Proper 21 Year A Exodus
Theme: Gifts come in many ways
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we marvel at the mighty works you perform through mere human beings; strengthen us always to be ready to do your will – making a difference to those around us and for the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sally was only eight years old when she heard Mommy and Daddy talking about her little brother, Georgi. He was very sick and they had done everything they could afford to save his life. Only a very expensive surgery could help him now . . . and that was out of the financial question. She heard Daddy say it with a whispered desperation, “Only a miracle can save him now.”
Sally went to her bedroom and pulled her piggy bank from its hiding place in the closet. She shook all the change out on the floor and counted it carefully. Three times. The total had to be exactly perfect. No chance here for mistakes. Tying the coins up in a cold-weather-kerchief, she slipped out of the apartment and made her way to the corner drug store.
She waited patiently for the pharmacist to give her attention . . . but he was too busy talking to another man to be bothered by an eight-year-old. Sally twisted her feet to make a scuffing noise. She cleared her throat. No good. Finally she took a quarter from its hiding place and banged it on the glass counter. That did it!
“And what do you want?” the pharmacist asked in an annoyed tone of voice. “Well, I want to talk to you about my brother,” Sally answered back in the same annoyed tone. “He's sick . . . and I want to buy a miracle.” “I beg your pardon,” said the pharmacist.
“My Daddy says only a miracle can save him now . . . so how much does a miracle cost?” “We don’t sell miracles here, little girl. I can’t help you.” “Listen, I have the money to pay for it. Just tell me how much it costs.”
The well-dressed man stooped down and asked, “What kind of a miracle does you brother need?” “I don't know,” Sally answered. A tear started down her cheek. “I just know he’s really sick and Mommy says he needs an operation. But my folks can't pay for it . . . so I have my money.” “How much do you have?” asked the well-dressed man. “A dollar and eleven cents,” Sally answered proudly. “And it’s all the money I have in the world.”
“Well, what a coincidence,” smiled the well-dressed man. A dollar and eleven cents . . . the exact price of a miracle to save a little brother. He took her money in one hand and with the other hand he grasped her mitten and said “Take me to where you live. I want to see your brother and meet your parents.”
That well-dressed man was Dr. Carlton Armstrong, renowned surgeon, specializing in solving Georgi’s malady. The operation was completed without charge and it wasn’t long until Georgi was home again and doing well. Mommy and Daddy were happily talking about the chain of events that had led them to this place.
“That surgery,” Mommy whispered. “It’s like a miracle. I wonder how much it would have cost?” Sally smiled to herself. She knew exactly how much a miracle costs... one dollar and eleven cents... plus the faith of a little child.
Miracles often come as a surprise. It could be running into a surgeon at an unexpected time and place. It could come by a staff striking a rock. We don’t expect miracles – that’s part of what makes them miracles. There may be an exception, but I can’t think of a miracle that did not involve the employing of a gift. That’s how the Israelites were able to drink water in the desert.
Now that the Israelites have eaten their fill, they need something to wash the quails and manna down. There’s not a lot of water in the Sinai wilderness. Their latest stop is Rephidim. The Israelites follow their pattern of behavior and when they are thirsty, they complain to Moses. Moses in turn asks them why they are complaining to him and why they are testing God. But that didn’t stop their complaining. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die of thirst out here in the desert?”
This is not a trivial request. Without water, they will die. Even though Moses is God’s mouthpiece, everything is Moses’ fault. So, Moses cries out to God, “What am I to do with these people? They’re about ready to kill me!” Moses is much more indignant with the people than God is. But then again, the people aren’t trying to kill God. God, though, is there to help Moses.
God tells Moses, “Remember that staff you used to strike the Nile? Take it with you along with the leaders of the people. I will lead you to the rock of Horeb. Strike the rock with your stick and water will come out.” God always assumes that we have what we need to do God’s ministry.
St. Paul calls these gifts from the Holy Spirit. No gift is too small. As Charlie Brown would say, “Even the two of clubs takes a trick once in a while.” Even a $1.11 will do. Every one of us are unique miracles of God. Jesus told us that the hairs on our head are numbered. (For some of us, that is easier to do than for others.)
Moses did exactly as instructed. Water came out of the rock with the Israelite leaders as witnesses. Notice that this is called the rock of Horeb. Moses discovered a waterfall. Moses called the place Massa, which means “testing place.” And Meribah, which means quarreling. This is because the Israelites quarreled with God and tested God by saying, “Is God with us or against us?”
“Perhaps the answer lies in another story. A few years ago, fourteen hundred Chicagoans met in the Grand Ballroom of a large hotel to honor a person selected as Chicago’s Mother of the Year. She turned out to be a woman no one had ever heard of. She was Mrs. Dominic Salvino, an Italian immigrant, a housewife, and extremely poor.
“Mrs. Salvino lived on Erie Street. She had many neighbors who were poorer than she. Most families had eight or ten children in them, and she had only four; her neighbors were old, she was only forty-nine; they were sick, she was healthy; they were tired, she was full of energy; they had problems like alcoholism, and she was steady emotionally, and so was her husband.
“Mrs. Salvino appointed herself to care for the people of Erie Street. She visited the sick, she collected money from the comparatively poor, and gave it to the desperately poor. She did the housework of the bed-ridden, cooked for the motherless, and spread smiles the length and breadth of Erie Street.
“Although she put about 1,600 hours a year into her personal mission, she did it quietly and without fanfare. But in a place of blighted hopes, she was an argument for dreams; in a place of failure, she inspired dignity and courage; in a place of empty arms and lonely rooms, she promoted love and caring. Erie Street was a better and more beautiful place because Mrs. Dominic Salvino made a difference. She saw herself as God’s instrument, unique and useful.”
Notice that God can do nothing without a human being performing the action. No Moses – no one walking to the rock. No Moses – no water from the rock. The people don’t complain to God. The people don’t pray to God. They complain to Moses. They know Moses has God’s ear. Perhaps they are afraid to complain to God. It’s easier to complain to Moses. Somebody that they can see needs to be responsible for their misery. Moses gets hired for that job. God saves Moses’ life – or least lowers his anxiety.
God gave every one of us gifts for ministry. God did not intend to allow us to leave those gifts fallow. What can you do with a buck – eleven?
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks and praise for the gifts you gave us through the Holy Spirit; strengthen us to exercise those gifts for your glory and the good of the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Exodus 17:1-7 (NRSV)
17 From 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. 2 The 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?” 3 But 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?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The 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. 6 I 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. 7 He called the place Massaha and Meribah,b because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Dunnam, M., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1987). Vol. 2: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 2: Exodus. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (197). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
a That is Test
b That is Quarrel
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.