“Wading in Waters of Change”
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”**
October 13, 2013
Exodus 17: 1-7
WATER FROM A ROCK
17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah* and Meribah,* because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
John 7: 37-39
RIVERS OF LIVING WATER
37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As* the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,* because Jesus was not yet glorified.
“Wading in Waters of Change”. Perhaps a better sermon title given all the turmoil the world seems to be going through:
“Paddling like Crazy through Perilous Floods, Government shutdowns, Shootings, Terrorism, Unemployment, Hunger, and — ” (You fill in the blank.)
As a metaphor for life, the world is constantly changing. The church is changing. Change can be as normal as a gentle flowing stream or as powerful as a mighty river. While we may sometimes wish for life to stand still so we can savor special moments, the world doesn’t work that way. We are constantly wading throughout life in the fast and slow or often turbulent waters of change.
This being said, we must take some time, in the presence of God, to listen to tone of the words of the Psalmist who asks from us today: “Be Still…Be Still….Be Still and Know that I am God. I am with you. Listen! Hear. Be Still and know that I am God!”
Change. There is nothing we can do about the passing of time, the flowing of waters of life, and often dramatic / traumatic / tragic change that has taken place in our lives and in this world. For example:
Where were you on December 7th 1941? A few of you were around when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
What about September 11, 2001? Most of us can recount exactly what we were doing between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the WorldTradeCenter twin towers and Pentagon.
Millions will never forget hurricane Katrina or the “Super Storm Sandy”; or the floods and fires and unexpected tragedies that have touched members of our families and friends. There is nothing worse for any of us than a late night phone call to learn that a close friend or family member has befallen some kind of tragedy.
I must mention the storm taking place in Washington with the debit-ceiling crisis and congressional leaders who would appear to place politics over the welfare of millions of people. The decisions (or lack of constructive decision making) has pulled our country toward another economic crisis. I join with the Senate Chaplain Barry Black who on Friday October 4th 2013, prayed:
“Remove from them (the congress) that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism,” he said. “Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”
Yes, we sometimes as God’s humanity create the storms and destructive flood waters we must then navigate in life….personally, and in the context of the community and also in the church.
1. “Wading through Waters of Change in the Church”?
From this point on I want to talk about our “Wading in the Waters of Change” as a church. With my announced leaving the end of November, this church has now entered into a period of discernment. Many changes are on the horizon! What does God have planned for this church?
There is only so much I can say because I am leaving and not participating in discussions about the future. While I have no idea what decisions may be made, I can reflect theologically on where we have been and where I believe, in general terms, God leads.
Metaphorically and for well over 146 years this church has been “Wading in Waters of Change”! Truly, I pray for leadership is this church to open heart and mind to where God leads given all the cultural changes we are experiencing in the world today. The world isn’t what it used to be. Is the church adapting?
Like Moses, we’ve been led by our Lord through perilous, dry parching winds in the wilderness of many storms.
Imagine walking for days, without basic resources, a parched dessert….and what would you long for more than anything else? Water!
This assurance from scripture: God, through Jesus our Lord, always provides for us from the “Wellspring of Living Water”!
In the year 1896 the Rev. Joseph R. Tewell led this church through some major renovations. The city of Saginaw was seeing tremendous growth at that time. Beautiful homes were popping up throughout this neighborhood. Life was good. Then on the Sunday the church was scheduled to reopen, January 2, 1898, this church was destroyed by fire. Through the resilience of pastor and congregation, this edifice was replaced and reopened in a remarkable ten months. This “house of God” was re-dedicated in November of 1898.
Through the years, the community around this church thrived. The peak in membership came in the late1950’s early 1960’s– @ 1400 members. Several additions and remodeling projects took place in adding the gym and a professional kitchen and Sunday school rooms.
Then the proverbial ‘waters of change’ started to flow with a mass exodus of he most affluent – urban flight – people moving to the comfort and security of the suburbs. Storm after storm after storm hit this city! Racial and economic distress – violent storms that threatened to destroyed urban centers throughout the country. Devastating flood of drugs on the streets; thundering guns taking innocent lives; gangs and poverty taking over the streets in this once ‘thriving and affluent’ neighborhood.
