The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - October 1, 2017
Scripture Reading: Exodus 17:1-7

Sermon Title: Water

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     It has been more than a few weeks since we moved from the Old Testament back to the New Testament.  This week we are back in the Old Testament.  In my last Sermon talking about Moses, we learned that he was born as a Hebrew, who were serving as slaves in Egypt when he was born, and Pharaoh, to control population, had ordered all Hebrew baby boys to be killed.  His mother, to attempt to save his life, put him into a basket and floated it out on the Nile.  Luck would have it that Pharaoh’s daughter was down at the river bathing and had her servants pull the baby out of the water.  Moses goes back to his mother to be nursed, then back to Pharaoh’s daughter to be raised.  After he grew up he sees a Hebrew slave being beaten one day, gets upset and kills that man, buries him in the sand.  Next day word spread that Moses was the murderer, so he gets out of town, way out of town, across the Red Sea.  Meets a nice woman, gets married, starts working for his father in law, then comes across this burning bush which tells him that he must go to Egypt and help the rest of the slaves out.  God tells Moses that he will again pass by this place with the Hebrew people after he has rescued them.   And the reading this morning happens at that place near where the burning bush was, where God told Moses he would return with the Hebrew people.  

     But it has been a while since that burning bush.  Moses did go into Egypt, took a while and several plagues, but eventually Moses, with God’s help, convinced Pharaoh to let all these slaves free.  This was not a small issue.  Earlier in Exodus we learn there are about 600,000 adult males who leave, not counting women and children.  So figure another 600,000 adult females, then we know that children of Israel were fruitful and multiplying, so maybe an average of 4 children per family, that would be about 3.6 million people.  That is about the current population of Los Angeles, or more people than live in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont combined.  

     Remember the 5000, not counting women and children, that Jesus fed?  And that was not just one night; this journey with Moses was about 40 years.  

     Just over a week ago we had our first Cub Scout Pack meeting of the new Scouting year.  I am the Pack master for another year, was not really given the option of leaving.  We had a good attendance at this first meeting, about 40 kids.  Now I think that, with some tricks, I can keep a bit of order.  I have learned that single simple instructions are great, take one big step back.  And candy never hurts, first team to line up gets a piece of candy.  But in reality, even with every trick I know, it is still like herding cats.  This one goes this way, this one does not want to do whatever you are doing, this one does not understand my instruction.  Out of 40 kids, there are about 35 that do what I ask them to do.  Moses had his hands full.  Millions of people, and I am sure that many of them were not any better at following directions than my little Cub Scouts.  

     Then they start complaining… And this is not the first complaint he has heard.  At the first camp they had, the water tasted bitter.  Oh, why didn’t you leave us in Egypt, we had good water to drink.  God told the people to put a piece of wood in the water, and the water became sweet.  Then onto this camp, all 3.6 million people or so, and “Moses, there is no water here.  Why didn’t you just leave us in Egypt where at least we had water to drink?

     I can see it like a comedy movie script.  Someone breaks a few people out of jail, and then every step of the way the escaped complain about this or that.  Prison food was so much better than this fast food, in prison we didn’t have to worry about computers and email and stuff.  I wish we never broke out, life was so much better there.  Could be a great comedy, but this was for real.  Moses frees the slaves and gets complaint after complaint.  

     God gives Moses the instructions, go ahead, with your leaders, there will be a rock, strike it with your stick and water will come out.  I remember when I was young, I played soccer.  This was before the days of mass dehydration we have today, where everyone carries a water bottle.  I don’t remember anyone owning or carrying a water bottle back then.  Back in those days we had a cooler with water, or if we were lucky Gatorade, and little paper cone shaped cups.   At half time and the end of the game we were allowed to get a cup of water or whatever was in the cooler that week.  Now we did get thirsty, it was sometimes hot, you were running, and then we would wait in line for our turn to get our little cup of water.  Seemed like it took forever, and there were only about a dozen of us.  Can you imagine even a tiny part of those 3.6 million people lining up to get water from this rock?  And not only water for yourself, but you might have a wife and a few kids that need water, you might have some livestock that need water.  Heck, just getting through the crowds, thousands of people all headed to the same rock to fill up some container and then bring it back to their family.  Not ideal, but it apparently worked.

