Is God With Us?
Have you ever thought about what really happens in worship? I do. Not just because I’m a Pastor, but because I have this hope – this expectation – that there is a God who loves us. Not only that, but I believe that this God wants to be known by us and through us. So, that’s a hope that I bring into worship every Sunday.
But what hopes and dreams do others bring? Here are some things I’ve heard or seen or read lately about worship. Some say that going to church is like filling up your spiritual tank for the week. Some even say, in fact I think I’ve said, that it’s more of a launching pad for faith exploration in the world. Some say that worshiping together creates an extended family, and some say that they just want to hear something positive in a world so bent on conflict.
Of course there are the obvious criticisms about church being full of hypocrites, but the criticism I hear these days is that church is good for those that get something out of it. The other side of that is obviously that worshiping in a church does not necessarily connect with the spiritual thirst of some of those around us.
Maybe that’s because we – and by “we” I mean all of us who are connected to the Christian religion – have become caught up in the duty and obligation of the act of worship. Maybe we’ve forgotten to expect an actual encounter with the Holy Spirit of God in worship. Maybe we have forgotten to dare to ask the question, “Is the Lord with us or not?”
That’s a question that is not usually asked when things are going well, but it sure comes to mind when things times get tough. That’s exactly where the Israelites were in our reading. It may seem an odd question with their dramatic exit from Egypt and the regular regimen of mana and quail, but the thing is that you can go for weeks without food. Without water you’re lucky to get 3 days, if you’re good and healthy to start with.
And this place where Moses led them was near a wadi, which means that during the rainy season it was full of water. But they were looking at a dry creek bed. The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind. Likewise, the memory of hiking next to a dry creek bed comes to mind. I had a group of ten year old’s with me from Camp Glenkirk at the time, and the trailhead went right by a dry creek bed full of stones. It was beautiful and terrible at the same time to see this place that was supposed to be full of life and vitality being so dry and barren. Well, about the third kid in line says, “Hey look, a snake!” I immediately called for a halt, and upon seeing an adult copperhead that may or may not have been in striking distance of the trail, the other councilors and I posted an adult in that spot and directed the children to go behind him. Fortunately we and the snake parted ways peacefully.
I tell you that to say that I would guess that there were more dangers than thirst for this vulnerable population of refugees seeking a land of promise and freedom. There was no question in their minds that there were spiritual forces at work. Even the wilderness of Sin they had just come through was named for a moon god. And so it was reasonable for them to say, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” And so it is with each of us in our suffering, that we cry out for some assurance that God is with us.
Now I’m sure that some of you are thinking, “But wait. I’m not suffering.” Sure, we all have our troubles, but how many of us are truly suffering? The real challenge here, at least for me, is keeping my eyes open to the suffering of others and realizing that I have a share in it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that from a perspective of guilt. I mean it from a perspective of hope.
The Apostle Paul wrote about hope that flows from our faith in Christ a hope grounded in the peace that we have with God through the gift of Jesus – through his dying and rising and reconciling of our souls with God. And so we have this hope that is not grounded in some falling star or fairy tale. It is grounded in the expectation that suffering – our suffering or the suffering we see – only fuels the fire for the expectation of love for one another.
It means that, in the words of the great poet, Percy Shelley, “To be greatly good, [we] must put [ourselves] in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of [our] species must become [our] own.” As overwhelming as that may seem, I would say that it comes down to the example of Jesus – tired though he was from his journey – who did not let the suffering of the world distract him from seeing the person right in front of him.
Jesus met the woman at the well in her place of need. This well was itself a recognition of their common ancestry, even though their traditions had separated them and made them into enemies of one another. And he in his thirst was able to meet her in her spiritual hunger.
But the thing that I find most amazing about this passage is the fact that even while the disciples focused on their own needs – and these were real needs – the person who was least acceptable to them is the one who did the work of evangelism. This woman who had already had five husbands and was working on her sixth drew a crowd, because she had been seen for who she was and not for what she had done. This woman who had no place even speaking to Jesus began to tell everyone about him, so that they came to him. Then they believed not only because of what she experienced, but also because of what they experienced together.
That, my friends, is the basis for Christian community. We come together for this shared experience of God’s presence. Then we tell others, and we even look to those that we have called enemies – in our culture, in our families, in our places of work – and through experiencing God’s love together we become reconciled. That’s what it means to worship God in Spirit and Truth. It means that we are always moving toward the promise that all shall be one in the Lord, because each has seen the presence of God in the other.
But in the meantime, we have the promise of the wadi. We have the knowledge that water is bubbling just below the surface. We have the promise of baptism that flows from the rock of our salvation. We have the expectation that God has called us and claimed us and is always with us.
And because of that we know that suffering will never have the last word, even though suffering for and with others comes with the territory of being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. As we continue to make our way toward the cross in this season of Lent, let us place our hope and our trust in the One who is active, present and in our midst, always calling us to be reconciled with God and one another. For that is what it means to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. To God be the glory for that, now and always. Amen