Depend on them

Worship on the Lord’s Day
Third Sunday of Lent
10:00 am March 12, 2023
Onsite & Online (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev. Bradley Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia      Vocalist: Linda Farrah-Basford
Elder: Iris Routledge

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.

Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Call to Worship

L: Just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the  wilderness,
P: the Spirit sends us into places of uncertainty where we confront our weakness and insecurities.
L: Here we are taught to pay attention to those whom others discard.
P: Jesus insists that God is revealed in unlikely people.
L:Jesus offered living water to the Samaritan woman at the well who was the wrong religion, the wrong gender, and had the wrong marital status.
P: We, too, are a gathering of nobodies, yet Jesus claims us as somebodies who all have a place.
L: In Christ, there is neither insider nor outsider, invited nor shunned, accepted nor rejected.
P: We, too, are called to see beyond outdated categories and to offer living water to the thirsty.
L: It is those who have been rejected who most need to know acceptance.
P: Let our gatherings be a place for those who have been told they don’t belong.

Opening praise: Here’s my heart, Lord

Prayers of approach and confession

Lord God, our Maker and Redeemer, who to know is to love and to love is to worship, we gather delighting in your presence and reveling in your holiness. We gently cradle delight and peace, encouraging them to settle deep within. They alone satisfy our hunger for meaning and our thirst for the fullness of life. And they alone come from you and your gifts to us.

Many are the things that compete for our worship in this world but we are here in your house for you alone hold the words of life. Each week we come for care and support, to learn and teach, to share and grow and you will never lead us down the wrong paths.

You know us best. You love us most. You alone create and You alone take home to you what is yours.

You speak the nourishing words of truth and all we want is to hear. In you do we find joy, pressed down and running over.

And in response we cannot help but offer you our praises.

Lord help us as we help each other, increase your blessings and lead to on this journey. Pick us up when we fall, aid us when we sin, burn away what’s not quite right and refine our hearts and make them pure once more. And so Lord hear us now as we confess and then bring us back into a right relationship with you once more. Amen

Response: I will trust in the Lord

Assurance of God’s forgiveness

Forgiven and restored we are the sheep of God’s hand and the people of God’s pasture. There is no fear for there is no need. Forgiveness is ours. Amen .

We listen for the voice of God

Children’s time

Gradual: Jesus loves me (373)

Story: Prayer isn’t just for emergencies.

“I cried to my God for help.

From his temple He heard my voice.”

Psalm 18:6 (NIV)
I brought my cell phone today just in case we have some kind of emergency. You know – if there’s a fire or if someone needs an ambulance. If that happens, what number do I dial? Right! 911!

You dial 911 and the dispatcher says, “911. What is your emergency?” And then they send whatever help you need.

You know, some people think of prayer as a kind of 911. Whenever they have a problem, they pray.

Maybe a problem at work, or money problems, or even a problem with someone at school. They pray and ask God to help them. It’s like sending up a 911 to God.

And we should take our problems to God. King David did. In Psalm 18:6 he says, “I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice.” So David sent a 911 up to God and God heard him.

But do we use our cell phones only for emergencies? No! And we shouldn’t use prayer only for emergencies, either. God wants us to talk to Him about everything, not just emergencies.

We should tell God what we’re thankful for.

Maybe tell God what we’re excited about.

And He especially likes it when we tell Him how much we love Him.

I mean, how would you like it if you had a friend who only talked to you when she had a problem and the only thing she ever said to you was, “Help me! Help me!”?

I bet it’s the same with God.

Sure, God does want to us to turn to Him when we have an emergency, but prayer isn’t just for emergencies.

In fact, let’s pray now.

Prayer: Dear Father, we thank You that we can talk to You in prayer. Help us to remember that we can talk to You anytime about anything. We thank You in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer (535)

Transition music

Song: I will call upon the Lord

Today’s Message

Scripture readings: Exodus 17:2-7

Response: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet

Message: “Depend on them”

It’s weird for me to say this. It’s probably weird for you to it. But I’m actually sort of a skeptic. I like logical answers. I like science, archeology, even when it comes to theology, I like historical theology and systematic theology. I like order. I like proof.

