Last week manna, this week water. Same song, second verse. Could be, but it doesn’t have to be. There are two threads that are more fully explored in the preaching notes that could be a guide for the conduct of worship in this final week of our wilderness series: One is that of storytelling; the other is of faith that brings fullness and joy.
The psalm text for this week invites us to remember what God has done and is doing in our midst. And it especially encourages the people of God to teach what God has done and is doing to the children and to teach the children so that the children can teach their children. It’s time to be taught by the children this week. What can we learn from our children about how we are to live as the people of God in the world today? What have they learned from us, and what would they pass on to the next generations?
For online worship, get an interview crew to go and talk to children. As them what matters; ask them how we show love; ask them to tell us what Jesus told them about living. And then string together some of the children telling the simple truths of life and living. Ask them about Jesus and who Jesus is, and just listen to what they say. It can be enlightening; it can be inspirational. Let the children teach. Even for in-person worship, a video would help with the flow so much better than trying to get reluctant little ones to respond on command. But find a way to hear from the children. It will bless you, and even inspire you to make sure you are doing right by children in how you tell the story.
The Exodus text is another one of miraculous provision; water again takes the stage. But this time it isn’t water we pass through; it is water we drink. Maybe some reference to the necessity of water would be appropriate. It might also be enlightening to talk about clean water and water as a resource. There are those who argue that soon wars will be fought over water just like wars had been fought over oil. Water is a resource that will become increasingly scarce. Maybe there could be an ecological approach to water and water bottles. How can we continue to protect our planet and throw away millions of single-use plastic bottles? There are many approaches one could take to water as the central theme of this service.
But, as discussed in the preaching notes, maybe water isn’t what this text is all about. Maybe it is about the life of faith, or about faith in a God who is present and who provides. In our text, we begin with a whine, and we shift to a threat, which then becomes a complaint. And while the people get what they need, there is no sense that they enjoy the gift. They are remembered not for the miracle of water from a rock, but for their complaining. The place is named testing and quarreling. How’s that for a legacy?
This isn’t a call to single out the complainers in the congregation, but to provide an alternative. How do we embrace with joy this life of faith? How do we lean into what God has given and trust that there will be enough as we go forward? Even in the wilderness. Not that there isn’t hardship, not that there isn’t lack, but as a community, we can embrace the possibilities rather than the scarcity.
What if the theme for the week, “Strike the Rock,” becomes a call for deeper living? “Strike the rock” means lean on God, trust in Jesus. Strike the rock means find the joy even in difficult moments, even in the wilderness. Striking the rock is trusting that there is a way forward even when it seems like there is no way. Striking the rock is a declaration of faith, even when it seems like giving up makes more sense. When we gather week by week, in person or online, with our worshiping community, we are striking the rock. Of all the things I could be doing today, I chose to be here, chose to be present with this group, lifting up our hearts in worship of the God who provides, the God who is present. I’m striking the rock.
Find a rock to strike: the foundation of the church, or church walls if you are together. But invite the online worshippers to find a rock to represent the church, something to strike; and invoke the Spirit to be a part of our worship. Instead of ringing the bell this week, strike a rock.
The prayers are prayers of faith and not complaining—faith that we will get through even messy situations, that a way will be found through the brokenness of our society, the division between the races, between cultures. We acknowledge a need, but we strike the rock, believing that God will bring us through this portion of the wilderness.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.