Sunday, March 12, 2023

3.12.23 "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" - Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

 Exodus 17.1-7; John 4.5-15

Between a rock and hard place! 

That’s where Moses found himself that day in Rephidim.

Moses and the people on a journey … from bondage to freedom … death to life … Egypt to the Promised Land.

Just days before Rephidim, the manna miracle … manna in the morning … something to eat … gather it up for the day … don’t take too much - what you don’t eat will rot … gather only for the day … only on the 6th day, gather two-days worth, for on the Sabbath, there is rest … 

Some went out on the seventh day, and there was no manna to be found.

Now, at Rephidim, another problem - no water … quickly the people turn on Moses … what shall Moses do? between a rock and hard place.

Moses cries out to God, What am I am to do with this people?

The LORD said to Moses: keep on keepin’ on … take some of the elders with you … don’t go it alone, but go together … take the staff with which you struck the Nile River and turned it to blood … take what you’ve learned, take your experience … I’ll be standing in front of you, on a rock by Horeb … strike that rock with your staff, and there’ll be water aplenty for all the people.

Manna in the morning … water from a rock … a pillar of cloud by day, a column of fire by night … 

These ancient stories have proved their worth.

Millions have found hope and peace, encouragement and energy within these stories … between a rock and a hard place …  

They’re just stories, of course, but there’s something in these stories, something of God, something to inspire hope within us, to never give up, always move ahead, believe … believe with all our might … answers will be found, the impossible solved, hardship eased, the way forward revealed.

None of this is pollyannish … 

Every page of the Bible is stained with blood and tears … which for me is important … struggle and strife are the credentials of an author who claims to have something to say. 

Hardship goes a long way in shaping a human soul … sorrow and loss can wreck a life, but they can also hone the edge of thought and hope … the fires of hell can sharpen the tools of heaven … the worst of it can give birth to character and courage …

The Apostle Paul wrote: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, hope does not disappoint us … because God’s love has been given to us.

I’d not think twice about Paul if he were any less than the suffering he endured for the sake of Christ … 

Paul was a man of considerable intelligence … I wish he’s said some things differently, but most of what he said was said perfectly. 

Paul knew full well what it was to live between a rock and hard place … beaten and shipwrecked, imprisoned and often near death … danger at every turn of the road … and, he adds, my anxieties for all the churches.

Between a rock and a hard place …

The message of Lent … there’s nothing easy about Lent … because there’s nothing easy about life … 

Now, we have to be careful … difficulties vary from place-to-place … my difficulties pale in comparison to a Ukrainian family standing by the graves of eight family members, homes destroyed, lives threatened, all day long, throughout the night … weary for want of sleep … hungry and thirsty … never sure of anything … 

I want to be careful … nothing worse that someone in relative comfort preaching to the weary … 

But this can be said, with confidence: millions have read these ancient stories - and found encouragement, to take the next step … not all is lost … there is always a way forward … there is manna in the morning, and water from a rock.

In the center of these stories, as time unfolded, Jesus born of Mary … Jesus the Christ … the anointed one of God … 

Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah there at his side … bright light around them … bright light, everywhere … a voice from heaven: This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased; listen to him!

Between a rock and hard place.

I love to read biography, and autobiography … very quickly, I learn that life isn’t easy, for anyone … trials and tribulations … hardship and heartache, disappointment and loss; illness and the death of loved ones … 

For reasons often mysterious, they make it through the ordeal, they come to the other side of sorrow, they live to tell the tale … they may well walk with a limp thereafter, their spirit scarred … their soul, tear-stained, yet wiser for the wear.

Why they’re still here is just as much a mystery to them as it is to anyone, who really thinks about it. 

Unexpected grace, the sudden appearance of an open door … the astonishing moment of - water from a rock.

Some believe in God, of course … or the Universe, with a capital U … or some other form of faith, or philosophy … in one way or the other, they all know - goodness came their way, as a gift - they didn’t invent it, and many will say, “I didn’t deserve it.”

Those who tell the truth know full-well how flawed they are … how human they are … they’re the first to raise their hand if someone asks, “Any flawed people here?” 

We live in a world full of cheap advice … much of it driven by religious publishing - to take advantage of human suffering and emotional need - books and seminars on how to make life easy, how to get ahead, how to be healthy, happy, and rich. 

Well, there’s always something to be learned, that’s true!

But life isn’t easy … 

We have to be careful when we read something, when we sign up for a seminar … we have to look for the gold not the glitter … look for truth, not some half-baked notions that, in the end, only make us feel worse, so we’ll buy the next book, and sign up for the next seminar.

The purpose of life is not to make life easy … but to make life count … 

Many years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent

people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest

critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; 

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; 

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; 

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

In ways we cannot fathom, in ways we cannot chart, the love of God prevails, in life, and in death … in the sunshine of our days, in the closing moments of our night … always and forever, the love of God, at work, in all things for good.

Between a rock and hard place … 

Amen and Amen!

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