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A monk joined an order in which individuals were allowed to speak only once every yearâ€”and then only one sentence. After the first year, the Abbot called him into conference and asked, â€œSo how are you doing?â€ The monk replied, â€œThe food hereâ€™s terrible.â€ After the second year, the Abbot called him into conference again and asked, â€œHow does it go with you?â€ The monk replied, â€œThe bedâ€™s so hard I canâ€™t sleep.â€ After the third year the monk walked into the Abbotâ€™s rooms.
Again the Abbot asks how heâ€™s doing. The monk says, â€œI quit.â€ â€œWell, it doesnâ€™t surprise me,â€ replies the Abbot, â€œEver since you got here all youâ€™ve done is complain.â€
I want to talk this morning about having God in your sights even when the Lord isnâ€™t visible. Thereâ€™s no doubt it would be awfully handy to be able to see God and to talk to and text him like a friend. But thatâ€™s not anything weâ€™re ever going to be able to pull off, no matter how good your iPhone or iPad get.
So when Jesus proclaimed in the Beatitudes, â€œBlessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,â€ we know he means less a physical seeing and more the ability for some with uncorrupted, untainted hearts to perceive Godâ€™s presence and work in the world.
The Beatitudes were preached so that those who didnâ€™t get their way, those who didnâ€™t get their reward and have what they want here and now, will understand that God has a plan for them too. Folks who keep themselves pure arenâ€™t always the biggest hit at parties and donâ€™t always rise up the social ladder or other ladders. Hearts like these are set on a better reward, said Jesus, and they will receive it.
Itâ€™s never too late to strive for a purer heart, a cleaner conscience, a humbler attitude. Repent of your past and purify your present, for tomorrow is sure to come.
The thing is itâ€™s tough to see things clearly. One cold January morning, a man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and
then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a three-year-old boy. His mother pulled him along but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pulled hard and the child continued to walk while turning his head all the time.
This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave him money but most continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
Only one person recognized who the violinist was: Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. One of the pieces he played is one of the most intricate ever writtenâ€”and he played it with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
Who saw the golden opportunity? â€œIf you do not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child you shall have no part in it.â€ The pure in heart saw and heard an angel playing in the subway station right in front of them.
Christ tells us that from out of a good heart come good things and from a bad heart come bad things. Why is this important? Because you canâ€™t see what you donâ€™t see. You canâ€™t see the good if you donâ€™t believe itâ€™s there in the first place. When you expect the bad, well guess whatâ€™s coming your way! I donâ€™t know about you but itâ€™s tiring to expect the bad and be suspicious of the good, to rely on something negative happening and dismiss the positive when it occurs.
Try it the other way around: Look for the good. Expect something better. Keep your heart pure.
In our scripture passage from Exodus, Moses is told the Lord will be standing right in front of him on the rock. The Lord is there, right in front of him, standing guard.
You see, not everything is as it appears. That wasnâ€™t any old rock. The Lord was on it. This isnâ€™t any old problem you have, God is on it. You arenâ€™t
struggling with something all by yourself, God is standing guard. We just have to lift up our eyes, and bang the problem hard enough because inside the rock somethingâ€™s gonna give and then somethingâ€™s gonna flow. There isnâ€™t a rock that God canâ€™t stand on top of and make something out of.
Itâ€™s an interesting thing to bet against God showing up. Itâ€™s like gambling against your own home team. Whatâ€™s the fun of that?! If you bet against your team, but your home team wins the game, which is what you want anyway, you lose the money, something you definitely donâ€™t want. If your home team loses the game you win the money but then the team you really wanted to win loses. And thatâ€™s just cold.
When you bet against God showing up and coming to the rescue, if you are rightâ€”in some human way, I meanâ€”the question you have to ask is: What did I win by being right that this stone is too big and God isnâ€™t big enough? Do you really dismiss God from your life as irrelevant because of what happened that you didnâ€™t want to happen? A rather hollow or pyrrhic victory to say the least.
And if youâ€™re wrong when you bet against something good coming after something bad, and the water comes from that rock in your life and youâ€™re pulled through, then you may have gotten what you wanted but now you know you donâ€™t have the faith in God that is needed in this life.
Bet on the home team. Hold fast to the God that provides again and again.
The truth however is we never want to get into a situation where the only one we have left to count on is God, do we? We create our lives just so we never find out what it is to have nothing but God on our side. We want lots of resources surrounding us.
You wonâ€™t catch any of us wandering in a desert, our lives stripped bare to a dayâ€™s ration of bread and an empty container for water. We want a civilized faith, a friendly faith, a faith that says itâ€™s fine to get everything you can here and now and also get the good stuff when we get in line for the big show. Thatâ€™s what you call playing your cards right. Weâ€™re walking the fine line with one toe on Godâ€™s side and nine toes on our side.
