians as Pharaoh let them go. Just when they thought their end was coming with the waters of the Red Sea up ahead and the Egyptians with their fast horses and blazing chariots, closing in behind, God yet again opened up a way forward. As Moses held up his staff, the waters parted so the Israelites could pass through unharmed. The Egyptians were swallowed up by the water. God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us.
As the Israelites journeyed the long and winding road in the wilderness God provided food for every day. Every morning but the Sabbath, the skies rained manna and quail, enough to be full for that day. Double on the 6th day to have enough for the 7th day. When the road became too winding and long and unknown, God provided the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night to lead the way. God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us.
And in today’s story, we hear how God provided for the Israelites when water was not to be found. God instructed Moses to use that same staff that parted the waters and to hold it over a rock so water would spring forth. And the water gushed out of the rock. Water from a rock, like blood from a turnip. Unheard of. But it happened. God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us.
Perhaps as you think about this story, you can relate to the Israelites. Grumbling about the conditions of their world. Upset, disgruntled with the leadership for letting things get this bad. Wondering where God is in all of this? Haven’t they endured enough already and now no water?
Each one of us have endured struggles-personal and corporate. The recession of 2008. The war with Iraq and Iran, the Vietnam war, the Cold war, the Korean war, World War II. Polio, influenza, HIV, SARS, Ebola. And now CoVid 19-coronavirus and all its ramifications are affecting the world as we currently know it. God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us.
God created us to live in community. We know from Genesis, the beginning, that God called creation good with the earth and planets, the light and dark, plants and animals. Only when God created both man and woman did God call humanity very good. We are created to live in community. And now we are instructed to limit are community so that our health care system can care for the ill without being overwhelmed and pushed beyond possible limits.
Because as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Because we are Christians, we will sacrifice our need for greater community and social distance ourselves from each other so this infection rate can spread out, with hopes of making it less intense at one time, spreading it out over a longer time, so more can receive adequate medical treatment.
God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us.
We read in the first reading about early Christian community, how they were the body of Christ for each other, sharing what they had, caring for one another, loving one another. That is what we are charge with today. To share, to care and to love and to surround this all with prayer.
Prayer is vital during this time of crisis. Prayer for healing and health before you get out of bed, when you get into bed, throughout the day. Pray as you wash your hands. Happy Birthday twice is the suggested handwashing tune. Sing the doxology instead, and thank God for the blessings of the day. Say the Lord’s prayer as you wash your hands. Pray for daily bread, forgiveness, for your neighbor. Our Acts passage talks of being devoted to prayer and praising God. Even if we can’t be together as the typical, traditional community, we must do this now in our home family groups. Let us focus on Psalm 139 at that time. This psalm speaks of God making us in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139 also speaks of God being with us at all times, even times of anxiety. Let us read that Psalm together at 11:45 am and know that God is with us through every situation and in every trial—protecting us, guiding us. God knows us and loves us. Realizing how important we are to God and offering prayers of thanksgiving and healing are more important for us to do as church now than anything else.
How important it will be to stay in contact with our friends and neighbors. I am asking that you use the church directory and call three others each day. Say hello, share a memory, tell a joke-if you don’t have a joke, call Marty or Ray, they know jokes or have books of jokes. Call others you know. We have to be creative about being in community. If you are going to the store, ask who you are calling if they need anything and drop it off at the door. I will be calling members daily. I will be asking the deacons to call daily.
Care for yourself-eat well. The temptation will be to eat junk food. Now is the time to limit the chips and pop and go with fruits, veggies, juice and lots of water. That’s why the rush for toilet paper—all that drinking means all that peeing. Care for yourself-exercise. Move around your home, get outside and breath in fresh air-just keep your distance. Care for yourself- turn off the news. Anxiety goes up when barraged by the story. Watch old movies, read, do puzzles. Know that closet you have been meaning to clean-well now is the time.
Care for yourself-enjoy the silence and the company of housemates if you have them. I read a diary entry from a woman in Wuhan China, who was social distanced for 7 weeks. Her family was having conversations-talking and listening-caring on a new level for each other than previously. Playing board games, listening to the birds sing-birds that they hadn’t heard singing for months. And how about the singing in the streets of Italy-from their open windows, singing out, making music, caring for themselves while still being a community.
Another friend on facebook, looked at her canceled meetings and empty calendar and breathed a sigh of relief. Time to be with God during this Lent season. You can continue and even accelerate your time of daily devotions. I will be in prayer at 11:45 am each day. Join me from your home and let’s be together. Online devotions exist, D365 and Pray as you Go are apps you can download on your phone.
I opened with how our plans have been changing daily, sometimes hourly. I close with saying the same thing. Our plans will be changing daily, sometimes hourly. But as we close hear what our Lord says to Jeremiah about God’s plans in Jeremiah 29: 11-13, remembering this is the time of exile for the Israelites, a time of social distancing:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Beloved, God is faithful, God’s love is steadfast, and God is with us. Amen