First Congregational Church
March 29, 2020
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Exodus 15:22-27 & Judges 6:17-24
“A Rose by Any Other Name: Jehovah Rapha & Yahweh Shalom”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This morning we are wrapping up this Lenten theme of names of God. Names are so interesting, because there’s generally always something behind the name. For instance, when you take a pen name ... that's a nom de plume. When you take a name for war, that's a nom de guerre. When you take a name for an eating contest, that's a nom de nom nom nom.
In my research for this morning’s message, I discovered that April 9th is National Name Yourself Day, a day that encourages individuals to change their names for one day. If anyone takes part in this event, I’d love to know, because, well, you know I would. For instance, you could fasten a toy frog to a headband, put it on your head and call yourself Lily that day. (Frog on lily.) Or you could fasten a little shovel onto a beanie hat and call yourself Doug. (dug) Or you could find a friend and each of you could each wear an old window frame, and you could be Curt ’n Rod. (This is the point where I’m so sad that I can’t hear all the groans and giggles.)
Since some folks weren’t with us when we started this series, back when we were still shaking hands and hugging, according to ChristianAnswers.net, there are 955 names and titles of God in the Bible. We will have covered ten at the end of the day. If nothing else, maybe this shining of the flashlight on names of God will inspire a deeper, personal investigation into how we address God.
At the very least, it has been an unfolding miracle as there was no way of knowing that we would be in this place way back in November of last year, when I tucked away an article from iBelieve.com on these names of God. As much as I would like to think that I had such super-powers, I have to hand any accolades over to God.
We began with Yahweh: God’s formal name and Elohim is God’s creative power and might side. The next week, the focus was on Abba and El Elyon week - God’s familiar name like Daddy and God’s High Domain, theoretically and spatially speaking. Then we explored El Roi - the God Who Sees our situations and El Shaddai, the God who is Almighty, in whom lies our peace and safety. Last week took us to Yahweh Yireh, which is our God of Provision and Yahweh Nissi - our God of enveloping protection. Today we get to Jehovah Rapha - God as Healer and Yahweh Shalom - The Lord Is Peace.
Before getting to the scripture passages, which are Exodus 15 & Judges 6, a little background. To set up the Exodus passage, Moses and the Israelites were starting on their 40 year jaunt into the desert. The first Passover had happened, when God had finished all the plagues and the Pharaoh had freed the Hebrew people. Enter Charleton Heston and the Ten Commandments movie, and the people passing through the Red Sea. It was probably a tad different than that, but I’m guessing you already knew that.
Anyway, they were right on the cusp of something of which they had no idea, and Moses and his sister, Miriam, had just had a little celebration for getting a huge number of people through to safety - like somewhere between 600,000 and a couple million people.
Exodus 15:22-27 The Waters of Marah and Elim
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
I’m guessing that there is no intentional irony, but I did find a little humor in the idea of the Israelites, first being led into a desert called Shur, and then complaining about the lack of water. Irony is such a delightful surprise, sometimes. Other times, maybe not so much.
And I can’t be the only person who finds a bit of amusement in the solution of bad water being fixed with ‘a stick’ or log or whatever that piece of wood was. Over and over and over again, God uses the folly of the world to confound the wise.
And we can’t leave out the irony of the twelve springs - twelve being the symbol of faith, totality and perfection - and the seventy palm trees - the number of perfect spiritual order carried out with all power - according to biblestudy.org. The general rule of thumb is that people can survive three days without water. So we can cut the Israelites a little slack. Still, the richness of paradox is stunning - totality, spiritual perfection - healing - if you will - when all seems lost or dead - is a powerful image.
Our passage from Joshua takes place long after that 40 year sojourn, long after Moses died and his appointed replacement, Joshua died. The book of Judges gives account after account of the Hebrew people going off-script, getting in trouble, and begging God to get them out of their fix. And in God’s ever gracious grace, a savior is sent to set everyone to right again.
In this particular instance, we meet up with Gideon, also called Jerubbaal, whom God chose to save the day. And, of course, Gideon is dubious of this call, so Gid asks for proof of God’s will - not once, not twice, but three times: first by fire, second by fleece and third….