The Haggadah are the oral traditions and sermons of the ancient Israelite priests and later Rabbis that were never really written down. Instead, they were passed from generation to generation by memorization and camp-fire retellings. Many portions of Haggadah (contained in the Talmud and Mishnah) if not older or the basis of, are at least, almost as old as the biblical stories they often seek to explain.

Certainly, some of these commentaries and sermons on certain scriptures are actually much older than other scriptures. Some of them were never originally written down simply because they are in fact, older than written language. In the case of one of today’s scriptures it appears that the oral tradition led to it being written down.

But after that the Haggadah still contains comments on it. In this Rabbinic literature it says that not only did God miraculously provide water from a rock for the Israelites in the desert but it also goes on to suggest that from that point on, the Israelites were accompanied in the wilderness by that very same rock which they claimed continued rolling along with the people and pouring out water for them to drink (until they came to a place where water could naturally be found).

This rolling stone story is very interesting to me. Even though, it’s not actually a story found in the bible itself, it was interesting to many others as well. In fact, by the time of Jesus it was generally accepted to be true by most Jews.  A life-giving, water providing, rolling stone? The whole thing sounds… well, crazy. And it is… Except it also isn’t.

Sailing Stones are a geological phenomenon that occurs in California’s Death Valley, and they are exactly what they sound like. They are moving rocks. They range from small stones to 800 pound boulders, and they move along the dry lake bed leaving behind them a trail cut in the sand, or dirt or mud. Some of their trails are as much as 900 feet long!

Now, make no mistake – these are just rocks. They aren’t carried by a bunch of ants or some strange hybrid of rock and animal. As far as anyone can tell, they’re just rocks. Some go straight, others curve and some make 90 degree turns left or right (like they’ve abruptly changed their minds and decided to go somewhere else. They only move about once every three years or so and have never been witnessed or recorded doing so.

There have been a lot of theories about Sailing Stones over the years. Some people believe that aliens move them to coordinate landing sites. On the slightly more serious side, others say that it has something to do with magnetic fields. A few of the rocks have actually been stolen by people hoping to figure it out. Every once in a while, someone claims to have solved this scientific mystery but no one has really proven anything. One popular and probable answer is that in cold weather ice forms at the base of the rocks which makes them glide along aided by strong winds until the sun rises and melts the ice. But no one really knows for sure. And it’s not a myth or a trick, or a hoax. It is a scientific fact. They move.

Truly no one knows for sure how these rocks do the impossible. But they do.

It’s a very strange little story (just a few sentences long) squashed between the provision of Manna in the wilderness and the Amalekite war. It’s tiny and it’s almost out of place. Here at ancient Rephidim, these people are not just thirsty – they’re MAD. They’ve been 6 months in the desert with nothing but rocks and sand and all they do all day; every day is walk.

The people have been getting angrier and angrier. They complained about not having food, then they got food and they complained that they had too much and that they didn’t want that kind of food and on and on. These people’s lives have literally been filled with miracles and yet they had the shortest memory when it came to recalling that fact.

And it all came to a head that day. They’d come too far from the last oasis and didn’t know how long it would be before they came upon any more. They were going to die. Their animals were going to die. They were going to die and their kids were going to die. And that tends to make a person’s blood boil. The people were looking for someone to blame.  And they didn’t have to look far. Moses was their leader. It had to be his fault. And so the people turn mutinous.

Now most of us have either fortunately or unfortunately received a little too much of our education from the Television. Largely I think due to Monty Python most of us have an incorrect understanding of the practice of stoning. We tend to think that a crowd gathered and picked up little rocks and tossed them at you. But that’s not generally how it worked. In reality the practice was to attack someone, break some portion of their legs and then push them off of cliff or some other high point. Then they would drop large rocks onto your body while you lay helpless until you were both dead and buried.

