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Recent Sermons

Water from a Rock

 

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
October 1, 2017

"Is the Lord among us, or not?" (Ex. 17:7) Last week and for several weeks we have been talking about the wilderness journey that brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt into the freedom of the promised land. Jesus was raised on these stories and knew them like he knew himself. But when he chose to begin his ministry with his first synagogue sermon, he chose a reading from the Prophet Isaiah about liberation on a more personal level. Isaiah 61, quoted in Luke's Gospel has him declare:
         "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for God has anointed me; and sent me to         bring good news to the humble, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim                   liberty to the captives, and to set the captives free; to proclaim the year of   God's favor and the day of our God's reckoning; to comfort all who mourn,          with the oil of joy in the place of mourning, a song of praise instead of the       spirit of sorrow, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting          of the Lord, wherewith God may be glorified."

Is the Lord among us, or not? It is easy to dismiss the mythology of Moses bringing water from a rock, even with a magical staff that turned the waters of the Nile to blood. We wonder at the mindset of people who could take these stories so literally, and we wonder what they might have to do with us. But liberation is what salvation is really all about. We may think of ourselves as free because we don't have an immediate desperate need for food and water like so many millions of people on our planet today. But Jesus' understanding of his Jewish faith speaks to a deeper level         of liberation. Are we free to bring good news to the humble? to bind up the brokenhearted? to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set the captives free? to proclaim the year of God's favor? to comfort all who mourn? Are we that free?

Moses and the Israelites are each shown in their least favorable lights. Moses is feeling powerless and afraid his people will stone him. The people are understandably afraid. They need water to live. They find themselves in a desolate place. It is easy to judge this distant story.

How do we bring it closer to home? In your work, in your life, are there things expected of you that you cannot deliver? If you are not a leader at work, are you in charge at home? Are demands made of you that you wish you could fulfill? Or are there people around you that you know should or could be doing a better job and their failures are effecting you?
        
Scholars suggest that this entire story may have been posed as an explanation of the names of two towns, Massah and Meribah, that in Hebrew mean "quarrel" and "test." Are there places in our lives that we see or remember as centers of conflict, where we have felt tested in our faith or tested others?

Is God among us or not? I keep coming back to this question not as a test of faith but of attitude. Do you see this moment as a sacred moment? Do you experience your relationships as holy? Are you aware of the awe, the joy, the peace that is your birthright as a child of the Universe?

I am reading a wonderful book called "The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World." It is a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, two men who have been at the center of so much tragedy: The occupation of Tibet by China that forced the Dalai Lama into exile. The terrors of Apartheid in South Africa. Yet both men have learned and now teach that joy is possible in the midst of the world's suffering, and it is by accessing our joy that we become capable of truly serving the needs of others. We become free to bring good news to the humble, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to proclaim the year of God's favor, to comfort all who mourn!

So how do we access Joy? We can ask for it, certainly. Prayer helps! Anne Lamott's reminder that there are only three prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow can help us remember we do not do this alone.

We can practice generosity. The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu swear by it.
When we move beyond our own troubles to meet the needs of others there are surprising shifts in our consciousness. It is more than thinking "my problems aren't so bad, others have it so much worse," When we allow ourselves to feel with the pain of others, to do what we can to help and even when there is nothing we can do but pray for them and with them, we discover our common humanity on a deeper level. It doesn't overwhelm us so much as expand us. We become our bigger, truer selves. We become able to bring water from the rock-hard consciousness of our narrow lives.

Our Children certainly help us to access our joy! Our Confirmation Class youth had an overnight Lock-in at the church on Friday. Six young people shared their life journeys, their questions, their playful spirits with me and with Susan Linares.
We learned together and began a year long journey of exploration that I am so excited to be on with them. These young people represent our future and I can assure you, our future will be in very good hands! They bring me so much joy! And you who are their parents can be so proud!

Today is World Communion Sunday. All over the world people are coming together to share the bread and the cup as Jesus asked us to do. We all remember Jesus in our own ways. For me, there is no greater way to remember him than by living, as best as we can, by his teachings. We are so human and frail and yet he called us to do great things. A friend of mine quoted one of my favorite lines to me: "We're all bozos on this bus!" But then she added "And no one is driving the bus!" None of us is Moses, none of us is Jesus, but all of us carry the Christ Spirit within us. All of us are invited to listen to that still small voice within, to do all that we can to serve the needs of others, to live out our calling as Children of the Most High. May it be so!