Beckett: Sermon – Is God Among Us or Not?

Date: March 12, 2023
Festival: 3rd Sunday in Lent
Text: Exodus 17:1-7
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-26
Sermon Hymn: LSB #763 When Peace, Like A River

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, “Is the LORD among us or not?” The Israelites posed this question before Moses, as some poses the question before their pastors today, “Is God really with us?” How did the Israelites get to this unbelief? Yahweh used Moses to deliver them from 400 years of slavery through ten miraculous plagues, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, the crossing of the Red Sea, bread from Heaven, and now water from a rock. After all these miraculous events, the Israelites wondered, “Is the LORD among us or not?” How could they wonder? In the previous chapter, they had just seen manna fall from Heaven, yet they still grumbled against God and forgot Him entirely when they need water. They even forgot the time when God had made the bitter water sweet to drink at Marah [15:22-26].

So, we like to think we wouldn’t ask such a silly question after seeing water turn into blood, or the Passover, the Red Sea split as we walk on dry land, and manna fall from Heaven. But we would be kidding ourselves because we all have moments of doubt as we witness His miracles every day. We hear God deliver His forgiveness to us in Absolution, we witness people become children of God in Holy Baptism, and we see God’s Word turn bread into Jesus’ body and wine into His blood in the Lord’s Supper, yet we wonder, “Is God among us or not?”

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin… If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” [Matt. 6:28, 30]. Snow falls and melts, the grass and trees continue to grow, animals feed and give birth, you and I breathe and eat—all of this is evidence that God is actively involved in creation, even in your personal life as He gives you this day your daily bread, speaks to you His Word, and gives you His grace in the Sacraments. And yet we wonder, “Is God among us or not?”

We say all the time how life is a miracle, especially when a baby is born. We witness miracles every day when the sun rises, when we wake up, the clouds change and move, the rains fall, crops grow, we find food in grocery stores, when you make it to church on time as Daylight Saving Time starts—and at least for me, when I daydream while driving and somehow get to my destination alive. Yet still we wonder if God is present. Some of us skip the Sabbath, the day God has promised to be present in the Means of Grace of His Word and Sacraments, and then dare to wonder where God is. We think daily bread happens just as normal, and the moment we do not have it and suffer just a little bit, we wonder if God is truly among us. Shame on the Israelites, and shame on us!

Therefore, as God did with the Israelites, He permits we suffer need and want so that we do not forget who He is and therefore find every need, as Jesus says, to seek God first, “and all these things will be added to you” [Matt. 6:33]. He wants to always draw us to Himself, that we might recognise Him as our Source, or as we confess in the Catechism, that “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray… that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving” [SC, The Fourth Petition, What does this mean?].

But like the Israelites, we grow dissatisfied with the abundance God gives us. He has given us Himself, and we look to idols and away from the Church. He has given us His name, but we praise our own names or the names of politicians and celebrities. He has given us our parents, but we disobey and rebel against them. He has given us life, but we dehumanise the innocent; indeed, He has given us our very bodies, yet we want to be something we’re not. He has given us our spouse, but we grow bored with them, and our eyes stray to look at others. He has given the single their chastity, but we fornicate and look at porn. He has given us our money and possessions, yet we covet and steal. He has given us good reputation, yet we gossip and slander. Worst of all, salvation comes through Christ alone, yet we think we can take it ourselves, be it through good works, free will, right feelings, or rationalism.

{Hold up glass of water} This very cup of water, though an elder poured it for me, came from God; He caused it to well up in Mt. Pleasant’s water system. Through it, He hydrates me, keeps me alive, and soothes my throat so I can preach His Word. I did not go and make this cup or water myself; it came from God. Just so, the water of eternal life is not a well we go to and grab ourselves; it is given to us from Christ.

Moses was God’s servant and prophet for the people Israel. God worked many miracles through him with his staff, and he led this stiff-necked people through the wilderness. He gives all of himself for Israel—he brings them God’s Word and even does sacramental things by giving them bread and water through the means of Heaven and a rock—and they return to him with ingratitude and disgrace him as a villain.

This is also how Christ was treated. For when Christ gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, and healed all other kinds of diseases and drove demons out of the possessed, both Jew and Greek alike nailed Him to the cross as a villain, like a common thief. For this, Christ is greater than Moses. For Moses asked, “What shall I do with this people?” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:24]. And this Word of the cross is just what Jesus speaks to you: forgiveness. The Israelites, in their despair, knew not what they were doing when they grumbled against Moses and God. Moses had no idea what to do but complain. You and I, when we grumble against God in our own despair, Christ does not wonder but He knows exactly what He must do: forgive.

For He, the Rock of our salvation, was struck on the cross with the blow of our sin, and blood and water poured out from His side. The woman of Samaria wondered where she could find the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” [John 4:14-15]. Jesus had to tell her, “I who speak to you am He” [v. 26]. The well was standing right in front of her—not Jacob’s well, but Christ—but until He told her of her sin and revealed to her who He is, she could not see Him. As the Light of the world, He had to give her sight. In the ignorance of our own sin and unbelief, we cannot see Christ. Therefore, He was lifted high on the cross, saying, “I am He. Father, forgive them.” And blood and water poured out from His side to fill all who thirst for righteousness [Matt. 5:6]. His water and blood are what fill the well of His Church, for His blood fills the chalice and His water fills the font.

Consider again our epistle reading, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” [Rom. 5:1, 5]. First, the conjunction “therefore” is no accident. For Paul had just finished his discussion on justification by faith, just as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Therefore, all who believe God are justified by faith and are at peace with Him because of what Jesus did in His death and resurrection.

And second, the verb “pour” is no accident either. The Lord had promised through His prophet, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” [Joel 2:28]. Faith and the pouring of the Holy Spirit come together, whom God has given to you and me. How did this happen? This section is Paul’s preface to his discussion on Baptism in Romans 6. In Baptism, the water of Christ—His Holy Spirit—has been poured into the well of your heart, drowning your sin and raising you up to eternal life, just as Christ is risen from the dead and shall never die again [Rom. 6:1-11]. Through Baptism, God poured His Spirit into your heart, welling up to eternal life.

And the blood of Christ fills the chalice, which is poured into your mouth, the new testament in His blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. It is His holy medicine for your constant relapse into sin. It is the cure—He takes away all your sins. When you hear His Words of Institution soon, He is saying, “I who speak to you am He.”

Water and blood: these fill the well of Christ’s Church. So, brothers and sisters, is God among us or not? Look at the sky, see the snow, how He clothes the fields, keeps the trees, gives you breath, and speaks His Word to you. {Motion toward the font} Remember your Baptism, “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit” [SC, Baptism, How can water do such great things?]. {Motion toward the altar} “Taste and see that the LORD is good” [Ps. 34:8]. Yes, He is here. You have heard His Word, you have heard the pronouncement of His absolution, you have remembered His holy adoption of you in your Baptism, and you shall soon taste and see the Lord’s forgiveness at the Supper Table.

To Christ belongs all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


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