WASHINGTON CITY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
March 23, 2014
I WILL BE STANDING THERE
Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42
When I was growing up, Sunday afternoons were Broadway time. We’d come home from church and Mom would fix Sunday dinner, and while she was cooking Dad would turn on the record player and play Broadway musicals. Sometimes it was the original cast, and sometimes it was a group like Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, sometimes it was someone like Johnny Mathis, sometimes it was an instrumentalist like Peter Nero or Ferrante and Teicher. Except for Christmas time, though, it was almost always show tunes.
Why did I tell you that? Because the first thing that I thought of when I read our scripture reading from Exodus was one of those show tunes that has stuck with me for the last forty years or so. It’s from a musical from 1956 called The Most Happy Fella. One of the songs from that musical was a hit for a few different artists – The Four Lads, The Mills Brothers, and Dean Martin, to name a few. I hadn’t heard it in years and years, but as soon as I read that passage my mind went back to, (singing) “Standin’ on the corner watchin’ all the girls, watchin’ all the girls, watchin’ all the girls go by.” If I’d had time to get a quartet together to do it I would have, because I remember it as a quartet.
When you think about that image, when you think about that description of someone’s day, does that sound positive? Does that sound productive? If your boss or your spouse asked you what you’d done today and you’d said, “Oh, I just hung out on the corner” how would that go for you? It probably wouldn’t go well for most of us, and if it were Julia I would make sure to leave out the part about watching the girls go by.
Someone just hanging out on the corner doesn’t sound like a positive thing. I get calls at work all the time from folks who are concerned because someone is standing out at the corner for an extended period of time. People often want the police to come and check someone like that out just to make sure that everything’s okay. All of us have probably seen people from time to time who seem to just be hanging around and wondered what they were doing or what their story was or if they were okay. Depending on the circumstances it might make us nervous or uncomfortable, especially if they seemed to be staring at each of the women who walked by them.
Obviously I thought of that song because of what God says in Exodus 17:6: “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.” What is going on that God is going to be standing there, hanging out?
Well as you can tell it’s been a hard time for Moses. The Israelites loved him when he led them out of Egypt, but since then the going has gotten harder and harder and the people have been less and less happy. Now they’re thirsty, and the place where they’ve pitched their tents doesn’t have any water.
The Israelites complain to Moses, and Moses essentially says, “What do you want me to do about it? I’m just doing what God tells me to do.” As you might expect, that answer doesn’t go down too well and the people say, “Hey Moses, tell us again why we’re doing this. Are you trying to kill us or something?”
Moses has had enough and he says to God, “So what do I do now? They’re getting ready to kill me!” God tells him what to do, to take some particular people and go to a particular place. God will be standing there on the rock at Horeb waiting. Moses is to strike the rock, and water will flow.
Moses follows the instructions, and although it doesn’t say that the water flowed, the fact that the people did not stone Moses and eventually did make it to the Promised Land is a pretty good sign that water did, in fact, show up and the people did, in fact, drink.
One of the things I find interesting is that God doesn’t actually say that he’s going to do anything except be there. God’s going to show up. God’s going to hang out. It doesn’t say that God is going to miraculously provide water for the Israelites.
I don’t want to read too much into that, because it doesn’t say that God isn’t going to do a miracle either. It just says that Moses should come to a rock where God will be waiting, Moses should strike the rock, and water will come out of the rock. Maybe God did miraculously cause water to come from the rock. God does tell Moses to use the staff with which he struck the Nile, and at that time God miraculously made the waters part so that the Israelites could escape from Egypt. Maybe the writer didn’t need to say that God was going to do another miracle with water here. Maybe that reference to the Nile is enough to let us know that God is going to do the miracle.
But maybe – and I emphasize maybe – God wasn’t going to actually do anything special. Maybe the water was already there, already under the rock at Horeb, and by striking it with his staff Moses was going to shift the rock somehow or widen a crack or something that would let the water flow forth. Maybe God wasn’t there to do anything but point out the rock to Moses, and to give Moses the faith and the confidence to do what he could have done all along to bring forth water. Maybe all God was there to do was to, well, be there.
