February 24, 2008

Third Sunday in Lent

In Troubled Times
Exodus 17: 1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5: 1-11
Luke 4: 5-42

The children of Israel wandered in their wilderness for forty years. It was a long time, a time filled with troubles. They were in a barren place, a place of fear and isolation. Nothing was certain, not even life itself. They worried about water, they were afraid they would not have enough, they did not feel safe and secure. They quarreled and complained. They grumbled and murmured. They were full of discord, out there in that desert. They thought Moses was to blame for their troubles, but the real cause of their woe was the worry that lay at the heart of their complaint: “Is God among us or not?”

There was no longer any conviction among the people about the presence of God. In Egypt, they had been so sure. God came to them, God rescued them, God guided them. And then at the mountain, God spoke to them and gave them the law. God went before them in fire and smoke. But now….. now they were thirsty, and it was dry, and they were worried and afraid.

They had been willing to follow Moses -- up to a point. And they had reached that point. It seemed that God had abandoned them, brought them out into a wasteland to die. And they complained. And their complaint reached God’s ears.

Then, when Moses struck the rock, the water was there. God provided for them again. But the water had been there all along; they just couldn’t hear it flowing because the sound of their own discord was so loud that it drowned out the sweet life-giving music of the water.

All this happened a long time ago. It’s an old story, one that really doesn’t seem to bear much relationship to us. These were primitive people, wandering in the desert, thirsty and afraid. We, on the other hand, are modern and sophisticated by comparison, we have a settled society, we are not in danger of dying of thirst. We are very different from the Hebrew children. Or are we?

Maybe we too are wandering in a wilderness, except perhaps our wilderness is one of our own making. You see, we have made a world where war is the way to solve problems, where it is never possible to have enough stuff, where we are always wanting more and more and more. We worry about – everything.

And certainly, we do have our share of legitimate troubles. Things are mess in our society --
with the stock market and the housing market and the supermarket; everywhere high prices, high debts, high consumption. We worry about the economy; we worry about our future, our life after school; we worry about our health or the health of our parents; we worry about paying off our student loans or the mortgage or our credit card. We work hard to stay ahead and the reward is just – more work. And we worry about politics and who will be the next president; we worry about the war or the national debt; we worry about the kind of future our children and grandchildren will inherit.

We grumble, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, because we don’t deserve these troubles, this uncertainty. In our heart of hearts, maybe we think God should be taking better care of us. And where is God anyway? Is God among us or not?

The answer to our troubles is held in the truth of the gospel: All that we need is already present in our lives, in our world. Like water hidden deep within the rock, God is here. With God there is an overflowing abundance of all that we need for life. But sometimes it is the sound of our own complaint, the low discordant notes of our murmuring, that keeps us from hearing God’s voice – a voice that calls us to the work of faithfulness and justice and peacemaking.

Today we are guided in our worship by a grand work of music. Haydn’s Mass in D Minor soars with beauty and power. It was written in a time of war and upheaval. Its title, Missa in Angustiis, means mass for troubled times. As it was a prayer for worship when it was first sung, so it is a prayer for worship for us here today. The Kyrie of our confession sounds a drumbeat that punctuates our need for mercy. The Gloria acknowledges the power and might of God and gives voice to a kind of adoration that we rarely express on our own. The Sanctus begins with a plaintive cry to God that quickly bursts into praise. In fact, the whole of this Mass sets to music the tension between our faith and our doubt, our certainty of God’s presence and our simultaneous skepticism. The blending here of minor and major keys, of dark, heavy chords and brilliant soaring solos, of power and of pleading – all this gives voice to the tension of our own troubled times.

And woven into this music is one form of the answer to the question: Is God among us or not? Can you hear it? The answer is in the music. The answer is in us. And as beautiful as this music is, it is just a small song in God’s cosmic symphony. And whether you can carry a tune or not, you have a note to sing in God’s song.

God’s people have always lived in times of trouble. We are no different. And in whatever wilderness we find ourselves, in the midst of whatever worries and complaints, with whatever doubt or despair, God is here, deep and flowing, hidden and powerful, present among us in abundance as a life-giving force.

So listen.


And you will hear the sound of God’s living water, flowing forever. You will know that you have everything you need for life. You will not thirst for anything. Yes, God is indeed among us – here, now and always.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

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