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"From the Pulpit" - March 10, 2024

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church


1 The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

2 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had died when our kindred died before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? 5 Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink."

     6 Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 8 Take the staff, and assemble the congregation. Speak to the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

     9 So Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them."    Numbers 20:1-12


"Speak to the Rock, Moses!"

     The text above is NOT from one or our readings for Sunday (Lent 4), but it's close to it in proximity, part of the same wider story of Moses dealing with a disgruntled Israel as they continue to wander, in their freedom from slavery.  I always like to read the texts before and after the appointed readings for the day to get a sense of the context for the reading.

     Moses and Aaron (Moses' brother) are trying to figure out how to keep the peace in a nearly riotous Israel over not having sufficient food and drink as they wander.  The people were near rebellion against both Moses and God. As bad as things were in their captivity in Egypt, to many now, that way of life was far better than wandering in the desert, with no food or water. And then, God speaks to Moses, saying, basically, to take your staff and assemble your group. Then, "speak to the rock" before their eyes, and I'll provide water from it for your people to drink.

     And so, Moses takes his staff, lifts up his hands, and strikes the rock, not once, but twice.  Twice!  And water came running out of the rock - enough for both people and livestock. All's well, right? Well, not exactly.  Even though Moses successfully causes the water to flow out of the rock, God is not happy with Moses.  You see, God told Moses to SPEAK to the rock. But instead, Moses used his rod, and not once, but twice strikes the rock. TWICE!  The end result?  Because of Moses' disobedience toward God (striking the rock vs. speaking to it), Moses was not allowed to enter into the promised land along with his people.

     Moses' sin was to resort to force when words - speaking, dialogue would have been enough.  He needed only to speak to the rock to force the water to flow out of it. Instead, Moses uses force.  There was no justification for the use of such force, when words would have done the trick, based on God's command to him.

     Who knows why Moses uses force to get the water out of the rock, when God had said to him that words would do the job?  Maybe he had reached his boiling point in dealing with a complaining Israel, and he could no longer contain himself.  Maybe he was tired of trying to pacify an increasingly angry and frustrated nation.  Maybe it goes way back to when he himself was enslaved. I get all of these. Who knows?  But it is clear that anger, violence, was not part of God's plan in this instance of getting water from the rock.

   It seems to me that there are two "sins" here.  One is Moses' disobedience, or failing to trust God's word. Failing to believe that God knew what was best for Moses and for Israel. And the second, although not a "sin" per se, is using violence or force when speaking or dialogue would have worked better. 

     I don't know about you, but after reading this amazing little story again, my mind went immediately to the current war in Gaza, where Hamas strikes Israel, and Israel responds in force.  Now, I'm not qualified to render any meaningful opinion on the current conflict there, nor do I have enough information to even qualify to offer an opinion. And that's not my intent here.  But I wonder if dialogue, speaking rather than using violence, could be the better path here. After all, God encouraged dialogue to quell a rambunctious Israel - speaking to the rock instead of poking it...twice. The use of force.

     But my mind goes more to stuff on our level - the individual level.  Person to person.  One on one. The use of force, this text says to me, is never a suitable alternative to finding solutions to a problem.  God invites us into dialogue when we're challenged in a life situation.  Anger, violence, force, may only be a last resort.  Moses fails to heed God here, and it cost him the chance to enter into the Promised Land with his people.  His disobedience to God, his use of force where speaking were commanded, solved one problem (giving water to his people), but was a costly decision for him in the long run.  Anger can cost us dearly as well. A chance to build a relationship. A chance to solve a problem.  A chance to build bridges between people.

A lesson for me in this story is to turn our decision making over to God. To trust God more fully. To tap into God's patience and world view in the long term. There is power in dialogue.  In speaking.  In obedience to God, rather than deciding on our own, especially out of anger or frustration.  Moses brought decades of frustration into his handling of getting water out of the rock, when God clearly shows him that merely speaking to the rock will quench his peoples' thirst.

     I know this all sounds so simplistic, and that there are only black and white solutions here, when in fact, there are always shades of gray in such things.  But this story sticks with me today as a lesson for listening to God. For hearing and obeying God's call to us to engage with someone who is not like us. With someone who might have a different opinion (and equally as valid) as ours.  With the "other" who may be pushing back on what we believe.

     How do you stand on this? Where do you come down on it all?  I invite you to open your own bibles and turn to this little story in Numbers, which appears just before our 1st reading for Sunday.  See what you think.  If you were Moses, what would you have done?  Is dialogue/speaking always the better and first alternative to violence or the use of force?  Is it naive of me to think that this way will always work?  

     Amen. Thanks be to God?  PG



International Women's Day - Did you know that yesterday was International Women's Day?  It comes around every March 8th, and calls attention to things like gender equality; women's rights at home and in the workforce; reproductive rights; and violence and abuse against women worldwide.  You can Google it and find out more.


Resources for the Crisis in the Holy Land - I know that this is front and center for most of us these days.  The ELCA has a great resource right on its homepage on how to get involved, more information, and other great information. Check it out at www.elca.org.


Worship Schedule - Tomorrow is the 4th Sunday in Lent. Next Sunday (17th) is Lent 5.  Palm Sunday is the following Sunday (24th), with Holy Week and Easter following. Easter Sunday is Sunday, March 31st.

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