Our gospel reading from John starts in Samaria with Jesus sitting. Not sitting and thinking. Not sitting and praying. Not sitting and healing or sitting and teaching. Just sitting. Sitting and resting after a long journey.
A woman approaches and Jesus speaks to her, asking her for water from the well. There’s nothing special about that in and of itself. A tired traveler could easily ask someone for fresh water from a well. What’s unusual here is that Jesus is a Jew and the woman is a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans typically did not get along, and so it was unusual for a Jewish man to speak to a Samaritan woman, let alone ask her for something.
The dialog continues, with Jesus talking about the living water that he has to offer and telling the woman things about herself that he could not possibly have known – things that would have marked her as unclean and unfit to socialize with even if she had been Jewish. Jesus proclaims that he is the Messiah, the woman goes and tells her neighbors, and after it’s all said and done Jesus spends a couple of days there and many of the Samaritans come to believe in him.
What strikes me about this passage is that it starts off with Jesus just sitting there. He wasn’t preaching or teaching or performing miracles; he was just sitting there resting, taking it easy, maybe massaging his sore feet or something like that. The teaching and the miracles come, but they don’t come until someone else walks up to where Jesus is. It all starts with Jesus just sitting.
It’s remarkable what kinds of things can happen when God is present, when Jesus is near. Those things didn’t just happen thousands of years ago in ancient Israel or when Jesus physically walked the earth. They can happen right here, right now, today through the presence of the Holy Spirit which Jesus left to comfort us, guide us, protect us, pray for us, and strengthen us.
I don’t know exactly what God did with Moses at the rock of Horeb. Perhaps God performed a miracle. Perhaps God’s presence and instructions gave Moses the confidence and strength to do what he could have done all along. Maybe if Moses hadn’t been so worried about what the Israelites were saying he would have looked around a little harder and he would have noticed a rock with a crack in it. Maybe he would have seen some moisture trickling from the crack. Maybe he would have hit it with his staff and seen water pour out, all on his own. Maybe not – maybe it did take a miracle of God to make that water appear. Either way, it all started with Moses recognizing God’s presence, with Moses knowing that God was standing there.
The same thing is true with the Samaritan woman at the well. None of the good things that came for her and for her town and her family and her friends would have come without Jesus sitting there. Jesus’ presence made all the difference in her life, just as it does in ours.
Someplace in between these two scripture readings, in the first book of Samuel, God’s presence makes a difference once again. The Israelites are warring with the Philistines, and Samuel offers a sacrifice to God, and with God’s help The Israelites win the battle. 1 Samuel 7:12 then says, “Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—”the stone of help”—for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”
God’s presence helped the Israelites that day, and that Ebenezer stone was to remind them that God was present with them, that God gave them new life and new hope. It may have looked something like the stones on the front of the worship folder – I don’t know.
Moses could have placed an Ebenezer stone next to the rock at Horeb. Because of God’s presence it was a new day, a new start, with new life and new hope for the children of Israel. The woman at the well could have put up an Ebenezer stone too, or maybe just used the well as her Ebenezer, for because of Jesus’ presence it was a day of new beginnings for her and her people that she would never forget.
We need to be looking for the Spirit’s presence in our lives. We need to be thinking about what God is calling us to do. Perhaps it’s something miraculous that can only happen with God’s intervention. Maybe it’s something that we could have done all along, but the Spirit’s presence was necessary to call it to our attention or give us the strength to do it. I don’t know what it might be for any of you in particular or for us as a group.
What I know is that it has happened at many points for this congregation, and we have Ebenezers all over the building to remind us of special people and special times in this church’s history. No, not big rocks, but names on rooms or dates on cornerstones or mementos of one sort or another of people and times that were important to us, people and times where we saw God’s presence in a powerful way. I know that it has happened for this congregation and that it has happened for each of us.
It’s not done. God is still standing around. Jesus is still chillin’ on the bench. The Spirit is still with us. And mighty things will still happen. Amen.