This is the text of the message I prepared for Morwell Uniting Church for Sunday 1st October 2017. Immediately after this service I drove to and then preached at Narracan Uniting Church in the (neighbouring) Yallourn Parish.
Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13
Sheesh, this is getting to be a habit. Once again, we find Moses having to deal with the quarrelsome people of Israel; only this time they need water. God has already got them out of Egypt, leaving dead Egyptian sons behind. Then God got them across the sea, leaving dead Egyptian soldiers behind. Then God fed them manna and quail every day, except the Sabbath, leaving no dead anybody behind. Now Moses is asked to provide water, as if the tears of one and a half million sooky Israelites aren’t provision enough. I mean, what’s a prophet gotta do to get some respect around here? Mary Pearson wrote in this week’s “With Love To The World” that the problem seems to be that Israel believes that Moses is their saviour, not God. If Moses is a man like them, even if in several remarkable ways he is not a man like them, but still, then Moses needs reminding of his job as leader. In today’s story, we read how the Israelites very helpfully point out to Moses that they are in a desert and there isn’t any water where they’ve made camp. In response Moses names the place “test” (Massah) and “quarrel” (Meribah) because the people asked whether the LORD was among them or not. In other words, this is the location, to be known for all of time, where the quarrelsome people put God to the test.
When in later times the editors of Exodus named the place “Rephidim”, which means both “refresh” and “support”, they believed that God was indeed among the people, and that the one among the people was The LORD I am encouraged by the thought that there were editors in later times because it means that the story had kept on being told. In Psalm 78, as has been the case in Psalm 105 which was read last week and on two of the Sundays in August, the story of God’s provision and companionship with Israel in the hard days of the wilderness is reminded to the people. God The LORD is the true leader of Israel and God always displays goodness in doing that leading.
Paul writes to the church in Philippi from gaol. There isn’t agreement among scholars where Paul was imprisoned at the time, but all agree that he was in gaol somewhere. He is concerned by the news of infighting in the congregation around two sources. One is the potentially divisive message of several visiting leaders who were not proclaiming the gospel as it was understood by Paul but were instead preaching their own opinions and agenda. Paul is also concerned by disputes within the congregation and the cliques being formed around two vocal women. So, with that background we read today’s call to unity beneath the leadership of Christ, Christ the humblest man and Christ the LORD Godself, with added insight. With many different opinions going around and many little groups forming, look at what Paul says about his desire for the church.
- Show unity through setting your mind on the same thing.
- Act out of humility and obedience.
- Hold the needs and interests of others in high regard.
And why does Paul say that’s the best way? Because according to Philippians 2:5 that’s the Jesus way.
Jesus always had the purpose of God foremost in his mind: Jesus and the Father were united in this way. Jesus did not have to prove himself, indeed he actually shrugged the Godness from his being so that he could preach more effectively: this is both the nature and the will of God. There was nothing grandiose about Jesus, nothing about him was inflated because almost everything about him was hidden; he knew that people needed God to be accessible if they were going to be saved and so he made himself as friendly and approachable as possible. Jesus could have come as the cloud of fire seen over Sinai, or as the Lord of Eternity riding across the clouds on a white stallion, but his work was better suited to the one in dusty sandals in small villages. That’s how you’re supposed to be, says Paul.
This passage is a well-known one, and as such it has had many interpreters and scholars pay very close attention to it. I am not interested today as to whether this scripture points to trinitarian ideas about God; I don’t think Paul was trying to make that point anyway. I certainly don’t think the way to read this is “if you are humble like Christ then you will be exalted like Christ” because that goes against what Paul is saying. What I read today is that the most effective way for Christians inside a local church to behave is for each person to show the humility of Christ toward one another, and the unity of Christ and the Father in all that they say and do as Christians together. We are reminded in Philippians 2:13 that God is at work; that work is not only taking place amongst us but within us.
The Lord is amongst us, but the Lord is here quietly and patiently, feeding and guiding us in the every day. There is no need to complain, God knows what you need and God is already there to provide it for you. As God waited for Moses and the elders at Horeb so God waits for us to obey the command to come and see: and when we come then we do see.