17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.
20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Until we stop and think a minute about this passage, we miss a lot, aside from Gideon telling God “wait a sec, I’ll be right back.” Preparing a young goat - going to get it, butchering it, stoking up the fire, roasting, probably took a couple hours at the very minimum. Most of us don’t realize that an ephah of flour is about 36 pounds of flour! If the average loaf of bread uses a pound of flour, Gideon is asking God to wait while he makes 36 loaves of bread. Seriously? What lineworker would ask the CEO of any company to wait several hours while the lineworker tests the request of the CEO? And how often have any of us done something of similar nature with God?
There’s still more strangeness in this passage. Gideon has all the makings for a big ol’ soup and bread meal, and the Angel of the Lord tells him to ditch the broth? Maybe Gideon boiled the goat, rather than roasted it. Even so, strange.
Not until the sacrifice was “consumed” did Gideon realize he’d been chatting with an angel. Not so unlike Mary, talking to Jesus outside the tomb on that third day after his death. How often are we in God’s presence and don’t realize it? As the breath of God, God’s Holy Spirit is with each and everyone of us, in this very moment, regardless of what is going on around us, enveloping us in God’s presence. Staggering!
I miss having all of you here, because I’m guessing this would be one of those moments when I might become cognizant of the deep quiet in the sanctuary, to the point of being able to hear a pin drop on carpet sort of quiet, and most eyes on me. But I don’t get wigged out by it because I know it’s not me that you see, but God’s presence in which you sit. It’s that place of knowing I’ve done my job, and now God is showing up to do God’s job, which is very holy ground. And if that’s not “where” people are in that moment, I don’t go all apologetic to God, because I’m counting on God doing that very thing - somewhere else down the road for each person.
Because that is Jehovah Rapha - God as healer - and Yahweh Shalom - the Lord is peace. We may feel frightened or lost, terrified or lonely, anxious or unnerved, but those are our feelings, and God created us to have all of them. Those very valid feelings don’t replace the truth, however, that God is here, with each of us, right now, and it has always been and always shall be.
The other night, it was about 10:30, and I was out walking and noticed a street light. It was 37 degrees, because I stopped to check. I didn’t check the humidity, but it had to be rather high, as I could “see” the air. It wasn’t fog, and it wasn’t mist, so maybe it was fist - fog - mist…. It couldn’t be felt and had the light not been there, I wouldn’t have noticed it. But it was there, non-the-less. God’s healing and peace, regardless of how goofy they may look, how impossible they seem, are right here and right where you are - whether you be in Australia, India, Minnesota, Florida or any place else.
(Yes, last week’s premiere FCCF digital service reached all those places and more! In fact, it was most probable that the attendance at worship last week was twice what it would otherwise have been! So thanks for tuning in!)
But let us not overlook a couple of other significant parts of this morning’s passages. In Exodus, after a list of seemingly incongruent aspects, God told Moses “I am the God who heals you.” And in Judges, the Lord told Gideon, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” So Gideon made an altar and called it The Lord Is Peace.
As an insurance person once told me, not “if” I die, but “when” I die. We will all die a physical death. Just as God has many names and aspects, our physical death will be just one part of our lives. Just like God promised Moses, Gideon and so many others, God promises us that we will not die and we will be healed. It may not look like what we were thinking, it may not unfold as we’d like. But we will not go through it alone. No matter what we do, what happens to us, we are never alone. As we make our own altars of gratitude for all that God gives us this week, let us do so with all the certainty of our God Jehovah Rapha and Yahweh Shalom as we pray.
Healing God of Peace, thank you for your reminders of you and the life that is greater than this earthly life. You know how quickly we forget those reminders, how easily we can get distracted from your promises. Forgive us when we purposefully give in to distractions. Nudge us to see your presence - visibly or invisibly - that permeates every part of our environments. For the richness of knowing about you and growing our faith, we thank you. For gifting us with your most precious of gifts, that of your son, we are also grateful. As people already healed and already in your peace, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.