     This is the location where Moses will get the 10 commandments, and the people will rebel, and complain, and turn against Moses.  I always feel kind of bad for Moses.  Yes, he did kill a man, but then he turned his life around.  He gets called by God to do some dangerous work.  Pharaoh could, and probably should have had him killed as soon as he came back into Egypt.  And then getting all those former slaves out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, safe to the wilderness on the other side, headed toward the promised land, and they do nothing but complain, rebel and turn against poor Moses.  And if you read further, you will see that Moses never even gets into the promised land.   

     Sometimes I find myself in a group of people who don’t know what I do for work.  When they find out, there is usually a bit of shock and embarrassment.  Oh, Father, I am sorry I just used those words in front of you, I had no idea.  I tell them that I am not a priest, don’t call me Father, Robert is fine.  Then we get through the jokes about me only working one day a week.  Eventually we get to “Do you like it?  Do you like being a minister?”  Depending on the day I usually say “Yes, mostly”, or “Yes, sometimes.”  Worship, I like.  Communion is great.  Being in a community like this is a wonderful gift.  Events like Spring Fling, Marlborough Madness, they are fun and I get to meet new people.  Meetings, honestly, not so much.  They have to happen, but not my favorite.  Sitting with someone who is going to die, or meeting with a family who just lost a loved one, is a gift, but I don’t enjoy it.  

     I imagine that Moses had a lot more days he didn’t enjoy than I ever do.  I often hear, Thanks, enjoyed that, good sermon, thanks for listening… He never gets a “Thanks, Moses, you really helped us out.”  All we hear about him getting is “That water tastes funny, there is no water” and soon will hear “There is no food.”  

     But in each case when the people complain, God directs Moses where to go, what to do, and the problem is solved.  The people have bitter water, and God tells how to make it sweet.  The people have no water and God tells them where to get water.  The people have no food and God will provide food.  
This morning we will be celebrating communion, and you will notice that our communion table is a bit different this week than most weeks.  Over the past few weeks we had a major hurricane hit Texas, mostly, with major flooding.  We had a hurricane come up into Florida causing flooding and damage.  Puerto Rico was September 20, 11 days ago.  There are towns in Puerto Rico that have not had any connection to the outside world for the past 11 days, totally cut off with no electric, no phone, nothing.  But with the 24 hour news cycle, Harvey news is over.  Irma is forgotten about.  There are other islands that were hit by some of these hurricanes, with major damage, of which there will be little to no news.  

     It must be of little comfort at this time to hear that God will provide.  Many of the houses in Texas that were flooded will need to be torn down and rebuilt.  Although damage in Florida was not as bad as it could have been, there are still buildings that need repairs, and houses that were damaged or destroyed.  Puerto Rico is going to need a whole new electrical system, whole new communications system, and probably the majority of houses repaired or rebuilt.  Other islands are in the same situation.  

     Our communion table this morning is to remind us that we are with them.  God provided water, but instructed Moses to go and strike the rock.  Perhaps it is similar today, God will provide the resources, but by our producing flood buckets, by our giving, not only now but in years past and years into the future, we are acting like Moses striking the rock.  We are called to bring God’s abundance to those who need it, though our actions.  

     This is also World Communion Sunday, so thousands of churches all over the world are celebrating communion today.  For some, in areas hit by natural disaster, their only communion table might be some buckets with some boards on top.  Some church buildings were destroyed, but still will join with others this morning remembering the gift God gave us in Jesus.  In solidarity with those churches, we leave our nice communion table and white table cloth aside for this morning.

     Moses never got a cheering crowd, might have never even have heard a Thank you, but he was serving God.  His life is celebrated today because he listened to God and did what God told him to do.  When we deliver our flood buckets they will go into a truck, brought to a warehouse someplace.  We don’t know where, we don’t know when they will be used.  There will be no “Thank you” to us from those who open those buckets when they need them.  Our money, given through our various mission partners we don’t get to hear much about.  If you look on the bulletin board downstairs, you will see thank you notes from some of the monies we have sent.  Most of you have walked by many times without reading them, as I have.  We know that they are doing wonderful things, but rarely get to see or hear the direct thank you of those whose lives they touch.

     But we do it because that is what God is calling us to do.  God called Moses for a dangerous mission in which he would get no thanks, only complaints. Sometimes we are also called to do things with no thanks in the end.  Just as God instructed Moses exactly how to get water for his people in need, we also listen for God’s still speaking voice, with our stick in hand, ready to strike a rock or do whatever we are called to do to help God’s people, wherever the need is.   May our communion table today remind us of what we have done in the past, and what we are called do to into the future.