October 1, 2023
Exodus 17.1-7 — The Israelites wandering in the desert complain, this time about having no water. God tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and out streams water.
Psalm 78 celebrates the exodus and recalls God’s care for the people despite their unfaithfulness. (It’s long. See a brief excerpt, adapted, below.)
Philippians 2.1-13 — An ancient hymn about Christ’s humility. Christ embodies God’s divinity, power and presence by self-emptying and being a servant for the sake of love.
Matthew 21.23-32— Jesus’ question about John’s baptism. The parable of the two sons, one says “Yes” but the other actually obeys.
[Oct. 1 is World Communion Sunday. See resources here.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. See worship resources here.]
Again the Israelites complain. Again God miraculously, compassionately provides, despite their annoying, whining lack of faith. When will we learn to trust?
Imagine Moses, commanded to strike the rock. He has no reason to think there’s water there. He doesn’t know how to strike the rock. Never done this before. Not a great golfer. Big potential for humiliation in front of everybody. Oh, well. He strikes the rock. An act of faith.
Because this is about Christ, it’s about God. The scandal of our faith is that even God doesn’t play God. God is not merely the Almighty but also the All-Vulnerable. Jesus’ suffering on the cross is not for the sake of some “deal” by which God might forgive us; it’s Jesus’ and God’s willingness to be hurt by our sin and still forgive us and love us. God is radically open. God makes room, even in God’s very being, for our brokenness. God’s character is one of self-emptying. God, who is infinite, empties out Godself to make room for Creation. Though this poem, which likely predates Paul, knows nothing of the language of the Holy Trinity, it describes the perichoresis of the Trinity: the “dancing around,” the making room for one another. The Father makes room for the Son; this self-emptying is the movement of the Spirit. God empties Godself for us as we approach God, so there is room for us not just close to God but in God. (“In my Mother’s house there are many mansions.”) We want so much to be able to rely on God as a higher power, but God’s real saving grace is God’s higher vulnerability. It’s God being open to our sin and suffering—sharing it with us, even—that truly saves us. The Creator of the universe gets right down in our wound and even our grave with us, and rises up from there with us in tow, held close, beloved all the way.
This is not just a hymn of praise for Jesus. It’s a model for Christian living: a deeply trusting humility in which we know that we’re just the wire; God is the electricity. It’s all about self-emptying. We don’t get rid of ourselves, or personality, our worth, or our gifts. We let go of our status, our sense that our worth is attached to some particular quality of ours. No, our worth is absolute, not dependent on or arising from anything other than that God has created us worthy. We can afford to let go of power, status, security and belonging because we know we are God’s. We let our egoic self-centered desires, attachments and identity go, and in that self-emptying there’s room for God to flow through us.
Some religious leaders question Jesus’ authority. He exposes their cynicism and hypocrisy with an ironic question about John’s baptism. Jesus, as usual, traps his interrogators in their own trap. “You’re too chicken to admit you think John’s baptism is a fraud, in front of all these people who believe in it? Well, then you’re not able to talk honestly about authority, are you” Jesus’ authority comes from his honesty, his integrity in standing by his words, rather than playing the crowd with what they want to hear. For Jesus “authority” isn’t so much about power as authenticity.
The parable of the two sons asks: What’s better, to profess faith and do nothing, or say nothing but live faithfully? What does it really mean to serve God? Are we open to people who don’t use the language or profess the faith we do, yet in their actions fulfill the will of God? They will be known, Jesus says elsewhere, by their fruits. With open minds we might find faith in unexpected people, grace in unexpected places. “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the realm of God ahead of you.” Water from the rock.
Call to Worship
Leader: River of life, flowing through all Creation,
All: river of mercy, flowing through our hearts,
river of love, flowing out into the city,
we rejoice in awe and gratitude.
Spirit of life, breath of God, river of love,
fill us to overflowing with your grace,
and flow through us out into all the world. Alleluia!
Leader: Loving God, Eternal Presence, you surround us with your Being.
All: Faithful One, you enfold us in your love.
Tender One, you dwell within us with healing and beauty.
We thank you. We praise you. We worship you.
We open our hearts to your presence,
that we may become more deeply present for you.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit of Love, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: God, this world can be a desert wilderness.
All: We come thirsty for your presence.
Our lives can seem like dry stones.
We come thirsty for your love.
