Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church April 3rd, 2011

The 4th Sunday in Lent Numbers 20:2-11

“WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY: THE ROCK OF MERIBAH” “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet, novelist, and regarded by many to be the founder of modern political conservatism, wrote that most-commonly used phrase in the first volume of his work, “Reason in Common Sense.” “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” Maybe you’ve heard it in just a little bit different way: Those who ignore history, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. After 39 years of desert wandering and training, and that’s exactly what it was, training for God’s people, the children of Israel were on the precipice of entering into the land which God has promised to them. They had come full circle – arriving at the same place where they stood 39 years earlier, when they refused to move forward into the land that God commanded them to possess - because they were afraid. They didn’t believe that the God who brought them out of Egypt by his mighty hand, who opened up the sea for them to cross over on dry ground, who led them by pillar of cloud and fire, could defeat the powerful armies of Canaan for them. So, they rebelled in unbelief, and God refused them entry, until all the previous generation lay buried in the sands of the desert. Now, Numbers 20, here they are, at Kadesh, the same place where they had been 39 years earlier, and as Moses looked among his people, what did he see? A new generation of Israelites repeating history, the children repeating the mistakes of their fathers. “2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” Call it what you want, selective memory, convenient amnesia, these people who “gathered in opposition to” the shepherd of God’s people did not have a vivid recollection of slavery. Was is really that great in Egypt? Were the memories of forced labor really that wonderful, those who were old enough to remember it at all? And for that matter, had they not been told of the Lord’s miraculous deeds in Egypt and at the Red Sea? Had they not themselves eaten of the miracle manna in the desert? Had they not seen with their own eyes the Glory of the Lord present among them, leading them, protecting them? And now, despite the plethora of signs and wonders God performed to sustain them in body and soul in the wilderness for 39 years, now they return to the same the same “stiff-necked” nonsense that plagued the previous generation and left them dead in the desert. The question that, I think, we all have when we read an account of the “Chronically rebellious Israelite” is, “How did it come to this? How is it possible that, given every spiritual advantage and everything necessary for the provision of everyday life, there was still this overall dissatisfaction with God? How could they possibly be dissatisfied with the Lord and find his gracious love in action to be inadequate and/or incomplete?” How could they? How could we? Don’t we catch ourselves doing that very thing? Doesn’t our rebel heart accuse God of being an inadequate provider, of making life too hard for us, of making our days too difficult and our work too exhausting and on and on and on? “Oh, if I only had this, God...if I only could win the lottery, if I only could live like those who look “comfortable,” then I’d be happier, then I’d be satisfied, then I’d be grateful. But look at what you’ve done to me. You’ve brought me to this place in my life. You have been altogether inadequate as my heavenly Father.”

We don’t say it with our lips, but those thoughts of the heart become evident in action – when we’re willing to consistently work an extra day instead of setting aside time for rest and worship as God commands, therefore God must be an inadequate provider; when we convince ourselves that it’s better for us to sleep on Sunday mornings than make the lengthy and time-consuming journey to God’s house, God must’ve not put enough hours in a day; when we see how others live and that we aren’t blessed with the same level of monetary comfort as others, God must not care about my happiness; when we’re juggling the bills and the responsibilities in our lives, it’s not that we are mismanaging – oh no! I have been inadequately provided for and unfairly treated. We don’t say it with our lips, but we speak volumes with our actions. 39 years the children of Israel had wandered, and now a new generation of Israelites stood at the precipice of entering the promised land, only to echo the sentiments of their fathers almost word for word. And what does the Lord do? The unthinkable! He gives them not what their sins deserve! He gives them a miraculous wonder of grace! 6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” Refreshment! That’s what God gave to this rebel group of children, refreshment not just for the body, but also for the soul! Difficult as it might be for us to understand, the water that flowed at their feet from the rock of Meribah, which they drank from, was also a means by which God strengthened their faith in him as their Savior God, because God’s living and active Word accompanied their reception of the life-giving water! Without the command of God, without his Word, the water would have had no spiritual benefit for them. But when they drank from the waters of the rock of Meribah, they saw the glory of Christ, again in picture form, because it is he who is the living water, whose complete faithfulness in perfect life and in innocent death satisfies the longing of the parched spirit. It’s that point that St. Paul makes in 1 Corinthians. Listen closely: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” What Paul is saying by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that, when the chronically rebellious Israelites drank the water from the rock, they also were quenched in soul, because the water was connected to the promises of their Savior God. The water they received to drink taught them in a unique way, that they were personal recipients of the abundant eternal provisions that the world’s Messiah would come to provide – forgiveness of all sins, life and salvation. God does a similar thing for us today in the Lord’s Supper. When those who are properly prepared (in repentance, faith and instruction) come forward to receive the supper, you do receive a meal in bread and wine, and at the same time you receive, by Word and promise, the Lord Jesus himself, his body and blood in, with and under the bread and the wine. It is a meal for the body, but mostly and most especially, it is a meal for the soul that serves as a means to teach us and give to us the eternal blessings for which Jesus died on the cross – the forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation. It strengthens our faith in our Savior God, thereby drowning yet again that rebel heart that always sees dissatisfaction and inadequacy in the Father’s love and provision. It causes us to see the glory of Christ, as we receive the full benefits of his suffering and death on the cross in the simplicity of the sacrament. How tremendously gracious, and completely undeserved!

It has been said and proven that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. That’s why, when the new generation of Israelites began to echo their father’s rebellion, God went into action, and once again gave the Israelites a picture of Christ in the life-giving waters of Meribah, to which he invited his people for the reception of physical and spiritual sustenance, thereby strengthening their faith in the Rock who accompanied them, Christ Jesus. We too have seen the glory of Christ in the gospel, in Word and sacrament. We too have been invited to receive the living water, Jesus himself, by faith, who refreshes the soul unto eternity by imparting the blessings of forgiveness and salvation which he went to the cross to win for us. Heed that divine invitation with a sincere heart! Take is seriously! For as Jesus told the Samaritan Woman in our gospel lesson for today: “Everyone who drinks this water (form the well) will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him, (the life-giving Gospel) will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Amen.

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