This is about to go down. Moses is about to be killed. And so, he cries out to the Lord and says, “What am I to do with these people? They are ready to stone me.” And so the Lord answered Moses.“Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

And then that’s it. That’s how this odd little story ends. The people get thirsty, and God makes water come out of a rock and everyone is saved.

Now (because of the different kinds of words used) some have pointed out that this story seems to be a compilation from a bunch of different time periods which was then added to make for transitions in the desert narratives. Others have rightly noticed that this story is a duplet (a story told twice in the bible but told with two opposing outcomes).

There are a few of these kinds of stories – enough of them anyway that theologians had to come up with a term for them. In numbers chapter 20 we get the other side to this duplet. It says “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.” In this case two notable things are different. In the first case God tells him to hit the rock with his staff. And everyone is saved.

In the second story Moses is told to speak to the rock, but he doesn’t believe it will work, so he (instead he does what he did last time – the time we’re reading about now) hits it (twice actually, as if he’s not even sure that will work) and this time not everyone is saved. In fact that denial of God’s power is then listed as the reason why Moses isn’t allowed to enter into the promise land. People who ascribe to the doublet theory of meaning generally believe that the point of both stories is that God’s power cannot be doubted.

More recently a few scholars have begun to suggest that this story was never meant to be taken literally. They suggest that the original authors didn’t think of it as history. Instead, they suggest that the whole thing is an allegory for putting ones trust in God even when it seems impossible. After all, God is often referred to as a Rock in both the New and Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” A few verses later it says Jeshurun “scorned his own maker, the Rock of his salvation”. (vs15) When referring to the Philistine gods the author writes, “Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, Even our enemies themselves know this.” (Deuteronomy 32:3) And even Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 will explain that Jesus is like the rock in the desert that brought forth water and so he calls Christ, “The Rock of my salvation”.

Of course, the thing is, all of those quotes are from later time periods than this story about God bringing salvation through a rock that miraculously pours out water. In fact, it’s this story that establishes the context for future allegories about God as a rock. Without this story the allegory doesn’t really make sense.

Others have claimed this story to be nothing more than an etiological tale (a story with the sole purpose of explaining why something was given a particular name). The reason for this suggestion is because they name this place quarrel and test as a result of the people quarreling with Moses and Testing God.

Others just get uncomfortable with miracles all together and seek to explain them away by natural terms. For example, sometimes people will suggest that the limestone in this area can actually contain trapped water (but it’s not actually true). Some others have said that Moses actually finds an old well (with a cap on it to keep wild animals out). But nothing in the story suggests that. It’s just conjecture. Similarly, some say that Moses came across an aqueduct covered by a layer of thin rock. Thus, he struck it; revealing a source of water beneath. But to be fair if that’s true, I wouldn’t find it any less miraculous. I don’t think it really explains anything away. After all, the water doesn’t have to be produced by the rock for this to be a miracle.

Trying to explain this story is nothing new of course. In 325 AD, Eusebius said you could still see the rock that Moses struck to provide water for the Hebrews. He said it was at the town of Petra. The rock he identified as that rock Moses struck is still there today. A town (where today about 25,000 people live) has sprung up around it.

In fact, a building was constructed around the sacred rock to protect it. Directly below the rock (still alive and well today) is spring. At its base, it’s now been carved out into a proper looking pool with smooth walls and sharp edges. But the spring is natural. People of the city and travelers can still come and collect clear spring water. And they do. The path the water flows from the rock is called the “Wadi of Moses”. It flows down the 1 km SW then turns 90 degrees right at the “treasury,” then winds its way down into the Arabah Valley.

Now I don’t know how you feel about miracles. The idea that God sometimes intervenes in this world. Maybe you’re a true believer. Maybe you’ve widened your scope, as to what you consider miraculous. Maybe you are a bit of a skeptic at heart.

I don’t know, maybe it is allegorical. Maybe it’s just about trusting God. … Maybe it’s historical and God reached down into our world and bent the rules of nature to save these people’s lives.

You know, if I didn’t believe that were at least possible I’d never bother to pray again.