Yet you strike the rock of our lives,
and your grace flows freely.
We thank you, and we drink deeply of this mystery.
Refresh us, that our lives may flow with your grace. Amen.
Leader: In a dry and weary land we don’t expect your grace.
All: Water from the rock.
A teacher, whom authorities try to silence, speaks the truth.
Water from the rock.
Ou prayers seem dry and powerless, but you move in them.
Water from the rock.
Our own ordinary lives, and our loving service, are your praise.
Water from the rock.
Our worship rises from us not by our power
but by the grace of your Spirit.
Water from the rock. Alleluia!
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Abundant One, in the dry lands of our daily lives we come, thirsty for your grace, to drink from the springs of your Word. Fill us with wisdom, compassion and trust. Amen.
Gracious God, you who are ever present, who accompany us in love, who surround us with your glory, we too often forget; we do not see. Speak to us, whose hearts are thirsty for water but sometimes feel dry as stone. Open our hearts now to your truth, to your presence, to your faithfulness. May we drink deeply of your love. Amen.
God of power and mystery, as you brought forth water from the rock for Moses and the Israelites, now let mercy and justice flow from your church. Let your praise flow from us in our worship. May love flow from us in our daily lives bringing life and joy to all in the spirit of Christ. Amen.
Loving One, beneath all we profess is our need for you. Beyond all creeds and proclamations is your steadfast mercy. May your love flow in us like a spring of water so our words may match our deeds, and our lives be faithful to our love for you. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
In what is dry and parched,
strike the rock,
that grace may flow.
In what is hard and unmoving,
strike the rock,
that grace may flow.
you empty yourself
and make room for me.
In my empty places,
my wounds and losses,
you become obedient even to death,
and you rise with me.
I open myself to you.
[from Psalm 78, adapted. Stanza breaks are appropriate places for sung responses.]
Listen, O people, to this teaching;
pay attention to these words of truth!
We will tell a story that is rich with meaning,
and utter sayings with truth hidden in them,
an ancient story that we have heard,
because it is a story about us.
We will not hide these stories from our children,
but tell them to the next generation:
the glorious deeds of God, and God’s power,
and the wonders that God has wrought.
God made this promise to us,
so we would never forget God’s grace.
In the sight of our ancestors—
in your own memory—God worked miracles in Egypt.
God divided the sea and led them through it,
making the waters to stand like a heap.
God led them by a cloud in the daytime,
and all the night with a fiery light.
God split the rocks in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep,
made streams to come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they tested God in their hearts,
by demanding the food that they craved.
They spoke against God, saying:
“Yes, God, you struck the rock
so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed.
But can you spread a table in the wilderness?
Can you give bread, and provide meat for your people?”
Yet God commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
God rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
With upright heart God tended them,
and guided them with skillful hand.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
Gracious God, maker of all, fountain of life, we trust you.
We drink deeply from the river of your grace.
Crucified and risen Christ, from whom flows the water of healing for all Creation,
for the love that flows from you we thank you, and we follow you.
Holy Spirit, love of God flowing through us, we open our hearts to you.
Bear us onward, carry us by your mercy, and fill us with your grace. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for the mystery that you give yourself to us. Strike the rock of our hearts with your grace, that mercy and justice may flow through us out into the desert, into the city, into the whole world, for the sake of the redemption of all Creation, in the name of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
The River of God (Psalm 65) (Original song)
Refrain: The river of God is full of water. Praise to you, O God.
Praise is due to you, God, our beloved. To you alone we devote our lives.
O you who answer prayer, to you all flesh shall come.
By mighty deeds your deliver us. You are the hope of all people on earth.
Morning and evening resound with joy. We are listening in awe.
You bless the earth and water it, granting the blessing of beautiful growth.
Meadows and wilderness overflow, wearing their finest in joy.
When the depth of our sin overwhelms us, you forgive all our transgressions.
How blessed we are, O God, that you hold us in your heart.
We Feast On Your Love (Original song)
Chorus: We feast on your presence.
We feast on your love.
This is the banquet we’ve been dreaming of. (Repeat.)
We reach for the hem of your garment,
we open ourselves to your grace.
In flows the mercy you offer
in every time and place. — Chorus
You gather us; none are unworthy;
and no one is “greatest” or “least.”
You multiply what we offer,
so multitudes may feast. — Chorus