After the storms in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s many of our church members moved away from the “troubled waters” of urban blight—but YOU didn’t all leave the church. From our mission statement re-affirmed on many occasions: This church, with historical determination, made the heroic decision not to move or stop doing God’s work in this city!
I recall preaching in one of my first sermons some twenty years ago, “Cities don’t just go disappear! Cities don’t just go away. Neither does Christ or Christ’s church!” There has always been work to do in this neighborhood. Simply, the flood waters of change couldn’t drive this church away. Most of you have been around to help write the rest of this story bringing us to this time and place.
And to be perfectly candid – the question of whether this church has the resources to continue is on the table for discussion once again!
I came to this church in 1985. The operative word from my very first interview: CHALLENGE! It was made clear to me this wasn’t a church with problems. We are a church with challenges God has put before us to do Christ’s work. This has been my calling. While this has always been a wonderful and exciting place to do ministry, we have always had more than our fair share of challenges. For example: how do we use this wonderful real estate—this magnificent building to help address the challenges people face in this community? We’ve been a church richly blessed with this building and financial resources and a PASSION TO BE DOING CHRIST’S WORK IN THE CITY.
I will never forget that afternoon meeting in the Gym with community development leaders from Northwestern University (Asset Based Community Development folk) and St. Mary’s Hospital and neighborhood representatives who stated clearly: “This church is an anchor in this community!” It was at that time we brought the East Side Soup Kitchen and the Naseau Clinic onto our campus. Tens of thousands of dollars were invested by St. Mary’s Hospital in renovating the Gym so we could get local and state licenses to open the youth center. Now that many more years have passed, it’s appropriate once again to re-evaluate where we are as Christ’s church in the context of doing Christ’s work in this neighborhood.
Turning again in thinking about Moses and the Exodus: the starving and thirsty leaders in exile gathered and asked Moses: What shall we do now? Moses told the elders to –
“go ahead…in searching for the rock at Horeb. With the staff, strike the rock and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” This is from where the living waters come!
Our lord, like Moses, is asking the officers of this church to go ahead with wisdom and God’s spirit of discernment to strike the rock at Horeb so that this church might be able to drink from the waters of the living Christ…..we still have an abundance of resources to share with the people of this community!
And honestly, while the church might not find the wellspring of resources we used to have or that may be required to continue doing ministry in this place – IN OUR HEARTS, AND PERSONALLY, THE WELLSPRING OF GOD’S SPIRIT WILL NEVER DRIES UP OR GOES AWAY! Call be an eternal optimist, but I truly believe this church continues to have plenty to share with others….maybe not in traditional ways. Thinking outside the box, are there new and creative ways to use this building to help the people of this community?
IV. Three Very Short Points
With confidence, three short points emerging from our scripture preach today:
1. Moses asks: “Is the Lord among us or not?” Regardless where the spirit of God leads this church in the future, God does not abandon us—each of us. While I can no longer be your pastor or have a direct hand in making plans for the future, I give YOU today the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said after 70 years of exile—one of my favorite texts, Jeremiah 29:11:
“For surely I know the plans I have for YOU, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Our hope is in God and God is always going to be in our hearts. Storms in this often harsh world in which we live will come and they will go. But God has plans—and God has for each of you a future filled with hope.
2. Second, if God taught Moses anything – if Jesus life and sacrifice for us has taught us anything: We are resilient people. This is a resilient church doing Christ’s work in the context of this community. If this church were a boat I would want to name it “RESILIENT” for all the storms and perilous waters we have traveled together. Through faith in Jesus Christ, it is the same resilience that will hold things together for each of you in the important work that is before this church as important decisions are made.
3. Third and finally, you have each other. (1) God is with you. (2) Christ gives you resilience, and (3) you/we will always have each other! Even in my leaving, you will be in my heart and I pray, my heart in yours. We will always be friends in Christ, God’s Children!
Through all the years of change this congregation has been through – laughing and crying and praying and growing – and growing old together J – may we always remember that —
“OUT OF THE BELIEVER’S HEART SHALL FLOW RIVERS OF LIVING WATER.”
GOD WITH US, CHRIST WITH US, GOD’S SPIRIT IN AND AROUND US!**
Remember always: We are One in the Spirit and One in the Lord! Grounded in faith in Jesus Christ, we now have some work to do……
 Article on Chaplain Black, New York Times, Jeremy Peters, October 6, 2013