The Exodus story is interesting and I have always thought that the image of journeying away from the wilderness of Sin was surely what we should all be doing, but of course Sin is a place rather than a state of mind - isn't it? So here we are with the Israelites who are on their way from captivity and walking towards God's promised land. They are tired and fed up because they journey has been long (and will be even longer still) and yet in the chapter before they've received food from heaven (Manna) and having food they are now complaining that they are thirsty. God responds by providing water and the name of the place at Horeb where it appeared is the response that every leader has asked at some time during a journey (new building, new project, service and the like):
‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Our Psalms sings of this and all the mercies God showed the Israelites - grumpy bunch of wotsits :-)
The Philippians passage provides us with some great food for thought because is asks another question:
Are you happy because you are Christ's - comforted by His love and one with the Holy Spirit?
Because if you are then love each other, encourage those around you and seek to bless them! Do the stuff you do to be part of the family rather than to stand in the limelight and get praise. Be like Jesus who although being God put that aside and emptied Himself of it all to became a servant to all (not just the powerful - but everyone). The emphasis on 'emptied' is important because it's what we call kenosis - and this small word speaks pages about Jesus and His ministry because it talks of Jesus as a man who had revelations, insights and struggles in the way that we do. Many assume that Jesus knew everything and was just God playing at man but the act of kenosis is akin to someone with six numbers in the lottery putting it in the bin - He really was man and so the, "Well He was God wasn't He?" comments fall to the ground because although He was (and is) he was truly man and so His obedience and ministry is in so very many ways the same as that which is open to every one of us.
The Gospel reading leads us into something that is a most useful technique when being challenged, the art of responding to a question with a question. Here the issue is that of authority - an issue that crops up weekly in some churches as the leaders ask Jesus who gave Him permission to do stuff. So Jesus asks them first to give Him a datum (a line to work from) so He can understand their thinking, and this is about John the Baptist and his baptism. They are stymied because the answer will with either damn them before the crowd or show them to be disobedient to God. Point made Jesus talks of two sons. The first says he will do stuff, but doesn't, whilst the other says he won't do stuff and at the eleventh hour relents and does. So here's our third question:
"Which son are you?"
So, three questions for us and these relate to our corporate (Church) life and our personal too. It is easy to feel God is with us when things are going right but when the going gets tough and the parish share is building up and the members are growing down or the health or job prospects or wealth are tested and the car has broken down - then that question, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’, becomes a very real and most challenging one.
Add to this the fact that it's easy for us to be happy Christians when we have few needs but the question that needs to be answered is simple: "Are you happy because you are Christ's - comforted by His love and one with the Holy Spirit?" This is a tough one because, following on from the first question it causes us to examine whether relationship with God is the source of our happiness or not - and sometimes the answer (if we are honest) is perhaps not what we'd claim.
The final shot is obviously the most challenging for many because many I meet talk a game that says "I'm willing to do the stuff," and yet the reality is that they don't do it! Is this you? Do you say you'll be at a service and then fail to appear (always, of course, with the good reason!) or make positive noises about church things but are never there to be counted when the work is being done? This question: "Which son are you?" is perhaps the most telling and the hardest to own up to. Letting our 'yes be yes' and our 'no be no' is a key element.
So let's pray (the Collect):
Lord God, defend your Church from all false teaching and give to your people knowledge of your truth, that we may enjoy eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Father God - help us to be honest in all our thoughts, words and deeds,
To recognise that you are indeed with us
and to live in the joy that that reality brings.
We pray that your hand will be seen in the lives of all people
And pray for those who bear your name across the world.
Be with us today, make your presence known, and your love apparent,
help us in our unbelief and fill us with your Spirit. Amen.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will pour forth mysteries from of old, Such as we have heard and known, which our forebears have told us. We will not hide from their children, but will recount to generations to come, the praises of the Lord and his power and the wonderful works he has done. For he did marvellous things in the sight of their forebears, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through; he made the waters stand still in a heap. He led them with a cloud by day and all the night through with a blaze of fire. He split the hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as from the great deep. He brought streams out of the rock and made water gush out like rivers.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Post Communion Prayer
Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My apologies for the absence of this post over the past two weeks - caused by absence and illness - (ab)normal service is now resumed :-)