The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Choral Matins      23rd June 2019
Psalm 95 - Water from the Rock
Jeremy Fletcher

Early in the wanderings of the people of Israel in the wilderness, after their deliverance from Egypt, Moses and the people come to a place called Rephidim, where they camp. This is a whole people. Imagine Glastonbury. The scriptural record says it’s hundreds of thousands of people. Being fed and watered is a major logistical exercise, and Exodus 17 records that there is no water there. The people quarrel, and rebel. You would, wouldn’t you. 

In the desert it’s not a case of simply looking for open water. Rather water is found in aquifers, in springs which rise to the surface, in places where wells have been dug. You relied on local knowledge, or people who knew the geology and could, with confidence, locate an underground source. Perhaps that’s what they had hoped for, but water was there none. “The people thirsted for water” it says, and Moses cries out to God that they are almost ready to stone him. Once again God is angered by the people’s lack of faith, but he provides the solution. Moses is told to take his staff and strike the rocky ground, so that water will gush out. It does. 

The story records that people complain and lack trust, that God listens, and God provides. And as with many such stories in eth scriptures, the place is named as a permanent reminder. The names here are “Massah”, meaning testing, and “Meribah”, meaning quarrelling. Remember, we are told. God does feed you. God does give you drink. God will. Trust. And don’t let your distrust turn you in on yourselves, so you quarrel and fight. The rest of Exodus shows how difficult it is to learn such lessons. The people are easily bored and distracted. The episode of the golden calf, where their restlessness leads them to worship an image, happens after the testing and quarrelling event. We are stubborn in our faults. 

Matins in the Book of Common Prayer requires us to sing or say Psalm 95 on every occasion. It’s a Psalm of encouragement to worship the God who is enthroned on the praises of the people. God is ‘great’, a ‘great King’, the one who encompasses the deaths and heights of the earth, the one who holds the sea and forms the land. The first section is addressed not to God but to our fellow worshippers, encouraging us all to worship. ‘Come. ‘Let us come’, ‘let us make a joyful noise’. The reminders of God’s greatness are addressed again to each other. When we worship we do well to help others to do the same. 

Look at how God is described in verse 1. In Coverdale’s translation of the psalms, used in the Book of Common Prayer, God is called “the strength of our salvation”. A more accurate translation would be “rock” of our salvation. It would perhaps be enough to think of God as the strong foundation, the one in whom our hope is secure. But the psalm is more specific than that. Look at verse 8. Again Coverdale is beautiful but not helpfully accurate. He talks about “provocation” and “temptation” in the wilderness. The Psalm actually uses those names from Exodus 17: “Massah” and “Meribah”. When using Psalm 95 we are meant to go back to Exodus 17.

As we encourage each other to worship we are to remind each other of God’s welcome. You can imagine perhaps the pilgrims on eth way up the hill of Zion to the temple. “Come!”. Let’s sing a song together. Be thankful. The God who welcomes us made all this and more. “Come”. This God deserves all our worship and wonder. “But”, remember that a people who will happily be rescued, happily be fed, happily be gathered into a flock led by Almighty God…remember that such a people can easily get distracted, bored, quarrelsome, selfish. Remember Massah and Meribah. The sweetest water from the rock, the water which literally saved their lives, came as an act of forgiveness for short sighted self centred lack of faith. 

We encourage each other to worship today. We drink water from the rock of God’s love. It’s given to people like us, who quarrel and test and exasperate. May our worship and this place be evidence of the God who forgives us in Christ, heals us in Christ, bears with us in Christ, empowers us in Christ. And may we so worship and bow down that we     are a place where testy quarrelsome, selfish need people find that there is water from that rock for them too. Perhaps we could lead them to it. “Come”, we can say. “O Come”

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