Be Patient

Psalm 95

Exodus Background

First, some background from Exodus 17:

Many moons ago, in the land beside the Great Sea, the once-great people of God continued their quest. This journey began countless generations ago with their ancestor Abraham. It is said that God himself initiated this quest by promising Abraham an expansive land in which to live. But more than just land—God promised a place in the world——Oh! Is there anything we long for more—then or now?—A place to fit. A place to be.

Like all quests, this quest has not entirely gone as planned. God is unwilling to force out the people who already live in this land—not without due cause—and this delays the quest. All is further delayed when Abraham and others make decisions that are not consistent with God’s intentions. And then there are the extenuating circumstances—famine, illness, human nature……

Many generations later, the quest almost died out. Abraham’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. They were oppressed. They had no hope. The quest might very well have died out then and there.

But God proved to be committed to this quest. Taking that one, tiny, faltering coal, God breathed on it, blowing it to white again, catching its heat on others, and building it back to a roaring bonfire once more.

That fire was an event we call the Exodus, an event where God spactacularly, miraculously, and dramatically freed Abraham’s descendants from slavery. They leave Egypt wealthy, protected, and provided for. There is now no doubt—the quest continues. And the people of God journey on this quest with God.

But the people of God are human beings. And we human beings are a strange lot. We are insanely resistent to direct, frontal attacks, weathering some of the most inhumane treatment history has imagined. But yet we prove to be infinitey vulnerable to subtle, small inconveniences. Like soft drops of water on a stone, we do not believe them a threat. And yet, like soft drops of water on a stone, they bore holes through our souls.

The once-great people of God have witnessed the Egyptian plagues, the have crossed the Red Sea, they are being fed daily by manna from heaven—literally. But they’re thirsty. And so that distraction and inconvenience of cottony mouth threatens to end the quest once and for all.

Needing water—espeically in the desert—is not a minor inconvenience at all. But as the quest bears witness—and as our human nature testifies—our minds break well before our bodies.

The once-great people of God forget their quest, forget their history of questing with God, forget the protection and provision that God provided even that very morning. As their minds are bored through by the steady drip-drip of thirst, they lose all ability to be rational. Turning to hysteria, the once-great people of God fantisize about returning to Egypt instead of achieving their quest for a place, and they consider murdering their leader Moses.

The once-great people of God have become weak. They have lost their faith. They have chosen not to believe, despite all the recent miraculous evidence to the contrary. They choose to end the quest.

But God will not allow it.

In the early days of the quest (Gen 15), God vowed a vow to Abraham. In making this covenant, God invokes a curse on his own head if he fails to bring this quest to its end. God will not give up, even when the people of God do. God will not relinquish the quest, even when all hope is lost.

So God relents. God gives them what they want, even though they don’t need it as badly as they think, even though this doesn’t fit within God’s primary purposes, even though they don’t deserve it.

A rock is struck by a staff. Water—miraculously, once again—flows out. The quest continues.

There are consequences—there are always consequences—but in God’s great mercy, the once-great people of God continue on their quest with God. Always being pushed towards the same goal, but ever fluid on the path they take. Always weak, but never given up on. Because the quest—the quest must continue. It must—for God’s sake and for our own.

 

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1).

This is the song and prayer of a people “who have had every reason to follow God’s voice yet for some inexplicable reason have failed to do so” (Fisher, Feasting, 80). That makes it pretty familiar to me and my own story of questing with God in discipleship.

 

It also makes me think of the miracle we witness each week when we come into this place. I mean, we should be genuinely astonished that “Sunday after Sunday, folks leave the New York Times, the Internet, cups of coffee, and cozy beds, to gather to worship God” (Burns, Feasting, 81).

And more than just the distractions—there is our own uncomfortable history with God. Our own once-greatness, and our too-often-pettiness. There is our history of failing almost immediately after soaring.

We cannot go to God without being reminded of the times we have failed God and ourselves, and of the deep canyons of consequences that cut across the spiritual landscape of our lives.

If we look at things honestly and with humility, we really should be astounded that there is anyone here at all.

But then again—whether we think so or not—we are not here because of our own intentions. We are here because we are called to worship—by God and by one another.

Some of us come because when we remember our failures, we are also fortunate enough to remember the rescue of our Great God. So we gather, and we praise the one who is the Rock of our salvation, our deliverance.

Others among us come because we realize that God made us: “We are alive because God allowed that it was a good thing to be” (Burns, Feasting, 81). So we gather, and we praise the One who makes all things possible.

Still others are drawn toward the contemplation of God, believing that God still has something powerful to do with the world and with those who live in it: What does it mean when we say these things? How is God at work in the world? So we gather, and we praise the God who continues the work of creation and re-creation around us and through us.

For others, God is beyond knowing—beyond contemplation. These somehow know deeply the distinction between human beings and God, between creature and creator—a distinction that is essential for the life of faith. So we gather, and we are driven to our knees and we lift up “holy hands” in praise of the One God, now and forevermore, Amen.

We are here today because we are called (by God and by one another) to worship and to continue the quest of extending the light of God’s love to the world.

 

Like our ancient Israelite cousins, our lives of faith can be a bit circular. We try, we fail; God reigns us in, adapting and tweaking God’s desires and intentions to adjust for our new reality. And then it starts over and over again.

It is as the Preacher proclaims in Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).

This Psalm is a bit like that. I don’t know how it was actually sung or otherwise used in worship all those years ago, but I look at it a bit like a round.

You know what a round is, right? Like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” [SING WITH CONGREGATION]

Psalm 95 starts off with worship: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” All is good. God is close. We are safe. The quest is strong.

But then life gets hard. We get distracted. Our hearts lose their ability to recognize God’s love, and we mistakenly think we are in the power position to test God. Perhaps we too want to give up the quest altogether.

And then God adapts—God has to adapt if we have the free will to act outside God’s desires and if God wants to keep working with us. Maybe the situation is now less than ideal, but God is working as best God can with the limitations our decisions place on God.

Somehow thereafter, we recognize God’s grace, and we are swept back into that place of wonder and adoration, of gratitude and praise. Back to the top: “Let us sing for joy to the LORD.” The quest continues.

Praise. Failing. Loving.
Praise. Failing. Loving.
Praise. Failing. Loving.

Locked in this eternal fugue with God, living the circle of life that is encapsulated in the canon of Psalm 95. Round and round and round we go.

 

In both form and content, I believe this psalm teaches us to be patient.

We are to be patient perhaps first and foremost because God is patient with us.

The story behind this psalm also reminds us to be patient in that it illustrates how the inconveniences that lead to our impatience are usually less severe than they appear to us, on account of our defenses being weathered down.

But perhaps most importantly, we are to be patient because the cycle comes around again. The sun sets and it rises. When we maintain the quest with God, those places of failing will be redeemed and we will again praise God. The darkness cannot continue forever. It will not overcome the light, as John promises in the first chapter of his gospel.

So wherever you are, however you are: Be patient.

 

As the old hymn proclaims: God will take care of you.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
beneath his wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
through every day, o’er all the way;
he will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
when dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

All you may need he will provide, nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test, lean, weary one, upon his breast,

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
through every day, o’er all the way;
he will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

As the great and once-great people of God, I encourage you to be patient: God will take care of you.

Amen.

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