But thatâ€™s not where we find the Israelites this morning. Theyâ€™ve got nothing but wilderness. They canâ€™t feed themselvesâ€”God has to give them manna from heaven. They donâ€™t have a planâ€”God shows them the way with a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night. They donâ€™t have a straight and easy path to walkâ€”theyâ€™re out in a wilderness. And today, to top
it off, they donâ€™t even have waterâ€”theyâ€™ve run out. Theyâ€™re thirsty, maybe even dying of thirst. And all there is out there is a rock, a big old boulder in the middle of a dry desert/wilderness.
Now thatâ€™s a perfect biblical description of being in a real pit of a situation, where all ten toes are deep on Godâ€™s side alone. Would you still be walking with toes like those? Or would you throw in the towel?
Iâ€™m not say it isnâ€™t a hard time you may be facing or have faced in the past. In fact, we know at least one family among us has been taking a long walk in the desert for a couple of years now.Â
But you know it was bad when the Israelites were getting nostalgic for Egypt, where they at least had food and water more consistently. Back then and there they had other possibilities. They werenâ€™t at their ropesâ€™ end. Even if they were treated harshly and the men were worked so hard some dropped dead, that was only some. Not everyone perished. Some would still make it through, and they could help each other out. Looking down the neck of an empty jug and standing in 100 degrees in the shade makes one nostalgic even for the bad old daysâ€¦.
So they complain. Then they start to get nasty. They tell Moses heâ€™s worse than Pharaoh. Howâ€™s that for an insult. Haddaâ€™ hurt, Olâ€™ Moses. But hereâ€™s the thing: They couldnâ€™t go back. The turnstile of life goes only in one directionâ€”forward.Â
God isnâ€™t back there anymore.
Did you notice a little thing in the story? This is what I like about scripture. You know you really canâ€™t read the Bible like you read most stuff. Itâ€™s not a spy novel or a fast-paced thriller. The good stuff is most often small, little drops of grace and truth from on high. So you gotta be willing to dig around in the story, take your time, and find that pearl.
Did you hear what God told Moses to do? God said to Moses, â€œGo on ahead of the peopleâ€¦.â€ If God said to do something so innocuous as this, which of course most people are going to read right past it, if the story has God saying this then it means the story is pointing this out as important and not innocuous.
Think of it this way, the story could have read, â€œMoses and some elders found the rock at Horeb.â€ It doesnâ€™t have to mention anything about going on ahead or that these are divine instructions. But it does.
Why? Well, because these are divine instructions.
While weâ€™re all reading to see if Moses will find the rock and the water and save the day, the divine piece of the story for someone whoâ€™s standing knee deep in hot sand with an empty jug in his hand and heart are the three little words of God: â€œGo on ahead.â€ Go on ahead, Moses. Show them the way, Moses. Keep walking toward me, Mosesâ€”Iâ€™m already on the rock!
It is Godâ€™s will that you walk forward. Itâ€™s Godâ€™s will that you set your sights in the direction you ought to head. Itâ€™s Godâ€™s will to be alive to the Lord today no matter how today appears. The past was where God resided but not any longer. The living God livesâ€”and heâ€™s going on ahead.
In Matthew 22 we hear how some Jewish leaders questioned Jesus on the resurrection, asking him how he could believe in it. Jesus reminded them of what God said, â€œI am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.â€ God is the Lord of three different generations, three lives that continued forward in time. What Jesus was saying was God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so on and so on and so on. The resurrection is real because the Lord isnâ€™t stopped by death, isnâ€™t stuck in the past, and is more than capable of bringing forth good things for a new day.
This is who the Lord is. This is what God does.
And so Moses takes his rod, a couple of good, faithful leaders, and walks on ahead to the rock at Horeb. Moses lifts his staff in both hands, holds it for a second above his head and then brings it down with a thunderous crash against the great stoneâ€™s surface. The rock hesitates and then begins to fracture, opening up under the outer stress of the mighty blow and the inner pressure of the pure water seeking to burst forth and be free. From the heart of the rock, clear water gushes forth, rushing out, flowing over barren earth, filling empty jugs, quenching deep thirst, restoring withered souls, strengthening dehydrated faith, and resurrecting dried spirits.
Thereâ€™s no thirst the Lord canâ€™t quench; thereâ€™s no loss the Lord isnâ€™t going to recoup. There is water in that rock in your life. The Lord is standing on it. Today and tomorrow are in Godâ€™s hands.Â
Can the church say Amen?