I believe in Jesus Christ. So pretty clearly, I believe that God intervenes.

I believe we should pray for miracles.

I don’t think we should demand miracles. And I don’t think this particular type of miracle is common. If miracles were common, they’d be called “normals” not miracles. I don’t think we should even expect miracles, but I do believe in them. And when someone I know and care about has cancer or is facing Alzheimer’s or whatever it might be I find myself not just hoping but truly believing in miracles like this one all the more.

The problem is… I don’t have proof. And like I said a while ago. I’m a bit of a skeptic.

I really want to believe that this rock at the Wadi of Moshe is the real deal; the proof of a miraculous event. If this is the rock, then we could all say with one voice united that we believe in miracles, that we have proof, that from now on we will pray for our loved ones to get better and though not always expect it to happen – at least always believe it’s possible to happen.

But the problem of course with the Wadi of Moses, is that the geography doesn’t actually fit. It can’t be the right rock. See, this rock is just not quite in the right place. And so we probably don’t have any proof that miracles happen, that God reaches down into our world and that our prayers can be answered. The only way that this could be the rock… is if… rocks could somehow inexplicably move on their own like the haggadah suggests.

I don’t really know what happened that day in the desert. No video camera captured the event. But I know, inside me that God does move in this world. And so today I would just like to encourage you with the words of Laurence J Peters. He wrote, “Don’t believe in miracles… depend on them.” – Amen

Song: I hunger and thirst

We respond to serve God

Reflection on giving: We have been giving faithfully since the beginning of the pandemic and we are committed to continuing the ministry and mission that define Dayspring – using the ways described below. Thank you all for your support of our shared vision and mission.

Prayer of gratitude and for others and ourselves

God, our Renewer, we offer you our thanks for the truth we know and the activity of your Spirit we have experienced.  We have found that, as a river gradually wears its way through the mountain rock making a new space of great beauty for itself, so your spirit gently enlarges its dwelling space within, deepening the pond of quiet wherein your spirit and truth can settle, creating an inner space where our own spirit can bathe in yours and be refreshed. We thank you.

From that inner space flows a stream that nourishes the roots of hope and faith, making it possible for us to live in your light, making it possible to stay sane amidst the crazy making activity around us, sustaining us through the sad and empty times, deepening our joy in the happy moments. We are grateful for what we know of your truth.

We thank you as well for the power of prayer.

And so, we pray for those we love, asking that good things may abound. (Silence)

Grant them freedom to live their truth and use their gifts. Deepen their joy in the good that is their portion and bring them more fully alive in your spirit.

We pray for those at the centre of our thoughts because their needs are great: The ill, unemployed, over worked, scared, lonely, the silent, the suffering, those at loose ends.

We ask to be tools of your hands to make these changes but we also pray for you to do the things we simply cannot. We pray for miraculous healing. We pray for unexplainable recovery. We pray for new gifts and new blessings and we pray to see your hands at work.

Create convergences between their deepest need and your loving providence. Bridge the gaps. Send the people and the materials that will help them most to the people most in need. Provide the money and the time and talents to the people who need it at the exact moment that they need it most.

Gently lead each of us in the way of truth and worship.

We pray for those who lead us in government, businesses and the institutions that give our public life structure. Delve down into their lives and shock them with your works.

Bring peace to the troubled places of our world.  Show you face in new ways and demand to be seen and heard.

And finally, we pray for ourselves.

We open ourselves to you now, praying for the week ahead.

We are not blind in the desert to the blessings you have given. We are not people of short memories.

We are a people that knows we have been blessed.

This week may we live that truth boldly. May the way of the Spirit be reflected in our actions. May worship be our response to all this week brings as we seek to follow and serve Jesus our Lord today and forever. Amen.

Song: Be Thou my vision (461)

Sending out with God’s blessing

Hold firmly to truth. Delight in the Spirit. May the grace of God: Creator, Redeemer and Spirit be with you and yours until eternity. Amen.

Response: God to enfold you

Music postlude


Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2023) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

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