Here is Facebook Live video of the Divine Service. The sermon starts around the 28-minute mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Is Yahweh among us or is He not? Is Yahweh, our God, among us or is He not? Exodus 17:7 says that the people of Israel were saying this. But it’s not recorded anywhere in Exodus that the people ask whether God is among them. But even though they weren’t saying these words, everything they were doing and saying was asking this question.
It started when God used Moses to bring them out of slavery in Egypt after the plagues. The people came up to the Red Sea and the Egyptian army was pursing them. They were trapped between the sea and the army, and they grumbled against Moses and God. They said, “Did you bring us out of Egypt just to kill us in the wilderness?” Moses said, be still. You just have to sit back and watch, and God will fight for you today. And He did. He opened up the Red Sea for them to walk through on dry ground, and then He fought against their enemies and swallowed them up in the sea. And Moses, Aaron, and Miriam rejoiced in God’s victory.
But once the people were on the other side of the Red Sea, they came to a place where they couldn’t drink the water. They grumbled against Moses and God and said, we don’t have anything to drink. So God had Moses throw a piece of wood in the water, and it became sweet so that they could drink it.
And the pattern continues: they grumbled against Moses and against God and they say, did you bring us out into the wilderness to kill us with hunger? We had everything we wanted to eat in Egypt. So does God send them back to slavery? No, He gives them bread from heaven, manna, literal daily bread.
And then here, they grumble against Moses and against God and they say, did you bring us out here to kill us with thirst, along with our children and cattle? And God tells Moses to take the staff with which he struck the Nile and turned it to blood, and to go in front of the people with the elders of Israel. God says that He will stand on the rock and Moses is supposed to strike the rock, and water will come out of it, and the people will drink.
After all this, do the people trust God and Moses? When Moses is up on the mountain too long for them, they say God isn’t among us, so we have to make our own gods and we’ll give them the credit for everything Yahweh has done. They don’t say the words “Is Yahweh among us?” but everything they do and say says, “Is Yahweh among us or is He not?”
It’s completely ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s completely unbelievable, that the people of Israel could witness and be brought through all these things—they could have God deliver them through the Red Sea; make water drinkable by throwing a piece of wood in it; give them manna from heaven; give them water from a rock—and yet they still put God to the test to prove whether or not He will do what He said—and not even what He said He would do, but what He’s actually done. It is unbelievable.
St. Paul says that all of these things happened as instruction and examples for us on whom the completion of the age has come, that the fulfillment of all Israel’s promises has appeared on the earth. Not the shadow of delivery from slavery, but eternal deliverance. Not the shadow of bitterness made sweet by a piece of wood, but bitterness actually made sweet by the wood of the cross. Not the shadow of manna from heaven, but the true and living Bread from heaven. Not the shadow of water from the rock, but living water flowing from the Rock.
Paul says that the people of Israel were all under the cloud and were brought safely through the Sea. He says they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the Sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. They all drank from the spiritual Rock which followed them, which was Christ. And yet many of them rebelled against God and fell in the wilderness. All of this, Paul says, is instruction and example and warning for us. How much more for us, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ in the water turned to blood, all our enemies of sin and death drowned now and again and forever? How much more for us, now that we have eaten Christ’s actual body and blood? How much more that we’ve been given the true living water, flowing from Christ’s side? He says to the woman at the well, if you had known Whom you were asking, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water. Later, on the last and great day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, if anyone is thirsty, whoever believes in Me, let him come to me and drink! The Scripture says, out of His heart will flow living water! And it does, when Christ is struck in the side on the cross.
Incredible and unbelievable that anyone who has witnessed all this and been brought through all this would put God to the test. But do we ask, Is Yahweh among us? Is God here among us? Paul says that all of this is to make us reject and flee from the idolatry that is rampant around us. The temptation to go search out other helpers and other saviors and other sources of nourishment, like the people who worshiped their golden calf by sitting down to eat and drink, is continually before us. But no temptation has come upon you except what is common to all people, to Israel, and to everyone. But God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you are able, but He will give the outcome by which you are able to endure.
Is Yahweh among us or is He not? Yes, He gives us the outcome by which we can endure all temptation. Flee from idols that claim to give you salvation and help and a way out of the sin and death of this world. Flee from idols to Christ, who has overcome the tempter. It is God who gives you everything you need for this body and life, including doctors and vaccines, and food and water, and physical help and healing. But when He has given you everything you need for this life, all the way up to your death, He also gives you everything you need for eternal life. He places Christ, the rock, before you with open side, from which the Spirit and water flow, and says, here is Christ for you. Here is Christ, the life, for the whole world. This cup of blessing we bless is a sharing in the very blood of Christ. This bread that we break is a sharing in the very body of Christ. And we bear witness that God has done this for us and brought us this far.
In this wilderness, Yahweh is here among us! He saves us, He gives us living water, He feeds us with living bread. And we will not give that up for anything. We will serve our neighbor in love for the sake of their body and life, but we will serve our neighbor all the more for eternal life. Yahweh is among us, and we will not fear, though the earth itself give way and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll. He is among us, and He is among us to save.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/13/20