How do you when you get reminded of what you already know, and don’t want to hear again? We call that Lent – when we get dragged back to stare at truth we’d rather forget. Such truth is found in Psalm 95 – which today includes verses often omitted.
Those of you familiar with Morning Prayer recognize this Psalm, minus the last four verses. Here’s the setting for the verses. Deuteronomy tells of a time when God’s chosen get on his last nerve. You’d think they’d give God their undivided attention since he’s just set them free from Egypt’s Pharaoh. How quickly the Psalm shifts direction. Making worship, offering praise and thanksgiving, re-establishing identity as God’s sheep whom he cares for like no other can, and responding with bows and air squats – I think that’s what a knee bend is, now God responds. The Lord doesn’t say, “Been watching you. Well done – you get it. Keep up the good worship.” No, God reminds them of how detestable their wandering hearts are to him. That’s pretty harsh. So what image does that give us of the Lord? Do we hear this as a threat that God cuts loose those who gripe and complain? Or is God saying, “You stubborn and wayward people. I care enough to get mad at you. I let you do as you please. But I love you enough not to leave you stuck apart from me. Remember Egypt? So listen up. Don’t let your hearts harden.” So is God a threatening potentate – or passionate lover who won’t finally leave us? What we think about God will determine our feelings about God.
Clearly, God has a bunch of whiners and complainers on his hands. But here’s the rub. They’re in a hot, dry, and waterless place. They are dying of thirst. People need water to survive. Thirsty people will get cranky: “Moses, what you going to do about it? Did the Lord bring us out here to die of thirst?” Moses takes their complaint to God, “What am I to do? They’re ready to kill me?” God tells Moses he’ll be waiting for him with a miracle ahead. “Strike the rock of Horeb with your staff – and presto, water for all.” The Lord hears, cares and acts, again.
“Harden not your hearts as your forebears did in the desert.” Why do you think God got ticked off with their faith ancestors? It’s not that they are thirsty. We all get thirsty. They think God and Moses can’t be counted on. “If you really love us, give us what we want.” Parting the Red Sea, drowning an army, miracles in Egypt – that’s not enough? People suffering from hardened hearts have distorted thoughts. They focus on what’s wrong, what they lack, scarcity. All they see is doom, not grace. When hearts harden toward God, we go astray, lose direction, think church is a drop-in event when convenient, or stop going entirely. So when you doubt, get anxious, drift, feel like going to the garden and eating worms – consider that your heart may be hardening. If you are thinking at all about your relationship with God in Lent, listen up. Do we really trust God, in all things? Do we think God is at work around, within and among us? Open your hearts. You’ll see God present in your emotions, the physical world, in relationships. We think it and believe it, and then we’ll know it. The Talmud tells us: “You do not see things as they are. You see things as you are.”
God cares about our heart condition, not the empty motions and gestures we go through, trying to impress God and others. God welcomes soft hearts. Those hearts will more likely see and receive grace. We less likely will have distorted thoughts. We’ll look for what’s right, not just gripe about what’s wrong. We’ll savor the blessings we often fail to notice. We’ll give up the fantasy, “I’ve earned it. I deserve it. It’s mine.” We are more likely to be attentive to God. Our worship becomes joyful and real, and our hearts toward others grow more loving and kind. We’ll yearn for living water, and hold loosely things which pass away. What do you think? Do you think God is alive, present, and in all things – looking out for you? It’s easy to think differently in a time of information overload. We Facebook and think we’re close with so many – and a lot of them are people we don’t even like; and yet we can’t talk to others about where we see God present and at work in us and among us. Our minds wander, and our hearts follow. Does that ever happen in worship? Do you remember enough of today’s psalm, the prayers, and the hymns to tell someone what you heard? Now, I know you – so I think you could leave here and summarize my sermons clearly to someone on the sidewalk, right? Being at church does not necessarily mean we are being with God.
Do we trust God cares and protects us? When we grow anxious or afraid, do we wander to what we think secures us – a new car, a bigger military, more money, a larger house, carrying a concealed weapon, bottled water over living water?
It’s Lent. We hear what we know and don’t want to be reminded of. All of us tend to be wayward, deaf to God, unfocused, and distorted in our thinking. But then remember, God so loves he sends Jesus – a peculiar Jewish rabbi, camped out by a well, dispensing living water to all who thirst, and hanging out with the likes of us.